Lukas Wegwerth brings together a team of collaborators to work on evolving systems as the framework for furniture making. His experiments begins with the smallest generative element—a connective joint, a structural principle, a material dimension—and expands into larger assemblies, from simple chairs to architectural constructions. Wegwerth's design process is further informed by careful consideration of structural details and their implicit consequences for cycles of re-use, disassembly, and strategic material sourcing.
Since February, the world seems to have turned upside down. How has the current crisis affected your work as a designer? Have you noticed an increase in interest from people looking for more meaning in their surroundings now that they are spending so much time in the homes?
Interestingly, in some ways the current situation has favoured our business model. The Three+One system we developed was very popular with museums and institutions, and obviously we have less discussion with them now that they are closed. But we are getting many more enquiries from individuals for domestic use. I’ve definitely noticed increased demand as people have more time and more attention to give to their household spaces. They seem increasingly invested in the design process that forms their living environment. We were already accustomed to working remotely with our clients, so we are still able to be actively involved and handle a range of needs remotely, which suits the current conditions very well.
What about your own surroundings? Has the current crisis changed the way you work?
The first way it affected my work was through a change of setting. I’ve been spending time in a small German village in what used to be my grandma’s house, a beautiful place with a big garden, a little river running through it and a large timber-frame barn. Spending time in this rural setting has given me space to focus more on sourcing our own materials for the studio. Nearby a friend has built his own sawmill to cut trees into timber. He was having trouble getting wood processed commercially, so he just started building his own mill—and it grew and grew and now it's working really well. As it turns out, there was a lot of demand besides his own needs, and there is a continuous flow of people coming to cut their wood. The nice thing is that this wood travels only a few kilometers from the forest to the construction site. Watching this has made me think a lot about material choices. I realized that if my studio were here, I could probably source all the timber I need from within a radius of a few kilometres, for example, instead of having it shipped in from far away.
You’ve been working for some time now on your Three+One system. Have these observations on material processes affected the recent evolution of the project?
First of all, we suddenly had more time than expected to work on the project. The idea of introducing wood into a system that was previously focused on steel is not completely new. We were already thinking about how and when to do it: it was already our goal to reduce the amount of steel in the system, and when the lockdown took effect, the timing felt right. The new generation of prototypes emerged from that point. I still think steel is a relevant material because it allows long cycles of use and re-use, therefore, from a structural point of view, it's quite a good material. We are moving towards the approach to split the elements of the system into the connector, which needs more “ information” and less material, and the other elements, which have a greater mass but can be produced in a low-tech way. The latter elements could be made from wood in local workshops or even in DIY processes, rather than industrial facilities. From a logistical point of view, it also makes sense because wood is much lighter. Instead of receiving a big shipment of steel, you just receive an envelope with the connectors, and you can source the wood locally.
Thinking about the pre-COVID and post-COVID eras, some things may never go back to how they were before. For example, domestic spaces and work spaces will probably remain to some extent hybridized—is this something you’ve reflected on in your design?
Yes, for example, one advantage of Three+One is its incredible versatility—it can adapt to a wide range of applications and materials. Over time, we’ve built up a library of configurations from which we can quickly extract options for seemingly complex spatial problems. Our system is quite practical in the long run because we can always refer back to existing projects for solutions. So over time we spend less time using design software and more time focusing on experimentation and materials.
Do you think the current appreciation for a craft-driven approach, the focus on materiality and of local sourcing will remain?
I think so—of course, I may be in a bit of a bubble because my clients tend to contact me because my work is going in precisely that direction. But it definitely feels as if there is a lot of interest around me in a new approach to design. In some cases, it even turns into a collaboration with the client—we are currently working on a kitchen with a client who insists on painting the structure himself, so we are letting him use our workshop. Whether it’s because of logistical reasons or a general design ethos we always try to include the customer in the process. And I think it makes for a totally different outcome in terms of not only the design, but also the long-term relationship with these objects.