Short stories

“I think that minimalism isn’t only about designing in the simplest way possible.  It is rather about reducing the elements that narrate the idea or the fundamental concept of a product. This approach allows me to focus on the story I want to tell.”

With these words young Norwegian designer Daniel Rybakken (b.1984), certainly one of the most interesting of his gerenation, condenses his project language into the notion of “minimalist narrative,” a trait that makes him stand out in the current international design scene.

Formal synthesis for Rybakken goes hand in hand with the objects’ capacity to amaze through emotional contents and descreet technological innovation. It is no coincidence if among his principal references  (whom he looks up to thanks also to his father’s guiding influence) there is Dieter Rams’ work for Braun and Jonathan Ive’s for Apple, but also the highly figurative poetry of the Bouroullec brothers.

After a promising start, Daniel Rybakken hit the international headlines in 2016 when he won the Compasso d’Oro with the Ascent lamp for Luceplan.

Light design is in fact one of the central themes of the designer’s research, that overtly aims to capture the essence of natural daytime light and reinterpret it artificially “in its aspect and its effects on the subconcious”.

This resulted in original prototypes for production in series, but also limited editions or forays into the art world with highly evocative installations. This project theme continued in 2017 with two new lamps, one for Luceplan and the other for Wästberg.

The first, Amisol, developed from the project challenge to create a suspended model with a minimal volume capabe of generously occupying the space around it. In this way the galaxy of the room is occupied by a new artificial satellite: a circular alluminium profile with a translucent white film or a metallized mirror membrane stretched inside, similar to a solar sail.

A 50W led light source projects a powerful beam of light onto the large, weightless disk that either diffuses or reflects the light. The two main elements are connected by two thin metal rods: by altering the length and the connecting points of the two supporting wires, the rotation of the disk can be set at any angle. The combination of just a few well balanced elements, can create such an incredibly scenographic effect.

For Wästberg, Rybakken designed w172 bokeh, a small floor lamp resembling an ectoplasma that plays with the expressive force of frosted glass. The lamp is composed of two contrasting elements: at the centre an industrial aluminium heat sink cooling the central high power led; outside the bell in  blown etched glass allows its metallic heart to be seen, creating a different immage depending on whether the lamp is on or off.

Seen through the pure glass surface, the fringes of the heat sink create a gradient of blur (or “bokeh”) and a downward “dematerialization” effect, resulting in the image of the lamp becoming almost alive even if somewhat glacial and ethereal: a sort of stylized jellyfish. In this case, the narrative component takes on an organismic connotation.

Rybakken’s recent collaboration with the Finnish brand Artek marked a turning point in his project path and his debut in the furniture design sector. One of the two projects for the Finnish company, the 124° mirror, actually represents the interpretation of a type of objects that the designer has already explored, even if in contexts more closely related to the the art world. Of those previous projects Rybakken maintains the conceptual framework: a sort of challenge to the common perceptive mechanisms associated with the reflection of our image in mirrors. Normally, in fact, when we look in a mirror we already have an idea of what we shall see: our subconcious mind calculates the light paths and builds the image that can be returned to us.

The 124° mirror, instead, is made of two polished stainless steel sheets set at a precise angle of 124° that produce an unexpected effect: a double reflection that can also cause the disappearance of the reflection of the person looking into the mirror. “I have had a prototype of the mirror hanging above the sink in my studio for almost a year, and still today it surprises me not to see myself when I look at it” Rybakken adds. And so the design narrative becomes a little magical (perhaps it couldn’t have been otherwise as we’re talking about a mirror).

Rybakken definitely enters the world of furniture with his second project for Artek, and he does so by paying homage to Alvar Aalto, the designer who founded Artek and whose projects in this sector are crucial.

The Kiila coat stand system is based on a unique/single wedge-shaped joint (kiila in Finnish) made from powder-coated metal onto which solid wooden legs are fitted. All the sturdy primary construction elements are visible, transformed from sheer technological components into a codes of an essential language. Inventing a system of construction rather than designing individual pieces was Aalto’s characteristic work pattern: “There is a very apparent logic to the Kiila series that I recognize in the Aalto designs too”, Rybakken explains.

“They are products designed within the parameters of industrial manufacture, intended to be part of a system that can be repeated”. The story, therefore, continues…

by Guido Musante