The U-Joints – Equations of Universal Style exhibition at the Plusdesign Gallery, curated by Andrea Caputo and Anniina Koivu, examines the theme of joints, through 50 designers’ experiments, prototypes and products.
U-Joints explores the theme of connections in design, by taking a look at the multifaceted world of joints – from those that are most common, to design’s most innovative ones, as well as those that have had the greatest influence on contemporary design.
Underscoring the wide-ranging multiplicity of the investigations conducted by the two curators Andrea Caputo and Anniina Koivu, U-Joints brings together works by important international designers and young talents from all over the world, in a global research project covering different and versatile approaches, applications, practices and materials – from the most traditional, like wood and plastic, to more conceptual and innovative models, including 3D printing.
The works are displayed in a theatrical installation as in a museum, developed through a sequence of tables with different forms and sizes.
U-Joints is a dense and wide-ranging overview, from past to present, of the architectural joint, meaning that fundamental object (part of other objects) capable of holding two or more elements together.
A universal joint is a joint or coupling connecting rigid rods whose axes are inclined to each other, and is commonly used in shafts that transmit rotary motion.
The infinite possibilities offered by the many facets of this precious link are thus the focal point of the U-Joints project, which starts with a 360-degree survey of historical examples and extends to the most sophisticated experimentation in the present
The joint comes in every possible size and material: nanoscale or the size of a room; plastic, steel, carbon fibre, wood or wool.
A joint might be ingeniously engineered or the result of garage tinkering. Truly multivalent, the joint is a fundamental element in almost any designed object, be it a bridge, a piece of furniture or an everyday product.
According to its nature, the joint can play different roles: ingeniously designed, it makes it possible to unite the various parts of a whole to obtain the functional quality of a finished product; but when it is reproduced countless times or proposed in atypical forms and sizes, it can be transformed into a piece with a charisma of its own.
It is the kind of detail that holds the world together.
More than 50 contemporary designers and industry professionals display new products, prototypes and conceptual pieces – many especially conceived for the show.
U-JOINTS features the work of 50 invited contemporary designers, design studios and research institutes: —
Alvar Aalto, Massimiliano Adami, Tomás Alonso, Andrea Anner & Thibault Brevet/AATB, Aldo Bakker, Edward Barber & Jay Osgerby, Camille Blin, Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec, Thilo Alex Brunner & Jörg Mettler, Michel Charlot, Pierre Charpin, Carlo Clopath & Christophe Guberan & Julie Richoz, Stefan Diez, Francesco Faccin, Didier Fiúza Faustino, Martino Gamper, Alexandra Gerber, Thélonious Goupil, Konstantin Grcic, Anthony Guex, Antrei Hartikainen/Y-Team, Sam Hecht & Kim Colin/Industrial Facility, Chris Kabel, Rio Kobayashi, Kohei Kojima, Ville Kokkonen, Max Lamb, Kwangho Lee, Vico Magistretti, Cecilie Manz, Enzo Mari, Michael Marriott, Ingo Maurer, Alberto Meda, Christien Meindertsma, Jasper Morrison, Jonathan Muecke, Jonathan Nesci, Jonathan Olivares, Pentatonic, Bertjan Pot, Leon Ransmeier, Adrien Rovero, Gino Sarfatti, Peter Saville, Self-Assembly Lab MIT, Studio Brynjar & Veronika, Studio Wieki Somers, Keiji Takeuchi and Dirk Vander Kooij.
In addition, the exhibition features examples of some of the world’s most ingeniously engineered joints; private collections of knots and fasteners; and masterpieces of traditional Japanese and Chinese wooden joinery.
In our visual world, where an image, a product or design needs to be perceived in a second, it becomes difficult to focus on the details. The non-specific seems to win over precision. And joints tend to get lost in the whole.
But take a look around and you’ll start spotting clamps, hinges, brackets, braided knots and interwoven strands of thread, couplings or universal joints, pivot or ball joints, wooden dovetails, mortise-tenons or splices, stitched seams, anchors, bolts, rivets… Joints are design projects in their own right.
Even a simple screw is beautiful and ingenious if you take the time to look at it properly. Indeed, to some, the screw is the smallest piece of furniture.
Interview for Domus Magazine
by Maria Cristina Didero
16 April 2018
How did this project get off the ground?
Andrea Caputo: The theme of the joint is a fixed idea for many designers but, inexplicably, it’s a theme that has rarely been explored.
There are very large publications dealing with specific usage, such as the world of Japanese joinery and traditional dovetailing, but hardly any wider view of the topic.
The “U-Joints” show tries to systematise the concept of connection organised by typology, materials, and the form of coupling. We have produced a collection of categories that form a key to reading the show: this infographic starts from the pressure joint to recount the glued, tied or chained joints.
It’s an ambitious project because it aims to take an eclectic and infinite universe – the invisible background of our everyday life – and make sense out of it.
Why did you choose the joint?
Anniina Koivu: A fundamental element in any designed object, whether a bridge or a piece of furniture, the joint is truly multivalent: it’s an ingeniously engineered detail.
Yet surprisingly it’s often overlooked. This is maybe because it’s often invisible, hidden elegantly inside an object.
A joint can be tiny or room-size and it can be made of any material. Sometimes a joint is the one detail that holds together an entire object or furniture piece. When multiplied as a modular element, it can be the sole key component that makes an entire structure.
I am thinking of many of the works, such as screens, by the Bouroullec brothers, for example.
By focusing on joints we wanted to shed light on the everyday work of designers.
“ The details are not the details; they make the product.”………………… Charles Eames
Your research has taken you far afield – on display, apart from the pieces made by designers of today and yesterday, there are also items from Asia and on loan from museums. When did you start to work on “U-Joint” and what was your curatorial approach?
AC: The analysis of constructive systems tied to the knot is a design theme that we have been working on in our studio for quite some time.
We have taken into account everything from the geodesic domes by Buckminster Fuller to the Kee Klamp systems developed for various applications.
The exploration then intensified, leading to the concept of an exhibition of separate themes explored in separate sections.
The one dealing with Asia widens the scale and investigates the wooden knot in the archetype of Chinese and Japanese temple construction.
Considerations on permanent architectural components have been supported by studies of temporary connective elements; for instance tubes and couplers, as a device to join together tubular metal armatures, really revolutionised the system of scaffolding in Italy after World War II, allowing viaducts and concrete infrastructure to be constructed.
From all these uses in the urban sphere, we arrived at a consideration of the domestic realm, from the well-known imagery of the sailing knots to the more common use in the field of do-it-yourself plumbing, electric plants, and carpentry.
The contribution of over 50 individual authors showcases a multiform image of prototypes, experiments and serial products.
AK: It is interesting to see how, especially traditional wooden joinery, is still contemporary. If we consider the Japanese tradition – but also the Chinese one – ingenious wooden joints were – and still are – the benchmark for good carpentry. T
hey were the pride of woodworkers and an emblem to show off their skills.
Among the pieces on show from the Wooden Joinery Museum in Hida, which preserve and promote this tradition, are unique pieces such as a pillar joint from the Osaka castle: a X-ray test was necessary to figure out how the internal joining method united the splice of two vertical beams.
It took centuries to reveal how the decorative mountain skyline-like pattern of the seam between the two beams had been produced.
What do you think about design’s current situation and its future?
AC: Plusdesign’s intends to function as a platform for research, detached from any productive obligations, the umpteenth speculations on forms and on the extreme virtuosity of objects.
I think that it is decisive to choose mutual processes and initiatives, putting things, techniques and people together. From this point of view Plusdesign examines the influences of specific cultures within the global society.
How the final product turns out is secondary and can be sacrificed in favour of the process and the symbiosis with the original cultural context.
This is how the project about Colombian sound systems developed, to investigate a musical tradition of Barranquilla and Cartagena that for decades has reunited families and city districts around locally-produced sound totems.
Another example is the “Rug Trip” to the foot of the Atlas mountain chain in Morocco, where we involved a number of Berber families in the production of carpets conceived by contemporary artists (Barry McGee, Anton Bruhin and Susan Kare).
It’s a work about the communities, on how much design influences social groups, identifying them first and then amplifying their voice.
AK: In our visual world, where an image, a product or design needs to be perceived in a second, it becomes difficult to focus on the details. The non-specific seems to win over precision. And joints, as details, tend to get lost in the whole.
The U-Joints exhibition is a great way to reset and focus, before getting lost again in the sheer quantity of details that we assembled into one exhibition.
What was the most interesting discovery you made while working on this exhibition?
AC: Today there is a vast network of designers who are all thinking about the joint as an ideal device for solving everyday necessities.
The outcome of our investigation, explored together with Alessandra Covini of Studio Ossidiana, has led us beyond the everyday but it has been extraordinary to observe how the topic of the joint is an obsession for the majority of students and new professionals: a kind of obligatory stylistic exercise strongly tied to the contemporary culture of making.
AK: Joints are design projects in their own right. Even a screw is beautiful and ingenious if you take the time to look at it properly.