Aluminium Imagination Architectural Awards: Designs for life

It's light but flexible, non-magnetic and just right for that fin de siecle look. Jessica Cargill Thompson on the `wonder metal' of design

Aluminium has become to the Nineties what polyurethane foam and injection-moulded plastics were to the Sixties. Just as developments in plastics technologies in the Fifties and Sixties allowed Verner Panton, Joe Colombo and other seminal designers of the decade to create sculptural pieces that have come to represent the excitement of the era, so aluminium has been crucial to the emergence of a more restrained elegance favoured at the end of the century.

Aluminium has been instrumental in creating the fin de siecle look, be it the minimalist aesthetic of Belgian designer Maarten van Severen, the anthropomorphic furniture of Philippe Starck, or the high-tech tables around which so many dinner parties and production meetings are held. It has also created the century's most ubiquitous and revolutionary piece of product design, the "tin" can: simple, functional, taken for granted by the shopper, and ironically plagiarised by Jean Paul Gaultier.

Aluminium has been called "the wonder metal" for its impressive list of properties: it is lightweight, corrosion-resistant and non-magnetic; it has good conductivity and high reflectivity; it is malleable, cryogenic (the colder it gets, the stronger it gets) and 100 per cent recyclable. But what really appeals to the mind of the designer is its versatility.

It can be cast to create sculptural forms such as the Philippe Starck Juicy Salif lemon squeezer, or the tactile door handles of the FSB range; rolled into sheets for shelves such as Dieter Rams's 606 system for Vitsoe; or pressed with patterns for rigidity and decor, as in Rodney Kinsman's quilted Trax seating for OMK.

There are just as many possibilities for finishing the surface. For example, it can be left bare to display its natural silvery-white tones, as van Severen does. The surface can also be anodised, then lacquered for a chrome- like finish, popular in Seventies-style lamps. Alternatively, if brushed with wire, it can create a rough, industrial feel, as used in Winfried Schauer's "Anywhere" up-and-down-lighters, designed last year for Aero.

"The beauty of aluminium is its formability," says furniture designer Rodney Kinsman of OMK. "There's nothing that replicates what extruded aluminium can do. It has enormous potential. To me it's a very sculptural material. It allows great freedom, design-wise."

While steel involves pressings, fabrications and foldings to manipulate it into a desired shape, aluminium can be melted down and extruded through a die or cast in a mould. From fresh food to air travel, aluminium has come to symbolise modernity and convenience, themselves by-words for 21st- century living.

Lean bar, by LUL's Jubilee Line Extension Project Team

A NEW lean bar, designed by the JLE project team, and made of grey powder-coated extruded aluminium bolted to the station wall, has been approved by the London Transport disability unit, as it takes into account people of impaired mobility, who find it hard to get up from low seats. The lean bar, along with a new escalator safety barrier called the Newel Box, also designed by the JLE Project team, received a commendation at the 1999 Aluminium Imagination Architectural Awards.

The Boeing 777

THE BOEING 777 is considered the most advanced airliner ever built and is the largest twin-engine plane ever to fly.

As with all modern commercial jets, the 777 takes advantage of two key properties of aluminium: its lightness and the fact that it gets stronger at low temperatures, ideal for cruising at a speed of Mach 0.84 above the clouds at temperatures well below zero.

Toledo chair, by Jorge Pensi for Amat-3

BARCELONA-BASED designer Jorge Pensi's Toledo chair, designed in 1988, has been used ubiquitously throughout Western cafe society. Manufactured by Barcelona's Amat-3, it won numerous awards and is currently included in the collections of several of the world's leading design museums.

Manufactured in polished anodised cast and tube aluminium, like any cafe chair it is light and stackable, perfect for the loose arrangement of the pavement cafe. Available pounds 395 from Coexistence, 0171-354 8817

Door knob, by Jasper Morrison for FSB

THE FSB "name designs" range of door handles features pieces by the cream of Europe's design talent. Most tactile are those by Britain's leading product designer, Jasper Morrison. For his knob handle, he has borrowed the form of a light bulb, creating a spherical bulb that feels smooth and solid.

Available from Allgood, tel 0171-387 9951

Large Kast cabinets, by Maarten van Severen

BELGIAN DESIGNER Maarten van Severen has turned his architectural training to the production of stark, minimalist furniture which he makes by hand in his atelier in Ghent.

Van Severen's "Large Kast" aluminium cabinet, designed in 1997, is pared down to its essential form. A long, low box, it is as much a piece of art as a functional object. Rather than anodising or polishing the surface, van Severen leaves it bare and lovingly buffs it with wax resulting in a soft matt finish. No wonder even the shortest cabinet costs pounds 4,147.

Available from Viaduct, tel 0171-278 8456

Juicy Salif lemon squeezer, by Philippe Stark for Alessi

ITALIAN MANUFACTURER Alessi brought architecture onto the kitchen counter, commissioning star names such as Michael Graves, Ettore Sottsass, and Aldo Rossi to create homewares that are both functional and exciting.

Philippe Starck's Juicy Salif lemon squeezer was designed in 1990 and was snapped up as an affordable icon by a new style-conscious generation eager to buy into the designer lifestyle. The tripod concept is a complete digression from standard juicers, which is why it is probably still one of the designer's best-known pieces.

Casting the squeezer in aluminium has allowed it to be mass-produced, making it a staple of any self-respecting design store, where it retails for around pounds 30.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Anthony Hopkins in Westworld

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rock and role: Jamie Bell's character Benjamin Grimm is transformed into 'Thing' in the film adaptation of Marvel Comics' 'Fantastic Four'
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Hopkins veered between sycophancy and insult in her new chat show
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
In his role as Hamlet, Benedict Cumberbatch will have to learn, and repeat night after night, around 1,480 lines

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Belgian sexologist Goedele Liekens with pupils at Hollins Technology College in Accrington
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Judges Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The rapper Drake

music
Arts and Entertainment
The gaffer: Prince Philip and the future Queen in 1947
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Style icons: The Beatles on set in Austria
film
Arts and Entertainment
By Seuss! ‘What Pet Shall I Get?’ hits the bookshops this week
Books
Arts and Entertainment
The mushroom cloud over Hiroshima after Enola Gray and her crew dropped the bomb
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Elliott outside his stationery store that houses a Post Office
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Rebecca Ferguson, Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible Rogue Nation

Film review Tom Cruise, 50, is still like a puppy in this relentless action soap opera

Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams in True Detective season 2

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Off the wall: the cast of ‘Life in Squares’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Books And it is whizzpopping!

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
    Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
    Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

    Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

    Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
    Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

    Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

    The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
    Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

    Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

    His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

    Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future
    Berlusconi's world of sleaze: The astonishing lifestyle once enjoyed by Italy's former PM

    Berlusconi's world of sleaze

    The astonishing lifestyle once enjoyed by Italy's former PM
    Disney plans galactic domination with endless Star Wars spin-offs

    Disney plans galactic domination with endless Star Wars spin-offs

    Films and theme parks are just the beginning. Disney believes its control of the now decades-old franchise can bring in merchandise and marketing millions for years to come
    Could the golden age of the gaming arcade ever be revived in the era of the Xbox?

    Could gaming arcades be revived?

    The days when coin-ops were the only way to play the latest video games are gone. But a small band of enthusiasts are keeping the button-pushing dream alive
    Edinburgh Fringe 2015: The 'tampon tax' has inspired a new wave of female comedians to reclaim period jokes

    Heard the one about menstruation?

    Yes, if you have been at the Fringe, where period pieces are taking centre stage