Mastering Design at mudac


5 November 2013

Lausanne in Switzerland is normally associated with ECAL, the prestigious school of art and design that is based within the town. Yet an exhibition at the city's mudac design museum turns its attention away from home and instead looks to Europe's two other major design schools – Design Academy Eindhoven and London's Royal College of Art (RCA).

Titled Mastering Design, the exhibition is a display of graduate work from MA design students from the two schools. The works from the students – which range across product, furniture and conceptual design – are mixed in with one another, with 12 Design Academy creations presented alongside 12 from the RCA.

The exhibition is intended to compare and contrast the schools' approaches and methodologies. Curated by Claire Favre Maxwell, the exhibition is supported by course leaders from the RCA's Design Products and Design Interactions departments, and Eindhoven's Information Design, Social Design and Contextual Design courses.

"Both of these schools are examining what design is, what a designer is and what the role of design is," says Favre Maxwell. "We're looking at similar concerns across the two schools, but also differences. For example, the RCA is very interested in the process and research behind a project, with the thoughts and reflections on one idea being almost as important as the end product. Design Academy Eindhoven has that as well, but puts a little more emphasis on the final product."

Despite these differences in emphasis however, the final products on display in the exhibition reveal more similarities than differences between the schools. It is an effect heightened by Favre Maxwell's decision to group projects according to theme, rather than by place of origin.

Selected from the RCA, Anton Alvarez's Thread Wrapping Machine is a means of production by which wooden offcuts are bound together with glue soaked yarn to form furniture pieces. The project closes the gap between designer and manufacturer, with Alvarez's designing of each furniture piece coinciding with its realisation as an object.

Within the exhibition Alvarez's work is presented alongside that of the Austrian studio mischer'traxler, Eindhoven graduates whose The Idea of a Tree is a production method that automatically creates cotton-wrapped forms, the exact composition of which are determined by the intensity of the sun on the day on which they are created. On sunnier days, the objects become thicker and paler; on overcast days they are thin and intensely coloured.

"It's fascinating to see this interest of young designers in the production of an object," says Favre Maxwell. "They’re not accepting the constraints of industry and going through what is and isn’t possible, and they’re not accepting the idea of a separation between designer and manufacturer. That is something that really seems to be in the air."

Similar symmetries recur throughout the exhibition. The emotive potential of the RCA's Hilda Hellstrom's Materiality of a Natural Disaster vessels – pots created from the radioactive soil surrounding the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant – is allied to the work on memory carried out by Eindhoven's Jon Stam, whose Shared Reflections mirror merges what is immediately in front of it with relays of past footage from security cameras.

Likewise, a concern for the provenance of our objects is visible across both schools. Thomas Thwaites' RCA The Toaster Project seeks to demonstrate the complex and invisible supply chains that go into creating even the simplest of electrical items. By contrast, Tristan Kopp from Eindhoven's prodUSER kit – simple connecting components that allow everyday items such as branches to be linked together as a bicycle – is a more practical and functional project, yet nonetheless remains essentially concerned with the way in which consumables are produced.

Even one of the RCA's most celebrated elements, its conceptual Design Interactions course led by Anthony Dunne, finds its parallel within the exhibition. Aurelie Hoegy's Between Normality and Abnormality is a film and object series created this year at Eindhoven that explores absurdity within everyday life. One of Hoegy's movies shows a woman with a piece of bread mopping her plate obsessively ad finitum, while a pendant lamp she created descends into farce thanks to the 1km of rubber cabling that it hangs from.

Yet alongside providing an overview of the output of the two schools, the status of Eindhoven and the RCA means that Mastering Design can also be read as a survey of the preoccupations of an emerging generation of designers.

"These schools play a big role in the formation of design," says Favre Maxwell. "If you go to Milan each year for example, it’s amazing to see the number of designers who come out of Eindhoven and London. Looking at the output of these schools is a mirror of what young designers see design as being. It’s almost a definition of what design is. That’s thrilling."