Oskar Zięta's furniture and other projects are reminiscent of inflated, shiny balloons. As a matter of fact, the Polish architect and designer (born in 1975) is the author of one of the most modern steel treatment technologies, one which has many applications in various industrial fields.
Architect and designer (born in 1975)
Let us imagine that we want to buy a chair. We go to a shop and leave with a flat, light form made of two layers of sheeting – a rolled package which can easily fit into a bag. At home, with the use of a handy pump, we inflate it with air and shortly afterwards the chair is ready. In spite of all appearances, it is stable, comfortable and durable.
This futuristic vision can quickly become true thanks to a new technology developed by Oskar Zięta: FiDU (Freie Innendruck Umformung – Free Inner Pressure Forming). The author describes the effects of his invention in the following manner:
An object that was just a flat piece of metal adopts its optimal shape by itself. It is a serial but unique product, as sheeting never curves in exactly the same way.
British magazine Wired referred to Zięta’s projects as the ‘furniture of the future’. Its simplicity and technological innovativeness have already brought him numerous prizes, including a Red Dot Design Award (2008), Schweizer Design Prize (2008), German Design Council Prize (2009) and Audi Mentor Prize (2011).
For this invention to be designed the work of a big team of scientists from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH - Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich - www.ethz.ch) was essential. Zięta went to the university for a two-year stipend after graduating from the department of architecture at Szczecin University of Technology. Since 2003 he has been working at the ETH as a research and teaching assistant in the department of Computer Aided Architectural Design (CAAD), where he is now writing his doctoral thesis under the supervision of Professor Ludger Hovestadt. There, he developed his studies on the usage of digital technology in steel treatment that brought him in 2004 to the creation of FiDU.
Apparently, crucial for Zięta’s work was the chance to experience the peculiar educational system of Switzerland:
Most importantly, studying in Switzerland is based on a constant presentation of one’s own progress, exploring a certain topic in front of a wide assembly. In Poland everyone is focused on one’s own studies, whereas the effects of those studies are known only to limited groups of people and rarely see the light of the day.
To the contrary, in CAAD the stress falls on implementing new technologies in practical solutions and developing the most ergonomic forms of usage. Because contemporary design frequently uses non-standard, bionic forms that demand new design solutions, increasing the importance of production as it enables artists to create curiosities that meet particular needs. Zięta recollects:
I was working on creating a valuable construction element out of flat pieces of sheeting. Finally, we thought about welding two pieces of sheeting together and inflating them with water through a vent. It was later proved that this element was very stable and had an amazing shape.
The FiDU technology found its first application in furniture design. In 2008 Zięta entered the market with his own products: the stool Plopp (produced by the Danish firm Hay) and the limited series of the chair Chippensteel (in cooperation with SZ-Designedition/Magazin.com). The aforementioned creations are light and look like beach toys despite being made of laser-cut steel. According to Zięta the greatest advantages of the product are: ‘more effective production, recycling possibilities, purity of form’ and… comfort. The inflated piece of sheeting is also a very durable material, which the designer proudly emphasizes:
I was very glad to see disbelief on engineers’ faces who were wrong about the duration of my products. I heard that my stool could only withstand sixty kilos without deforming. It withstood over two tons.
Plopp (in Polish, an acronym for ‘Polish Folk Object Inflated with Air’) brought popularity and numerous prizes to the artist and found its way to the Pompidou Centre in Paris as one of the twelve chairs that have changed the contemporary design. For Zięta Plopp was a test of a new approach to projecting, named by him as ‘Prozessdesign’ and defined in a following way:
The final form follows the process of production. My role is to invent efficient processes that use innovative technology, aesthetics and function are their derivatives.
ZIETA Prozessdesign Studio has artistic labs both in Wrocław and Zurich and is constantly developing the FiDU method, producing furniture and tools for everyday use. Apart from stools and chairs, some clothes hangers (Kamm, Pin, Bones, Tatarak), plate stands (Rondel), ladders (Drab), benches (Unterdruck), and lamps (Osiem) have also been created in the studio. All projects were made of an inflated, polished and lacquered steel or copper and are available in different colours.
Oskar Zięta does not hide the fact that he would like FiDU technology to be used in building larger objects. In his opinion, ‘elastic systems of producing stable construction elements in various scales’ are useful everywhere but most importantly needed in transport and energy. A bridge and a wind turbine were built with FiDU technology for tests at the ETH. The possibility of using the technology in present-day architecture is visible in the installation Architonic Concept Space III presented at the Stockholm Furniture Fair in 2010.
According to Zięta, technology, materials science, engineering, and art are all mixed together in design (as based on the term ‘process’). This is the direct reason for his presence at many exhibitions (e.g. at the Cardi Black Box Gallery in Milano during the Salone 2011 and at the Stilwerk Limited Editions Gallery in Hamburg in 2011) and design festivals where he wanted to show something more than just pre-prepared products. In 2010 during the London Design Festival he created the fountain Blow & Roll on the Victoria & Albert Museum's courtyard – a composition of twenty-metre-long inflated elements. In its creation he used a rolled steel installation for the first time in the world. The author talks about the accidents that surrounded the creation of Blow & Roll:
We had to bring the huge installation to the courtyard. It turned out that the entrance was too small to carry the elements through. Only then did we decide to make a rolled installation that gets the desired shape after inflation.
He has presented FiDU objects that were treated as sculptures earlier – e.g. the transparent ball Football at the DMY in Berlin (2008). In the exhibition Reflections during the Vienna Design Week (2011) the author used optical illusions that referred to op-art. The patterns of the walls were mirrored in the steel objects in a such way that viewers lost their understanding of what is real and what is just an illusion.
Nowadays, Oskar Zięta works as an entire enterprise. He owns two studios and a production firm in his home town, Zielona Góra, which is run by his father. Apart from this, Zięta passes his own experience on to Polish students as a tutor at the Industrial Design School of Form (http://sof.edu.pl) in Poznań. His works may be seen in Badisches Landmuseum in Karlsruhe, Museum für Gestaltung in Zurich, Pinakothek Museum in Munich, and Pompidou Centre in Paris, amongst others.
Further experiments with the FiDU technology brought Zięta to create a collection of unbelievable mirrors. Tafla Mirrors has an irregular form of rounded edges. Their reflections are far from being traditional as they remind more of an oneiric story. Zięta’s mirrors lengthen and curve real objects. The combination of hanging and standing mirrors enables the artist to locate objects at any point in the space, attaching to them an almost sculptural character.
Oskar Zięta also works as a curator. In 2010 he organized the exhibition UNDERPRESSURE, shown at the Łodz Design Festival.
Towards the end of 2018 Zięta prepared an exhibition with his Studio Zieta Prozessdesign at the Jerke Museum in the Ruhr Basin as part of the Festival of Light in Recklinghausen. The Jerke Museum is the first museum founded outside of Poland that is dedicated to Polish avant-garde art. Its collection includes pieces by Katarzyna Kobro, Władysław Strzemiński, Edward Krasiński, Henryk Stażewski, Alina Szapocznikow, Tadeusz Kantor, Andrzej Wróblewski, and Wilhelm Sasnal.
Zięta prepared the installation based on his ongoing project Crystals, which is a configuration of mirror-like objects combining both geometric shapes and smooth transitions. Polished surfaces reflect light, which then penetrates and curves as a result, creating a game of reflections and shadows.
Light is an inseparable aspect of each day, thanks to which we see and understand our surroundings while shadow defines form. The game of light – refraction, reflection, diffusion – allows us to differently interpret reality with changes depending on the time of day and even year. The Crystals project made its debut at Warsaw Home 2018 – an international interior design fair. It was presented in the form of geometrical objects decorating a wall. During the following month the project evolved into a complex artistic installation. Its shapes allude to the shape of the Jerke Museum and a stained-glass window created by Wojciech Fangor located in the building. Zięta – inspired by the strong forms, light, images, and colours of Fangor’s work – used the mirror-like surface of his objects to curve and reflect light. Relying on the palette of colours used by Fangor, Oskar Zięta’s mirror formations enabled a variety of possibilities for the play of light. The surface of Crystals is a sort of tribute to the work of Wojciech Fangor; it enters into a dialogue with the stained-glass window, while the internal part of the installation is a kaleidoscope. Oskar Zięta used FiDU technology to create all of Crystals’ elements.
Zięta was nominated for the 2019 Mies van der Rohe Award for his sculpture Nawa, which is located in Wrocław. The project combines small architecture with large-scale sculpture. The shiny, smooth, rounded construction made with the use of FiDU technology gives the effect of a inflated steel balloon. Nawa is an element of the European Capital of Culture celebrations and – as the author explains – it is an artistic interpretation of the city’s constant transformation.
Oskar Zięta also participated in yet another edition of the artistic 24H project from 2019. The theme of the project was Subjectivity and the subject matter was a starting point for the exhibition. A group exposition, curated by Paulina Olszewska, entered the spaces between stalls, empty shops and unused slots of Arcade 47.
Culture.pl in Brazil
Selected exhibitions and prizes:
- 2019 – 24H brl / poz: Subjectivity, Pasaż 47, Poznań
- 2018 – Polish (ed) Reflections, Jerke Museum, Recklinghausen, Germany
- 2015 – IMM Cologne, Germany
- 2014 – Dutch Design Week, Polish Design: in the Middle of; Milan Design Week, Polish Job
- 2013 – DMY International Festival of Design in Berlin, Future Nomads
- 2012 – ‘Designers’ Open’ in Leipzig, Germany
- 2011 – Audi-Mentorpreis Prize by A&W
- 2010 – London Design Festival, V & A Museum, Blow and Roll; Biennale Internationale Design 2010, St Etienne, Prediction; Lodz Design Festival, Underpressure; Saatchi Gallery, Phillips de Pury exhibition space, London, Projectory; Maison et Objet, Paris; DMY International Festival of Design in Berlin; Salone del Mobile di Milano – Young Creative Poland exhibition
- 2009 – Young Creative Poland, London; Institute of Industrial Design, Good Design Prize; DMY International Festival of Design in Berlin
- 2008 – YDMI Award 2008 German Design Council;Red Dot Award, Product Design
Oskara Zięta’s web page: www.zieta.pl
Author: Paulina Kucharska, February 2013, translated by Antoni Wiśniewski, updated: HSz, June 2019
Fragments of interviews with Oskar Zięta for www.eitplus.pl, www.designalive.pl and ‘Świat Architektury’ were used in the text.