How modern furniture appeared 100 years ago: Modernist man, architect and jeweler Josef Hoffman
Chairs with high backs, sofas and armchairs, which are still relevant today, geometric decorations and textiles with abstract patterns … There is hardly a design area in which Austrian architect Josef Hoffman, who had outpaced his time for almost a hundred years, would not have worked.
Josef Hoffman is considered the founder of the Vienna Secession – a modern creative association. During the period of fascination of European artists with the smooth plant forms of Art Nouveau, functionalism was born in Vienna – a much more viable and promising direction than the “curvilinear modern”.
Hoffman was a native of Moravia. He studied at the art school in Brno, and then learned the secrets of architecture in Vienna. There, his talent and bright ideas attracted the attention of prominent architect Otto Wagner. In his workshop, along with Josef Maria Olbrich and Koloman Mozer, he is imbued with the principles of the new European art – modernism.
In 1899, Hoffman began teaching at the School of Arts and Crafts in Vienna, which will last four decades. As an educator, he sought to identify the most talented students and find application for their talents as soon as possible. Oscar Kokoschka, Egon Schiele, Annie Schaad and Le Corbusier were among the “lucky ones” he promoted.
During the years of study, Hoffmann found like-minded people – first they founded the “Club of Seven”, and after that they formed the “backbone” of the Vienna secession.
In the landmark year 1900, Joseph Hoffman designed the project of the pavilion of the Vienna Secession at the international exhibition in Paris, and in 1903 he co-founded the “Vienna workshops”, where supporters of functionalism worked. According to Hoffman, the key idea of the existence of the “Vienna workshops” was “establishing close warm relationships between the buyer, the designer and the manufacturer in order to create high-quality, simple items for the house.”
Hoffman began to design furniture, architecture, textiles, decor items, jewelry …
While the artists of modernism proclaimed as their goal the creation of utensils as valuable works of art, Hoffman was looking for ways to apply new industrial technologies in a non-trivial way. He explored various properties of materials to give the products a bright imagery without loss of functionality and unnecessary waste.
He became a forerunner of an ergonomic approach – taking into account the physical needs of man in the design of furniture. Hoffman did not refuse to search for aesthetic, fresh, original forms of furniture, but he also studied the latest scientific achievements in the field of orthopedics, mechanics, physics …
In those days, it was called the “medical” approach. This inevitably influenced his creative style, but Hoffman still preferred modernism – extremely simple geometric shapes, straight lines, concise silhouettes. His favorite color was black.
In 1908, according to his project, a wooden exhibition complex was created in Vienna. There were regularly exhibited art objects from academic canvases to innovative art objects.
However, in 1910 there was a break in the career of Hoffman the architect. He went headlong into designing furniture. The main result was the emergence of the sofa, assembled from black leather cubes, which is considered the reference model of modernist design. The sofa according to the Hoffman project can still be purchased today – it will fit perfectly into the interior of any ultra-modern and high-tech office.
The innovative techniques used by him in the creation of upholstered furniture, have now become the benchmark for industrial design. Joseph Hoffman is rightfully considered the first European minimalist designer.
However, in architecture, Hoffman also rejects excesses. The walls of its buildings are almost completely devoid of ornament and stucco, and the viewer’s attention is concentrated on the very form of the building.