Aleks Marjanovic

Interdisciplinary Architect

Fröbel’s Playfully Simple Furniture

The Köln International School of Design exhibition at the Salone del Mobile, Milano

Designing a booth for the biggest furniture fair in the world

The Salone del Mobile occupies an area of 230 000 square meters, includes 2500 companies, 270 000 attendees and 700 young designers at the Salone Satellite, the secondary exhibition*. A group of 8 students was chosen to take part in presenting our school at the fair, and I was lucky enough to be facilitating and managing the whole process, from design, implementation, to documentation of the experience. It should be noted that our school is not a product design school- we don’t specialise in creating furniture. We’re known for our human-centred approach, and our collaborative and innovative processes of developing sometimes seemingly crazy ideas. Was it easy? No. Could it have gone smother? Surely. Is it the project that still gives us goosebumps when we talk about the experience? Absolutely.

Friedrich Fröbel - the genius pedagogue behind some of the worlds greatest architecture

Never heard of the German pedagogue Fröbel? Not many have, and yet it’s his ideas that gave birth to the establishment of kindergarten, an institution in charge of the growth and education of the most sensitive demographic. So yes, he’s kind of a big deal. Another one of his less known inventions is the ‘Spielgabe’ or ‘gifts’: sets of deceivingly simple toys meant to help children form a relationship with the elements of their environment, and understand how to manipulate them. Frank Lloyd Wright was given the Spielgabe at a young age, claiming that they helped him develop his spatial sense, and lead him to create his renowned masterpieces of architecture. So why wouldn’t we use the original idea of the Spielgabe to stage an environment meant to encourage creativity and experimentation in true-to-life size?

Key takeaway: being a good leader means putting your team first

We received overwhelmingly positive critique from those who visited our booth, as well as our peers and teachers back in Cologne. Those who were older, felt a nostalgic relation to the Spielgabe, having played with them as young children. Students and kids were intrigued by the idea that a booth at the world’s biggest furniture fair could be fun and interactive- which was our priority from the beginning. For myself, this project was hugely significant in that it was the first time I grappled with a leadership role of this magnitude and responsibility. I aimed at keeping the team motivated and constantly communication with each other if not face-to-face, then through the digital channels.
We had some bad days, and a couple of horrific ones, but on the whole, it was an amazing experience that none of us will ever forget. We had lots of fun! And that spirit I truly believe seeped into the work we displayed at the Salone del Mobile.