In 2016, German designer Bernd Benninghoff found himself in search of new materials to inspire a new direction and product designs. When he discovered the cutting technology behind Dukta Flexible Wood, developed by Swiss designers and father-son duo, Serge and Pablo Lunin, Bernd was immediately intrigued. The result was the design for Wave, a three-dimensional wall system in collaboration with Spinneybeck.
The design of Wave features flowing ripples of Dukta Flexible Wood in depths that play with light and shadow, a characteristic that has become prominent in so many of Bernd’s designs for both Spinneybeck and FilzFelt.
Over the last several years, Bernd has explored an array of new technologies and manufacturing possibilities and with it found potential in a previous design. Bernd saw the promise of re-imagining Wave in other natural materials including 100% Wool Design Felt. The opportunity of executing the wavy forms in a soft material, and one that offers a wide range of colors was too intriguing.
Bernd takes us through the inspiration behind the original design, exploring new technologies, and experimenting with a fresh batch of natural materials with his students in Mainz, Germany.
Arc re-imagines Wave, a design you created in Dukta Flexible Wood for Spinneybeck. What made you want to reinterpret this design in felt?
The material properties of Dukta Flexible Wood inspired me at the time to design wave-shaped, soft acoustic panels. The material was made for it!
I had previously designed several wall applications with felt, but this particular design was tricky when working with this material. I didn’t have access to the technology needed to achieve the same design in wool felt.
The prospect of realizing these wavy forms in 100% Wool Design Felt, however, was too intriguing, so I worked with FilzFelt to experiment with new technologies. This laid the foundation for translating my basic design to a new material – in this case, a wave-like construction made of a fiber composite base and natural wool felt.
What challenges did you face when taking an existing design and implementing a new material?
Although the geometry of the surface is very similar to the Dukta Flexible Wood version, the structure of the modules is different. The felt modules are self-supporting, and, unlike the wood version, the individual modules don’t require stabilizing side supports. As a result, the overall design is more light and airy and possesses a unique character all of its own. In addition, each module has a stretched arc shape, which led to the design’s name.
The challenge came when experimenting with the edges of the modules. I wanted a subtle transition from one module to the next, but this took quite a long time. Ultimately, we achieved this by applying the top layer of felt with a fine, all-around chamfered edge that would create a seamless and smooth aesthetic.
One of the exciting aspects of working with felt is the opportunity to incorporate a wide range of colors. Can you speak to the feelings this design can elicit with a broad color palette?
I am always interested in structures with depth and three-dimensionality that can be experienced both visually and physically. The surface of Arc plays with light and shadow and comes alive with the movement and change of light.
Adding a range of colors is a fantastic design option that gives any product an even wider range of end uses. I personally favor a monochrome color scheme for Arc. The varying module sizes and the staggered arrangements bring so much life to a space on their own. But with the new FilzFelt color palette, I can also imagine the striking effect of color gradations.
What feelings do you hope this design elicits?
I think everyone will associate these wavy forms with their own experiences because it’s a frequently recurring motif in nature. Whether it’s the memory of a day at the sea or a babbling river, wind tracks in the sand, or gentle waves of grass or soft powdery snow, I think the design will resonate with everyone. Whatever the reference or memory, the surface has something soft and flowing that I find very soothing.
“I think everyone will associate these wavy forms with their own experiences because it’s a frequently recurring motif in nature. Whether it’s the memory of a day at the sea or a babbling river, wind tracks in the sand, or gentle waves of grass or soft powdery snow, I think the design will resonate with everyone.”
Are there any new natural materials you’re working with these days? Any that you hope to work with in the future?
Given the ongoing environmental issues we face with climate change, I am increasingly interested in self-growing and compostable materials. There are already some fascinating approaches being explored here at the moment.
Together with my students at the University of Mainz, we are currently designing acoustic modules from mushrooms. This process, developed in the United States, is already being used in the packaging industry and could soon become a serious alternative for sustainable interior design. Initially, it sounded strange, but this material could be a promising, sustainable option. We will have to stay tuned.
In what kind of spaces do you envision Arc?
I can see Arc in a variety of spatial environments – in a large hotel lobby, a theater or auditorium, an open-plan office, a bar, a hotel room, or even a private home. The selective use of curved and flat modules and the choice of color allow you to control whether the wall design is more vibrant or calmer to the viewer.
At the start, when I looked at some of the initial renderings with full wall installations, I thought that it looked nice but also felt, at times, that the wall was just too busy. It can feel busy installed this way because a lot is happening with all of the waves and curves covering the wall's surface. At that point, I thought adding one more module might be interesting. So I introduced a flat panel that would offer the chance to introduce a bit of subtlety.
An installation with more flat panels (below) reminded me a bit of being at the beach where you have the waves coming in and just washing away over the sand. And I think that adding these flat modules offers more possibilities to create a more individual, personal, and custom installation. In my mind, this is also a great option because you have an asymmetric setting that brings extra attention to the wall.
“I am always interested in structures with depth and three-dimensionality that can be experienced both visually and physically. The surface of Arc plays with light and shadow and comes alive with the movement and change of light.”
“I can see Arc in a variety of spatial environments – in a large hotel lobby, a theater or auditorium, an open-plan office, a bar, a hotel room, or even a private home. The selective use of curved and flat modules and the choice of color allow you to control whether the wall design is more vibrant or calmer to the viewer.”
About Bernd Benninghoff
Bernd Benninghoff works as a furniture designer and interior architect based in Mainz, Germany. Since 2000, his design studio has developed serial furniture as well as room and exhibition concepts for international clients. For Bernd, objects and spatial context are interrelated. It is important for him to use authentic materials and appropriate manufacturing processes—in search of meaningful design solutions and room experiences with an independent character.
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