Into The Future With Panton
The irony of being celebrated as an icon of contemporary design would not be lost on Verner Panton. Two decades have passed since the Danish designer’s death, but as we dive head-first into a world of political and economic unrest, the desire to break social convention that defined his work in the 1960s and 70s is as enticing now as it was then. Considered the enfant terrible of his generation, Panton embraced what it meant to be a Danish designer while redefining the function of furniture.
Coming of age in a post-war economy, Panton was familiar with the habits and needs of the ordinary person. Intelligent design, to him, should not be reserved for the wealthy, but made accessible to the mass market. The revolutionary designer blossomed as part of a movement that believed in widespread social progress through sophisticated design solutions and reforms which ultimately paved the way for social welfare models that continue to create global change. He was a maverick and an outlaw, yet his work is now synonymous with the unprecedented shift of an entire industry.
Panton famously said, “A less successful experiment is preferable to a beautiful platitude.'“
While resilient and progressive, the world he set about building with his dedication to pragmatic design was not without its challenges, but it was a world that promised social mobility and an optimistic future.
As some of his most recognisable works, Panton’s truly radical concepts were his environments, the most famous being 1970’s Visiona 2. Defining the signature curves and colours of the era, these ‘social uteruses’ were a figurative interpretation of an idea belonging to art theorist Bazon Brock.
Visiona 2, the designer’s contribution to an international movement channelling the innovation of post-war technologies and systems as environments for modern life, sits elegant alongside architectural projects Archigram in England and Archizoom Associati in Italy.
The difference between Panton and his architectural contemporaries was his approach to change. While many collectives focused on wider environments and societal changes, Panton maintained a focus on the behaviour of individuals, perhaps hoping by altering one individual’s experience of design he could spark a domino effect.
Panton is often compared to function-led designer Dieter Rams.Many were quick to condemn Panton as a clown or a fantasist, it is with the benefit of hindsight that we can see the appeal of both approaches. Rams was efficient, effective and restrained in his approach while, Panton sought out emotional experiences and challenged us to feel something in our environments.
Panton’s highly expressive designs are a product of an industry set free, During the first and second world wars, materials and manufacture were defined by military needs and a basic commitment to survival. While this limited the production and design development of furniture, it dud inspire innovation and, when the dust settled, designers like Panton were faced with a brave new world of opportunity.
Arguably one of the most iconic chair designs of all time, the arrival of the S chair, which is often referred to simply as the Panton chair, in 1967 firmly established the designer as a true innovator. This ground- breaking seat, while elegantly simple in design, was the first time any designer had successfully manufactured a chair that could be moulded from a single piece of plastic. When the S chair was presented to the public and press, it became an instant sensation.
One thing that is unflinchingly evident in Panton’s work, from the S chair to Visiona, is that he believed in the choice of the everyday individual. Through careful study and application of pattern, systems and colour Panton created mass-produced products that could be curated by the end-user to build their own unique world, inspired by his.