There’s hardly an object with which humans come into more intimate contact than cutlery—we stick forks and spoons into our mouths, after all. Even our culture is shaped by our tableware: since the introduction of the fork in fifteenth-century France and Italy, Europe has no longer been eating with its fingers.

At the same time, utensils are representational objects. Their material and ornamentation indicate their owners’ social status. Cutlery is thus not infrequently made of gold or silver, sometimes even adorned with ivory or precious stones. Historically, it expressed not just material wealth, but also cultural literacy. Thus nineteenth-century bourgeois society expanded standard tableware—knife, fork, spoon—in countless variations through which to demonstrate its culinary culture. Today’s dessert spoon and fish knife are just two remnants of the many utensils manufactured at the time.

The twelve-piece cutlery set was designed by Jasper Morrison and distributed by the Japanese store Muji.

“To a certain extent, we copied the way evolution designs,” says Laarman of his breakthrough project.14 It’s all been done before? One now looks with new eyes on the structures created by architects like Antoni Gaudí or Carlo Mollino decades before Laarman, whose first furniture pieces sometimes drew comparisons to their obsessive formal worlds. Gaudí, too, drew upon sophisticated simulation techniques. To this day, his four-meter-high hanging model for the Church of Colònia Güell in Barcelona continues to fascinate both engineers and architects. Using a string netting loaded with little sacks of birdshot, he studied the ideal catenary curves and thus the ideal load distribution for the complex brick building whose construction was stopped in 1914 due to financial difficulties. The hanging model has survived only in historical photographs. With floorplans for the crypt, the only part of the structure actually completed, it was used in 2008 to reconstruct the church using 3D software. 15

Not until we look at Mollino’s organically shaped furniture with the knowledge we’ve gained from Claus Mattheck do we realize that Mollino avoided notch stress by using de-stressing tension triangles in both architecture and design. The work of the two old individualists is still inspiring and exhilarating, whereas the work of Joris Laarman is only just beginning. “We might not have created the most perfect chair of future worlds,” says the designer, “but we used a high-tech tool to create elegant forms with a certain legitimacy.”16 Who knows where Laarman’s lab will lead us? What we do know is this: in design, the development of standards was long considered the goal of all efforts. Today, the individual is the standard.


Morrison’s love of the normal has inspired him to collect and exhibit well-designed everyday objects. He’s even set up a shop in his London studio where he sells these simple, “super normal” everyday commodities. There, you’ll find ordinary paper clips, thermometers, potato peelers, wrenches, and even a simple plastic pail retailing for just 1.50 euros. Morrison or other well-known designers created some of the objects, and in some cases, the name of the designer is unknown. In all cases it’s unimportant. Morrison stands for a type of design that seeks calm in an age of chaos and prefers the normal over the unusual. In a world where things are getting ever more complicated, his return to simplicity is, for many, a liberation.

Friedrich von Borries, born in 1974, is an architect. He teaches Design Theory at the Hochschule für bildende Künste in Hamburg and runs the Projektbüro Friedrich von Borries in Berlin. The relationship between design and social development lies at the heart of his work, which exists in the border zone between urban planning, architecture, design, and art. “As scholars, we try to understand the world. As designers, we try to change it.”