Up and coming Australian designer Henry Wilson has healthy and serious demeanour. And if his recent win at the annual Bombay Sapphire Design Discovery Awards means anything to him – it’s social responsibility. “I have entered the award 3 years in a row and I know the only reason I won this year is because of the commercial application of the A-joint,” says Wilson with a troubled air.
It’s not that being commercially successful really bothers him, but rather that he observes his role as a designer with near religious virtue.
To win the recent prize he designed a multi-use A-shaped joint that can be used for constructing a range of Spartan furniture. ‘Born in the making’ according to Wilson, this A-joint is a sand-cast, incredibly strong, multi-use joinery system that makes it possible to unite pre-dimensional timber in up-to 4 different configurations. The joint is manufactured in both bronze and aluminium at a local foundry in Sutherland can be used for everything from installing a simple desk or dining trestle in the home to propping up cot beds and operating tables in a war zone.
"I trained in woodwork to a honours level at the ANU, but I didn’t want to restrict myself to making pretty furniture in wood, " says Wilson. Setting out to create honest products in a world of wild consumerism, Wilson says keeps a ‘conceptual checklist’ on him wherever her goes to ensure the products he designs are necessary and not just things.
A recent graduate from a Masters program the prestigious Academy of Man and Humanity in Eindhoven, Netherland it is clear if Wilson leaves any design legacy behind him, it will be a light one.
“I get a lot of inspiration from watching people ‘making do’,” he says earnestly. “When I see someone getting by in a way that I think is unique and shows some addressing of a need, I really like that and take a lot from that. I have travelled all through Asia and a lot through Europe and parts of Africa, but interestingly I found a lot of inspiration in the smaller European communities of Holland and Germany, where people are really running with their money, latching on to the new and discarding the old.
“At the same time as they are throwing the past away – you have an influx of immigrants from Africa and everywhere and they’re the ones picking up the old objects from junkyard and old shops and then using them in new ways," says Wilson.
Not convinced that design should just be about ceasing something new Wilson insists that great design can also mean designing new objects by building on to an existing thing. "I’m interested in hybrid objects that crash two things together. In my next project I am taking ubiquitous household products and adding to them and manipulating them with 3D printing of metal, glass and plastic," he says of his new show Stories in Form that opens at Object Gallery in January 2012.
Other domestic examples include his redesign of the Holix chair that is made suitable for interior use with the addition of a vegetable-dyed leather cover, and his Le Creuset pot that is augmented for table use through the addition of a trivet handle.
“I think designers cultivate the impression they know more than they actually do. Like anyone like writers or editor – we constantly have our filters open and are continually poaching and kind of pilfering ideas for our own use. I really like it when the nature of the work is unveiled and that mystery is taken away. When we just see the product as it is. That human ingenuity and human endeavour, that has built on and on top of ideas is what I really like. It is not necessarily that design has some kind of divine moment,” says the designer who particularly likes the concept and collaboration associated with Open Sourcing.
“There are these little stories around us that I kind of like to research and filter back into the work."
His current street facing collaboration is Trent Henry; a workshop and gallery space in the Rocks designed to showcase new design and retails products.
The A-joint is available from the end of November through Trent & Henry.
Aluminium A-joints retail for $125 and the bronze A-joint for $250.
Trent and Henry.com