Oliver Niewiadomski: A Portrait

Spheres, cubes, cylinders: for Oliver Niewiadomski, the basic geometric shapes are the archetypes of design and characterise his creative work as a designer as well as his teaching at Bremen University of the Arts. “Shapes like these are easy to understand because of our established habits of seeing and perception.” But the designer is concerned about more than just reproducing known shapes. Itˇs a case of interpreting the theme: turning something familiar into something surprising, innovative and new.

Niewiadomski was born in Hamburg in 1963. Originally, he wanted to make musical instruments. “Violins, actually. But they are already perfect as they are.” When the existing product has already reached such a level of perfection that would only permit any further innovation in tiny steps, thereˇs not much scope left for creativity. And so the designer looked for other possibilities of constantly readdressing the challenge posed by perfection. If you think a sphere is just a sphere, end of story, then youˇll meet with passionate objections. “God lives in the detail!” And heˇs not talking about alienating the familiar by adding decorative ornaments. “Most certainly not!” Niewiadomski laughs, although this is something he takes very seriously. His design focuses on a clear design language, logical functionality and a sensual choice of materials.

“It's a case of making the best from what's there and enhancing what's necessary, with an incisively formulated result.” Ornaments tell a story that goes beyond the shape. By contrast, Niewiadomski's designs tell their own story through their reduced clarity. “My designs are functional and appeal to the senses.” The BULO XL for example is the result of his approach to the sphere as a geometric shape, now interpreted in his own style. The designer combined light and body by cutting the shape into slices with the light in the middle and allowing it to move freely on its supportive base. Is this just form and function? Or is it a kind of inverted ornamentation when you cut something out? Taking away instead of adding something? Niewiadomski grins, it's a good question, but his answer is no. “It's a case of developing a shape that has neither too much nor too little.” This was the Bauhaus motto: reinterpreting the familiar, often with a surprising outcome resulting from the use of innovative technical possibilities. The invention of the light bulb or the bending of tubular steel created new spaces and new freedom for design. “Mart Stam's cantilever chair was an intellectual challenge. A chair on just two legs was completely inconceivable! It took fifty years before it was really understood.”

One technological innovation that has enhanced Niewiadomski's approach to forms and themes is LED technology. How can the resulting space be put to creative use? His studio is an office, lab and workshop all in one. This is where he draws, designs and researches models and prototypes. “Designing is a hybrid process. I have to test ideas, compare theory and practice and sound out the potential of new technologies.”

For him is important to remain independent throughout the process. Having others waiting for his ideas to be implemented would thwart his workflow, which is why he is constantly picking up new technologies as and when necessary. He says he's just learnt how to weld: this allows him to put new thoughts and ideas to the test straight away using corresponding materials in his workshop next door. Selecting the material is a sensual process. “It must be clear and pure, not encumbered with lies.” When he was a student, he stripped away all the concealing coats of paint on things, an approach that remains basically unchanged to this day. Design, machinery, architecture, mathematical sculptures: Niewiadomski has many interests and tackles many themes. For example, the Professor for Constructive Design created a modern collection of building hardware for TECNOLINE. An intensive development process with Charlotta Schnepel that put a key focus on material and technology. “The complicated production process is the main challenge”, says Niewiadomski, and you can still hear his passionate delight in the tricky task.

But light has always played a particular role in his work. “Good light is extremely important for our well-being. It's a little miracle, every time.” That's almost poetic. Well maybe. Or maybe not. Actually, it's all about being objective and functional. But of course, his designs address a certain target group. “Even functional design can speak an emotional language.” Emotional or functional, in the end it's about concentration and attention, about intellectual freedom. “I don't have to keep reinventing the shape. We know the shape from basic geometry. My aim is to give the shape intelligent details to help develop its identity.” Just as the BULO XL is a deconstructed sphere, the MLON is more than just a little luminous square shape with a coloured cable. Or stitching the power lead for the FLAD desk lamp to use all the design possibilities: “Here the cable is used as a design detail to cultivate the product identity.”