Designer    Feature 31 Oct 2012

Philippe Starck’s latest collaboration is set to change the world of brassware

Once again Philippe Starck has developed a design for Axor Hansgrohe that will influence the world of bathroom brassware.

The relationship between Philippe Starck and Hansgrohe goes back some 20 years and the fruits of the mutual respect that has grown between the leading designer and manufacturer are writ large in Philippe Starck’s latest collection for Hansgrohe, the Axor Starck Organic that clearly caused the manufacturer to go the extra mile in production knowhow and technology.

Writ equally large in the new collection is Hansgrohe’s on-going concern and practical considerations for the environment. Around 30% less raw material was used in the production of the new collection than would have been the case as little as two years ago.

And a click stop on the flow of the mixer is set at a flow rate of 3.5 litres per minute (compared with an average of 7 litres per minute for most mixers), but this can be overridden to up to 5 litres per minute if the hot water system in a user’s home demands it.

The water temperature itself is set by a control on the top of the mixer. A discreet angle on this indicates hot or cold by pointing towards an ultra-slim indicator ring with increasing shades of red for hot (naturally) and green for cold.

The flow of the mixer is regulated by a control on its spout that is twisted to increase or decrease the volume of water. According to Philippe Grohe, the head of the Axor brand who has been test-driving the mixer for some six months, the built-in technology of the product means that hand washing can be achieved with a setting considerably lower than the click stop limit of 3.5 litres per hour.

For the most frequently used wash basin mixers, the company’s spray research laboratory developed a new kind of water spray. Like a generous shower spray, it consists of 90 individual outlets, each producing countless gentle drops of water. This new and extremely efficient shower spray for the wash basin not only provides a new sensation, it is also more functional as it sprays a large surface area.

The other new thinking behind this design separates the temperature control from the flow control in a totally natural manner. It means that, for example, a basin mixer can be set at the optimum temperature for hand washing and then not have to be reset every time the user turns the tap on. While this is not a new feature in itself, it is arguably the most elegant design solution for this feature.

Technology to one side, the Axor Starck collection also looks stunning! The organic shape of the mixer is reminiscent of the junction of two small branches on a tree. It’s a shape that lends itself naturally to basin or bath mixer while the top of the mixer’s raindrop outline is a powerful design signature that runs throughout the collection.

The two handles blend in visually with the body of the mixers. No matter what position the handles may be in, they will reflect a perfect image and naturally indicate the current temperature setting. Axor Starck Organic blends with the most diverse range of bathroom styles and will be a strong aesthetic highlight in any environment.

Once again Philippe Starck as rewritten the style book of bathroom brassware and once again Hansgrohe has backed this eccentric genius to the hilt. In 1998 they stunned the world with the Axor Starck 2 handle mixer featuring cylindrical elements, all with the same diameter, and connected at only one point and then, in 2005, Axor Starck X was arguably the first mixer to provide a natural water experience.

Even when you disregard outright copies, Axor Starck 2 and Axor Starck X’s influence on the brassware market is not to be overlooked and Axor Starck Organic is certainly going to do the same thing. According to its creator, he has designed a range that will have a fashion ‘life’ of at least 20, perhaps 50 years.

“Axor Starck Organic was some two years in development,” explained Philippe Grohe. “To me, the essence of our work consists of allowing people to experience the fascination of water in its best way, and to provide innovative solutions of the highest aesthetic and technological levels.

“Philippe Starck was the right person to talk with about this project. In the 20 years we have worked together so far, he again and again inspired us to come up with radical ways of challenging established patterns of thought, behaviour and design.”

“A new intuition has come to me,” said Philippe Starck. “It was more a question: What is life, what is the energy of life? And I started to work – not in another way, but from a different angle of view with the same subject of the minimum.”

Focusing on the essence of things is what gave Philippe Starck the inspiration for this new collection. In its unique, organic-minimalist design, harmonious lines reminiscent of shapes we see in nature characterise Axor Starck Organic. “My work is not to add but to enhance the purity of design, said Philippe Starck. “I take away and take away and try to take away more and more but remain human. I stop working when it is impossible to take away any more. I wanted the design to be minimal, with the essential beauty of a human but with the energy of life.”

Asked about the technical difficulties of developing the Axor Starck Organic collection, Philippe Grohe shrugged off any concerns. “Obviously it is easier if we go to a designer and say ‘here is a technology we have developed, can you build this into a design?’, rather than the designer come to us and say ‘can your technology make this work?’ but at the end of the day it is a partnership,” he says.

“It’s a patient partnership too,” added Starck. “For my designs to be what I want them to be, the engineering has to be perfect. One millimetre of material more will make what is being made something else and not what I have designed. Half a millimetre less will make it something else too.”

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