Thomas Edelmann: There are a number of clients who you’ve worked with in your career with whom you have developed a long-standing relationship. Plank from Ora in South Tyrol is one of them. How did Plank put itself on the map in the design scene?
Konstantin Grcic: By going through pretty radical change. The history of Plank is very much connected to the area in the Alpine foothills where the company is based and its traditions. The context in which Plank was formed was that of Alpine wood architecture and the furniture created for it. The company was founded as long ago as 1893. Karl Plank created hand-made traditional Alpine chairs out of simple wooden boards. Martin Plank, the founder’s grandson, attended the Woodworking Technical College in Rosenheim. He was an inventor and devised patents and machines for building the traditional chairs on an industrial scale. The company had a great deal of success with this approach. Their virtually unbreakable chairs set a certain standard in the Alpine region. Martin Plank wondered how he could build on this success. What should the company he would pass on to his son Michael look like? He consulted an advisor. Some things are hard to solve by yourself, at times you need outside support. The Planks are very good at accepting help: They listen carefully and then make their decision.
What did the business consultant suggest he do?
Konstantin Grcic: He prescribed a radical cure for the company. He said: “Plank, you need to pull the plug here! You don’t need all these machines any more. You need to put out feelers into the world and find out what it needs! That’s where your future lies!” Martin Plank accepted the advice. His idea was to implement it himself. This meant discontinuing his previous fabrication.
A radical change that was also based on continuity?
Konstantin Grcic: This change revolved around new insights, but in connection to the company background and the experience Plank had gathered. And so Plank continued to make furniture. But it moved away from Alpine chairs and now opted for contemporary design instead. That’s what put the company on the map in the design world. Of course it was a slow process involving many steps that all had to be prepared carefully.
Was the change already under way when you came in contact with Plank?
Konstantin Grcic: The process had begun ten years earlier. The company began engaging with design – without really knowing what design was to begin with. Then along came architect and designer Biagio Cisotti from Florence, who still plays a central role as an external partner, art director, and – for all intents and purposes – family member. This long-term relationship is characteristic for Plank. Today, the products are for the most part created in close collaboration between Michael Plank, Biagio Cisotti, and my office.
The Italian architect and industrial designer Vico Magistretti once said design was like love. You need two to make it work – in the case of design, an entrepreneur and a designer. According to Magistretti, it was only when certain constellations and agents came together that something fundamentally new could be achieved. How important is the client when it comes to the success of ambitious projects?
Konstantin Grcic: Extremely important! What we recognize as a brand is based on the decisions made by the people who established the company and built it up, who keep it in business or transform it. For me as a designer this results in a very direct relationship with the person making all of the decisions. It speeds things up when paths are short. And as Magistretti says: You have a partner in this creative process. You work together very closely and on absolutely equal terms.