Highlights from France and Britain in contemporary, practical design

Don’t confuse design with what can be invariably expensive and exclusive. Extraordinary design can also be affordable, destined to add necessary creative spice. Two shows on display in Athens prove that it is the daily, even discarded things that can make all the difference. «Great Brits – The New Alchemists,» organized by London’s Design Museum and the British Council, opens today at the Athens Concert Hall, while «French Design: Stars 2006» was inaugurated at the French Institute in Athens (IFA) last month. At the French Institute, design comes in aid of practicality with a selection of 40 items displaying function and fun. The variety of creations includes high-tech design, such as the ILV 201 carrier current modem designed by Marc Metral for Schneider Electric, but also taking the rather mundane idea of a sieve and transforming it into something cool (Boje Estermann for Normann Copenhagen). Forget the traditional look of a piano, think of a pure silhouette that fits in well with the rest of the furniture, as designed by Thibault Desombre for the Manufacture Francaise de Pianos Pleyel. Something to chew on? Do it the designer way: Try the candied fruit by Jeff de Bruges, all packed up in a «pot of paint.» Also part of the show is «ParisGoRama,» an inventive photographic machine, where each take is shown in six different frames designed by artist Alekos Fasianos. The IFA show is the result of the Observeur, a project founded by the Agence pour la Promotion de la Creation (APCI). The Observeur’s mission is to honor designs that are the result of shared projects between companies and designers. In Athens, the show was given a new spin with the Vakalo school’s professors and students staging the show as well as designing its communications tools. Inaugurated for the first time at Sir Paul Smith’s European headquarters during the 2005 Milan Furniture Fair, «Great Brits» is the second exhibition of its kind promoting the work of up-and-coming designers. At the Athens Concert Hall, Pascal Anson gives discarded objects a second chance by turning them into sets, while Julia Lohmann takes food industry leftovers and transforms them into lighting and furniture. Michael Cross and Julie Mathias have developed a series of powerful lights through the immersion of light bulbs in water and Matthias Megyeri brings together the ideas of security and kitsch by creating designer burglar alarms and surveillance tools. Also, Peter Traag breathes new life into rather old-fashioned materials by marrying them with alternative industrial methods. Tonight, as part of the Megaron Plus series, designers Pascal Anson and Michael Cross will participate in a round-table discussion along with Stergios Delialis, director of the Design Museum in Thessaloniki. «Design for Living» is part of the British Council’s Metropolis series of discussions on design, architecture and urban planning. At the Athens Concert Hall, 1 Kokkali & Vas. Sofias, tel 210.728.2333, «Great Brits – The New Alchemists» runs to March 4. At IFA, 31 Sina, tel 210.339.8600, «French Design: Stars 2006» runs to Feb 9.

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