Michael Young’s latest project for Veerle Verbakel Gallery highlights the duality of design


The Art of Industry

By Wava Carpenter

“Design isn't about marketing. It's about industrialization… It is design as industrial art that interests me, not just as a limited edition, but on a scale of mass production.”

These are the words of a proper industrial designer: British-born, Hong-Kong-based, multi-award-winning designer Michael Young, who, over the course of the last 20+ years, has created cars, bikes, watches, electrical switches, radios, chairs, lighting, acoustical paneling, and more for an array of international brands. Despite the broad range of his output, his body of work demonstrates that he is a stickler for classical design principles, harnessing technology and rational design thinking to produce objects and mechanisms that optimize functionality, convenience, and comfort in the daily lives of sizable populations.

Given Young’s passion for creating products for mass consumption, it might come as a surprise to learn that his latest project for Brussel’s Veerle Verbakel Gallery, Metal Rock, is a limited-edition collection of 12 unique, hand-finished furniture objects, a.k.a. collectible design, a.k.a. design-art. But with just a glimpse into the research-driven process behind Metal Rock, it’s clear that Young never strays far from the industrial, which, for him—as for Belgian-born gallerist Veerle Verbakel—constitutes an art form in its own right.

After years of exploring the material possibilities of aluminum—see his designs for Brionvega, Emeco, Giant, and EOQ, for example—Young began to identify an untapped potential in injected anodized aluminum foam. He began to work with factories in Hong Kong to develop his own tooling that fills molten aluminum with air bubbles, followed by a second process that embeds color into the exposed surfaces as the material cools. The experimental techniques allow Young to test the malleability of the material with an eye toward future applications. In the meantime, he’s found an artistic outlet. The objects resulting from the high-tech, industrial processes have an unexpected earthy, mineral-like quality. They bear a strange, geologic beauty, like a moonrock or an agate extracted from a cave. The final pieces are delicately hand finished, and voila, the rough is transformed into the precious.

Verbakel loves the project so much, she chose it as the debut collection for her new gallery. As she explains, “Michael Young is one of the most interesting contributors to the body of ideas that surrounds materiality today. As a designer, he is like a nomad and a hunter; he’s among the most progressive in the field of design technology. It is Michael Young’s ambition to go beyond, into material territories where no one has ever been.”

This approach perfectly suits her gallery’s mission, which she sums up with the phrase “the duality of design.” As Verbakel explains, “I’m intrigued by that thin line between art and design; between industrial and luxury goods. So I am focused on commissioning designers to create unique art objects using high quality, industrial materials and techniques.” Other projects she's currently exploring include a collaboration with a Brussels-based designer and the oldest fine leather goods company in the world (also based in Brussels), alongside an accessible collection of design-art and homewares in marble and brass. Verbakel adds, “I hope to be venturing more into Asia, especially Ho Chi Minh City, in the near future, because design is so close to production there. It is such a great place for experimentation; I really love the fast vibe.”

After years spent consulting for designers and writing for design publications, Verbakel is delighted with the precedent her gallery has set with Young's Metal Rock Collection. “He is a bit of a rock star, in a very good way. He finds a way to blend industry and technology and innovation with your interior. He becomes your friend and so do his objects. The objects are love pieces. I truly cherish them.” We're looking forward to seeing what comes next.

  Inside the industrial facility that produces Michael Young's Metal Rock Collection Photo © Michael Young Studio

 

  • Text by

    • Wava Carpenter

      Wava Carpenter

      After studying Design History, Wava has worn many hats in support of design culture: teaching design studies, curating exhibitions, overseeing commissions, organizing talks, writing articles—all of which informs her work now as Pamono’s Editor-in-Chief.

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