Classics never die

In our fast-paced age of machines and mass consumerism, how much have we sacrificed in quality? In the past, objects were created out of a love for craft. Today it is almost rare to source pieces that have been made with similar care and appreciation.

Has the age of craftsmanship come to an end or can this so-called “ancient” art-form come into play again? How important is craftsmanship and should we be trying to salvage it? Regional designers and experts give us their views.

“[As a] son of an architect, I have grown a profound passion for craftsmanship and made it ikonhouse’s heart and soul,” said executive director of ikonhouse, Dorian Pauwels.

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“Craftsmen truly love what they do and take pride in achieving perfection every time, with dedication and skill. They are the guardians and practitioners of ancient traditions, passed on from generation to generation.

These artisans produce things of great quality, built to last, from carefully selected materials that will grow patina through their use, showing the experience of life and giving these items their ultimate character,” he added.

Pauwels argued that in contrast to what most people believe, craftsmen could actually be those who will push us forward in terms of quality design and innovation: “Craftsmen are people who care the most about making things last through generations, with minimum impact on the environment whilst still being strong, durable and beautiful.

“Designers together with their trusted craftsmen are ones driving innovation based on new materials, new designs, and up-to-date assembly techniques.”

Furniture designer Khalid Shafar also believes that good quality and craftsmanship go hand in hand and will always deliver superior results.

“Craftsmanship is always linked to quality and here lies its importance.” However, he stated that “personally, I believe craftsmanship is being valued more in fashion luxury brands nowadays whereas in product design, it’s perceived as an aged thing and only associated with antiques, vintage and classical pieces.”

Fair director of recently launched design fair, Downtown Design, Cristina Romelli Gervasoni agreed that regardless of the common production methods of our time, craftsmanship should still hold a significant place in design.

“I believe that there is a sustainable element to maintaining craftsmanship. Something that is well designed, hand crafted and built that will stand the test of time ensures a timeless elegance of a product or piece of furniture.”

Shafar, who applies elements of craftsmanship to his furniture pieces, stated: “With lifestyle changing and generations moving toward contemporary living, craftsmanship is looked at as an old fashioned lifestyle and people try to avoid it. But I believe designers and creative people need to start realising the value of craftsmanship when it comes to [good] quality.”

He added that in the Middle East region, “craftsmanship is considered an old heritage practice by the old generation such as weaving, embroidery, etc. It’s a fact that these were looked at as dying crafts until recently when a couple of initiatives were found to preserve them. It’s the role of designers like us who have to bring these crafts back and integrate them in today’s process.”

Gervasoni agreed with Shafar, stating that she also sees a missing link between craftsmanship and design in the region, adding that the focus on craftsmanship should be greater.

“The Middle East has many indigenous crafts which should be brought to the fore in modern day manufacturing. These skills and talents should be celebrated rather than overrun by mass production techniques,” she said.

Shafar explained that the main challenges facing craftsmanship in the region is the disinterest of young designers to help expose the process and production of craftsmen in the current market.

“There is also no interest from the younger generation to learn the crafts and inherit it from older generations and this creates a major risk for the lifespan of these crafts,” he added.

Pauwels also mentioned that “there is great opportunity in growing capabilities in manufacturing in the region as it would help diversify sources of employment and revenue for countries. However, at this time, the region lacks specialised competencies—or qualified craftsmen—for making high-end furniture or technology.”

Pauwels nevertheless, noted that “this will be addressed in the near future with upcoming [graduates] from local universities.”

Although he maintains an optimistic outlook concerning what the future may bring to regional craftsmen, Pauwels still believes that the main challenge to be faced in the region lies in the craftsmen themselves.

“Overall, craftsmen located here lack recognition and appearance. It takes a great deal to establish an identity and trust [and] the region is fairly young in its capabilities of making things, yet designing. “Furthermore,” he added, “access to materials is tough because everything needs to be imported.

Also, workshops with machines programmed with the latest technologies are difficult to find for prototyping. Finally, customers often do not accept the time it takes to design and build. Unfortunately, time usually wins over quality.”

On the other hand, Gervasoni emphasised that people are becoming less frantic and are able to actually take the time to value good quality and craftsmanship.

“I believe there was a time in recent history when people’s lives were moving so quickly that they demanded a more instantaneous answer to their product design needs, almost becoming ubiquitous in the delivery of what they saw as modern design.”

She continued: “I believe that people have now been able to step back and almost go against the grain, as it were, to modern fast-paced lifestyles, taking time to enjoy and appreciate the value that a truly crafted piece of design can bring.”

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