Foam favourite

1st July 2005 at 01:00
Sixties' psychedelia opened up interior worlds for interior decoration, says Deborah Riding

Verner Panton 1926-1998

As a child, Vernon Panton yearned to become an artist but he was encouraged by his parents to pursue a career in architecture. He quickly established a reputation as a visionary designer and, by the early 1960s, was experimenting with materials, technologies and a whole approach to design.

He never lost his passion for painting, however, and realised his artistic flair through his designs.

This womb-like "Phantasy Landscape" was created by Verner Panton for the Visiona II exhibition at the Cologne furniture fair of 1970. His design transformed a domestic interior into a living - almost breathing - environment, featuring fluid shapes designed for reclining and socialising.

Bold in its use of colour, shape and texture, the foam structure's undulating curves are enhanced by lighting integrated into the upholstered walls to create an ambient interior landscape. Entering the space was - and is - a unique and immersive experience.

"Phantasy Landscape" is difficult to categorise. It is design, architecture, art and installation, all at the same time. Created at a time when architecture and design had experienced dramatic departures, Panton's design echoes many of the concerns of artists and designers caught up in the psychedelic craze of the late 1960s: a rejection of traditional values, experimentation with space and patterns of living, exploration of multi-sensory environments and a playful use of colour, shape and form.

Panton's lifelong desire to achieve a completely holistic approach to design culminated in these "total environments". He said: "The main purpose of my work is to provoke people into using their imaginations... By experimenting with lighting, colours, textiles and furniture, I try to show new ways to encourage people to use their phantasy and make their surroundings more exciting."

From the first "landscape", at the Norwegian Astoria Hotel in 1960, to more amazing versions developed throughout the late 1960s and early '70s, these environments attempted to overcome the usual distinctions between floor, walls and ceiling. Panton believed the postwar climate presented an ideal opportunity to shake up traditional living, from social structures to our experience of domestic environments. Using futuristic yet organic designs, he incorporated the fluid motifs popular throughout design in the 1960s.

However, rather than the pale natural wood favoured by other Scandanavian designers, Panton experimented with new, manmade materials, such as plastics, fibreglass, Perspex and foam rubber, that could be moulded into brightly coloured and more adventurous forms. Rejecting the stale aesthetic of modernism, he was extravagant with shape, colour and texture, prioritising form as well as function. His fun approach was famous - he designed some of the first inflatable furniture - but even more famous was the Panton chair, a cantilevered design made from a single piece of plastic. Glossy and brightly coloured, it has become a design classic.

The influence of these earlier designs can be seen clearly in "Phantasy Landscape". With fittings that included three-dimensional carpets, flexible, multi-functional seating, and furniture echoing the human form, the spaces encouraged social interaction. Many other designers of the time also employed this playful approach, condemning the constraints of what they regarded as authoritarian values and traditional living spaces, and considering the notion of space-age living, released from gravity.

"Psychedelia" engaged with the political revolution and counter-culture of the late 1960s and early '70s and exemplified a new sense of personal and sexual liberation. Artists, architects and designers challenged old hierarchies of what was appropriate and acceptable, contributing to a new visual culture. A sense of individuality and freedom manifested itself in bright, dynamic colours and swirling shapes and forms, echoing the experience of sensory overload and expanded consciousness often brought on by hallucinogenic agents.

Psychedelia blurred the distinctions between art, film, design and craft, creating multimedia "happenings", often produced collaboratively. New forms evolved from pioneering slide and film projections and light shows, transforming rock concerts into multimedia experiences that overloaded the senses with visual as well as aural material. New cultural spaces and venues developed to showcase new trends that were social as well as visual; posters advertising these played an important role in developing a distinctive aesthetic and graphic style. The Summer of Love of 1967 also unsteadied the foundations of traditional architecture and design, opening up tremendous opportunities for designers such as Panton to create fantastic new experiments in living spaces.

Panton's work is ideal for both primary and secondary groups. For primary teachers, it provides a wonderfully inspiring environment with which to think about design, architecture, space and pattern. Its bright colours and stimulating aesthetic can encourage younger children in bold and creative experimentation. For older students, Panton's design can open up discussion on popular culture or art vs design.

Deborah Riding is education officer, Tate Liverpool

* 'Phantasy Landscape Visiona II' is currently on display in Summer of Love: Art in the Psychedelic Era, at Tate Liverpool until September 25, 2005. Admission pound;5, Concessions pound;4. Group tickets can be bought in advance Tel: 0151 702 7400

Exhibition catalogue, Summer of Love: Art of the Pscyhedelic Era Tate, Pounds 19.99.

Verner Panton: The Collected Works by Alexander von Vegesack and Mathias Remmele. Vitra Design Museum, 2000 1000 Chairs by Charlotte Fiell, Peter Fiell. Taschen

Lesson ideas

Art and design

KS 12

Identify similarities and differences between Panton's design and chairs now used at home and at school. Where can one see seating like this? How would it feel to be in that fantasy room?

Design a piece of furniture or household object reflecting the visual style of an artist seen in a gallery or in the classroom. Whichever artist you choose, look at homes and interiors from that period.


What is the difference between craft, design and sculpture? Show examples of each: who is the maker, why and how? Who is it made for and where does it go when it's finished?

"Phantasy Landscape" is very evocative of its time. What issues affect our lives in 2005? How might they impact on designs for living now and in the future?


Work together on designs for a "chill out" space in school. Think about how people would use it, come up with imaginative ways to support use through structure, texture, lighting and music.

Make light shows for an ambient environment by projecting fluids sandwiched between mylar on a simple OHP. Use data projectors to project digital images or video.

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