Over the weekend, Alice Stori Liechtenstein inaugurated the latest edition of her ongoing design exhibition and residency, a project set against the dramatic backdrop of her Austrian castle, Schloss Hollenegg. Titled Walden, this year’s theme invited designers to think about bringing nature back into everyday life. But not the romantic version of it, as Liechtenstein explains: the gritty, wild kind.

‘I wanted to address the environmental crisis,’ says Stori Liechtenstein, the castle’s resident and curator. ‘In the past 18 months there have been some groundbreaking exhibitions on design and ecology, and I felt it was necessary to keep the conversation alive and explore it further. I find a lot of the current narrative is unnecessarily politicised and guilt-inducing, so I wanted to talk more about nature than the damage we are doing to it, in the hope of reawakening our innate love for the earth.’

chair on stair
Above, The Arch by Crafting Plastics. Below Window of Lina Bo Bardi by Destroyers/Builders

Schloss Hollenegg for Design

The castle feels like a perfect starting point for a conversation about nature: the 12th century building is surrounded by a park and several hectares of forest with trees including fir, birch and larch. Part of a remote, hilly wine region close to the border with Slovenia, it’s a fitting place to ponder about the wild.

Since 2016, the Italian-born curator has been inviting designers to come stay at the Austrian castle to develop a project, and this year’s lineup of designers in residence included American architecture practice Charlap Hyman & Herrero, French designer Marlene Huissoud, sustainability-focused studio Crafting Plastics and Viennese product designer Klemens Schillinger.

An additional 19 designers are part of the exhibition, showcasing new work that explores the theme of nature and wilderness, and for the first time, Stori Liechtenstein has also brought on board four design companies to collaborate with three of her designers in residence. Calico Wallpaper, cc-tapis, Kaia Lighting and Paper Factor have helped bring the projects to life, introducing a novel dimension to the curatorial project.

Chair in bushery
Mycelium Chair by Jonas Edvard

Designers in residence

Charlap Hyman & Herrero collaborated with Calico Wallpaper on a site-specific wallpaper design for the Gobelin Tapestry Room, cladding the ceiling and a formerly blank wall. Their design brings the outdoors in, with images of the ivy and insects embracing walkways, towers and staircases all around the castle.

Marlene Huissoud worked with cc-tapis for her project. Descriptively titled ‘Swarms’, the French designer’s first rug design is dedicated to celebrating the importance of insects – a recurring theme throughout her work. Entirely hand-knotted by Tibetan artisans, the rug employed eco-friendly production techniques using only hymalayan wool and no dyes.

Klemens Schillinger’s Off Grid Lamp uses LED technology and manually-charged power to invite users to take a break for physical exercise to re-charge the battery. Another lighting project was devised by Sophie Dries, whose ‘Inner Glow’ chandelier is made by Kaia Lighting of blown glass, brass and paper made in Puglia. Hanging in the castle’s Red Room, the chandelier combines the geometric rigour of the brass structure with the smooth qualities of the glass and raw papier-maché texture.

Rug on grass
Planter on grass
Above, Swarms rug by Marlene Huissoud with cc-tapis. Below, Limited Grasses by Mischer’traxler

The Arch by Crafting Plastics

The piece that offered the most scenic effect, and with the simplest execution was by Crafting Plastics’ project. An experimental materials studio founded by designers VVlasta Kubušová and Miroslav Král and based between Berlin and Bratislava, they spent the residency looking at the sky from the castle’s arched windows, observing the changes in the sky and the sudden meteorological transformations, with violent thunderstorms taking over the sky.

Located in the Steinemergang, their piece takes over a window. It’s a long corridor, as Stori Lichtenstein explains, ‘with arches on both sides looking into the courtyard one one side and onto the park on the other. It is where we have dinners with friends in the summer.’

For the designers, these arches that separate the castle from the wilderness became a symbol of the separation between the polished and the wild, and to celebrate this in-between space, the duo created a site-specific window using Nuatan bioplastic sheets as windowpanes and wood for the frame, with an enchanting result. Installed without the use of screws or glue, the structure will allow the elements to decompose with time, eventually returning to the original view.

Window view
Crafting Plastic’s window with Nuatan bioplastic sheets as windowpanes and wood for the frame

Virtual exhibition

‘I travel regularly to design fairs and constantly scout for interesting designers,’ explains Stori Lichtenstein. ‘When I have a theme, I try to select designers that either already have a piece fitting the theme or that could have something new to say about it. The majority of pieces is usually new and made especially for the exhibition.’ The remaining lineup includes pieces by Destroyers/Builders, Study O Portable, Odd Matter, whose work can be found dotted across the castle’s grounds.

For the first time, such a tactile, experiential exhibition will not be available to the public, and Stori Liechtenstein spent the past two months working to make the opening possible digitally. While the traditional vernissage happened via Instagram, the curator also worked with a team of digital image makers to create a short video of the exhibition, and 3D mapping material to allow visitors to experience Schloss Hollenegg from their devices.

To add a final (virtual) layer to this project, Stori Liechtenstein also partnered with collectible design platform Adorno, where the entire exhibition will be on display while a real-life visit is not possible. ‘In these unprecedented times, it will be an important component of the launch of this year’s exhibition,’ she explains, ‘and it could spearhead how we present design projects in the future.’ §