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IMM Cologne is a vast show, but I always head straight to the Pure Talents section: both the Pure Talents Contest (previously known as the D3 Contest) – IMM Cologne’s competition for international up-and-coming designers – and the university stands. “This is where it all starts: ideas, designs and concepts by young designers reveal surprising new perspectives and approaches,” say the show organizers. “Here, visitors can discover new concepts, new material applications and even new forms of distribution as well as sample projects that explore the possibilities and limitations of design.” Two by Marrakesh-based Oliver-Selim Boualam (above) is a table comprising a circle and a square, both folded in half at a 90 degree angle. “The arrangement of the known seems both time-tested and new,” says the designer.

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Kap by Laura Jungmann is the result of a project called Istanbul’Dan that involved six German designers travelling to the Turkish city to work with the craftspeople in the artisan quarter there. New work from each of the six designers was shown alongside their previous projects to illustrate the effect of the project on their work.

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The beech and steel Schaukler rocking chair by Burg Giebichenstein Kunsthochschule Halle University of Art and Design graduate Frank Deißenberger is designed to stack, making it a flexible seating solution for the dining room, living room or study. “The well-balanced runners not only allow for sitting upright at a table, but also offer the option of laid-back rocking,” says the designer.

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Architecture students from Karlsruhe presented prototypes as part of an interdisciplinary seminar in which they learned about descriptive geometry, computer application, architecture and furniture. Fraktale by Lennart Schütz is a series of triangles made from oak and wool, which can be folded up into furniture and returned to the floor after use. “The structure allows playful composing of stools, tables, shelves etc – exactly when they are needed,” says the designer. “After use the objects can be again “deleted” and the triangles generate the flat bottom structure.”

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Connecting Wood by Tobias Rell is a modular system comprising wooden profiles and injection molded bio-plastic connectors which enable the creation of anything from seating to shelving. This short film demonstrates how it works:

“The bioplastic, also called liquid wood, is almost completely recovered from paper industry residues,” says the designer. “As the material consists of almost the same ingredients as wood, it can be perfectly combined with wood and is completely biodegradable. I take advantage of the unique properties of this material, to provide wooden profiles with connecting elements made of liquid wood. These modified wooden profiles can be combined to a three dimensional structure, which can be used for example as a shelf.”

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London-educated German designer Luisa Kahlfeldt’s stool is another interesting example of recycled paper. “By experimenting with a low value, everyday material, the task was to manipulate the material in such a way to enhance its perceived quality,” she says. “As cardboard is one of the most recycled materials around, I wanted to find a more exiting way of giving it a second life. The process of manipulating the cardboard dictated the shape of the final design. Shaving down the edges of the cardboard rolls revealed the pattern of the corrugated layers, which reminded me of African patterns seen on low stools or poufs. By laminating and rolling the cardboard, my intention was to give the material a new visual language.”

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The Viiva light prototypes by Nathalia Mussi (built in cooperation with Airam Electric) were inspired by the the flatness of Oled light panels. “Hanging horizontally, the Oled panels disappear into their own thinness, leaving empty the slim wire structure and highlighting the absence of a traditional light bulb,” says the designer.

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Based on a hot wire foam-cutting technique the designer describes as “known for providing many interns a lifelong trauma” Cutting Edge by Dutch designer Martijn Rigters was created by forcing a block of foam through a silhouette created by four hot wires. “Generally, this technique is focused on creating very regulated shapes and forms by controlling all parameters strictly, like temperature, movement and cutting along a linear path,” he says. In this case, his intention is to provide users with the silhouette, hot wires and foam and allow them to create their own unique sofa for themselves.

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Work Shift by Lena Plaschke changes from an illuminated workspace to a decorative lamp – with your day’s work hidden inside – as the light shade moves up and down. “When the light is switched on, all that remains is a shadow of the workspace,” says the designer.

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And finally, the Narin Folding Chair by David Irwin for Case Furniture is designed to be as beautiful when stacked as it is when it’s in use.

Katie Treggiden is a purpose-driven writer and keynote speaker championing a circular approach to design – because Planet Earth needs better stories. With 20 years' experience in the creative industries, she regularly contributes to publications such as The Guardian, Crafts Magazine and Monocle24 – as well as being Editor at Large for Design Milk. She is currently exploring the question ‘can craft save the world?’ through an emerging body of work that includes her fifth book, Wasted: When Trash Becomes Treasure (Ludion, 2020), and a podcast, Circular with Katie Treggiden.