NeoCon 51 was bursting with excitement of exhibitors and visitors alike. Our favorite international correspondent, John Sacks shares what caught his attention this year.
Arriving unadjusted in Chicago for NeoCon 51, without adequate mental preparation, can give the senses – all of them – a real jolt. It’s one of the boldest, brashest, noisiest, jaw-dropping, self-confident cities on earth and however many times you’ve been here, it never ceases to amaze. Everyone – except perhaps the sullen taxi drivers – engages everyone else in conversation, whether its welcomed or not. The architecture, like most aspects of the city, owes little to subtlety and rather more to drama and scale, compared to the lighter touches of Paris or London.
Delegates to NeoCon 51 were greeted by unseasonably cool, windy and wet weather, interspersed by some fleeting sunshine. That didn’t seem to dampen the spirits of the blues fans who like to combine the show with the free, three-day, open-air, Chicago Blues Fest in Millennium Park.
NeoCon 51 was as busy as most regulars could remember and instead of dying out with a whimper after lunch on Tuesday, there was steady traffic right the way through until the official close on Wednesday afternoon. As you’d expect, with the massive crowds came a real buzz of excitement; something only NeoCon can create.
One new feature this year was the Gensler-designed NeoCon Plaza created on South Drive along the river frontage of the Mart. Playing off the idea of an “Urban Boardwalk” this space provided a variety of outdoor spaces to work, meet and be refreshed, it worked well and was well used.
The Japanese company, Okamura, have taken over the very large area on floor 11 vacated by Knoll after last year’s show. Knoll have set up shop in the Fulton Market area of town and the talk at this year’s show was that Herman Miller have given notice that they will be following suit, freeing up the area they have occupied on the 3rd floor for 51 years. These refreshing changes give other companies the rare opportunity of taking some of the prime space in the mart and breaking long-held monopolies, but don’t the largest companies have a responsibility to the industry that feeds them to support its institutions, rather than just to walk away?
For an industry that supports some of the world’s largest and fastest moving businesses, there was little to be seen in the way of technology-related advances. It was as if last year’s effort to introduce the sit-stand tables presented by almost every manufacturer was enough, and much of the focus this year was on upholstery, textiles and eye-catching colours. Top designers’ talents have been employed to do little more than to create yet more stylish seating styles for breakout, reception and collaborative areas.
Scandinavian rather than Italian influence has been the most important driving force for the past two or three years, as evidenced by displays from companies from that region, for example in the frantically crowded Scandinavian Spaces shared showroom, and in new products from exhibitors such as Allsteel, Vitra and even Okamura.
There was plenty of emphasis on enclosures for single and shared use, with most claiming acoustic properties. That was taken to the ultimate by companies such as Framery, Sound of Silence, and Mikomax with soundproofed boxes of different shapes and sizes.