Design by Choice: the origins of mass customization in Europe

10 October 2015 till 17 January 2016

Design by Choice investigates the origins of contemporary consumer society. At its centre is a representative sample of European cast iron trade catalogues.

The rise of new production methods, custom manufacturing and rapid prototyping have drastically altered the bonds between production and consumption. Building on Reyner Banham’s seminal publication Design by Choice, which was​ dedicated to modern cultures of consumption, this exhibition presents an investigation into the origins of contemporary consumer society. It revisits the production and consumption of cast-iron products, prior to the advent of standardized mass fabrication.

When iron is cast into moulds, the ferrous material can take almost any shape, be it hollow or solid, delicate or bold. It can be deployed in many areas, ranging from machinery parts and architectural components to domestic commodities. In the Design by Choice exhibition, a nineteenth-century showroom is re-created, including a display of products and a cross section of European trade catalogues. Visitors are invited to discover the former objects of desire. International exchanges and commonalities between the foundries are addressed in eight small narratives.

Another section of the exhibition focusses on early achievements in cast-iron architecture. Plans are shown of the Sainte-Geneviève Library in Paris, Paddington Station in London and the innovative industrial facilities of Sayner Hütte near Koblenz. Finally, a series of contemporary practices of metal castings by architects, designers and artists are laid out.

Design by Choice reveals the historical depth of contemporary concerns while testifying to the wide range and delicacy of cast-iron applications.

Axel Sowa (RWTH Aachen University) and Jules Schoonman

Graphic design:
Studio Adriaan Mellegers

Research and design assistants:
Ayça Sancar and Juliane Seehawer (Lehr-und Forschungsgebiet Architekturtheorie, RWTH Aachen University)

Design by Choice is generously supported by the City of Maastricht and the Fund Creative Industries

Dates: 10 October 2015 – 17 January 2016.
Opening: 10 October, 17:00 – 19:00, free admission
Location: Bureau Europa
Admission: €5, €3 for students, free admission for Museumjaarkaarthouders

Design by Choice

The exhibition

Contemporary castings

Foundries and catalogues

Early cast iron architecture

Photos of the opening of the exhibition