Copy and Authorship by Lucas Verweij


Copy and Authorship by Lucas Verweij

DMY Berlin: eight students of the Weißensee Kunsthochschule Berlin presented copies of work by famous designers at DMY Berlin last week as part of a workshop with critic Lucas Verweij.

Copy and Authorship by Lucas Verweij

Top: Honeycomb Vase by Studio Libertiny (see our earlier story) copied by Johanna Keimeyer
Above: Crinoline by Patricia Urquiola, copied by Johanna Krysmanski

For the project, called Copy and Authorship, Verweij asked each student to choose a design object they admire and try to create an exact copy.

Copy and Authorship by Lucas Verweij

Above: Carlton bookcase by Ettore Sottsass, copied by Evelyn Malinowska

The students copied works by designers including Jurgen Bey, Maarten Baas and Ettore Sottsass, learning to reproduce them exactly before going on to make alterations and additions to the design.

Copy and Authorship by Lucas Verweij

Above: Smoke by Maarten Baas, copied by Josefina Schlie

"What we are doing is the exact same way design was taught a century ago," says Verweij. "Learn from your master, learn by doing. Show your talent by copying. This is a medieval design class."

Copy and Authorship by Lucas Verweij

Above: Tree-trunk Bench by Jurgen Bey, copied by Jacob Cranz

DMY Berlin 2011 took place 1-5 June and the theme was Copy/Culture.

Copy and Authorship by Lucas Verweij

Above: Lego Boardroom table by abgc Architecture & Design, copied by Ludwig Stender

See all our stories about DMY Berlin »

The information below is from Verweij:

With the Hochschule Weissensee I am doing a project with 8 students; here are the students of the project "Copying and Authorship" by Lucas Verweij:


  • Hannes Simon (KHB, Produkt-Design)
  • Eric Hinz (KHB, Produkt-Design)
  • Frederike Wanstrath (KHB, Produkt-Design)
  • Evelyn Malinowska (KHB, Produkt-Design)
  • Josefina Schlie (KHB, Produkt-Design)
  • Jacob Cranz (KHB, Produkt-Design)
  • Ludwig Stender (KHB, Textil- und Flächen-Design)
  • Johanna Krysmanski (KHB, Textil- und Flächen-Design)
  • Johanna Keimeyer (UDK, Produkt-Design)

The students have chosen different designs they very much appreciate. It varies form a century old schreibtisch to a (Jurgen Bey) tree trunk Bench. And from Ettore Sottsass' Carlton to a 10 Watt translucent lightbulb in anonymous holder. From a one-off meeting table (abgc) for a commercial studio to a contemporary classic (Maarten Baas).

Copy and Authorship by Lucas Verweij

Above: contemporary update of his grandfather's desk by Eric Hinz

The students will first study to be the perfect copiers. The will learn how to (technically) make the object they have chosen. For some this is very complicated (Libertiny, antiques, Bey). For others the research can be more cultural historical (Sotsass, lightbulb).

I have said to the students: you will have to know exactly how has been made, and you must be able, before changing anything, to make a perfect copy. The design decisions later on (to change or modify) are then never taken because they can't.

Copy and Authorship by Lucas Verweij

Above: contemporary update of a Biedemeier chair by Hannes Simon

It makes them stronger, wiser and more humble if they really physically and technically can do it. This is only a step in the process: we might throw the end result away, or we might expose it. We do so, because we want to learn how it is made. We want to experience and feel the quality we admire.

Later we will modify, or even redesign. It is not a goal to copy, it is a way: it's in the end a design strategy that is being taught here.

Above: lightbulb, copied by Frederike Wanstrath

We want to know how it feels to copy things we appreciate very much. Is it morally problematic? Do we feel betrayers? When does a design start to feel as our own? Or will that never happen, because we started out copying? Is it hard to change the object in a direction so that it becomes 'ours'?

Making a copy of a living designer (Bey, Baas) feels different from making a copy from a designer that passed away (Sotsass), wich feels different than copying an anonymous designer (lightbulb). Obviously the cultural meaning of a copy varies a lot, depending on status of the original. That is interesting to research for us.

Copy and Authorship by Lucas Verweij

Last but not least: hard to be made objects, with very specific techniques are in a natural way better protected than easy to copy pieces. Will the students with the harder to copy pieces have less moral problems? Because the imitation process is more of true learning proces?
We will only know by doing, and that is what we are doing.

I have informed all designers to explain the context of the project. So far they were all ok with it: Jurgen Bey saw his copied piece live and met the student.

  • starkcat

    I would love to have taken this class! I wish design school had thought me more about production methods.

  • Why

    I am always surprised how the Vase project has not been reported to some animal cruelty agency. Last year in Basel as the bees were being cooked by the strong lights their owner was sipping champagne claiming he had concord nature. It's even more interesting how a student has decided to replicate this cruel process.

    • Please watch the video's of Johanna's bees in Berlin. She'll put them online soon. She worked with professional "Imkers". She didn't copy the hot lamps, she copied the proces of making the vase.

  • to bee or not to bee

    Would have been better if these Berlin students were using their time and actually trying to come up with their own new production methods rather than copying ‘famous designers’ discoveries. Most of the original works here have actually done by students at the time, before they become famous…

    if the ‘famous’ were to take this class they would have probably never had the chance to come up with any of these works…. this is getting confusing… because… if they ‘famous’ didn’t come up with these works… what the students in Berlin would have done for this class?

  • guy

    Fantastic project, and perfect for a mid-degree student to learn about production, but also think about the value of copyright, which is perhaps not as valuable as 20th century lawyers have convinced us to think. I also think its a good confidence producing exercise, showing students they have the technical ability to pull of the techniques of those they respect.

    I would like to see the results of the next step though, the incorporation of incremental improvement. Too much emphasis is placed on novelty nowadays, to the detriment of sophistication and maturation of ideas. Yes designers do mature as individuals in their careers but early interesting and provocative works get left underdeveloped because the designers have moved on and no one else develops them for fear of getting sued or labelled a copycat. Screw that – the value of design to society is the fulfilment of functional and social needs, not an economic value enforced by IP law nor the status of a "designer original" label. And thats why the post by "to bee or not to bee" is incorrect. An over emphasis on developing new production methods can leave many students bewildered, frustrated and surrounded by failed experiments. I say this as a graduate of the DAE too, which has had many students with spectacular successes with new production techniques, but also many failed ones. You probably don't know that because they don't get published. Some designers work best making incremental improvements instead of dramatic experiments, and we should be thankful for it.

    And as for the post by "Why" about cruelty to bees, I'm confused – if the production process (or probably more accurately exhibition conditions) were so bad, why didn't you say something or make a report? Without knowing for sure, I can guess that the actual production process Libertiny used originally and the one copied by this KHB student was probably quite normal – bees make honey all the time after all (and in hot conditions too), and probably don't care what shape the honeycomb matrix has been deformed into. Sounds like you saw an exhibition of the production process, perhaps lit too harshly by an overly enthusiastic curator. If it really was bad, you should have said something. No one intelligent wants to harm animals (or look like they are) and probably a request to dim the lights would have been welcomed. Just guessing though, if I'm wrong about my speculations I'm happy to hear differently.

  • @ to bee or not to bee That's what they were doing – learning a design strategy, albeit one that seperates the personal design concept from the production process. Good copying isn't easy and isn't something that happens without thought and intellectual involvement. And so new ideas, new concepts, will develop from such a project. It is, for example, questionable if Frederike Wanstrath would ever have come up with her mobile rechargeable lightbulb lamp had she not been on the project. And so we say, great project!

  • mmmm

    One of the main aspects of the project explores the "moral" boundaries of intellectual property. The results you have seen here are the first step of the project. First the students copy the original and in the second step they take the language of these products and try to create their own.