The post-industrial landscape marked by the sign of the times – obsolete industrial buildings, abandoned construction sites, and slabs of concrete – is emblematic of America’s once thriving industrial revolution; and acts as the space where the Brooklyn-based creative studio thehighkey extracts their inspiration from. By leveraging technology not yet established in the design world, the studio’s founder, designer John Vieweg, brings to life objects that celebrate industrial heritage and sustainability.
“Thehighkey subverts expectations to create an alternative physical environment, one in service of human flourishing,” explains Vieweg. Transformation is present at all levels of thehighkey: the digital turns into the physical, the inside is brought outside, and rigid structures morph into soft, human-centred designs. For their recent “Sandbagged” collection, Vieweg was drawn to sandbags – another characteristic of desolate urban spaces – and reimagined them into contemporary seating furniture; a testament to the studio’s ambitious character and impressive trajectory.
Founded in 2020 and a multitude of milestones later – from NADA Miami to New York Fashion Week – Vieweg believes that now is one of the most exciting times to be a designer. “The barrier to entry for designers is so low now. I think it’s a really incredible time to be making things and if you use your energy and time in the right way anything is possible,” he declares. Part of the studio’s success is Vieweg’s ability to act as a catalyst for conversations with unlikely collaborators. This collaborative notion at the heart of thehighkey has led the studio down unexpected avenues and to evolve into the creative powerhouse it is today.
For NADA Miami, Vieweg created the “Spline Sofa” to transform the visual artist Vickie Vainionpaato’s paintings into a functional object with flat and vertical surfaces, allowing up to five people to dwell and take in the sensory experience. By employing AI to generate this twisted shape as well as robotic knitting, usually only found in the fashion world, Vieweg was able to achieve a gradient from blue to lilac to pink over twelve meters of fabric. “This is a massive technological undertaking and I hope to see future pieces utilizing such an effect at a large scale,” he emphasizes.
Behind the wider oeuvre of thehighkey – be it their “RELIEF” or “Sandbagged” collection – lies the studio’s strength to leverage underused technologies in design, thereby, constructing a distinct visual language. Organically curvaceous shapes immediately awake feelings of comfort and the desire for dwelling in the audience, representing a common threat in the aesthetic of thehighkey’s work. Vieweg has also translated this aesthetic into commercial projects. For the flagship store of the luxury fashion brand “Miss Circle”, located in Soho, New York City, the studio took their aesthetic to a whole new level. Deep red hues meet rounded elements and cushy, soft exteriors that together with complimentary rugs and table arrangements create a harmonious complete work of art.
The origin of their visual language is the “RELIEF” collection, where Vieweg married historic reliefs with the visual qualities of throwie graffiti. The collection consists of the “Glove” couch, the “Dome” mirror, and the wall hangings “Carving 01” and “02”. Debuting at ICFF Manhattan back in 2022, these design objects signify the solidification of the iconography for which thehighkey is known today. With 3D software, a single curved line is exaggerated and twisted into geometrical curvaceous patterns.
For “Sandbagged”, Vieweg once again sought inspiration from the post-industrial landscape and found himself mesmerized by sandbags. “Sandbags are these objects that are so mundane that you could easily overlook them, but they’re surprisingly deep. These bags serve as physical barriers to both block and contain something that is really impossible to control,” he explains. “It’s a herculean effort to bring order to this material, and the collection ‘Sandbagged’ creates a new kind of intentional ordering for it in service of human use.” Through spatial explorations of the sandbag’s shape, Vieweg ended up with an object that manages to marry cushy comfort with a modern take on what is reminiscent of a ‘70s beanbag chair.
“A large part of the work of thehighkey is to critically evaluate ghost spaces and create interventions and objects that react to this specific built phenomenon. To imbue this waste with new value and purpose.”
– John Vieweg, founder of thehighkey
Merging sustainable and ethical production with material experimentation is another defining factor of thehighkey, and part of its collaborative vein. Influenced by his academic background, Vieweg approaches each project through an architectural lens and with a keen awareness of design’s social ramifications. “I am always thinking about the ethics of what I make. How it impacts the world and how the work can set a new standard for effective and functional quality. This yearning for quality is what leads me to produce highly considered items,” he points out.
“I am always working with local manufacturers and elevating their respective platforms through the work. Collaboration and credit are integral to my practice.”
– John Vieweg, founder of thehighkey
Thehighkey embodies a forward-thinking, creative powerhouse, whose journey is fueled by a relentless ambition to help build a sustainable and technology-driven future step-by-step. Taking long-deserted urban spaces as a starting point for the studio’s mission to humanize our post-modernist world, Vieweg is not only showcasing a sophisticated understanding of the design Zeitgeist, but also pathing the way for today’s generation of creatives through the force of collaborative, interdisciplinary creativity.
thehighkey is a creative studio that creates rare objects and environments. The name refers to a condition in which people are elevated. It is from this vantage point that thehighkey operates, leveraging digital technology to produce concepts that go beyond the norm.
Their work is an unlikely mix of forms and materials from the past, present and future. In a world saturated with fast fashion, thehighkey defies standards to create timeless designs that are made to last.