16 October 2016

Interview to Erwan Bouroullec at Vitra Design Museum

From the exhibition "Urban Reveries" to the importance of memory in design objects.

Last week we travelled to Vitra Design Museum in Basel for the opening of the exhibition “Urban Reveries” by the Bouroullec brothers. The exhibition »Rêveries Urbaines« at the Zaha Hadid Fire Station presents concepts for urban development, and is a wide-ranging study of possible development solutions for cities that may be imagined in very different urban settings. Like a large open sketchbook, the proposed solutions are presented as a gentle walk through models and animations. The exhibition is designed to be immersive and to bear the visitor away into different scenarios, with each model showcased as a chapter in an urban fiction. After a public first introduction to the exhibition at the press preview, Ronan and Erwan separates for interviews with journalists, so we have the chance to privately talk to Erwan Bouroullec, in one of the rooms of the Vitra Fire Station, his polite manners and interest in design issues of our time lead our talk through to a variety of themes and interesting point of views on the role of design today.

You exhibition “Urban Reveries” is a showcase of solutions for ideal public spaces that can bring a special magic touch to the lives of those living in urban areas. Considering the fast growing cities of today (ex. London, Paris), do you think the ideas you show in this exhibition could take part to their future development or are they more related to a kind of utopian city ?

This exhibition was first shown in April and since then we got quite many contacts with some cities and people interested in it, so I think this project is quite real, and not really difficult to put in practice. Some proposals are more complex then others, but in general there is a good balance between the complexity of shapes and the simple techniques you have to use to make them reality, they are easy to understand for everyone. The intention is to maintain  simplicity in the manufacturing, and a relatively unexpected look in the overall structure.

Earlier today, during your introduction you said you work on different design fields varying from jewellery, to furniture, to videos, graphic, and the difference with architecture is that in those cases you do not have a real constrain to start from, like for example an urban site. Do your projects usually get contaminated by each other, or do you try to work with specialised teams of designers according to the project?

We have a lot of contamination in our studio, of course Ronan and I are always there to bring the variety of our experience in each project, but people who work with us are very young, and they are not specialists in anything specific. For example in our exhibition here there are many mockups made by a young lady who does not have a big technical background, but thanks to that we discovered new ways of doing things, a new flavour. We are not experts and we do not want to be, and this is not unprofessionalism, this is our contrasting language with the specialisation of the industry. The industry is important in many ways, without it we would not have things like lightbulbs or electricity, but step by step industry has become so specialised that the general public is not able to understand the process. In the past you could still explain the making of most of the things to a kid, but now if you buy a toy, it has got anything in its manufacturing you can understand easily at first sight. Step by step we are getting into a world that is not exactly fake, but that you can not read. So when you are not specialised in a making process, you have to learn everything again, and go back to the basics. For example, we are  now making a lot of textile for furniture, so we got a sewing machine in the studio and we made a lot of small prototypes, we are not expert in sewing, and we make a lot of simple stitches, and that is a way to go back to things that everybody know, and can do. Therefore yes, we are not specialists, but we are experts in producing a certain language.

This means you work mainly through a manual process?

No, we develop the project with different methods at the same time, that is fundamental, we draw, we do easy mockups, but also high level models with the use of softwares. We have engineers who realise 3D modelings but next to it we also send out manual drawings. Do you know why? People understand the flavour of the project through the drawing, and the technical information through the 3D model, if you send out only the 3D, you risk the other person loose meaning and sense of what is going to be built.

You have worked with the most renown furniture brands, and some of your projects are also displayed in the most famous art and design museums. Considering this point of your career, would you create a collection for a low cost furniture line, as for example Tom Dixon is doing of IKEA?

I am not sure, I have a lot for and against, I believe  a design object has got difficulties to face a non-permanent identity, especially in the furniture sector. If you look at the history of design most of the things were built to last forever, and now if you look at Ikea it is the opposite. In a way the best part of Ikea is that even a student can furnish any space he needs, but when he leaves everything is left behind. That rises many questions, what does this mean? Is it over consumption? Is it a good practice the fact you do not always need to stay with things because often you can’t? In a way these low cost objects look like they are forever, so I think there are some interesting questions behind it. I would like to find the right language for low cost, staying away from brands copying original pieces like it happens in fashion. I think Muji is doing well, they sell a good compromise between quality and price.

In an interview you said the challange for the mass production  in the future is to create beauty, a new different world that can compete with crafts at a lower price. Do you think 3D printing can fulfil this gap in mass production beauty ?

No, I think it is the opposite, real beauty comes from re-identifying the basic craftsmanship, the techniques that belong to mankind, technologies like 3d printing make shapes without any logic, they do not really connect to people, they do not bring any memory to us, and that is very important, when you were young for example you used to see wood in the floor of your bedroom, in the tools of your grandparents, and now when you see it you re-connect to those memories, instantly you have that in your mind, there is a lot of positive feeling behind it, and that is good. 3D printing has no link to any memory, so I especially hate 3d printing when it is used just to make strange shapes. On the other hand I recognise its role in bringing advantage and innovation in robotic and biomedic fields, but for me to 3D print a chair just does not have sense. I think we are becoming too virtual and we need to counterbalance this, the virtual is a problem at some point because we can not read clearly through it, nothing is grounded today, it is impossibile to know the truth, not even from the news. Therefore product design needs to link back to the basics, I aim at doing things that are not fake. If you look at a perfum bottle looks always fake today, using golden plastic and promoting it with Sharon Stone on tv. This does not reflect reality. I enjoy the emotional side of true and simple manufacturing techniques and materials.