What projects are you working on at the moment?
One very nice project we’re doing is for a constructor of wood houses in south Tokyo. It’s like furniture, but bigger. The idea is very cubist, so it’s possible to change the arrangement of the cubes – the living room, kitchen, etc – with the proportions of the owner’s land.
We’re also working on a 20-minute film about Barcelona for the city’s tourist department. It’s a poetic piece about how it feels to be there, so first I’ve talked about Barcelona before the Romans and how the landscape and the city has changed. Then I talk about many philosophical crazy things – for example, the palm trees: some are very happy; some are old; some are stressed because they are in the middle of the highway; it’s the different points of view. I try to, in a poetic and sometimes surrealist way, introduce what is the soul of Barcelona.
This seems to be your area of expertise, channelling the identity of a particular place…
For me it’s quite easy. I can quickly find the many things that identify a city – the colours, the details of the architecture. London, for example, is bustling. I remember the first time I came here in the
1970s, I was 21 and I was like, “Wow!” Everything was new to me: the pubs, the sunsets, Hyde Park, the music, Carnaby Street, Notting Hill market, the tube, it was all amazing. And the signage, it was perfect.
Did that have a big influence on your work, then?
Oh yes. Now, of course, in Barcelona, signage is very good. But back then a typical Latino road sign would be a huge cross with “Forbidden” written across it, shouting at you. Here [in London] it would be a small sign, with an explanation. I thought it was very democratic and sweet.
Do you think national identities still exist in design?
Design is a very international language; a good design is a good design, whether it’s from New York, Tokyo or Paris. We always talk about British, Spanish, Italian design, but sometimes it’s not accurate. But I don’t like it when you go to a high street in Madrid, or Dallas, or Buenos Aires, and you can’t tell the difference. They all have the big companies and all look the same. But it’s good and bad, and it’s more democratic.
I guess that’s how cities have evolved over time…
Of course, things have to progress, but sometimes you lose the excitement of a place. Six years ago I was given a lot of freedom to design an H&M store in Barcelona which was experimental, nothing like the others. But last year, they changed it to make it more H&M, because in the end the marketing said no.
I remember this beach in Ibiza, with a magical little candlelit bar. Over the years the place has grown up, there’s now a lot of lights and air conditioning, and people don’t like to see it change. It’s easy to criticise from afar, but when this family have money for the first time, they want to have everything. Things change; that’s just what happens.