“Push the gate, go through the pink door and up the stairs,” crackles the voice on the intercom. Crunching through the deep gravel, passing the pillars encased in chicken wire with an elaborate lookout tower in the background, it feels more like a Gaudi-esque wildlife visitor centre than an architect’s live/work space. This is, however, the base from which Sarah Wigglesworth has run her studio since 2000, designing a range of educational, cultural and office projects, most recently the Cremorne Riverside Centre in south-west London.The design for Wigglesworth’s studio, which is located in an area of north London that she affectionately describes as “a bit of a backwater, near the particularly characterful Caledonian Road”, is well documented. Comprising two storeys of office space along with domestic accommodation, it employs several innovative sustainable design features, including straw bales wrapping around the north-east and north-west elevations, sandbags providing acoustic protection from the adjacent railway line and that five-storey lookout tower rising through the roof, providing a reading room and acting as a thermal flue, which catches the wind and encourages natural ventilation. “You don’t need a maintenance system for running a building – just open a window!” says Wigglesworth emphatically at one point.The practice used a checklist for auditing the green credentials of all the products in the scheme, including the birch ply furniture they designed themselves. “We collect rainwater to use in the toilets and the building has quite a lot of thermal mass,” says Wigglesworth. “We heat the office for only a few hours in the morning. The warmth then comes from the computers and body heat. The thing about thermal mass is that you do need materials such as concrete or bricks. But the payback is worth it.”Several years on, and a host of TV reappearances and several trophies later, including a RIBA sustainability award and a Civic Trust Award, the building is still visually arresting enough to attract weekend visitors in search of a property porn fix, as well as being a fully functioning office. “We try to practise what we preach – this is a showcase,” says Wigglesworth. Does she find it difficult to achieve a work-life balance? “I have worked like this all my independent working life. You have to be quite disciplined, otherwise work can invade your private life. Jeremy [Till, Wigglesworth’s partner] will sit in the living room with his laptop. I think I’ve got the best of both worlds. I’ve got zero commute, my time is very productive and it gives me great freedom.”One of the practice’s most recent projects is the canoeing facility at Cremorne Riverside Centre, which overlooks the Thames, close to a small park in a less salubrious area of Kensington and Chelsea. “When we were appointed, the centre was run out of a container and a Portakabin,” says Wigglesworth. “Our designs have ensured a sustainable response to a challenging site to provide an up-to-date facility that accommodates classes of up to 30 children, including those who are disabled.” The centre now comprises two buildings: one for the offices and boat store, and the other providing changing rooms. The walls in both are insulated with sheep’s wool from Cumbria and externally clad in Cor-ten steel, a low-maintenance and vandal-proof material. “When we got down there, there was this smell of tar,” recalls Wigglesworth. “We wanted a material that would be quite evocative of those old ships’ hulls.” She talks of an office culture where there is an appreciation of the history of the sites on which they work, a dedication to research, pushing their knowledge forward and sending ideas round, and regular communication crits to create what Wigglesworth terms a “dialogue with social trends”. “Those early stages are terribly important,” she says. “For the Siobhan Davies dance studios, we looked at how the body is used for engaging in the space, which became a key component of the project. We realised that even though we come from different disciplines, there were common themes with dance and architecture.”Sarah Wigglesworth Architects is currently working on a children’s centre in Richmond, a visitor centre for a park in east London, and a new workshop space for Swansea Print Workshop, a £4.5m project that is at the outline design stage. It is also part of the team working on the regeneration of Hull’s fruit market. Although the practice describes itself as a specialist in low-energy and sustainable buildings, it claims not to be interested in adopting a “house style”. “We consider what the building is going to be used for, what maintenance it will need and who the users will be,” says Wigglesworth. “An office is going to be different from a school or a house. We don’t want to be tied down. Design should be a real adventure – and we want to play.”Would it be fair to say that the practice is, to some extent, the first port of call when sustainability is paramount? “I think they do come to us,” says Wigglesworth. “They feel that we know that subject area for people who don’t have a good understanding of what green means. We try to embed certain things in the early stages of a project – the amount of glazing, the heating system, thermal mass and insulation. Once you have done those, it is quite a natural progression.”When it comes to sustainability becoming something of a bandwagon, she says: “It is absolutely essential that it becomes not an issue that should be seen as special, but something that should be integrated. I don’t think we are there yet. Claims are being made which are not finding a reality. It is our way of life that is being called into question, when you make a choice as to whether you travel by car or by bicycle, or which foodstuffs you buy. “We do have to make a cultural value shift. It’s actually really empowering.”
Ten years ago, announcers on the trains pulling into the city used to say “This. Is. Hull” in such a resigned tone that visitors could hardly be blamed for wondering whether they were, in fact, entering a place with a different vowel in the middle. Now they are greeted by billboards all around the station, showing smiley people and a souped-up skyline, declaring: “Hull’s changing. Open your eyes. Welcome to the future.” The area adjacent to the station, now billed as St Stephen’s, was unveiled last autumn and is home to a huge Tesco, dozens of clothing retailers and a Starbucks. When you consider that the area used to reek of burgers and diesel fumes, the aroma of grande skinny lattes is a welcome relief, and certainly provides more convivial surroundings for business travellers and the local workforce alike. The positive mood continues through to the office of John Holmes, chief executive of urban regeneration company Hull Citybuild. “It’s an exciting time for regeneration, as the physical delivery speeds up, and the public can see things happening,” he says. “Hull didn’t have a development corporation and has had to come from way back and try a lot harder. Politically too, it is a bit more stable now, as we have a sense of buy-in from all parties.” Evidence of this revived property scene can be found a few minutes’ walk away from Citybuild’s HQ near the waterfront at phase one of the Humber Quays development. The One Humber Quays address has more than 2,000sq m of lettable space. It is home to the World Trade Centre Hull and Humber, which will promote international trade and development, while the Royal Bank of Scotland moved in last summer. PricewaterhouseCoopers is also due to take 40 per cent of neighbouring Two Humber Quays.Jonathan Knowles, director with DLA Architecture, which is behind the two buildings, says: “One Humber Quays needed to be a very clean and elegant design that almost sits on the water. Two has more of a heavy masonry approach. Hopefully, they will act as a catalyst for the place as a regenerated business district.” Further east along the bank of the River Hull, work will start on the Boom – a £65m scheme comprising offices, retail facilities, apartments and a hotel – in the autumn. Meanwhile, architects McDowell+Benedetti have been charged with creating a landmark crossing-point, the River Hull Footbridge, which is intended to be developed by a bistro-style operator to offer dining throughout the day and evening. Despite this flurry of interventions, I get the impression that Hull is keener to retain its sense of history than cities such as Leeds or Liverpool, where they almost seem to have forgotten there was industrial life before converted-loft living. The city’s Fruit Market project epitomises this, stitching together various old and new elements to create a mixed-use development of residential, workplace and leisure spaces.Citybuild chose Igloo Regeneration as its development partner. “Now that the whole area is being planned together, from the Deep aquarium to the marina and Humber Quays, you are getting a whole part of town to work together,” says Igloo chief executive Chris Brown. “Because Hull comes near the bottom in terms of economic activity, it has been overlooked by mainstream investment. We see that as a positive, though.“In terms of setting up a business, it is really cost-effective compared with Leeds and Manchester. The Fruit Market scheme will provide creative businesses with the type of accommodation and infrastructure they need.”Richard Scott, director with Surface Architects, adds: “Creative industries have a disproportionate effect on regeneration in that these people tend to look more towards innovation, community and networking, and having the right cafes and restaurants. This has a tangible economic, and therefore generative, effect.” Surface is leading the design team for the Fruit Market project, which comprises Sarah Wigglesworth (see profile on p84), Bauman Lyons, Hodson Architects and Jan Gehl. “We say that it is the work of many hands,” says Scott. “There are so many different types of historic buildings, when we start to put new elements in, we are cheek by jowl with different architects producing different stuff.”Less glamorous-sounding than new creative hubs, but just as crucial for Hull’s renaissance as a workplace, are developments by long-standing employers such as BP, which will open a bioethanol plant in 2009. Smith & Nephew is developing its wound-management centre, while Reckitt Benckiser is bringing 150 jobs to Hull following its acquisition of Boots Healthcare International. One of the city’s unique selling points is its people, according to Holmes: “Hull has a stable workforce. People don’t tend to move around too much and they have a good skills base.” Brown agrees: “There is a mental attitude that goes back to its history in shipping in that they don’t have a problem with doing business with Rotterdam, as opposed to Manchester.”As of this month, Hull Citybuild will be subsumed by Hull Forward, which will have a remit to oversee the city’s economic masterplan, as well as its physical redevelopment. In typically upbeat fashion, Holmes declares finally that “there is a lot more to come” – and you don’t doubt him at his word.
Slash has defaced Debbie Harry. Every thirtysomething male’s first crush is now sporting a daft moustache and beard because the hairy one from Guns N’ Roses ran amok with a black marker.
Debbie is one of several rock star portraits hanging on the wall of Virgin Radio’s green room, depicted in the style of an old master by Precious McBane, as part of its redesign of the station’s Soho head office. Although they are deliberately hilarious – John Lennon in Ray-Bans as Byron is a real winner – they are still accomplished artworks, and if they were my handiwork, I would be more than a little pissed off to discover that they had been vandalised, even by a rock legend. Not Precious though. “It was amusing to hear that Slash had graffitied our Debbie,” laughs one third of the design team, Ali McCulloch. “It seems only fitting that our rock star’s home should be defaced in this way.”
It is not a rock star’s home really. This is Virgin Radio’s corporate HQ, but Precious thought it would be more fitting to approach the project from a residential perspective. “They wanted us to create an environment that would represent the Virgin brand and create a suitable venue for ‘the home of rock’n’roll’ – a place that would impress guests, while being a stimulating working environment with material longevity,” says McCulloch. This they have done by imagining how a “fantasy rock star” might kit out their own home. “The inspiration was kind of Supernova Heights,” she adds with a grin.
With no previous experience in office design, Precious was an unexpected but inspired choice for the overhaul. Established in 1993, the company is known for its eclectic style, which has been applied to a mixture of projects, mostly residential (they’ve done out Alison Goldfrapp’s house, no less) and various commercial ventures including the interior design of the Zetter hotel, in the Clerkenwell district of London. “For us, every project is a visual story,” says McCulloch. “We don’t regard ourselves in a conventional sense as decorators, despite being most usually involved in interior projects. This is why we are able to extend our practice to anything we get excited about.”It would be difficult not to get excited about working for Virgin Radio. Precious received no formal brief (staff requirements were gauged at a series of informal meetings) and was pretty much allowed to run riot with their rock star’s abode concept, which hits you as soon as you enter what from the outside looks like a fairly unprepossessing office building on Golden Square. And what a reception. Gold-painted floorboards, finished by Based Upon, have been applied to the floor and walls. The effect is suitably ostentatious, but so stylish that you can’t help but love it. The furniture was clearly a joy to specify, from the giant Anglepoise lamp that stands in the window to Gaetano Pesce’s cartoonish masterpiece Donna Up5 and Patricia Urquiola’s Tufty Time sofa, specially made up in plush purple velvet for that decadent 1970s vibe. Then there are the custom-made items, including the reception desk – “an old- fashioned table interrupted by a modern box”, as McCulloch describes it – and a gold flight case, which is a witty storage solution that has become one of the team’s favourite items. Home to recording studios as well as on-air studios (incidentally, as we walk through, it’s “The 1980s hour with Russ Williams”) and office and administration space, the building is a hive of activity. Virgin was keen to build on the buzz and play up to its image as a truly rock’n’roll organisation. As proof of its outrageousness, thestaff room is called “the zoo”, as it is apparently where everything and anything can happen (although it’s hard to imagine to a soundtrack of Nik Kershaw). Obligingly, Precious has provided the area with an impressive array of furniture and fixtures including Frank Gehry’s cardboard tables, a huge squashy sofa to collapse on/vomit over, and a walnut-effect kitchen with pendant lights from Heal’s for that authentic domestic touch. Leading off from the zoo is the main meeting room. Imagine yourself in the home of one of the Rolling Stones circa 1967, around the time that all self-respecting rockers were setting themselves up in country houses and playing at being the landed gentry (spliffs in hand). “We though that if Mick was signing a deal, this is the kind of room he would do it in,” says McCulloch. But instead of a priceless antique table, there is a glossy, red (Virgin’s brand colour) retro-style conference table surrounded by Eames Soft Pad chairs re-upholstered in patterned textiles, from leopard print to paisley. There is also a fireplace – where better to show off the station’s numerous awards than on a mantelpiece? And just to reinforce the Stones aesthetic, there is an embroidered fireguard featuring the iconic lips logo.
It is humorous details such as these that make the project. Take the lift instead of the stairs and you will miss some of the best. All the way up the stairs (lined with a custom-made candy-striped carpet and faux wall panelling to echo the look of a Georgian townhouse) is a series of iconic album covers recreated in needlework. Made through a company called Fine Cell Work, which teaches embroidery techniques and tapestry skills to prison inmates, they are outstanding works of art. And you can’t get much more rock’n’roll than crafts done by “the incarcerated”, as Amy Winehouse might say.So where do the office floors fit into this of picture of divine decadence? Well, they don’t really. Precious was commissioned to work on the public areas of the building. The work floors, meanwhile, were masterminded by architects The Rennie Partnership.
Precious arguably got to work on the more glamorous aspects of the scheme, which also included the green room, situated in the basement along with the recording studios. The period townhouse theme continues by way of panelled walls, this time painted in a pleasing shade of heritage green. More like a corridor than a room, there wasn’t much space to work with. But they have made the most of it by turning the wall into a gallery for the all-important rock portraits and specifying uber-comfortable Toad chairs upholstered in a fabulous Tudor-inspired fabric. Having trained as a textile designer, McCulloch had a special interest in the fabrics and textiles used in the project. Precious McBane co-founder Meriel Scott has a background in fine art (she did the portraits), while design associate Sophia Wimpenny studied furniture design. Together, they make for a supremely creative team. You can tell they have had fun with the project, but the attention to detail is such that you don’t feel overwhelmed – just very at home (with Mick and the boys circa 1967). It’s just a shame that some of Virgin Radio’s guests don’t appreciate fine interior design when they see it. But more than a little rock’n’roll itself, Precious doesn’t seem too bothered. “I think it shows that the building is being used and abused in the way we expected,” says McCulloch with a shrug, before adding: “Sophia and I are big fans of Gun N’ Roses, so if it had to be done, I’m glad it was Slash!”
Kerstin Zumstein travels to Chalk Farm to meet design demi-god, Ron Arad.
After 17 years Ron Arad is still in the same studio in Chalk Farm, north London. When you get there you know why. I have yet to see another studio that reflects a designer’s style and personality as much as Arad’s. There is not a straight line in the place. It’s all curves, bows and coils carved into the walls, with a wooden floor that arcs up like a wave. The atmosphere, though, is a little frosty, with all but one of the team far too engaged to make eye contact.
Arad keeps us waiting, of course. Prototypes and iconic chairs are set in the entrance hall and stuck on the walls, making the space feel like a walk-in museum. Seeing so many of his objects together like this reinforces the sense of his godlike status in the design world. Dubbed the Jamiroquai of design because of his ubiquitous hat wearing, it’s no news that Arad has made a mark – and a radically shaped curve-mark as large as a meteorite crater at that – on the British and international design scenes. It’s not just his instantly recognisable products and inexhaustible enthusiasm to experiment with new technologies, but also his dedicated tutorship on the Design Products course at London’s Royal College of Art. Arad finally appears, as always, wearing a hat – his own designed felt hat for Alessi – and otherwise all in black. Picking up the onoffice birthday issue, he declares: “Oh it’s Matthew Hilton! And there’s Andre Klauser and Ed Carpenter, they were both students of mine. Did you know Andre will be tutoring at the RCA soon?” He continues flicking though the mag. “So what’s your aim?” he asks me. To make the office sexy! “Yeah, David Brent tried that.” And I’m relieved. Even demi-gods watch The Office.
He’s looking for our feature on the lighting exhibition at Aram Gallery by his RCA students. The brief was to revisit the classic Anglepoise and design the new desk lamp of the 21st century. “The students really rose to the occasion. I bought one actually, the huge one by Joe Wentworth.” Of course he’s not the first to take a crack at the over-sized Anglepoise – take Gaetano Pesce, Philippe Starck or the Anglepoise company itself. “But Joe took it to an extreme,” says Arad. “You can move it anywhere in space without having to adjust it.” He becomes animated, explaining the lamp with pantomime gestures. “You can point it wherever you want.”
Arad knows each object well. He also has the floppy No Angle No Poise lamp by Tiago da Fonseca. “But it’s not about what I have and what I don’t,” he says, fearing favouritism. “There were amazing results like David Sutton’s Table Lamp, which has this very simple link of the horizontal to the vertical. Simplicity is normally overrated. When there is nothing to say about something boring you say it’s simple, but Sutton’s design is a good example of something delivering more than we can see at first glance. That’s the kind of simplicity I like.”
Arad’s most recent product, the PizzaKobra desk lamp, also hides the complexity of its technology under the clean, coil-shaped base. “The research focused on finding sophisticated joints that enable the lamp’s flexible movement, but it doesn’t bother you, you don’t see it.” The appeal and what Arad calls its “universal response” stems from the fact that you can manipulate the coil in a snake-like motion, turning it from a task light to a decorative light, an uplight or simply a sculpture. Arad moves the lamp around playfully like a magician twisting balloons into different shapes, and I become eager to have a go myself. “It just works. People enjoy touching and it serves whatever you want.”
So what makes it universal? “Because it’s brilliant!” declares Arad. “When you first see it you think, what is it? A heater for plates?” He moves it back down into the flat coil position. “It has that element of surprise. Now it looks like a pizza, right? And now it looks like a cobra. Hence PizzaKobra!” The concept echoes his famous Bookworm shelf for Kartell (1993) and his spiral-shaped Bouncing Vases (with lamp versions that can extend as far as seven metres) for the Not made by hand, not made in China collection (2000), and some have criticised the lamp for being too Nineties. Interestingly enough, Arad admits: “I designed the lamp eight years ago. They may not like me saying this. Most companies were defeated by it, but I knew it was one of those designs worth pursuing.”
So will PizzaKobra become the new standard lamp? “Well it won’t take the place of a £7 desk lamp [it’s estimated to cost around £750], but maybe like in the Eighties when you saw the Tizio light [designed by Richard Sapper for Artemide] just everywhere, on every movie set or desk of anyone who thought they were someone, maybe PizzaKobra will enjoy the same place. All I know is I’ve designed many chairs and tables – some people like them, some are indifferent and some hate them I suppose. But everyone wants this lamp. Why should you have a crane on your table, why should a lamp take such a presence on your desk?” In the contemporary workplace, the trend is definitely toward flats: flat screens, simple desks and minimal spaces. A lamp that can be compressed into a flat surface, which you can put things on or easily pack away, fits the trend well.
Ahead of the launch Arad and iGuzzini are already working on a bigger version to be placed on the floor. There is also a silver-plated limited edition available, which will be auctioned for charity. PizzaKobra is the first in what will be an ongoing relationship between Arad and iGuzzini. The spiral-shaped bouncing lamp Arad designed for the Not made by hand, not made in China series is being worked into mass production by the company, to be made out of polyamide.
“We were the first to use rapid prototyping in the way that it became the final product,” Arad says. He is renowned for experimenting with new technologies and pushing boundaries, and the same attitude can be found in many RCA students – often put down to his influence. “With new technologies it’s exciting in the early days to find out what we can do with it.” But today everyone has jumped on the rapid prototyping and rapid manufacturing bandwagon, as if it were new. “For me this is history, we were experimenting with RP in 1999. People take your ideas and claim them for themselves – young designers think they’ve discovered the world.” Do I hear resentment? “It’s the way the world works. Ideas are there to be used – that’s one of the reasons we always aim to do new things, and then you move on. The reason why we’re revisiting these designs is because iGuzzini are putting them into commercial production and distribution.”
Arad’s other lamps include the Lolita chandelier for Swarovski in 2004 (also spiralling) and the remote control Aerial light produced with One Off Ltd, the company he founded with Caroline Thorman in 1981. But he remains best known for his chairs. “The thing with designing yet another chair is that there is a lot of given. We know what size it needs to be roughly, the relationship of the angles, what it does. I mean the earth would still be turning even if we never designed a chair again after Arne Jacobsen. Mostly it’s a waste of energy, but then every so often you come across something that makes it worthwhile. Like the one we’re sitting on.” It’s the Ripple Chair Arad designed for Moroso – he took the idea behind his 1997 Tom Vac chair for Vitra and decided to “tie the bow”. “You can stroke yourself,” he says smiling, leaning back and doing just that. “I sent the drawings to Rolf Fehlbaum to see how he felt about it. His reaction was: ‘I like to see continuity in a designer’s work.’ He is such an enlightened man. That never would have happened with an Italian company.”
Arad takes the term signature designer to another level by using his own signature as a common thread in his designs. There are lamps shaped like his hand writing, his signature adorns the new PizzaKobra light, it’s all over his studio and branded on the ping pong table outside his office. The continuity Fehlbaum saw in Arad’s designs is unbroken. As is his trademark hat wearing. I have to ask where he gets them from: “I don’t design all my hats, but some – simply because most hats that I like are too small. You see, I have a very big head: literally and otherwise too!”
Following on from our profiles of three young designers (page 68), onoffice canvassed academics’ and manufacturers’ opinions on how to take the step into the workplace sector...Jonathan Hindle, group managing director, KI Europe, which this summer will sponsor Smart 3 along with the Worshipful Company of Furniture Makers – a collaboration between Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College students now in its third year“I think there has been a massive improvement in the quality of the work. Students’ interpretation of the brief and their ability to problem-solve has got better every year, as they are trying to make the workplace better, addressing real issues that happen in the modern office. All of last year’s students found employment in the design world and KI has been working with some of them on a freelance basis. It shouldn’t be expected though that they produce work that manufacturers could pick up and run with immediately. Dr Lynn Jones, course leader of Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College’s MA in Furniture Design and Technology“It’s something we’re trying to address and of which we’re more conscious year on year. That’s why we devised the summer project sponsored by KI. Students are a lot more familiar with home and domestic furniture, but they are a still a little bit afraid of designing for the office as they see it as quite high tech. There’s a lot of work in the office furniture sector and students should be very able to design for that market.”Gerry Logue, chief executive, Sagal, and chair of Furniture West Midlands, which promotes good design and fosters links between industry and education “Manufacturers need to meet young designers half way and at the moment I think the industry is reluctant to do that. I set myself the task of proving they could be commercial and with Jarod Griffiths [of furniture design duo Gee-d] we worked on prototyping, the manufacturing process, marketing and all the things that make sure a product is profitable. When they come out, young designers need to have been trained in how to do that and I don’t think universities are capable of it. I think we’ve lost a lot of the craft skills we had with the old apprenticeship system and we need to recreate something similar by knowledge-sharing with schools.”Brian Murray, managing director, Boss Design, which in 2004 worked with London Metropolitan University’s Furniture Works initiative on the Boss Design Mentoring Award to recognise young talent“The academic idea of design is very different to the commercial reality of design. The only ‘good’ design is one that sells and there are lots of designs out there that don’t sell. I like working with young designers but their temptation is to shock an audience, and we have to take their design and adapt it. You need to have the sizzle products, which attract architects and designers, but they don’t make up the bulk of your sales. With design, not a lot of it has to do with talent; it’s about hard work to push to get your products into manufacturing.”
Words by Kerstin Zumstein French designer and architect Jean-Marie Massaud came to London to promote a product – Axor’s new bathroom range for Hansgrohe – for the first time this week. Kerstin Zumstein popped in for a blitz interview and discovered the meaning of life, and a view of the world à la Massaud1 Kennedee armchair for Poltrona Frau 2 The Manned Cloud, a concept design for a flying eco-hotel 3 Easy Block sofa for Offecct 4 Project for Volcano Stadium, Guadalajara, Mexico 5 Bond chair for Offecct 6 Toilet Brush Holder for Axor7 Jean-Marie Massaud8 Aston Conference armchair for ArperKZ How come it’s the first time you’re in London for a product launch?JM I normally hate this kind of thing and shy away from promotional tours. I don’t even show up when I win an award [for instance, this year he received Créateur de l’Année at the Salon du Meuble in Paris]. But I really like the people at Axor, and I’ve had a long-standing quality relationship with them.KZ Describe the link you find between architecture and design.JM For me it’s all the same: architecture, design, politics. It’s a question of how you look at something in a specific context and what makes sense in that context. I’m a progressive person and trust the idea of creating something complete. I work on projects not products, delivering a whole package.KZ Like the Gesamtkunstwerk, the total work of art?JM I always say, “Don’t ask an architect to design your own home.” He will do something vast, expressive of his own personality, aiming for total design, and then you’d be forced to live in someone else’s house. KZ So how do you design?JM I see my way of designing as simply writing a script which then writes the scenario. What is interesting for me is what I call “life scenarios” that continuously progress our way of life. And design should facilitate this.For example, with the Water Dream, a concept bathroom for Axor, I focused on the relationship with water, not from a general point of view but from a sensual and emotional angle, and that script then translates into the necessary elements, the prosthesis needed to create that feeling, like the shower head, the tap etc. I mean, I don’t care about the shower heads. I want light and warmth – that’s what people look for: the emotion, the atmosphere. How it is provided is not important.KZ Is creating these environments/scenarios the main purpose of design?JM Well, yes, the created scenario is what counts for each individual. But my ambition is that at the same time this scenario solves collective issues. For instance, designing a system like the Axor bath that saves three litres per minute with maximum comfort – that is designing progressively, always merging desire with responsibility.KZ You’re famously quoted as seeing the role of designers being one of social responsibility.JM Absolutely, all humans should take social responsibility but designers especially have the potential to provide life-enhancing strategies. We, designers, are actors of this market economy, which is based on quantitive growth. Essentially, everything is based on growth, because it’s the foundation of life. If things stop growing, they die. Simple. But, currently, humans have removed themselves from the ecosystem. The planet needs a certain harmony, a symbiosis, to survive, and humans are not part of that cycle anymore. They just take without giving back effectively preventing further growth. So, the responsibility I see is to work towards qualitative growth.KZ What does this qualitative growth entail?JM It means that, while still providing a good quality of life in terms of comfort, every designed object has to be designed to the minimum… of material that is, not style! That’s why I fine-tune every project I’m doing towards using the least possible energy, material etc, while ensuring things look stylish and elegant.KZ Like your handmade Ad Hoc chair for Viccarbe, launched in Milan this year?JM All furniture I do now is light. If you don’t need it, why keep the material? For the gimmick, for the statement? I don’t care about statement, I care about competency, relevancy, emotion and elegance. Lightness is an attitude, an ecological approach, about getting the service without the constraints. KZ Ok, but essentially, if your aim is the minimum use of material, doesn’t that contradict and question your existence as a designer?JM Eh bien! The ideal is to get an immaterial world where it’s all about emotion, energy and information. But while we get to this ideal we still need to deal with materials. I always design furniture with the minimum of matter and the maximum of use, comfort and elegance because people don’t understand the product by the demonstration. They understand it here (he touches his stomach) – a gut-feeling. They look and say, “Ha! Yes, it looks comfortable,” without knowing that it’s also ecological etc. That’s why I like designing things that look like they are floating. Why show the functional parts of a product? People don’t want to see that!KZ Like your Volcano stadium in Mexico and the Manned Cloud.JM Yes, that illusion of lightness that inspires the magic of matter is what creates a quality emotion.KZ Will the Manned Cloud, your flying eco-hotel, ever happen?JM Technically it’s doable alright, but economically it’s a different story. It would cost 3.5 billion euros to build. But that’s why I did this project. It’s an alternative to the resorts that are destroying the beautiful coastal strips all over the world. I’m still looking for investors! KZ Very Jules Verne. So how does it work?JM The huge volume of the “whale-in the-sky” is filled with helium, which is lighter than air, so theoretically it flies. Living in the sky, is it really a phantasm?KZ Hotel in the sky, how about a flying office? JM Yes, why not.KZ What would your dream workplace be?JM Working on a boat, I’d love that.KZ Your designs often incorporate a futuristic element – what is your vision of the workplace of the future? JM I’m currently working on a project for the office with a very, very big office company – I can’t say who but bigger than Vitra. In this process, I realised how we spend two-thirds of our waking time at work, so again the office has to be an ecosystem where we feel comfortable. Therefore workplace design needs to take a holistic approach. The future office will be about mind and body – ergonomics is also in the mind you know.Architecturally, the office of the future is about the mutation of space rather than the current movement towards polyvalence or modularity. Moving furniture modules around is just mechanical, modularity is mechanic but mutation is something… organic. I don’t like this word, but it’s something more close to life: holistic.KZ In your book Human Nature you say, “Humans will reinvent themselves – a new era is near.” When, how and why?JM I see a change on the horizon. Things reinvent themselves whenever there is a crisis. Currently we’re approaching three points of crisis: environmental, economical and one of value. Religion always provided a social link for humans to live together but things have changed. In times when people are scared they go back to traditions, they re-evaluate. We will all be obliged to understand that this period of economical growth will soon be over. As a result, the economy of having will evolve into the economy of being. Material will become energy, the object will become service, information and emotion.Like after a war when people have to rebuild, it will be sad but interesting. We will finally think about the essential: what is my life project, why am I here, just to work? What are our collective responsibilities, what is our relationship with nature? KZ When do you foresee this new era coming upon us?JM It will arrive very soon, in about 15 years. We currently live in a state of decadence and the crisis will help people to crystallise what the meaning of life is.KZ So what is the meaning of life?JM For everyone to create their own life project – we will all be our own designers, designing our life scenario. I truly believe design will become the future value. I am preparing for the new era of humanity by driving human innovation. People talk of technological innovation but human innovation is what will truly supply a sustainable direction.KZ Where do you see human innovation in current design trends?JM For me, trends are artificial – they simply create a market. They are decadent. But I do believe that human innovation will surface in design. I think the best designer in the world is Steve Jobs, the CEO of Apple, because his designs have a strategy, a philosophy.KZ All this talk about the end of our life as we know it – do you consider yourself an optimist, pessimist or realist?JM I’m just being realistic! I’m optimistic, yes, in that I’m excited about what is to come. We live in a society that keeps rising and rising, and now we’re at the peak of decadence. The crash, the fall is near. But in effect, that means new challenges, which can only be a good thing.KZ Finally, do you believe in love?JM Mais oui. Yes, of course. Much more than love I believe in harmony, because love comes with passion that can induce jealousy and everything else. I believe in love and conscience, to be open and sensitive to everything around you.
Many architecture, design and fit-out firms dream of securing blue-chip clients. The money’s better, there’s more regular business and the build is perceived as more spectacular. But how do you net a big client, keep it when it’s netted and – can you even handle it?We asked successful architects with decades of experience with the big players and people on the other side of the fence – those who commission the design work – what your firm needs to do to stand out. And what can go wrong. Their answers may surprise you.Linda Morey Smith, principal director, MoreySmith Think of your clients as individuals. If you find an individual you like to work with – whoever it is – it makes it much easier for everyone. That said, if you are going to make friends with someone, remember a CEO or finance director can make decisions more easily and quickly.Developers are even better to work for than corporate clients – they use you over and again rather than every five to ten years! Stay in touch by all means, but make it friendly. If I thought that every time I was calling a client it was for a new piece of business, I’d never call. Keep track of your contacts – they move up within companies or they move out altogether. Who is their replacement?Sharon Turner, principal, Swanke Hayden Connell ArchitectsAvoid corporate clients who see you as the same as any other vendor and are just trying to slash costs. They view design as throwaway and aren’t convinced of its value. But sacrificing your profit means you won’t be able keep your top people on the job, the work might be substandard, the client relationship will be strained and your legacy will be impaired. What is the job worth to you? Be prepared to do a fair amount of mundane work on the road to an 18,000sq m building. There’s disability access, planning consent and that vent to put in – but avoid contracting it out. Once lost, client trust cannot be regained. Concentrate on getting to know the people who don’t like you rather than people who do. Then, when the old man runs off with his secretary, you will still be under consideration for the next commission. Be aware that in quiet periods a client will get used to immediate service. This has serious implications for your resource planning, as during your busiest times, they will also want to speak to someone immediately.Ride the wave. There is always a dip in the middle of a long job. I call it the three-year itch, when people get jaded after the initial creative buzz fades. But things pick up towards the end and morale rises again. Be results driven: corporations respond well to this and if you can prove that design work has improved productivity or HR can say attendance has gone up, you’ll have won their heart. Don’t expect to be treated as an equal: often I have got into a plane and turned right into coach while the client turns left into business.Sara Fox, director, Fox&Co Consulting (formerly project manager at 30 St Mary Axe)First impressions are vital. Miss the pre-qualification deadline? Bad move. If you can’t even make that, how are you going to be feet to the fire? That’s two demerit points. And I have a very strict rule – two typographical errors in your document and it goes in the bin. This is detail and what’s design all about? Detail! Dress right: don’t turn up to the presentation in the slobby clothes you wear around the office. I’m not interested in seeing your belly-button piercing. Go to Top Shop and spend £80! Firms who have the good sense to put their people in business suits with ties, brush their hair and hide the facial shrapnel have a better chance. Don’t underestimate the importance of the job to the client. Whether it’s for a small advertising firm or a large bank, the client is getting ready to spend what is for them a lot of money. If you don’t appear as if you can play by the client’s rules or, at least, appear empathetic, then they won’t listen to you.“Most clients are clueless”: design firms believe this is true. They are not wrong for the most part. But don’t treat clients as though they are clueless. Don’t come over all “Boy, are you clueless, but don’t worry, we’ll sort you out!” The client is trying hard to articulate what they want but lacks the vocabulary to express it. They know what they don’t like about where they are now but can’t take it to the next level. Your job is to reflect back what you think you have heard them say in a positive manner. If you have a brilliant designer who is rude and obnoxious, keep him chained to his desk. It’s all about bedside manners. Work with the client during the preparatory stages. It’s a very bad idea to hide yourself away in a room for three weeks on end with no contact with a client, then pull a rabbit out of a hat in the presentation at the last minute. You could miss something huge like the CEO’s dislike of green. So if you pull a green rabbit out of a hat it’s going to be a huge blooper – shock and dismay. Instead, when the rabbit comes out of the hat baby blue with a dinner jacket on, they are ready for it and think it’s a good idea. Richard Kauntze, chief executive, British Council for OfficesCorporate clients are different from SMEs. They will have a dedicated team looking at property issues, and be certain about what they are expecting in terms of results, timing and price. A big client will be looking internationally at things like outsourcing projects in India. They operate in a fast-changing environment and want things to be implemented in a fast-changing way. Any professional services team would be mad not to talk about people issues. Big companies are increasingly focused on people. Develop lasting relationships: corporations have the potential to provide large amounts of repeat business, so get to know about what makes the company different, what works and what works less well, economies of scale and replicating ideas that have worked elsewhere.Keep it simple: some firms come up with ideas that are unnecessarily complicated as opposed to a “vanilla” solution. But beware of planning too many bells and whistles. Bespoke solutions can become dated very quickly. Business is moving at an ever-faster pace. Post-occupancy surveys are critical and part of the original service. You need to find out whether you have delivered what was expected of you. That is nothing less than fundamental.Mumtaz Arif, head of projects, Cable & Wireless Firms need to develop a business skill set. It’s vital that people can engage with our business and understand what we do in all areas. A good company will take the lead in the move, bringing together things like the property piece and the IT piece. Just the property part isn’t enough, especially when you are relocating and consolidating. Sell your small size! For our move, we went out to some of the biggest players in the marketplace before we chose our firm. We found that they were too expensive and very rigid in what they provided. But Visual I’s, the firm we went with, said they would do the whole package cheaply. Blend in: Visual I’s are embedded in our company. You wouldn’t know that they were consultants at all unless you looked at their name badges. Just as well – people hate consultants and suspect they are paid more than they really are. Don’t be too fancy. There’s a tendency for architects and designers to use the latest specs and materials and the fashionable furniture … why reinvent the wheel? You’ve got to consider functionality first and foremost. Know the market you are pitching to: we are very cost driven and our profit margins are slim since the dotcom correction. Other corporations are cash rich. Find out what your prospective client’s background is. What kind of building are you being asked to provide a proposal for? This is a key question. Is it a showpiece that customers from all over the world are going to be visiting and thinking this is what this company is all about? Or is it a functional office where people can touch base and do a bit of work? Once you are in, you are in: no blue chip wants to take the risk of working with new people again and again. Once they have understood the rates of the company are market tested, then it’s a case of building a long-term relationship. We don’t want to put every job out to tender.
Words by Kerstin Zumstein Tara Bernerd injects offices with a fashion feel that takes the work out of workplace design. Kerstin Zumstein meets the co-founder of Target Living to take a look at her brand-new, self-designed officeFamous for her courageous use of bold colours and fabrics, interior designer Tara Bernerd’s work is instantly recognisable: there’s always an eye-catching cushion placed prominently in the room that acts as her signature. Currently it’s likely to be a cushion with a Union Jack on it. “I love the British flag because it’s such a remarkably bold design; I also like the Turkish flag, for that matter.” So it’s not about nationality but about identity, and her identity is –whether intentional or not – always part of her designs.
In 2002, together with German architect Thomas Griem, Bernerd founded Target Living, a company they label as an interior architecture design consultancy. The two met while working for Philippe Starck’s international property and design consultancy Yoo, where Bernerd became partner and later launched Yoo Too. The Starckian confidence to always go for a wow factor can still be felt in her work today. And, incidentally, The Wow Factor was the name of Bernerd’s ten series television show on UKTV Style, where she advised homeowners on inspirational resources and design rules.
“I left school early,” says Bernerd. “Like many 16 years olds I didn’t know what I wanted to do. But I always understood the property market.” That is probably down to her father being an active player in the property scene, but she never aimed to follow in his footsteps. She did, however, feel there was a void in the market and found her prime ambition at Yoo: to bring design to the forefront of property development.
Over the years Bernerd has made a name for herself as a luxury designer and has now injected her glamour into the workplace. Traditionally, Target Living cover 50 per cent residential and 50 per cent hospitality and work with big property companies as well as some boutique developers. “Then occasionally clients would ask us, ‘Can you do my office too?’ and that’s how we got into workplace design.” she says. “We rarely get a brief though. We present moodboards and go.” Essentially her team is let loose to stylishly decorate the given office space, which explains how her trademark cushions are found in each project. Not that any of her projects ever look the same. Each shine in a different light, bursting with personality through an individual mix of old and new, heavy materials and burgundy colours plus large samples of modern art.
Target Living is currently working on the entire design of all UK Center Parcs and previous office designs include Allied Commercial, Aspinall’s Casino, Chelsfield, Chelsea Football Club, Jay Jopling’s White Cube gallery and office, Sky TV’s concept home and Global Brands, which represents FIFA licensing. And then there is Guy Dellal’s office (son of “Black Jack” Dellal, one of Britain’s richest men) and Robert Tchenguiz’s offices (property tycoon and allegedly the man who introduced Princess Diana to Dodi Al Fayed). We’re talking big money and celebrity status. But Bernerd denies having an elitist client base. “Good design is not about a budget, it’s about making the right decision and taste.” Target Living has proved its potential in other fields and now profits from connections that want this confident glamorous style in their own offices. “We don’t aspire to do new build. We know our skill set and that is to provide a contemporary design concept, flair and, where requested, the wow factor.”
Today’s office design is also about understanding a lifestyle. Bernerd says, “The common attitude towards design has changed. A general awareness for style developed when we saw home interiors spread onto the high streets with Habitat etc. Now that market has been saturated, it will shift and people will focus their design ambitions on workspaces. After all, it says something that clients come to us to decorate their offices, not to practices that are known as office fit-out specialists.”
Of course this theory leans on the fact that people actually get to be the decision makers when it comes to designing their workplaces, and that is really only the case if you’re the executive of some swanky enterprise. But as proven by the above list of client contacts, that’s exactly where Target Living sits. And Bernerd looks the part, with her pink, orange and beige extensions, immaculate Beverly Hills make-up and stylists attending to her prior to the shoot. She’s wearing a beige fitted suit and high heels, sparkling Diamond Cartier rings and a black and gold Rolex rattles on her wrist. This may all sound pretty full on but she carries it off like an A-list celebrity. And, it needs to be said, the lady is a natural beauty as it is.
Bernerd has luxury and fashion stamped all over her, and if you don’t like Chelsea bling, it’s not for you. But the woman knows her stuff. Initially she welcomes us, appearing quite hyper and super charged. But when we sit down in her boardroom – the green room they call it, all calm and sleek with B&B Italia soft seating, a beautiful oak table and daylight warming the room – Bernerd’s aura transforms into that of a clear-minded business woman, superior, confident and very ambitious. She is evidently at ease in her new office, which was only completed three weeks ago and still gives off a slight hint of paint. “It’s made all the difference in the world,” she exclaims. Natural daylight seeps through skylights and large windows, giving the space a grand lofty feel. “I can already say productivity has gone up by 30 per cent.”
After three weeks that’s an ambitious observation, but Bernerd says her 16 staff members now arrive a lot earlier in the morning to have breakfast together and stay later because time just flies. “A kitchen is key to a good workspace,” Bernerd assesses. “We’re located just off the Kings Road but still prefer eating here, using the space for crash meetings and brainstorming while keeping ideas fresh. It ties in with the current trend of investing more in the extra areas of an office and less in the actual workstations.”
The workplace is on the second floor of a typical West London house, on a stunning Chelsea side street lined with trees and flashy cars. Bernerd reclaimed the brick wall in the boardroom and opposed this raw look with the warmth of a huge linen wall on the other side. Traditional textiles, modern soft seating and loud contemporary art prints fill the space. “There are two things about me that are vital when I design a space: I’m attracted to very bold and extremely handsome things and I love to feel warm,” she says. This explains her choice of cosy colours, soft fabrics and her love of modern art. “I love working with art,” she adds. “Of course you can’t compare art to a cushion but likewise I feel it’s about making a statement.” Her famous placement of cushions with Union Jacks or the Queen’s head on them, which we also find on the sofa in the reception area of her new workspace, is linked to Fake London, a design company with an ironic take on all things English, run by a friend of Bernerd’s. The extravagant baroque style mixed with postmodern punk is a fashion Bernerd adores. “But I have a new cushion now,” she exclaims, dragging out sacks of prototype cushions, more rock ’n’ roll with leather and studs. “They’re by Patrick Cox, shoe designer-cum-cushion stylist. I really support British design. Take Paul Smith, for example. I think he is brilliant and really respect what he has done for England.”
Ultimately, Bernerd merges fashion with accessories, style statements and classic interiors and ends up with an office. “Every piece of furniture or decorative object in this office can also sit in a home,” she says, “except the Aeron chairs that the other designers requested to sit on.” Thomas Griem sits on some kneeling-healing back contraption, Bernerd on a white leather Eames chair.
“There’s also a nice story to this office,” she says, her eyes lighting up. She takes me to a picture hanging in the corridor that shows a painting of a large yacht. “This picture was given to my dad by John Bannenburg, an elegant, handsome man who designed the first super yacht. It turns out this used to be his office and, I’m telling you, his spirit is still here. Sorry for getting all deep on you but I hope we do him proud.”
Bernerd seems very close to her parents. As we leave, her mother comes to take her to lunch, equally as beautiful as her daughter. “My dad used to say, ‘You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.’ That’s why I don’t understand why people have their office so low on their list of priorities. Impressions are so important in the business world,” she says.
And one thing is for sure, you either love or loathe Bernerd’s style, but it makes an impression you won’t forget. She makes it look easy and fun, but is keen to point out that there’s more to it than that. “There’s a huge amount of work that goes into a project before you get to talk about cushions, but I really enjoy that journey. The cushion is simply the icing on the cake!”TARA’S TOP TALENTSIncredible bespoke metal work – Ian Abel, founder of Based Upon Leather leather leather – door handles, cladding etc – Keji and Tundee Eroju, founders of House of Eroju The best rugs – The Rug Company Chunky green glasses – Habitat True wow-factor floors – Michael Hansen of Schott and HansenESC knockout handles – John Bryan Stainless steel kitchens – Aselle