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Sun 10 Jan 2010 04:00 AM

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Dodging irrelevance

Ross Lovegrove tells Selina Denman why it's easy to be ‘different and stupid', but extremely difficult to be ‘different and intelligent'.

Dodging irrelevance
Ross Lovegrove.
Dodging irrelevance
Cosmic Leaf for Artemide.
Dodging irrelevance
Cosmic Angel.
Dodging irrelevance
Cosmic Angel.
Dodging irrelevance
Aqua Cil.
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Droplet.
Dodging irrelevance
Lovegrove also works closely with Vitra, in Turkey.
Dodging irrelevance
Droplet.
Dodging irrelevance
Lovegrove has a long-standing relationship with Artemide.
Dodging irrelevance
Lovegrove has a long-standing relationship with Artemide.
Dodging irrelevance
He designed Freedom for Vitra.
Dodging irrelevance
Mercury for Artemide.

Ross Lovegrove tells Selina Denman why it's easy to be ‘different and stupid', but extremely difficult to be ‘different and intelligent'.

Ross Lovegrove is feeling confident. Having championed organic, environmentally-intelligent design for most of his career, he feels like his message may finally be ‘topical'. With people increasingly seeing innovation as a way out of the current economic crisis, Lovegrove's philosophy of harnessing modern technologies to promote intuitive, sensitive, sustainable design, is resonating strongly.

The Lovegrove trademarks: using resources wisely, humanising design, and reaching, unapologetically, for a more viable future, are striking a chord. "It's the feeling that if I can stick with it, now is a good time," he explained recently in an exclusive interview with Commercial Interior Design.

In Dubai to speak at the IFI Design Congress, Lovegrove sat down with CID to discuss the potentially positive repercussions of the economic crisis, and explain why the Middle East should be a region of firsts.

What are you working on right now?

I'm doing Calvin Klein's new perfume bottle and I'm working on a new yacht in Italy. From an interiors point of view, I'm working a lot with Artemide and with Yamagiwa in Japan, on new lighting. I just finished Issey Miyake's new watch and I'm working on new projects with Moroso. There are also new bathrooms - the work I do with Vitra in Istanbul is very important; and I'm working on some architectural projects.

That's incredible breadth. Is there anything that you haven't designed yet but would like to?

I think perhaps I'd like to design an incredible house, out of brand new materials, like carbon fibre or something, where I could express the beautiful changes that could come about as a consequence of a material.

Just the idea that I could take my organic design out into a private space, where I would be given absolute carte blanche to express myself creatively, that is very interesting.

I'm not bullish, though. I'm not someone who has this incredible determination or aggressively goes for something. I mean, I've never called a client in my life, and I work with amazing companies. And although in a way I am a bit passive like that - I just see what comes to me - maybe that helps guide my life, rather than me guiding my life and being disappointed when it doesn't happen as I expected.

What were the highs of 2009 for you?

It was an unusual year and not just because of what happened in the global economy. I would say, on a positive note, what's been good for me is that people are still interested in innovation, and they see innovation maybe as a way out.

With all of the work that I do environmentally, with the solar and the wind, finally there's a wonderful synergy between organic design, the natural environment, and the technology needed to make things happen - harnessing energy, sustainably, for free, for example - which is something that I've been talking about for a long long time. I'm not a designer that has just jumped onto that idea. I have been doing it since I was very young.

It's not a specific high point, but it's the feeling that if I can stick with it, now is a good time. It's a good time for everything that I've been talking about. Maybe this is my window.I didn't even take a holiday last year. I didn't take a day off all year. I haven't stopped travelling - I do two or three countries a week. I just want to keep my head down at the moment. Just keep doing what I do, and see how the future unfolds. There's a lot of irrelevance in the world which doesn't turn me on, and which I don't crave to be a part of.

Do you think that irrelevance is particularly prevalent in the design world?

There's so much. And everybody thinks it's easy these days. It might be easy to be different and stupid, but it's really difficult to be different and intelligent. That's not to say that we shouldn't have joy in it. The thing is that one has to keep a very broad perspective.

It's interesting that you see a potentially positive outcome from this crisis.

Well, there has to be. Things need to become more efficient. They were terribly obese and we need a level of fitness. Dubai, for example, is an environment where I see incredible materials being used - materials that are rare. They are so rare and yet they are thrown around so easily. I don't see the point, really. I have a deep respect for how we use materials.

I think design has become a trend within itself. It's not a bad thing because it means there are more people who are aesthetically tuned, so maybe they have a better understanding of beautiful things. That's not a bad thing. It's just that people that go into design think it's really easy. They only really see the glamorous side of it.

There must easily be a million designers out there. And if you are in the top five or ten, it's a pretty significant thing. It's significant in that you have to stay vital and you have to stay relevant, and you have to push forward with ideas. You have to lead from the front. And the unfortunate thing, often, is that people don't do that. They find a formula and they keep churning it out. Well, that's fine but, personally, it doesn't do much for me. I find that quite vacant.

So, how are you evolving?

That's a good question. I've kept pace with the potential of how you create, meaning that I'm somebody who was taught geometry with a compass and then I did all my ink drawings; I draw beautifully and I can illustrate and visualise - I can do all of that. And now that's all gone through and we're embracing the age of the computer, with amazing programmes and things to visualise with. That's the feat that everybody was faced with. And your average kid from Vladivostok with a computer can do that now.

So, what is it that you are offering that nobody else can offer? I think it's a philosophy. I've been around long enough, I think, to try and establish a very strong and relevant philosophy, and to know how to work with companies.

I am somebody who can, in a mature way, be solidly behind certain ideas. I like to work with people and feel as if I'm not a one-night stand and they're not a one-night stand. You've got to develop with people - and everyone benefits. That was the old model.

The new model seems to be that you can pick up anybody and pay them nothing and get them to design for you. And that's fine but you wouldn't want to buy art that way, would you? Do you think that the design industry is suffering as a result?

Well, there's a bit too much of everything these days. But everything happens naturally, so if there is too much design, there is a reason for it. So many more people are buying more design, so maybe there's a need for that.

There's certainly been a massive transformation in the way people live and in the quality of things around us.

What are your thoughts on design in Dubai?

I haven't seen much of it, to be honest. Everything is new so it's a little bizarre. It can feel really soulless. It sometimes doesn't feel natural to me.

I'm interested in contributing to countries, as a kind of cultural translator. Often when I go to new places, I think: ‘What could I bring, what could I do?' And I'm not particularly interested in designing a skyscraper. I could do it, but just because it's big, it doesn't mean it's important.

Maybe because there is an enlightened wealth here, I know people have come to these places as creatives to do things that they couldn't possibly do in other places, because the financial support is there.

They can be extreme - and I like the idea of being extreme. Like I was talking about building this incredible bubble, or this amazing organic villa, out of carbon or something. You could do it here if there was somebody wealthy enough to say, ‘Why not?'. That doesn't happen in other parts of the world. I don't mean to sound so direct but that's the way it is. You need the patronage. To do extraordinary things, you need extraordinary people and extraordinary belief.

So, the thing is, if you take this region, it should be a region of firsts. Because they have the financial power, they should be accessing really incredible, vital ideas. The solar trees that I designed for Artemide, for example, they should be everywhere.

They are a symbol of modernity and the environment and giving something back to people, as well as functioning in a really important way. These are the things you should see. You should see incredible vehicles that respond to the heat. We have a global condition where the world is heating up, and they should use this as a test bed.

This is a place in the world that is fighting against nature to survive - and it's taking incredible resources to do that. So this is a time to use the resources wisely and to prototype new ideas for living.

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