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“Every space can be used in various ways”: a conversation with Patricia Urquiola

Patricia Urquiola, photo: Georg Jensen
Patricia Urquiola
Photo: Georg Jensen

Designing is not so much about making a table anymore, says Patricia Urquiola. It’s more about the way spaces evolve, how they are crossed by time. We talked with the Italy-based, Spanish designer and architect about what today’s changes in lifestyles mean for her work, and about her new task as art director of Italian top level product company Cassina.

Patricia Urquiola, you work as architect and as designer. What does it mean for you to be involved in both disciplines?
Design and architecture are two different professions. During my studies in Italy, in that historical period, there was a kind of melting between them. At the architecture faculty, architects were also teaching design; and the approach to a project for them was more or less the same. But there is a difference in the process. In design it is not simpler, but you focus in another way, you have to solve other kinds of problems, the dialogues are others. For me, both are fantastic and it has been quite natural to jump from one to the other. The way we work in the studio, one profession fits to the other one, and a kind of parenthesis is created.

Patricia Urquiola: CASSINA booth, imm cologne 2016, photo: CASSINA
Patricia Urquiola: CASSINA booth, imm cologne 2016
Photo: CASSINA

Since more than a year you are also art director of Cassina – a third profession, including more business-oriented questions.
For a long time, when thinking about a step like this, I wasn’t quite sure. I thought I could lose some freedom. And I am very proud and happy of what is happening now. It is a truly dual relation, which is something very generous, very open-minded. It’s not so much about the commercial side. Yes, you have to deal with everything, but it’s more about understanding the cultural level of the company – at the moment and how it could develop, via little movements. It is important that you can do a lot of big things by moving bit by bit. It’s a continuous process: checking if we see a problem correctly, understanding what the obstacles are and what the path should be. With a lot of enthusiasm and being very critical. This leads to not only some specific design processes, but to a bigger process which is very fascinating.

Patricia Urquiola: Room Mate Hotel Giulia, interior design, Milan, Italy, photo: Ricardo Labougle
Patricia Urquiola: Room Mate Hotel Giulia, interior design, Milan, Italy
Photo: Ricardo Labougle

In all these functions you are also involved in the Contract Business. What are the main trends here?
For me it’s very difficult to use the word ‘trends’. This word is logical rather in a marketing approach or in a journalistic approach. The important argument in our work is: we understand that we are evolving more and more into a kind of network sociability. This involves different levels of mobility. It is not just about the movements we do every day in the city, to our home, our studio, a public space, a hotel, or that we work during our way to these places. All those physical mobilities are connected to the digital network, which creates another kind of mobility. All these aspects are linked. We have to understand and evaluate the concept of domesticity in our home, in the places where we live and work. For me, there is a landscape inbetween all these places. At some moments you are in a more public sphere, at others in a more private one. But this can happen in the lobby of a hotel or in your studio, in an airport or in many other places.

Patricia Urquiola: Mandarin Oriental hotel, interior design, Barcelona, Spain, photo: Mandarin Oriental Barcelona
Patricia Urquiola: Mandarin Oriental hotel, interior design, Barcelona, Spain
Photo: Mandarin Oriental Barcelona

What would that mean for the task of designing?
Many of the spaces in which we live have to give us more answers. Different kinds of cultures are melting more and more. Every space can be used in various ways, within one day. It’s not so much a question anymore of making a chair or a table, it’s more about these processes of spaces and how spaces are crossed by time. The aspect of time has become a very important element and gives life to any kind of architectural formation. I think we are at the beginning of a period that asks for complex projects, which is very interesting. We need objects that are open for a dialogue with other objects, and spaces that are open to evolve.

Patricia Urquiola: Officine Panerai boutique, interior design, New York City, USA, photo: Officine Panerai
Patricia Urquiola: Officine Panerai boutique, interior design, New York City, USA
Photo: Officine Panerai

From these perspectives, where do you see the most interesting aspects at imm cologne?
I have come to the fair in Cologne for many years. There are so many things brought together here, it is really complex, too. But more and more people know how to choose the elements that are important for them. We are living in a society of complexity. And the moment we understand complexity, we understand that we have to share things and means, we begin to share situations, we begin to think in a sustainable way. You have to find the right connections and connecting moments with persons and ideas which are good for you. I think we have to more and more move within this network society in a better way. The fair should even still grow in that direction.

Patricia Urquiola: Il Sereno hotel, architecture and interior design, Como, Italy, photo: Patricia Parinejad
Patricia Urquiola: Il Sereno hotel, architecture and interior design, Como, Italy
Photo: Patricia Parinejad

Patricia Urquiola, born in Spain, runs her studio for design and architecture in Milan. She has worked for numerous international companies and is art director of italian furniture company Cassina since 2015. As one of the most renowned designers today, she was already member of the imm cologne Trendboard.