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Cross Border Conversations 2/8

Women at the Forefront: Patricia Urquiola X Gayathri Shetty
Meetings in Milan: STIR presents a series of exchanges between Indian designers and international icons who are redesigning our cities and our lifestyles.

by Archana Pillai Aug 01, 2019

Spanish designer Patricia Urquiola livens up the international architecture and design space with her feminine and tactile products. Her eclectic and experimental style defines her work for leading design brands, and has won her numerous international awards.

Bangalore based architect and interior designer Gayathri Shetty set up her firm GNA in 1993 and is also the chairperson of the IIID Bangalore chapter. Here in Milan for the Salone del Mobile, she is stopping by to check out the new collection at Cassina.

Urquiola stands out among the crowd, and you cannot be sure if it is the vibrant checkered coat she is wearing, or the intense energy that radiates from her. In contrast, there is a quiet stillness about Shetty that projects easy tranquillity. One sees why the two are good friends - their contrasting energies balance each other out.

We get a personalised whistle-stop tour of the Cassina Perspective, Urquiola’s vision this year for the brand that she has steered as Art Director since 2015. Tour done and catching up out of the way, we sit down so Shetty can quiz Urquiola about her designs, her passions and her plans for the coming year.

  • The Cassina Perspective: A blue perspectival grid runs across the floor and part of the walls. Image Credit: Stefano De Monte
  • The CAB chair by Mario Bellini: XL, Baby, faded ... the family is expanding. Image Credit: Courtesy of Cassina
  • The CAB chair by Mario Bellini: XL, Baby, faded ... the family is expanding. Image Credit: Courtesy of Cassina
  • The Back Wing chair by Patricia Urquiola evolves into an embracing armchair Image Credit: DePasquale+Maffini
Gayatri Shetty (GS): It was lovely to see your exhibit on Chandigarh, the Hommage à Pierre Jeanneret in the showroom. What excites you about this project and where do you see it going?

Patricia Urquiola (PU): We are showcasing today four new products inspired by Chandigarh and created by our R&D centre as an homage. We will continue our research at the Foundation Le Corbusier to explore the work of this great architect, and perhaps at the end we will develop a collection of something contemporary. We will also do a talk at the end of the year in Chandigarh.

  • Hommage à Pierre Jeanneret: the Capital Complex office chairs and the Capital Complex table. Image Credit: Stefano De Monte
  • Hommage à Pierre Jeanneret: the Capital Complex office chairs and the Capital Complex table. Image Credit: DePasquale+Maffini
  • Hommage à Pierre Jeanneret: the Capital Complex office chairs and the Capital Complex table. Image Credit: Courtesy of Cassina
GS: That is wonderful, I will definitely be there for the talk. Apart from this project, is there anything else you are currently excited about in India - are you developing any new products there?

PU: I have designed a new carpet called Nuance for a Spanish company Gan. It is made with a felting process that mixes and uses discarded materials from their regular production. The mixed colours and densities give the end result a very terrazzo feel. Since we use leftovers from their production, it is a more adaptive and sustainable process.

  • The process of making these felted carpets from leftover yarn gives them a terrazzo feel. Image Credit: Courtesy of Patricia Urquiola Studio
  • The process of making these felted carpets from leftover yarn gives them a terrazzo feel. Image Credit: Courtesy of Patricia Urquiola Studio
GS: I have noticed that you like working with different materials and techniques. What are some of the more innovative ones that you have done this year?

PU: Bisel is a series of tables and consoles I have done with Glas Italia. We use layers of glass and colour filters, faceted with bevels. Through the translucency, you see multiple colours and their aspect changes as the light changes. They have a kind of perspective that only glass can give you.

I am working with Bottega Ghianda, the artisanal woodworking firm, for an exhibition called DOPPIA FIRMA, that brings together European design innovation and the tradition of great artisanship.

I am also doing a collection of carpets for cc-tapis called Fordite, where I mix cotton with other fibres like silk, wool and aloe, all leftovers from their regular production - their waste becomes a part of our product.

  • Bisel: The multi-layered glass is shiny ground polished and faceted to accentuate the multi-hued material. Image Credit: Courtesy of Patricia Urquiola Studio
  • Bisel: The multi-layered glass is shiny ground polished and faceted to accentuate the multi-hued material. Image Credit: Courtesy of Patricia Urquiola Studio
GS: Your work seems to have a theme running through it - upcycling and sustainability. What are your views on that? Any ideas on how we can do something different here?

PU: At Cassina, we are constantly rethinking all our processes. For example, with Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, we work with aluminium, which is a very interesting, sustainable material. We did a fantastic exhibition with Philippe Starck, using vegan leather made with apple skins. In all our projects, we think: What is the best way to use a natural material? Or if not, then how can it be recycled? For example, when you do a sofa, you should be able to dismantle it easily at the end of its lifecycle.

GS: Talking about re-using and recycling, the design profession has been called an irresponsible creator of waste. How do you address these concerns in your work?

PU:Cassina does things with a lot of respect - from the materials they use to the logistics and time they put into production. There is an obsession with quality, which is an intuitive way to be sustainable. The moment you create quality products which are durable and well designed, people can keep them for a long time. And afterwards, they can be passed along to a friend, so you give your product this circularity which saves it from becoming throw-away. We must stop these linear histories of using and throwing, and think in a much more circular way.

GS: I have not seen much of Fuorisalone - is there something interesting that you have done that you think I should see? What do you think is a must-see in Milan during the Design Week this year, especially if we were to go looking for more of your works?

PU:You must see Master’s Pieces, the exhibition by Rossana Orlandi. I have done a piece called Wasting Time Daybed made entirely with recycled materials. It is a very ironic piece, a bit provocative. Increasingly, these no-gender instruments we have in our life, like phones and sneakers, will be the things that we keep from our period.

Wasting Time Daybed: In addition to being made entirely of recycled PET, it can be easily disassembled. Image Credit: Courtesy of Patricia Urquiola Studio
GS: Talking about the future, what direction do you see yourself taking - is there a plan for 2019 that you have formulated?

PU:I have a lot of space for a new philosophy, a new language and new and interesting young designers. I am keen to create interesting conversations around women. To start with, there is an exhibition about Charlotte Perriand, one of our Maestri designers, at La Fondation Louis Vuitton later this year. That is the first lady I wanted to promote, and now we have created a division for this.

With the conversation turning to the role of women in design, we were suddenly made aware that the five people occupying the room were all women. It was only appropriate then that when asked how she would you like to STIR things up for the year ahead, she did not hesitate.

Patricia Urquiola: “For 2019, I want to STIR up… women's presence.”

(See more from the series 'Cross Border Conversations 8X8' )

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About Author

Archana Pillai

Archana Pillai

Spending over 30 years in Indian media, Archana has worked across genres - business and marketing, lifestyle, design, interiors, fashion and living. She was the CEO of Ogaan Media (publishing ELLE, ELLE DECOR, organising India Design ID). Having moved to Italy in 2015, Archana now continues her association with design and media through collaborations and freelance assignments with print and online titles.

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