Luminaries of our Times – Ron Arad

STIR speaks with some of the greatest icons of our times – the dramatic creations by 70-year-old British-Israeli industrial designer, Ron Arad, are an ode to the unconventional.

by Sonal ShahPublished on : Jul 09, 2021

“I hate manifestos,” declares Ron Arad during our Zoom call on the eve of his 70th birthday. “As far back as I can remember I have always disliked convention and rebelled against it…” Described as a creative maverick, design daredevil, madly innovative…the Israel-born industrial designer’s offerings straddle many genres - from monuments to cars, chairs to hats and multiple things in between. “Because creativity can’t be compartmentalised,” he offers by way of explanation. “For me there never was, and there never will be any division between design and art. All these are artificial separations….” This strong multidisciplinary approach makes Arad, “the unwitting father of what we now call Design Art,” says Paola Antonelli, chief curator of his MoMA show “NO DISCIPLINE” (2009), in New York.

  • Big Easy, Moroso – 1990 | Ron Arad | Luminaries of our Times | STIRworld
    Big Easy, Moroso – 1990 Image: Courtesy of Ron Arad and Associates
  • Bookworm, Kartell – 1994 | Ron Arad | Luminaries of our Times | STIRworld
    Bookworm, Kartell – 1994 Image: Courtesy of Ron Arad and Associates
  •  Glider sofa, Moroso - 2015   | Ron Arad | Luminaries of our Times | STIRworld
    Glider sofa, Moroso - 2015 Image: Alessandro Paderni, Courtesy of Moroso

A prolific creative, Arad has designed for major international brands including Vitra, Kartell, Alessi, Cappellini, Swarovski and his public art works can be seen in Tokyo, London and Singapore amongst other locations. Born in a family of artists, he studied at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem (1971-73) and subsequently at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London (1974-79). He co-founded a design studio, One Off, in 1981 with Caroline Thorman in London, which he later transformed into Ron Arad Associates along with Carol Thorman and Asa Bruno in 2008. It was in 1981 that he also designed the now legendary Rover Chair. The recipient of several honours, he was awarded the London Design Medal in 2011 and in 2013 elected as a Royal Academician by the Royal Academy of Arts. Till 2009, he was Professor of Design Products at the Royal College of Art in London and subsequently made Professor Emeritus. In 2008, Centre Pompidou devoted a monograph to Ron Arad, titled NO DISCIPLINE, while in 2009, in an exposition with the same title, MoMA displayed memorable works over 25 years. From September 2020 till March 2021, Newlandshouse Gallery hosted RON ARAD 69, their first exhibition devoted to design by showcasing 50 “stand out” pieces by Arad encompassing his four-decade long career and in celebration of his 69th birthday.

  • Ron Arad says he is not methodical and that he likes to move from one thing to the other | Ron Arad | Luminaries of our Times | STIRworld
    Ron Arad says he is not methodical and that he likes to move from one thing to the other Image: Courtesy of Ron Arad and Associates
  • Ron Arad In his studio | Ron Arad | Luminaries of our Times | STIRworld
    Ron Arad in his studio Image: Ssam sung-un Kim
I am convinced my lack of discipline and laziness actually makes me more prolific. – Ron Arad

Over an hour-long video chat, Arad patiently answered my many queries with his characteristic candour and wit, peppering our conversation with pandemic and lockdown experiences.

Sonal Shah (SS): Were there any triggers that led to your most successful creations?

Ron Arad (RA): If I can think of any one thing that dragged me into the world of furniture design, it is the Rover Chair. After I graduated, I attempted to work for another architect. It didn’t take me long to realise I wasn’t cut out for this. It is especially difficult to work for other people after lunch. So one afternoon post lunch I just didn’t go back. Instead I went to a scrap yard. For a long time I had this idea to make a piece of furniture from a car seat. So I bought a leather seat from an old Rover lying there. Fabricating steel frames around it, I created a chair. I was amazed at its success. If someone had told me two weeks prior that I would become a furniture designer I would have laughed in disbelief!

  • Ron Arad ‘s sketch of the Rover Chair | Ron Arad | Luminaries of our Times | STIRworld
    Ron Arad ‘s sketch of the Rover Chair Image: Courtesy of Ron Arad and Associates
  • Rover Chair, 1981| Ron Arad | Luminaries of our Times | STIRworld
    Rover Chair, 1981 Image: Courtesy of Ron Arad and Associates

SS: What is your typical workday?

RA: Everyday is different. I am not methodical, always moving from one thing to another and doing many things together. I try to organise my day in my head but there are always some items that jump the queue and grab attention. I am convinced my lack of discipline and laziness actually makes me more prolific.

At work during the COVID-19 lockdown, wearing a mask designed by him for a benefit project, “Smile for our NHS” with artwork depicting smiles of several famous people including Shakespeare, Einstein and Dali | Ron Arad | Luminaries of our Times | STIRworld
At work during the COVID-19 lockdown, wearing a mask designed by him for a benefit project, “Smile for our NHS” with artwork depicting smiles of several famous people including Shakespeare, Einstein and Dali Image: Courtesy of Ron Arad and Associates

SS: When do you get your best ideas?

RA: All the time! Ideas are not the problem. For me the dilemma is which idea should I develop further. Unfortunately many interesting concepts just don’t see light of day. I have evolved a distinct method of deciding…. I ask myself if I saw that particular piece in a gallery would it fill me with envy? If the answer is yes, I pursue that specific design.

SS: Some of the high points in your career…

RA: Winning the United Kingdom Holocaust Memorial Design Competition in 2017, to create the memorial near the Houses of Parliament, along with David Adjaye is an immense privilege. Unfortunately the location has become contentious, and with the pandemic many things are on hold, otherwise the galleries were to be opened in Fall this year. Another is the Design Museum Holon in 2010, the first museum in Israel dedicated to design. When I conceived it, I didn’t believe they would actually build it, so I created something I fantasised about and didn’t try to please the client. My brief had been to do something that we would be proud to put on a postage stamp. I am so-so lucky to have done it. It has been voted the most loved contemporary building in the country.

  • A rendering of the UK Holocaust Memorial project by Ron Arad Associates and Adjaye Associates | Ron Arad | Luminaries of our Times | STIRworld
    A rendering of the UK Holocaust Memorial project by Ron Arad Associates and Adjaye Associates Image: Courtesy of Ron Arad and Associates
  • Design Museum Holon, 2010  | Ron Arad | Luminaries of our Times | STIRworld
    Design Museum Holon, 2010 Image: Courtesy of Ron Arad and Associates
  • ToHa, Telaviv, 2019 | Ron Arad | Luminaries of our Times | STIRworld
    ToHa, Telaviv, 2019 Image: Courtesy of Ron Arad and Associates
  • Mediacite, a shopping mall in Liege, Belgium, 2012 | Ron Arad | Luminaries of our Times | STIRworld
    Mediacite, a shopping mall in Liege, Belgium, 2012 Image: Marc Detiffe, Courtesy of Ron Arad and Associates

SS: What new technologies will impact/disrupt the design process?

RA: Technology is a tool and has to be used as such. It is incorrect to make it into an either or situation - I embrace artisans and technology equally. It is an aid for the artisan and as new technologies develop, they assist the designer in different ways. I make a sketch of my idea, then use technology to determine how it will look. Technology helps me bring my imagination to life…

SS: Any advice to new generation of designers?

RA: Be curious. Be adventurous. There is no “one” thing that is right or wrong. People are different and diverse things work for various people. Remove the word “constraint” from your vocabulary. Do what you enjoy doing. Do what you are good at. Plunge yourself wholeheartedly in the process. No doubt, luck is a factor in success, but I believe if you are very good you will get noticed.

20 mins watch Ron Arad’s speech at the Royal Academy of Arts during the 2020 Summer Exhibition (in the background is his work ‘Oh Lord, Won’t You Buy Me?’) | Ron Arad | Luminaries of our Times | STIRworld
Ron Arad’s speech at the Royal Academy of Arts during the 2020 Summer Exhibition (in the background is his work Oh Lord, Won’t You Buy Me?’) Video: Courtesy of Ron Arad and Associates

As we wind up our exhilarating conversation, Arad discusses how time as we knew it collapsed during the lockdown, with the pandemic making environmental concerns most urgent. He ends with a plea - “The world is not in a good place just now. All of us must do our bit to save our beautiful earth.”

Did you know? Ron Arad…

  • can’t do without his pencil.
  • loves the colour red.
  • is afraid of boredom.
  • describes his studio as a progressive kindergarten.
  • subscribes to the motto: “Nothing is as good as it seems, nothing is as bad.”
  • is brother of violist and composer Atar Arad.
  • turned 70 on April 24, 2021.

To know more interesting facts about him, watch our UNSCRIPTED conversation with Ron Arad, and click here to read more articles in the series 'Luminaries of Our Times'.

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