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Marcel Wanders is such a design legend that a number of design-savvy colleagues were convinced he is dead, gone with fellow-countryman Bauhaus pioneers like Mies van der Rohe. But he is not dead. In fact, he is very much alive, sitting in front of me, describing the occasion when he ran naked across a conference stage in New York, throwing
sweets into the audience.

The rebel of staid Dutch design schools, Wanders has been creating his own unique strand of work since the 1990s. Relying on an offbeat aesthetic intelligence and a determination with the horsepower of a super yacht, he charged into the
design world with his own ethos; imaginative, bizarre and full on. His designs are everywhere. At 30,000 feet with his British Airways collaboration, in your back pocket on your ACME pen or at The MOMA in New York who proudly display his “knotted chair” as part of their permanent collection. The success and influence of his conceptual designs have permeated around the world; it is easy to forget that he is not yet 50.

On first meeting, Wanders appears surprisingly conservative. Upright and composed, with a cow lick flop of silver grey hair and designer stubble, a crisp white shirt and well cut suit, the only unusual feature about his appearance is a string of coloured beads and stones, lying neatly across the top of the small triangle of revealed chest. They are, I discover later, representations of different parts of his life, collected for their interesting back story; lava, meteorite, birthstones, Viagra. Not brash, but perhaps a little playfully subversive. Not unlike his designs.

His vase based on a mould of a condom filled with hard boiled eggs. The image of a half fish, half spoon decorating a hotel wall. His airborne snotty vases, a scan of small section of mucus in flight from a sneeze. No one quite designs like Wanders. Few are as conspicuous as him either.

“I want design to be more humanistic,” he says. “More human, more personal. If you think you can hide behind the rational you are not making humanistic things. I sign off my work, because I am human. It is not the best in the world, but they are my mistakes. If I want to do this then I think I should show my face, who I am.”

Who he is does seem closely linked to Wanders’ work. Expelled from his first design school, the Design Academy Eindhoven for “thinking outside the box”, Wanders graduated from the Institute of the Arts Arnhem in the late 80s. He joined Dutch design brand Droog, created his “knotted chair” and began to establish a reputation for fun, innovative design. Today he is the co-owner and artistic director of design company Moooi, although perhaps his most prevalent body of work is that created for his host of eclectic collaborations, from hotels in Miami to Marks Spencer’s, Puma to Mac, projects spanning the globe.

“I am very disappointed about my ability to change the world,” he says, with a small laugh. “But I think something has changed in design. When I started, it was cold, mathematical, noncommunicative, non-human, technocratic, cold, clean, whatever. Today it is more romantic, more beautiful, more communicative and a lot more important as it reaches way more people.”

Disparaging as he may seem about the past, Wander’s also has a respect for it too.

“In today’s design we create children without parents, which I think is a very cynical approach to life,” he says. “If we have more respect for the past we can make things today that still have meaning tomorrow.

“If we want to create a sustainable life, we need to change. We have to forget that new is better than old. It is our responsibility – it is my responsibility to change things.”

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Reading time: 4 min


Olivo Barbieri creates artifice out of reality. The Italian art photographer and film-maker, who has shown at MOMA New York, the Sundance Festival and Tate Modern in London, specialises in visual studies of spectacular urban landscapes that make cities look like haunting plastic architects’ maquettes. In an exclusive interview with Caroline Davies, he talks of his adventures in India, China, and London’s Olympic Park.

How do you start on a project?
There is no rule, it depends on the project. Each is different. I use some inspiration from books or the Internet. Because I use a helicopter, I will speak to the pilot to decide what to do. Much of the time I have a selection of places in mind but whether we can reach these often depends on the city I am in. London is easier because you can get permission to shoot.

How do you select your subjects?
That is a difficult question to answer. I try a lot of subjects and I don’t know before I shoot them what will happen. It is difficult to explain. Sometimes something interests me. When I was shooting London it was very important for me to see the new Olympic area and some new construction.

The subject has to be right for my work, not everything belongs with it. When I select my images I try to tell a story, like a small novel. Normally I decide to have only 12 images that relate to one another. I will shoot more or less 2000 images before I select and when I start, I don’t know what will be. The first step in the project is when I shoot, but the second is in post-production.

The really famous landmarks are more difficult because they are well-known subjects, St Paul’s or Tower Bridge for example. There are so many images in the history of photography that it is difficult to do something new. That is part of the challenge of my work.

What do you want to achieve?
I want to capture a city in a new way, but also discover what will be the future of this city; I’m always experimenting. The important thing is to imagine how it will be in the future, not how it is now. I choose something major so that people will look at the picture and see the possibility. I am looking for what will be.

Do you remember your first camera?
Yes it was an Eura Ferrania, an Italian – made camera. I was 8 years old. I still have some photographs and the camera, it still works. It is very simple. I liked it a lot, but I only started taking photographs seriously when I was 18. I wanted to be a photographer, but create art photography, not commercial photography, and have my work in a gallery. I looked at work of Monet and Andy Warhol.

How did you start your career?
At the beginning I did straight photography. I shot in the outskirts of cities, often at night because I was interested the artificial illumination of the city. I took pictures of Europe and Asia and made a comparison between the way each uses artificial illumination. After that I started to use select focus where only part of the lens is in focus so it was possible to decide what the more important part is. I built a project in Italy, India and in China and I did a big exhibition. In 2003 I started shooting famous cities of the world from a helicopter. The plan was quite specific, I tried to look at the world like an installation.

The selected focus technique is very interesting. I started using it because I was a little bit tired of the idea of photography, I wanted to decide what part of the picture was interesting. I discovered that not only was it possible to decide important to me because no one had done that before. Then I made a discovery when I tried to do it from a helicopter. When what was to be the central focus, but the result was something like a new world, a new way to see the world. It was very I first used it, I was very surprised, it opened a new world of possibility. It was very interesting to me that everything could be made to look like this, less real. I tend to decide after whether something has worked or not.

What do you think of the camera phone?
I like it a lot. When everyone has a camera, they can take a normal photo around me so it allows me to focus on art photography, to take a photo of something that they cannot. It gives me more freedom

Reading time: 3 min
The second floor will house the permanent exhibition

The second floor will house the permanent exhibition


Terence Conran’s influence on design and culture is astonishing. An independent designer from the age of 21, in 60 years Conran and his work have affected the way we shop, decorate, eat and live, but he is still working to leave his mark.

Conran is as active as he has ever been during the past six decades, and his latest project is, he says, one of the most exciting yet. “This to me is really one of the most fantastic days of my rather long life,” he says. “We have the next three years to fulfil our ambition to make this the very best design museum in the world,” he says. “Every city wants a design museum it seems these days, but this is where creative Britain should lead.”

Sir Terrence Conracn

Sir Terrence Conracn

He is speaking at the groundbreaking of Britain’s spectacular new Design Museum, which will be an institution that showcases every type of design from around the world. It will be located on the site of the former Commonwealth Institute in one of London’s wealthiest areas, replacing the boutique site occupied by the current Design Museum.

There are few individuals better placed to lead the project. He is a “serial entrepreneur” whose career has seen him build and establish an architectural practice, a design company and a series of restaurants. Habitat, his furniture store that brought sharply designed furniture to the masses, was the first to introduce Britain to sharp contemporary design with wit and genuine creativity. Wondering how the average CEO’s office morphed from dark oak panels and antiques to minimalist whites, glass and an Alessandro Mendini chair? Conran’s influence influenced those who changed the world.

His first restaurant, “Soup Kitchen” was just the second spot in London to boast an espresso machine and his subsequent projects have been credited with popularising fine dining in the UK: his designs made him a restaurant king in the 1990s. And before that his designs for Mary Quant’s stores altered all expectations for the shop floor.  Although Conran’s main projects have been in the UK, his mission to deformalize design and make creativity available to every stratum of society have had a profound effect on every element of design around the world.  Spurred on by his belief that good design should be democratised and celebrated, he founded the Design Museum, firstly in the Victoria and Albert Museum then in its current location in Bermondsey, South London. Gaining credibility and more crucially funding for the project was not an easy process and Conran semi-affectionately refers to the period as their, “guerrilla time in the absolutely terrible old boiler house.”

The museum will be located in the former Commonwealth Instituteon Kensington High Street

The museum will be located in the former Commonwealth Institute
on Kensington High Street

“Getting this particular site was absolutely brilliant,” says Conran. “It is a very important symbol and marker.  Here we have this building from the 1960s an extraordinary structure, sadly sat here for the last 12 years unused.” Soon to be part of the museum hub of Kensington, joining the V&A and the Royal College and Imperial College, the museum is due for completion in 2014.  Despite his passion and ongoing energy for design, Conran does not seem quite as robust as he once was. In his usual blue suit with red cheeks, he moves slowly and rather gingerly, hunched over the microphone, carefully stating his message. His increasing years seem to make him even more determined that the public, and crucially the government, should listen.

The plan for London’s new Design Museum

The plan for London’s new Design Museum

“We must start to make things again,” he says determinedly. “If you can put designers together with entrepreneurs together with engineers we can make beautiful and useful things again in this country that the world will want. I think it just needs a push from government to make this new collaboration of entrepreneurs, designers, engineers to start another industrial revolution.”

The distant beep of an articulated lorry begins in the background.

“I hope government sees it and sees that construction is underway,” says Conran, smiling. “We are going to make a rather large hole.”

Reading time: 3 min