Design Week talks to multidisciplinary designer Ron Arad

Big or small; practical or impractical; art or design or architecture – there are few things multidisciplinary hat-sporting designer Ron Arad won’t turn his hand to. To slip into a (very accurate) cliché, Arad is a primary example of a designer who deftly defies categorisation.

Ron Arad
Ron Arad photograph by Mark Cocksedge

Among the nominations at this year’s Designs of the Year at the Design Museum is designer and architect Ron Arad’s eyewear for pq – the futuristic A Frame and Corbs ranges, which both feature previously unseen mechanisms.

A Frame, Bond Street Sun

For Arad, who won last year’s London Design Medal , this collaboration marks a drastic down-scaling from his usual projects. Over the years – to barely scratch the surface of his corpus- he has worked on huge architectural sculptures such as Seoul city park sculpture; art installations such as Camden’s Roundhouse Curtain Call project; and even a bike for Elton John . Arad explains to Design Week the Alice-in Wonderland-like shifts in perspective that inform his practice; escaping a lawsuit from 4,000 years ago and the comparative freedom of art over architecture.

Corbs, Waterloo

Design Week: How did the collaboration with PQ come about?

Ron Arad: This guy kept coming here who had the idea of an eyewear collection designed by me. There was always a reason not to do it, like timing and being otherwise engaged, and I also wasn’t absolutely sure I wanted to get into this world that touches fashion.

A Frame, Stratford

DW: Why were you unsure about fashion?

RA: The fashion world needs to do things to survive – it needs to do things every season to create a need for itself and it’s not what I do. I was watching it from the outside with interest but mostly it’s not  [of interest] and it took some  convincing. It’s not like when you design a piece of furniture for an Italian company when you do it and finish it – it’s a whole collection. You need to learn about the industry and at some points the fact you don’t know the industry is a big advantage beacuse you don’t look at what other people do, but then there comes a point you have to know why things are like they are and why people do things this way or that way.

DW: How did you go about creating the designs?

RA: Ideas are never a problem – you always have hundreds of ideas, but the problem is to know which ideas to give time to and invest in. Some things you’re excited about but then you have to think it’s not only for you; it’s for hundreds of thousands of people.  When you talk about eyewear you’re projecting something about yourself and it’s an extension of who you think you are. Of course the designs in your home have that element of an extension of who people think they are but it’s more so with fashion and eyewear. Eyewear in a way is the biggest mask you wear.

Corbs, Waterloo

 DW: How did you arrive at the A Frame and Corbs designs?

RA: There are a handful of [eyewear] brands that are actually inventive  and ambitious and want to do things but the majority is retro-of-retro. The A Frame addresses something that is very difficult to know why people didn’t take it on before – adjusting the different widths of the left and right lenses. People have different width noses and different distances between the eyes, so it’s not rocket science to come up with a system to allow you to tweak it.

DW: How do you balance working across so many different scales and disciplines?

RA: I have a little bottle that says ‘drink me’, and when I work on a skyscraper I drink from the big bottle and when I work on eyewear I drink from the small bottle. But sometimes I hit my head on the doorframe. It’s no different  – I’ve always worked on small things and big structures.

DW: are there any projects you particularly enjoy over others?

RA: It’s normally current things, whether it’s the current architecture or other current projects. At the moment there’s a very exciting project called Last Train, which is so exciting. It’s an international installation and we still don’t know when and where we’re going to launch it. There’s a lot of stuff were still learning about the way it behaves. It’s to do with scratching glass mechanically with diamonds via an application we developed with the iPad. It’s diamonds, glass, iPad, scratches, noise, movement technology, metalwork…The first one’s done and working – it’s here in the workshop. We had to decide that it’s going to not border on the design frame – it’s more in the art world.  Every object has a different destination and this is definitely art. We’ll have to miss and maybe avoid the design world [for this project].

DW: How did the Curtain Call project at the Roundhouse last year come about?

RA: My studio is across the road from the Roundhouse, so I often see Marcus Davey [chief executive and artistic director of the Roundhouse ] at lunchtime. He told me about the plan for August and it’s a period where the Roundhouse devotes itself to an art installation. The first was David Byrne’s Playing the Building, and he asked me to do the next one.  I said ‘let’s make something big and round in the middle of the Roundhouse that allows people to walk through it’ and I described the project. I didn’t know at the time if I was serious or not – I can only tell with the reaction I get.

DW: Are there any projects you’re particularly proud of, or that have stood out for you?

RA: I don’t understand what it means to be ‘proud of.’ There are projects you enjoy doing and it’s fantastic to get a positive response. I enjoyed the Barbican show – I really enjoyed doing it and that included lots of things – it was a more enjoyable event than the MoMA for all sorts of reasons. One was that it was at home and maybe the Barbican is a nicer establishment than the MoMA. I enjoyed the Roundhouse tremendously and the Design Museum. We’re very spoilt we enjoy the work we do, and don’t enjoy the things that stand between us and realising our work. There’s more necessary evils in architecture than design and more in design than in art. It’s a question of how much you have to negotiate with other people.

Ron Arad
Ron Arad photograph by Mark Cocksedge

DW: Is there anything else you’re working on at the moment?

RA: We’re doing new collection of shoes for FitFlops. Again, it’s designing things that didn’t exist before – it’s always nice to find something new to do with things like shoes and eyewear. Two weeks ago I went to the British Museum and saw some Egyptian shoes so I want to use some ideas from there. I hope I don’t get sued, but they’re from 4,000 ago so I think the patent ran out.

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