On the occasion of the Venice Architecture Biennale 2018, I interviewed renowned designer Philippe Starck to learn more about his vision and to investigate on the projects he undertook in Venice.
Born in 1949 in Paris, France, Philippe Starck studied at Notre Dame de Sainte Croix in Neuilly and l’Ecole Nissim de Camondo in Paris, France Creation of Ubik (1979). Despite more than 10 000 creations his global fame and his tireless protean inventiveness, which never forgets the essential. Philippe Starck has a mission and a vision: creation, whatever shape it takes, must make life better for the largest number of people possible. Starck considers his duty to share his ethical and subversive vision of a fairer planet, creating unconventional places and objects whose purpose is to be “good” before being beautiful. His technological miracles are vectors of democratic ecology, focused on action and a respect for the future of both humans and nature. He was the first Frenchman to be invited to the legendary TED conferences. (Text by Jonathan Wingfield)
Mara Sartore: The boundaries between the visual arts, design and architecture are becoming increasingly more blurred. The Venice Architecture Biennale holds true to this, what is your view on this blurring of boundaries?
Phillipe Starck: I never liked small boxes. Christmas is the best day of the year because we open boxes and then put them in the fire. The only way for creativity is freedom and diagonality. But Know-How is different, that’s why it doesn’t look very interesting if architects make design who make art. The game is not musical chairs. The game is to think and create, all at the same time, not adding layers but mixing finally all the elements in order to create something really new, interesting and global. To become a “desiarchitect”. Like a good smoothie.
MS: Could you tell us about your professional philosophy of “democratic design”?
PS: I was never interested in design nor architecture. What only interests me is the effect my creations may have on people who use or go to the places or objects I create. Before anything, design is a political tool. For example, I’ve always believed that when you are visited by a good idea, you need it to share it with the maximum of people. When I started to design, a designer chair was extremely expensive and dedicated to the happy few only. I thought everybody needed a good design chair with a proper quality. It needn’t be an elitism. My concept of democratic design is based on the idea to give quality pieces at accessible prices to the largest number of people. To lower the price while increasing the quality. Now that this battle is won, I can focus on Democratic Ecology and Democratic Architecture like PATH houses.
MS: After Palazzina G, you’ve recently undertaken the restoration of Quadri Restaurant in Venice. You’ve worked together with Venetian artisans to bring the original splendour of the space into a contemporary context. Could you tell us more about this project?
PS: After Palazzina Grassi and before Quadri, there is also Amo.
Amo is made of charm. It is a place where people can meet, eat, talk, work and love in the greatest Venetian elegance.
Quadri is a love story, a human love story with the Alajmo brothers and a love story for Venice. Quadri is a place that belongs to Venice; it was extraordinary,
except it was little sleepy. So we just kissed it like the Prince Charming, or not so charming in my case, and Quadri woke up. I gave it life again and we gave it back its spirit. My work was to synthesize, to symbolize all the magic, the mystery, the poetry of Venice in Quadri. But the secret of Quadri’s absolute quality is the Venetian artisans: Tessitura Bevilacqua, Aristide Najean and the Barbini brothers to name a few. All the wonderful things at Quadri may come a little from my brain, my heart, my folly but I still needed hands to make it a reality.”
MS: You’ve been living with your family in Burano for a long time now. Why did you choose to live here? In what way does Venice inspire your work?
PS: Living in Burano is like living in an ideal society. The Buranelian are great people, everyone has known each other for so long. They are cousins, fathers, grandfathers, husbands, associates and they live together perfectly which seems impossible in a modern society. But what interests me the most in the Venice Laguna is the understanding of this mud. It is the same mud – the primal mud – that existed before the appearance of life and which is for me the starting point of all creativity.
MS: Could you let us in on your top 5 places in Venice?
Magic appears by itself when you reveal the true spirit of the place. Everything here is a mental game, with its own magical little music. Hidden fertile surprises come to life everywhere; on the walls with the fabric, in the lights with the surrealistic chandeliers and in the chimeric taxidermy collection that inhabits the place; the animals came here and wings grew on their backs, becoming fantasy creatures like the mythical winged Lion of Venice. Quadri is a wonderland.
AMO is an island of Venetian mystery in the middle of world’s treasures. Each piece of furniture or interior design is a concentrate of the Venetian spirit, sofas inspired by gondolas, glass works directly stemming from the genius of Murano, mural paintings representing fantasies from the Venice carnival. All becomes the décor of a Venetian theatre.
Immerse yourself in the essence of Murano’s history, where the secrets of making glass have been preserved for centuries. Aristide Najean is a nice devil, surrounded by the fire of his furnaces that never fall asleep. He transforms the humble sand into the most incredible phantasmagoria that the glass and the hand can imagine. The furnace of Aristide is a journey into the talent and history of humanity.
Bevilacqua stands for Venetian fabrics, extraordinary fabrics. If you had one thing to see in Venice, it would be the Bevilacqua factory. You will discover very old looms, some may date from the Renaissance, some have so many strands that they don’t event exist anymore.
It is extraordinary to see this know-how, this precision, this beauty. Here again we’re in poetry. For Quadri I wanted to twist the fabric to make something that goes beyond the idea of quality and tradition and start to get into humor, magic, traps or mental games.
What would Venice be without mirrors? Mirrors are the way to look at reality differently, to look at the other angle of reality. Mirrors are absolutely magical. We work with a wonderful company called Barbini. Here again, it is strictly, strictly, strictly ancestral methods with the talent.