Patricia Urquiola was born in Oviedo, Spain and studied architecture in Madrid before graduating from the Milan Politecnico in 1989. The bespoke magazine CovetED had the opportunity to sit down with the designer during the latest edition of Salone del Mobile and, today, Basel Shows brings you the incredible interview.
You were lucky to be mentored by the great masters of Italian industrial design – Achille Castiglioni and Vico Magistretti – what work, or life lessons, did you take from both of them?
Patricia Urquiola – Well, what kind of lessons I didn’t learn from them? This year I had the luck to do an exhibition in the Triennale di Milano, about Achille Castiglioni. And I thought “How can I be serious, and happy and give to the people all the incredible energy he gave to me?”. I thought “Perhaps we are not brave enough”. I think Vico and Castiglioni are obviously two very different people, they both were very essential in the way they were living and doing, and the idea Vico said: “I believe all designs, in the end, are concepts”.
At the moment you can explain to someone what you want to do, and the person on the other side understands, in some way you are getting what design is. Many people interpret this as the lazy way of doing design, but he said that you always divide your works with others, with the company, that’s very important, with the artisans and the industrials. At the same time, you need to have your concept and you have to move. Castiglioni always said the “one fundamental element of the project”, this means that there’s no exchange about this element. But the other things, that are related to the path of a project, you can manage with others, but the fundamental element is the concept. That’s in your hand and you have to drive until the end.
Have you achieved everything you want in life? – What dreams are you still lingering on to?
Patricia Urquiola – I think you always have to be happy with all the steps you overcome. Because we have to get to the 3rd part of life with cal. But of course, that life continues until the last minute, you can learn, you can achieve something important for you. Why not be alive?
When are you at your happiest?
Patricia Urquiola – What’s important for me is, when I think about my daughters or any young person, to see them without any kind of perspective, perspective for me is so important. You can have a big problem if you wake up in the morning with that problem, but if you see a light at the end of the tunnel, things are okay. What is dramatic is the depression, the moment when you really don’t see light and lost your perspective. I think it’s important to always have a perspective.
Some of your work has been exhibited in major art and design museums, including; the MoMa in New York, the Musée des Arts decoratifs in Paris, the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, etc. – was this something you always dreamed of?
Patricia Urquiola – There was an exhibition 1 year ago in a Philadelphia museum, and it was a big honour because it’s an art museum, and to be there was interesting. It was a bit strange but also a big honour, but at that moment I was thinking, when someone gives you a space in a museum, that can establish your path, but my museums are houses, my clients are people that find me and say “I made my baby in your sofa”, that actually happened to me a few times. For all designers, these types of situations are our life. We are related to normal life, we are related to the idea of production. It would be nice to do special items, to work more with manifestos and ideas as artists.
Our work is much smoother. For example, this sofa, we were talking about our relationship to the planet, the way we process materials, how we even get the materials. Everything is changing and we finally have the consciousness, we are concerned. And we have a lot of homework to do because all of us have done things the wrong way, not only as a designer but as a human being. The way you are related to water, the way we eat, the way we dress. I think it’s a very interesting moment, it’s complex, it’s a failure. Us designers are always interested in complexity because maybe we’ll find a way to renovate. This project was connected to the idea of stone, the tables are made with a recycled material made from paper. This is all done in a new way, it’s very natural and it’s okay.
You have also won several international awards including the Gold Medal in Merit in Fine Arts given by the Spanish Government, as well as the Order of Isabella the Catholic, delivered by His Majesty the King of Spain Juan Carlos – would you consider this moments the biggest highlights of your career? In what way?
Patricia Urquiola – What can I say, it was a nice ceremony, we were a group of creatives not that well-dressed, we were thinking that maybe we didn’t fit there. It was very funny, but it was an honour to be given this by my country. People ask me if I feel more Spanish or Italian after more than 30 years here, but I think that I am 100% Spanish and 100% Italian, and in the end, there’s just one.
Was it a career-changing moment when you received the honour from His Majesty?
Patricia Urquiola – The things that move your career are when you have a bad moment, a delay when you don’t get what you want when there is a problem in an architectural design project and you know that those are the things that make you grow. When I say that we are perfectionists, it’s because you’re happy about it but there’s something that is always on your mind, it’s natural. And that’s what helps you go on and do better. The failures help you more. The failure of our relationship to the planet is what’s going to help us move. We have to look at failure as a value. Honours and medals are fantastic but it’s not only that that’s important.
Can you tell us a little bit about your creative process?
Patricia Urquiola – I’m quite a social person, I work with others very well, I’m very open to working in the companies, I discuss a lot, I say a lot of no’s, but we have a lot of fun. In the studio, I try to mix physical and digital work. I have a team that works together in the same house. We travel a lot to see clients and to do lectures, and I try to be humble and to things. Now I’m working on a building next to the hospital that will open in June, this is part of my work, my work is to share with other people. Our work is a mix of pragmatical and creative work, and all my work interests me.
Are you working on anything new at the moment? Could you give us a little scoop on it?
Patricia Urquiola – Cassina is a work that is taking a lot of my energy and that I believe in strongly, but I did a job with Rossana Orlandi. It’s an ironic daybed, it’s the Wasting Time Daybed, that is made out of recycled plastics.