Patrica Urquiola
Photo: Courtesy

Back after a two-year hiatus, the Singapore Design Week (SDW) returns this month with a brand new vision that “demonstrates Singapore’s distinctive brand of creativity.” With a stellar line-up of more than 50 events and 200 designers and creatives, SDW is set to explore design through three defining pillars: Design Futures, Design Marketplace and Design Impact. 

The Design Marketplace pillar, anchored by FIND – Design Fair Asia—Asia’s newest and largest furniture, interiors and design fair—will bring together “the largest carefully selected collection of interior brands, key opinion leaders, designers and content from across the globe.” Making its debut in Singapore from 22-24 September 2022, a cornerstone of the fair will be FIND – INSIDERS, where design leaders will take the stage to share their visions and insights as well as speak on critical trends and topics including the metaverse, biophilia and sustainability.

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One of the 20 FIND – Insiders is acclaimed architect and designer Patricia Urquiola, known for her modern, eclectic aesthetic and experimental approach to design. Patricia’s prolific body of work spans product design, installations, interiors—she designed the stunning interior of Oasia Downtown Hotel right here in Singapore—and architecture; her creations are exhibited in art and design museums around the world, such as the MoMa in New York and the Vitra Design Musuem in Basel. The art director of Italian furniture company Cassina has also collaborated with brands including Louis Vuitton, Missoni, Swarovski and Boeing.

Here, the creative mastermind opens up about good design, her design process, and the creative convergence of East and West through FIND.

What was the moment that made you say ‘I want to be a designer/architect’?

I already knew I wanted to be an architect as an adolescent. I loved drawing and was good at math. My father was an engineer while my mother studied philosophy—they always supported us, but never forced our decisions. Architecture was a discipline that we all liked and talked about.

What is good design?

Accomplishing good design means being constantly occupied with research through projects, processes, experiences, connection with people and places. It is also about experimenting with new materials, finding ways to upcycle waste materials and integrating technology into craftsmanship.

Could you take us through your design process? What elements/factors are most important to you?

First, I need to understand the brand, their values, their needs, and their possibilities. I like to be respectful to the brand but I always try to evolve with them—I like to experiment and challenge myself, the company and the materials. I try to move out of my comfort zone and connect people to their new spaces. For a long time now, our creative process moved towards art direction and I’m lucky enough to have a great team and work with people I like. We’re an international community at the studio, with designers and architects collaborating in interrelated ways. I’m a great believer of teamwork and constant four-hands approach for each project.

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How does your personality and Spanish heritage influence/shape your designs?

I was born in Asturias in the Atlantic Spanish coast and became an architect in Milan. I have a doable soul and kind of a rhizomatic approach to design, in the sense that I’m open to any positive contaminations. As a designer, I’m always observing society, looking for new needs and behaviours, testing products through real application and designing new, considered objects. This approach to design is reflected in the circularity and sustainability that lies behind our projects and products.

What is your favourite work to date, and why?

I’m very excited about a collaborative project with the artisans of the Real Fabbrica di Capodimonte: Hybrida, a collection for EDIT Napoli. This project translates manual skills and artisan talent into hybrid shapes, completely white figures and vases that reproduce on their ‘skin’ the motifs and textures of mosses and lichens. It’s a dance of nature that migrates, becomes amphibious, adapts and changes shape through porcelain. All the pieces of the installation were the protagonists of an auction in collaboration with Christie’s and will also be a Special Botanic Garden for its students next October.

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How has your outlook of design changed over the span of your career?

Over the past years sustainability has been crucial in the design world; it has changed our approach to the design process. A designer today must pay attention to the durability not only of objects, but also of projects—we have to use and interpret the materials in a better way, with a clear concept of circularity in mind. Working with Cassina and many other companies that are doing great research—like Andreu World, Haworth and GAN rugs—made clear how important circularity is for the future of design. We have to learn to design from an opposite perspective: we have to think about the end of the product’s life at the beginning of a project, reflecting on how the product can be disassembled at the end of its life cycle and how it can be reused.

What role does Italian-made furniture/design play in the global design landscape?

In Italy, it has always been difficult to build in the historical centers so many architects focus on the scale of design. There was a generation of architects/designers that were seeing product design from an architectural standpoint—not as an independent piece, but integrated organically into space. The Italian manufacturers were the first to work not only with Italian designers, but with designers from all over the world. There’s also a tradition of craftsmanship and diversity, as it is a polycentric nation where different areas can go in different directions. Working in Italy means working hand in hand with entrepreneurs, managers, engineers, workers who never say something cannot be done.

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Why is the creative convergence of East and West through FIND and the collaborations between the two regions important to the future of design?

We need to have an open vision—inclusion leads to the creation of quality products. As I mentioned before, only through expanding the scope of work, broadening the conversation, connecting with people, sharing and adapting to other cultures, can we develop and improve the world of design.

How do you envision the design world to evolve following FIND?

Designers and architects are working towards ‘light’ furniture of multiple uses as well as interiors solutions that are adaptive to the different functions a room can provide. We will pay more attention to energy saving methods and the relationship with greenery, not only in our houses but in our cities as well. When it comes to furniture, technology is playing a central role: virtual reality and artificial intelligence will be our life companions.

But the most efficient way to me will be to push the research on diversity and the use of biomaterials that can really be a sustainable alternative. I believe we will soon have houses in which curtains and walls act as atmospheric membranes, making our landscape adaptive. Surfaces will not only be decorative, but also thoughtful and functional.

Organised in collaboration with Fiera Milano with the support of Singapore Tourism Board, Embassy of Italy to Singapore and DesignSingapore Council, FIND – Design Fair Asia will be held at the Marina Bay Sands, Singapore from Sep 22-24 2022.