As an architect and designer working globally, what do you feel is one of the prevailing trends in urban design?
I think that pattern making and decorating are coming back into the forefront. People find a nice balance between decorating for decorating’s sake and folding function into decorating. You see a hybridization of a theme that you think would be normal in one sphere used somewhere else. You find pattern making that was developed in fabrics used as façades. With parametric modeling and building information management software, you can build-in decorations that mimic, for example, lace. And not only build them beautifully, but add to their function.
How do you see companies like smart & BoConcept addressing these trends?
Stitching details, for example, have been around for centuries and people are always looking for new influences for creating new designs. We have seen men’s suit fabrics used in surprising places like curtains or window blinds. When I saw the collaboration between BoConcept and smart, it immediately made sense. That stitch detail that they pulled from the furniture into the car – or maybe vice versa – is beautiful. The result of this collaboration is useful in both spheres, it’s not just decorating for decorating’s sake.
smart & BoConcept started the collaboration as a creative exchange about urban design. What are the strengths of this collaboration?
For urban design, scale has to be a big part of the conversation. Both companies have dealt with scale very well. BoConcept has pieces of furniture that can go from big to large and back to small, so you can be versatile with how you use them. The same is true with smart: It’s a small car with a big footprint, it’s very comfortable and yet it takes up no space at all.
Your work takes you all over the world; what makes an urban dweller in New York different from, let’s say, a resident of Beijing?
Comparing the two cities is really apples and oranges, but they are similar in size of population. New York is centralized, a skyscraper city, condensed to one island and we’re going up. Beijing is not, it’s decentralized. I find that the biggest difference between a centralized and a de-centralized city is that in New York, you can pretty much encapsulate all of the experience that you want in your own neighborhood. It’s much more transient: you change styles, furniture, cars, you change this, you change that – because you see so much of it. The rate of commerce is slowed-down in a decentralized city.
Michael Schaller of smart and Claus Ditlev Jensen of BoConcept discussed sustainability and its impact on the urban environment at the BoConcept Smartville launch. What is one of your favorite urban environments in terms of sustainability?
I have to say in terms of a fast-paced, global city that has fully embraced the economic, social, and health benefits of being ecologically friendly is San Francisco. It is a highly developed city and yet composting and recycling are mandatory. They actually bring the compost to farmers who purchase our trash – and that feeds money back into the city. It is great that smart has embraced the electric car. I see smart cars everywhere in San Francisco because parking is at a premium. Those tiny little spaces that you can find between one driveway and the next, only a smart car can fit. That plus the fact that electrical cars are making a comeback is going to make a huge impact on the carbon footprint of cities.
Urban life is getting trickier all the time. What do you think will be the fundamental human needs in urban areas in the near future? How can design address these needs?
Privacy is more and more precious as apartments become smaller. Cities like New York are going to lose their vibrancy if they don’t find a way of creating space for a non-affluent class, people don’t want to live in boxes. Flexibility is going to be important, not just in terms of a couch turning into a bed, but even a wall turning into a window or a table turning into a television. Design has to be more flexible in order to cater to lifestyles that we can’t fully predict. I think everything will be customizable, so that people can express their own personality. And in an urban setting, nature is becoming ever more of a commodity, an expensive one. Look at Gramercy Park in New York: You pay a premium, you get a key to the park – if you are very rich. How sad is that? Luckily, we have Central Park. I lived in Atlanta, which is one of the greenest cities in the world, it feels like it is tied into nature. I think people are going to be drawn more to this kind of city in the future.