April 1, 2012
The minimalist architect on his new book, the value of Flickr, and why holidays are overrated.
We’re doing a new permanent home for the Design Museum, in London. It’s in the former Commonwealth Institute building, which is a landmark modernist building from the 1960s.
FIRST STEP ON A PROJECT
I gather as much information about the site as I possibly can. I like to research the geology, the climate, the wind, local fauna, history. It’s having as much information as
possible, and then you edit.
LAST STEP ON A PROJECT
Do you know that Philip Johnson thing where he says “finish, photograph, forget”? For me, it’s not as simple as that.
HOW DO YOU BREAK A CREATIVE BLOCK?
I mean, design is how I work. I would say, keep working at it.
I spent some time at the Architectural Association in London, but I’ve done a lot of learning on the job.
Shiro Kuramata, the Japanese architect and designer, and the Italian designer A.G. Fronzoni, both of whom I spent time with.
It’s funny: my mother hoped that I would be a real missionary. I’m fascinated by people who are driven to try to change things for the better,
but it’s not really part of my makeup.
FIRST ACT AS “DESIGN CZAR”
I don’t really like telling people what to do. I probably wouldn’t accept
I think it would be hard to beat the people that I’ve got. Even if you could have a team with Mies and da Vinci and Michelangelo and Beethoven, you’d never get anything much done, would you?
To improve his posture, my son had a stool that’s on rockers—so you’re forced to lean forward. When he stopped his typing course, I borrowed it. I’m still using it 15 years later.
Certainly not. I occasionally hear people’s music through their headphones. But as it’s my office, I’m able to tell them to turn it down.
As you can imagine, I’m not big on tchotchkes. One of the few things I’ve ever kept is from my mother, some cast-iron candlesticks in the shape of a pair of toads. They’re particularly odd. But I love my mother, and they remind me of her.
MOST USEFUL TOOL
The camera. It’s a great design tool. My new book that’s coming out, A
Visual Inventory, is a distillation of that. It shows how I see things.
I use Flickr every day. It’s not foolproof, but I can usually find photos of sites that I’m working on or vernacular stuff.
BEST PLACE TO THINK
I think pretty well at my desk. I certainly don’t need a special place.
I find that being bored can be quite a creative time—when you’re stuck
in a traffic jam, or things like that.
I tend to read fiction when I can. I’ve read a few William Boyds recently, and now I’m reading Freedom by Jonathan Franzen.
I drank a wonderful 1949 Musigny, a Burgundy, while I was being entertained on a mountain in Taiwan at the end of last year. I couldn’t refuse, because 1949 is my birth year.
The bike that I just bought: a Pinarello Dogma. They measure you and fit it to you, like a bespoke suit.
My gosh, there are lots. But one that I’d put at the top is Le Thoronet, the twelfth-century Cistercian abbey in Provence. I’ve been there many times.
For me, that’s a kind of contradiction. I don’t really feel guilty about things. Of course I feel guilty, but it’s not about pleasure.
Conventional holidays—two weeks of enforced idleness lying on a beach, which you arrive at, obviously, from being busy.
LEARNED THE HARD WAY
That material things don’t matter. It’s a lesson I learned at the age of six, when I lost a set of Parker pens on a school trip. After that, I vowed that I would never get attached to inanimate objects. And it’s worked.
I’m doing it.