How was the beginning of your career?
Ron Arad (RA): I never thought of it as a career. I mean I’m doing the same thing now that I did when I was 8 years old. It also had to do with the pencil and drawing and talking. My mother was a painter, and every time she saw me doing a fantastic drawing as a child, she didn’t say: “He’s going to be a good artist.” She said: “He’s going to be a good architect.” She was afraid about art. She thought – she was wrong! – that architecture was more solid as a profession than being an artist. How wrong she was! But when I came to London in 1973, it was a time when no one was building anything in London. Absolutely nothing. So the AA was more like an art school than the art schools because there was freedom from reality – from building, from budgets, from contractors, from floor slabs. Everything was on paper. This was before computer renders and computer modeling. It was the period of airbrushing. In the period when I was studying, the final product was not a building, but a drawing. Of course things change. But I always saw myself as an outsider to the profession. I love architecture, but I don’t love the profession so much because it’s a profession of compromises. There are always lots of negotiations – with the fire brigade, with the police, with the contractor, with the neighbors, with the husband, with the wife… It’s not like when you go to art school. When you finish, you do your art, you don’t have to consult with anyone, you are not accountable to anyone. I managed to set up a studio in that sort of mode.
How do you see the relationship between architecture and design?
RA: Look, the approach is the same. For me, to design is to do something that doesn’t exist before you design it. It could be a small thing, it could be a huge tower. If you look at the tower that we are working on together now, it’s an upside-down tower, if you wish. All the plants that people normally put on the roof, I put on the floor. There are lots of things, when we go there, that are for me different for architects. I don’t do a lot, but when I do something, I have to be curious. The same goes when I design, for example, eyewear like this we designed. The whole thing about it is that it’s not like your glasses. It doesn’t have any parts, it doesn’t have any screws, it doesn’t have any hinges. It is one piece. And it’s flexible and light. For me there’s no point in just styling, in making another RayBan, another Tom Ford. For me it has to be something that I’m interested in, that I’m curious about. [Puts on glasses.] From now on the interview will be with the glasses. Or not. I don’t know. We’ll see.
What would be your advice to young designersw or young architects in terms of how to begin their careers?
RA: My advice would be: don’t listen to advice. Don’t try to be the new Frank Gehry. We don’t need a new Frank Gehry. Frank Gehry has already done a lot of work. Don’t try to be the new you-name-it. Try to do what you can make a contribution to, what satisfies you… Well, I’m giving advice now. I didn’t want to give advice. Satisfy your own creativity, your own curiosity, and what is special to you.
You were born in Tel Aviv… How is your relationship with your home country?
RA: I think that a bit of the answer is in your question. You didn’t say “you were born in Israel.” You said “you were born in Tel Aviv.” I love Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv is in a very typical place in a difficult country in a very difficult area in a very difficult world. But when I grew up in Tel Aviv, for me it was the center of the world, and what I didn’t know was not worth knowing. And we knew everything. When I now hear the Beatles song Strawberry Fields Forever, it doesn’t take me back to Liverpool. I’ve never been to Liverpool. It takes me back to Tel Aviv, where I grew up. When you are growing up, you are sort of a captive of your language, your culture, your landscape, your environment. Then in my early 20s, when I moved to London, I started working and people wanted to know the influence of being from somewhere. I think the big influence is being from somewhere else, being an outsider. It gives you the difficulties of an outsider, but also the freedom of an outsider because you don’t have any aunts and neighbors to please.
Would you say there is globalization in design?
RA: Well, there is. You know, the world is small. People talk about British design, Israeli design, Spanish design… But it’s not football. You’re not running around with flags. I’m interested in individuals. They can be from Spain, from Catalonia [laughter]… Yes, when you grow up, you grow up in a place, a language, and a culture, which helps, but you have to claim freedom from it.
Let’s talk about materials. Your experience in materials is wide, versatile, and very innovative. Often the material itself becomes the concept. What comes first, the concept or the material?
RA: It’s a two-way thing. Sometimes you see materials and processes and you think: “What can I do with it? This is so amazing. What shall we do with it.” Even this morning, during my visit to the amazing city you have here that is all about materials and processes, my mind went: “What can I do, what can we do…” Sometimes you have an idea and you think: “What will be the best material to use? What will be the best process? Who will be the best fabricator?” Which in a way is why we’re here. We designed the part that we’re going to use before I knew the word ‘Dekton.’ You designed it before I knew of your existence. And with a little research, we found ourselves here. And now we’re here and seeing what we can do, and it will mean that we can do other stuff that we haven’t done yet, that we don’t know about. So it’s a two-way thing.
Let’s talk about Spain. This country you are in right now! You have been here several times. You built the seventh floor of Hotel Puerta América in Madrid. And for your recent exhibition at Ivorypress. What is your relationship with this country? How have you found working here in Spain?
RA: I also had a really nice exhibition on the Ramblas, in Barcelona, because I had won some award. But Spain is also my favorite place for holidays. I’m a neighbor here, I go to Formentera. It was introduced to me by Javier Mariscal many years ago. We did an exhibition to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Pompidou Center. They chose ten designers to represent all the different directions of design. I represented ruinism because I was playing with concrete that I broke, don’t ask me why. Mariscal and I were the youngest. There were all sorts of Mendinis… We had no choice, we became very good friends because we were the little boys. And then Mariscal started charming us and pulling us to Barcelona, Formentera… He did a very good job.
Do you compare your work with your contemporaries?
RA: I believe so. I believe that everything you do, if it is visible enough, or visible at all, and if it offers something new, is part of a dialogue. When I go to an exhibition or I go to see something, and I’m not jealous, it’s not good. I mean for me, going to an exhibition and there’s no jealousy, I think: why am I wasting my time here? At the same time, when I have an idea, I think: is it good or not? If I saw these glasses in a gallery or, since this is not art, in an optician’s shop, would I be jealous? If the answer is yes, then I go ahead and do it. But if the answer is no…