In Conversation with Philippe Starck: On Ecology, Technology and Materiality

by Christele Harrouk
philippe starck

Believing that a creator has a duty towards society, Philippe Starck, is a multifaceted designer whose projects span across many disciplines. From architecture and interiors to industrial and furniture design, Starck’s portfolio is always, as he puts it, “focused on the essential”, and “must improve the lives of as many people as possible”. Author of Alessi’s famous lemon squeezer, he is known for pushing the boundary of design in everyday objects.

With 10,000 creations, completed or yet to come, Philippe Starck is a pioneer in “making things in the way of ecology”.

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Q: Today, we are being pushed to change, to evolve as humans in this very strange moment of history. How are you taking this moment as a designer?

Philippe Starck: I think we have to stop being focused only on the pandemic and shift our attention to what is happening with ecology and politics, more complicated to handle. People will start to die by millions because of climate-related issues, and we are witnessing the rise of a new form of fascism, very problematic to eradicate.

For me, as a creator, the main subject is first and foremost ecology. I believe that creators have duties and responsibilities, and we, in the creative field, have to make things only in the way of ecology.

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I started thinking about ecology, 50 years ago, not by intelligence but by luck. That’s why I used to work with something that doesn’t basically destroy trees, like plastic. The world had started a long time ago developing organic plastic, a material that requires no fossils, and I think that we shall have it in the next two, three years maximum. We can imagine then, in a couple of years, that a company that mostly works with plastic like Kartell, will switch to fully synthetic organic materials. That means we will have succeeded in synthetic products. I am not only interested in synthetic products, but also in smart products, that tackle human intelligence in material, and plywood is very interesting in that sense.

Sometimes we need to be surrounded by wood, but I strongly believe that you cannot kill a tree to make a chair. That is murder. Not just the murder of the trees, but the murder of us. That is why I have researched for years how we can make interesting furniture with plywood, a smart, super thin, super resistant product.

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Q: Can you tell us more about your latest plywood creation?

PS: In the Fifties, the Eames were the pioneers of plywood furniture. They knew how to do it very well, but they were limited to the 2D dimension. I decided to work with Andreu world, a fantastic vertical company that makes everything on its own, to see if we can push to the maximum, the potential of 2D plywood. I said 2D to stay at the right price, as I am not interested in doing something incredible if nobody can afford it. Having a balance of innovation, technology, and affordable prices is what actually matters, and we have worked for years to achieve this. We ended up with an incredibly well-balanced product, with a design that is absolutely timeless. In fact, you cannot tell if the chair is from the thirties, from today, or from tomorrow, which is very important because longevity is the highest parameter of ecology.

Moreover, the chair is made in only three pieces, which means that we don’t need to subcontract and manufacture in China, but we can do it in Valencia, in Spain, for the right price. Through technology, we have managed to curve the structure to achieve incredible comfort and translate the sensibility of the design.

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Only made out of three pieces, a small revolution on its own, this chair can become a bigger revolution, if everybody copies this ideology.

Q: In this process of taking the plywood to the next level, how was your experience of working with Andreu with their industrial expertise?

PS: First of all, Andreu World is Jesus Llinarez and his team. I never work with a company, I work with Humans. I have to appreciate people, in order to work with love, elegance, fluidity, and humor. Andreu World has all of these components. Other than that, the company has very good technology and a very good team. In fact, when I arrived, I wanted some modifications in the curvature of the product, and they made the whole thing ready in 15min. Usually, I have to wait for three months for any sort of alterations. Finally, I think nowadays Andreu World is the most modern and intelligent company in the world, with the right vision, for wood and specifically plywood.

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Because Plywood is a part of the future.