Design & Architecture

A conversation with Patricia Urquiola

We caught up with the legendary designer at Poltrona Frau Group Middle East's new showroom launch to talk things design

10 Apr 2018, words by Aneesha Rai

Patricia Urquiola at Cassina

I caught up with Patricia who is Art Director of Cassina and somewhat of a design legend worldwide and to us at Luxhabitat over during the launch of Poltrona Frau Group middle East's new showroom in Jumeirah. Let's start with saying that meeting her was completely unnerving for me. On meeting Patricia for the first time, it wouldn't be amiss to say that she has plenty of opinions; stark ones that are much like her designs - futuristic, bold and constantly pushing boundaries. Here are some excerpts of my ten minutes with the design icon. Some parts of the interview have been edited for clarity and brevity.

Aneesha: How do you like Dubai so far?

Patricia: I arrived just this morning at 9am from Saigon. I really like to see cities at night, but I was sleepy. I opened my eyes at the BVLGARI hotel, which I hear is new in town which is quite nice. I later came in to the new showroom and saw a lot of new things happening in the city. I've been here a couple of times before. 

Aneesha: What do you think of the city in terms of design? 

Patricia: I'm not a person to give advice or say how things should go. There's no one future and no one way to do things. There are many futures in front of us. There are many futures for Dubai. Possibly, the city will grow and explore in different ways. I think the word 'luxury' has to evolve. In relation to the company Cassina, my role as Art Director is to break prejudices and to make the company create a path to the future. We need to find new qualities in design for the future, for a new way of living. For a society that shares things and mixing the virtual and the analogic. There are many new ways to get new qualities, it's beyond luxury. The new luxury is more adaptive of the future. 

Cassina has driven a legacy of 90 years, but they worked with designers or architects that they liked despite being a furniture company. We try to create things centred around a foundation, like for example - the corbusier. This company is still making corbusier chairs, but we change fabrics and tubes, but still continuously use the foundation. If you lose a company like us, the next generation will only see copies and won't see the foundation. They need to grow with time for the next generation. These pieces should be revised by the newer designers to create a new way of thinking. We work with new designers that give new answers to the needs we have. We have a heritage that's very strong, with over 600 pieces. I want to use these pieces in rotation; we want to recreate a workshop culture where these pieces will be talked about and discussed about. I want to create a lab, rather than a museum. We approach all the values we have in a new way.

I don't like the term Art Director, I like the term mediator. I like to discuss everything about the company, rethinking and discussing it. Breaking prejudices in the company. If we do this, then we're already doing it a lot. (laughs) I have a philosophy, which is very simple. It's connected to earth, to memory, but always looking to the future.

Aneesha: Love the thoughts you have regarding this. Where do you most draw most of your inspirations from during the design process? Is it the people you work with? 

Patricia: Consumer for me is a word that has disappeared. What a terrifying word! But it's a part of everything. It's all about sharing and connecting now. The consumer is not important, it's finding something that fits personal behaviour of all of us. It must link personal values and local things that are part of your mentality and your roots. Put them in a larger window, a larger map. Mapping is very important; it's important to be interconnected with others. Italian companies like Poltrona Frau, Cassina and Cappellini is one of the strongest Italian companies, but they work with other designers too, outside the region. They're open to talent; it's a very global attitude. In my 30 years of working and studying in Italy and a strong involvement in the process. It makes you feel like you're part of something that's beyond economical values. It's design thinking. I believe a lot in that.

Aneesha: Would you consider yourself an architect or a designer?

Patricia: I consider myself an architect by education. But my mentor in university was Achille Castiglioni, who was both a designer and an architect. When I reached the end of university, we did a carpet with a working plug and poured water over it during class. It was too low voltage to create any problems, but it was much to the alarm of many. Italy has given me two professions in one. For that, I say thanks.

Aneesha: So you have a sort of 'love affair' with Italy?

Patricia: I was born Spanish. I am half Basque and half Asturian. I arrived to Italy when I was only 22. As per my education and profession I am Milanese. I'm not one or the other, I am both. Which is better. I look forward to a world where the cultures are mixed with a cyborg society with a humanistic attitude.