[From Design Bureau Magazine]
Portrait by Samantha Simmons
Designer, Studio Bouroullec
It’s a few days before the Bouroullec brothers opening ofBivouac, a retrospective show of almost 15 years of design work by the Bretons imported from the Centre Pompidou-Metz in France to Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art. I’m moving a Vitra Alcove sofa closer to another that its designer, Ronan Bouroullec, is shifting around to create a semi-private area for an interview, immune to the hammering and forklifting going on as the show is installed around us. The Bouroullec brothers are an unpretentious experience. Ronan, the elder brother, discovered he wanted to be a designer after happening upon a book about Donald Judd at age 15. He joined forces with his brother Erwan in 1997, and since then, they have issued a steady stream of imaginative, beautiful, and useful objects and furniture for major European manufacturers. With all the praise, you’d expect they might have developed some attitude, but nothing could be further from the truth.
DB: There’s a marketability to your work. You work with a lot of big manufacturers, you want people to be able to buy and use these things. Is that something that begins early in the design process?
Ronan Bouroullec: Yes, we are very interested in objects that are not conceptual, that exist in normal life and not in the museum. For me, objects are a bit like song, a good object has an ability to be with you as well as a certain charm or romance. You can do something else when you hear a song. With a piece of furniture it’s the same thing. With an object, when you notice it and if you concentrate on it you can see a lot of interesting aspects, but if you do not want to notice this aspect, it has to be fluid, it has to work well.
DB: Do the manufacturers come to you with their needs, or do you go to them with prototypes?
RB: We do not work for a lot of people. We’ve got very long-term histories with a lot of them, we know them well, what they're doing. So sometimes we write proposals for them. It's a continuous discussion. Good design is collective intelligence. It’s good to have good design, and good ideas, but you need to find good people to produce it, to distribute it. I think we work with some of the best companies.
DB: I know you guys have debuted a bunch of things for Milan, and you were nominated for a Compasso d’Oro Award there in 2001… do you feel a connection with Milan?
RB: This will be my 20th year. And I’ve been every year. It's like if you do cinema, you go to Cannes. It’s certainly linked to the old world. Now with the Internet, it’s certainly changed the approach but I think it’s quite interesting that once a year for a week, almost all the manufacturers and almost all the designers, and 300,000 people come for this fair. It’s like, when you watch a movie and you pause, you stop the picture. Every year, for one week, the picture is stopped and you see what’s happening in this small discipline. And I like to see that.
DB: Has it been exciting to have something to bring there that no one has seen?
RB: It’s quite difficult sometimes, too. It’s quite stressful. But more and more, the fact is that there’s so many projects at Milan, that it’s difficult to focus on. We try to launch a lot of new projects in a more dedicated way, we try not to be in this big soup. I like it, but it’s difficult, too. It’s so loud.
DB: Do you have one memory of being in Milan that sticks out for you? Something you saw, or…?
RB: For me, the most impressive Milan was the first one, when I was a student. I thought, ‘It's true, it exists, there is the reality of it.’ It was a marvelous first experience.