Inspired by nature, prompted by science, French designer Jean-Marie Massaud's metaphysical approach to design heralds a timely new spirit for 21st century living.
We talk exclusively to French designer Jean-Marie Massaud, whose harmonious, creative approach places him as a favorite within the worlds of architecture and industrial design.
Jean-Marie Massaud's definition of luxury:
If luxury were:
The god that is within each of us.
A fantasy. It is not the matter, but the object that you are trying to create.
Here and now.
Over the last decade, the designs of French designer Jean-Marie Massaud have become pervasive. From Cassina to Arper, his organic, fluid designs have made him one of the country's most sought-after designers, on a global scale. The secret of Massaud's successful industrial design career is his intrinsic understanding of the importance of our surroundings. A chair is not a chair, but a fundamental component to our wellbeing that blends with its environment, rather than a strong statement piece that favors style over practicality.
Taking elements from Japanese design, emphasizing a harmony with nature, Massaud had the foresight to apply his passion for botany and an interest in science - stemming from an early ambition for invention - to industrial design. The result is a holistic approach that follows the current zeitgeist for organic forms and the synthesis between the arts and science. "I really think that it's no longer the case of just science or just art, it's everything together. Classical education from the 18th century was about speciality, everything was separate and in French high schools, one subject is not linked to another. Today humans have become a meta-organism, everything is linked. I was educated through science, but the things that interest me, what I read about mostly today, is philosophy," he explains.
Though he is based in Paris, much of Massaud's industrial design work comes from Italy, where clients include Cappellini, B&B Italia and Poltrona Frau, to name a few. Over less than a decade, the designer has created enduring bonds with the high-end design manufacturers, due to his understanding of each brand – a fundamental element of today's design. As he admits, "A very good product created in a brand which is not relevant doesn't make sense." From bathroom fittings that highlight the relationship between man and the elements to comfortable forms that desire to be lounged in, his designs, though exemplary of their creator, remain faithful to the language of each brand.
His desire to explore beyond the confines of industrial design led to a collaboration with the architect Daniel Pouzet. In 2000, the two set up a studio together in Paris, and three years later Studio Massaud scored a major coup, the commission to create a 110,000m2 football stadium in the city of Guadalajara, due to open this year. However, a few years later, Pouzet left to take a four-year sabbatical, leaving Massaud at the helm of his first major architectural project.
Massaud's vision extends beyond the walls of the more than 42,000 seat capacity space, incorporating urban planning, such as a park and picnic areas within the topography. "We wanted to make it profitable, while making a strong impact in terms of education, to create a place that has a lot of schools, a museum and shops, so that it will be convivial to everyday life. Also, because of the events within the stadium, it will have this amazing energy, like a volcano, so for events and concerts it will be good," says Massaud. Next up for Massaud is a condominium based on his celebrated ecosystem architecture in Tel Aviv. Though Massaud's style is fluid and does follow stylistic nuances akin to current styles, he stresses an emphasis on projects that are primarily for living. "If I look at architecture, it is still a lot more about the image than of the contents. Not to name any architects, but in some cases I like the architecture as a shape; as a sculpture, it's nice, but as a space to work or to live in, it's nonsense."
Indulging his inventive roots, Massaud's most daring and challenging project to date must be the Manned Cloud, a Zeppelin-style airship combining luxury travel with haute hospitality. The white whale-like form first came to Massaud in 2005, and the designer has been working with the French aerospace lab ONERA in the hope of one day realizing his most ambitious project to date. However, with an estimated price tag of 10 to 13 billion euros, Massaud still has a long way to go. "The Manned Cloud costs the same figure as an Airbus 320, but obviously because the Airbus makes regular trips, it recoups its costs. However, the Cloud is not intended for intensive use, so now we are aiming for the luxury market, to create something in the same vein as a private yacht, aimed at possibly the Arab market, so that it can cruise over the desert. We have received some funding, but nothing compared to the budget that we need. Although six months ago the American military department ordered a huge blimp to transport tanks, equipment and troops. Unfortunately, it's for military missions only, but their budget will help to advance the project, and hopefully attract more investors," he says hopefully.
Despite the fact that even if Massaud's cloud comes to fruition, it will remain reserved for the privileged few, he eschews the modes of elitist design. "Even in art I have some ideas, but I don't want to do something like furniture in limited editions. Art has a place to express emotions and to help us understand things, but I'm interested in everything," he adds. "Today is an economical and ecological crisis. However, in a way, it is a time of rebirth. We need to ask ourselves, 'What is my life project as an individual?' and 'What is our collective project together?' This is the main issue."
Massaud is sitting within his latest scenography, a lounge and restaurant area within the Now! Design à Vivre area, for which he was awarded the title of Designer of 2009 at Paris's leading design fair Maison & Objet. While France holds a revered place in the annals of decorative style and boasts masters of industrial design, such as Jean Prouvé and Charlotte Perriand, how does Massaud rate today's industry? "It's superb. French design is very eclectic and what I think is good today is this eclecticism. Everybody has the opportunity, through the internet and the democratic media that we share, to express themselves, and this is good. This is good in terms of education, and education is the basis of humanity. Progress is education. When you discover something, you must pass it on to another, to share it – that is culture."