Bringing sci-fi futurism into the present, Ross Lovegrove has created a new language in industrial design based on a fascinating exploration of science and nature.
Inspired by natural elements and aesthetics, designer Ross Lovegrove forces the frontiers of design and sustainability.
Whether Ross Lovegrove's wizard-like resemblance is incidental or not, it is a fitting image for a designer who is best known as one of the early pioneers of sustainability within contemporary design, bringing environmental awareness to the fore through scientific exploration, or evolutionary design. From industrial design to alchemy, for more than two decades the London-based designer has forged a unique path that is firmly set in the future, fusing the disciplines of science, botany, art and industrial design.
Lovegrove's design trajectory began in the early 1980s with Frog Design, where he worked on projects such as Sony Walkman and Apple Computer, before joining the celebrated Atelier de Nimes, working with Jean Nouvel and Philippe Starck. Rebuking the excessive ideals and aspects of baroque inspired design, Lovegrove has created his own unique lean style that he describes as "Fat free design", or "organic essentialism".
This year Ross Lovegrove presented the highly successful Solar Trees, an art project created for MAK, in association with Artemide and Sharp and is currently taking part in Tokujin Yoshioka's Second Nature group show at Tokyo's 21_21 Design Sight.
At the recent Design Miami, you presented the Liquid Space as part of Swarovski's Crystal Palace, what was the idea behind it?
The concept was to unite the incredible natural brilliance of Swarovski crystal, light and the infinity of liquid forms in my polished aluminium pieces all in one space as a dining experience and an enriching polysensorial experience where material and space dematerialize into one.
When you were at school, you were fascinated by experimenting with foods, did this influence the idea behind Liquid Space?
Yes. I studied cooking in school – attracted maybe by the dubious qualification of domestic science! I believe strongly that by working with food, one learns a great respect for organic materials and their incredible properties.
Liquid space is a consequence of my belief that food is so rare and valuable that in this case it needs to be more than just a part of a functional experience, but more instrumental in heightening one's senses to the great flora and fauna of form and material that we engage with.
Your experimental work lends itself to the experimental spirit of today's chefs, and you are currently working on a project for restaurateur Moritz Craffonara, can we expect to see Ross Lovegrove designed restaurant interiors in the future?
Yes, I would be interested in designing a restaurant. I collaborated with Tadao Ando in New York with the Morimoto restaurant a few years ago, but I have yet to be commissioned to create my own.
I feel that there could be a possibility to converge an interior environment of acoustic and material harmony in order to focus one's mind on conversation and food. I like the idea of an all black restaurant call Carbon, since this is the material of life.
Last year Philips de Pury presented Endurance, an exhibition of new works inspired by your past research. What was the most interesting aspect of creating the collection?
It helped me set a trajectory as an artist who sculpts modern materials and technology... I stayed true to what I do and the reaction was very enriching.
I am interested in defining pieces that represent the potential of the times in which we live. Deep down, I think and create as an artist because I am interested in the rare, the unique and the enduring... the opposite in fact of high turnover, high disposability product design.
What I try to achieve, is to use my conceptual works to drive a sound philosophy in my industrial works to create accessible art for many... my water bottle or suitcase being good examples.
Did it inspire you to revisit any past ideas?
My work is seamless in its pursuit of forms, which are grown rather than constructed, so there is no past, present or future for me.
You are currently taking part in Tojukin Yoshioka's Second Nature exhibition at 21_21 Design Sight. What were the ideas behind the works?
At 21_21 with Tokujin, I showed cellular automata origin of Species 2. The pieces represent the very core of my abstract thinking, as they are derived from living bone cell structures, then manipulated by base engineering principles that infer interference with nature.
This could be considered design, but my objective was to reveal the unseen beauty of human nature. The pieces were made by stereo lithography, a contemporary process of growing forms in a liquid.
As an industrial designer, your work goes beyond the general DNA of a product. You create new materials, processes and even tools for many of your projects. Do they inform changes in the initial design?
Like Issey Miyake I am interested in challenging the base methods of creation... to create a totally new concept from material to product. I try hard to push Limits and define the optimum potential of a material. Gingko carbon demonstrates this.
You have been an exponent of green design since early in your career and often credited with creating new materials, do you ever look into ways of creating existing materials by more sustainable means?
I am currently working with a company in Italy on a new material that will revolutionize the plastics product industry. My role is to qualify the new perception and its impurities. I like this challenge and know I will feel proud to be associated with its development.
You have been quoted as saying that "everything can be improved", what would you most like to improve at present?
The city car, it's stupid.
Could you tell us about your current project, a sleeping capsule in the Dolomites?
The Alpine Capsule is a highly comfortable micro-environment that is more like a space capsule on planet earth. The concept is to define a micro-habitat that is totally off grid and autonomous with the minimum impact on the environment – being mirrored, it reflects any landscape and therefore de-materializes.
It is a very versatile form, which appears to lend itself to any surrounding, do you foresee it becoming a template, possibly for hotel design?
Yes, I definitely think that camouflage could be a template for larger architectural projects, as well as cars, maybe to reduce the visual impact through optical beauty and reflection, something I have been exploring in my limited edition works, but also in my Muon speakers for Kef and my lighting for Artemide.
You recently presented, onehundred&ten, the world's most lightweight suitcase, for Globetrotter. At present it is available in limited numbers, are you working on a commercial version?
Yes, when triaxial carbon becomes more available and lower in price, the aim is to democratize the suitcase and make it more widely available... it's actually only the price of a business class day return to Milan on BA, so stay home and buy yourself a case that will last forever!
What has been your most groundbreaking project in your opinion?
It must be the Globetrotter onehundred&ten.
Most of your research comes from reading science journals, which subjects are currently interesting you?
I am reading Carl Andre, and I just bought the history of paleontology in Lombardia by A. Stoppani, as I am more and more interested in early science, botany and Darwinian research.
What are your current and future projects?
Many things: a watch for Issey Miyake; lighting for Artemide and Yamigawa; furniture for Knoll, Moroso, Danese, Segrada Familia Barcelona and F. Guzzini; two new bicycles, a space program, a new bathroom collection for Vitra and potentially a hotel in Marrakesh and a health spa.
Ross Lovegrove's definition of Luxury:
A culture of quality.
If luxury were...
A quiet place near the sea.
A spiritual man.
A glass of pure, clean water.
Supernatural, The Work of Ross Lovegrove is published by Phaidon.