Aurel Aebi is one of the founders of “Atelier Oï” that was established in 1991 in La Neuveville, Switzerland. The design studio conveys the dynamism and holistic energy generated by a trio of talented partners: Aurel, Armand Louis and Patrick Raymond. On an international scale “Atelier Oï” work ranges from architecture and interior design to product design and scenography. Ikea, Hermès, Bulgari, Swatch, Foscarini, B&B Italia, Louis Vuitton and many others are among their clients. I was lucky to meet Aurel and to ask him a couple of questions about modern design while his short visit with lecture to Kyiv.
Aurel, now in Ukraine a lot is said about Ukrainian design. Some people say that it has to incorporate particular features that will distinguish it from other designs. Others say that it is a myth to have design with national features. What do you think? Can the design be Ukrainian, Swiss, Italian or it has to be described in terms of its visual effect, functionality and other characteristics?
First of all, every design is created by a person or by nature. In your everyday life everything you see becomes a part of you. In the beginning you are poor and then you achieve this experience and culture. You can feel what is nice and what is ugly according to this. You learn from the world around. And every culture is different. But it is also not only the form and the function, but as we, "Atelier Oi", say "form follows the emotion". Design should tell you a story, a story behind. And design is also about attitude. For example, the Swiss person likes to assemble, to bring materials together in a harmonious way and on a high quality level. Inside the furniture looks the same beautiful as outside. But for example, in China they don’t care how it is done or how it looks inside (but that influences the quality of the object). Switzerland combines also different cultures: German, French, Italian ones. They influence the design in their own way. Italy means “to show off”, France is about philosophy, Germany is concentrated on technical approach. Design is influenced not only by the environment and culture but by the personality as well. It is about the functional, logical, cultural and human elements. Our studio pays a lot of attention to “Know-How”. It is not about just to know, but to know how to do it. For example, in Japan the producers of swords pass their knowledge from generation to generation for hundreds of years. This is the problem now that we google something in Internet but don’t have this deep knowledge and we forgot this transmission of traditions. Material you work with also teaches you how to treat it in the best possible way. All these things together give the soul to a product and that is how the design is born.
What is the purpose of visiting Ukraine with lectures?
Well, when I was young I had a chance to meet really great teachers, designers from all over the world. Now I can give my knowledge back to young designers. But design is not like mathematics with strict rules you have to learn. You can develop all your life. When I travel with lectures, I meet new people and new generation who can teach me something and whom I can teach as well. It enriches all of us.
What do you think about Ukrainian designers and architecture?
I was in Odesa at architectural event and I saw the works. But I have to say that the influence of Russian architecture of the Soviet period is strong. You feel these alignments, scale of the buildings, the impression is very strong. The windows are all different of any buildings, so they are not designed only by architect but people who live there as well. It reflects the difference of people in their financial status as well as their creativity.
What world design tendencies do you like?
Now every company tries to tell a story about the product, it is part of marketing. But for me it is very important to hear the real story, but not just advertising. I like when you go to Murano island in Venice where you can meet a family of glass blowers and to see the working process, to know some secrets hidden from the other clients who just go to a store and buy some piece of décor. You feel the material and process of working with it. In Internet we can see and learn a lot, but we can’t feel the smell in workshop or in studio, we can’t feel the material with which the designer is working. Digital world is great, it gives us a lot of opportunities, but it is still the virtual one.
In "Atelier OÏ" studio you work in collaboration with your colleagues Armand Louis and Patrick Reymond. Can you share some tips of harmonious co-working of creative people?
For me creativity is more about hard work, when you study to do the things. Sometimes creative people just don’t understand that in any case they don’t work alone. Each process involves a lot of people around. They think that they are alone, because they created prototype. But then so many people are involved in the implementation stage. It is more about ego than about real process. You don’t have to bring your ego into the center but to work around the topic together. An interesting thing about our collaboration (Armand was boat constructor, Patrick and me - we studied together) is that when we have one topic we look at it from different angles. But you have to be able to bring things to a balance, because we are three people, we don’t make a voting. It is not a culture of “I know how to do it” but a culture of conviction. Sometimes when you work alone, you feel that you’ve finished the task. But the other person can continue your work. It is a kind of competition but in a good sense. It is like chess game or like jazz. One musician plays then he gives the place to another musician to be a leader. It is good to share the idea and to bring it to another upper level together.
How do you manage to follow the deadlines when you don’t feel that you have inspiration?
Deadlines sometimes make a lot of pressure, indeed. But at the same time they help you to exceed your efforts and to do more than you could in everyday schedule. And for me it is a big plus to have my 2 partners - they can help to move when I stop and think that I did the best, and they can cheer me up when I have no inspiration.
What is the Perfect Design for you?
Perfect design appears when you find the right moment to create it. Some people think that good idea comes when you bring a lot of ideas. But sometimes you have to find the right moment for one single idea and it should be in harmony with time, place and space. Nature is perfect and it can inspire you to create something really impressive. Materials are part of the nature and they can inspire as well. You can create some really exciting objects of leather but you can’t do them of metal, for example. Every material is individual. And of course, good story and human knowledge can inspire you. Japan is one of the most inspiring countries for people of my profession.
Interviewed by Anna Vishtak
Photos by Dmytro Larin and from "Atelier Oi" official webpage