Future shock

"Pink is my super optimistic white": Monika Grzesik takes a look inside the design world of Karim Rashid.

Karim Rashid, INTERVIEWS, Design

"Pink is my super optimistic white"?: Monika Grzesik takes a look inside the design world of Karim Rashid.

What's been your experience of judging the Traffic Design competition? Were you surprised by any of the entries? How do you think the standard of design here compares on an international level?

I enjoyed judging the competition and thank Traffic for imbuing some rigorist design culture into Dubai. The weakest category was the tabletop section and the interior design section. Furniture seemed to be the most progressive. But in general the ideas were not on an international level. The resolution, presentation, and technical depth of the work were not up to caliber. Many of the projects were very preliminary and questionable. In order for judges to comment on work, ideas must be very well executed and resolved.

What are your impressions of design and architecture in Dubai in general?

On the one hand I am thrilled with the need to build and shape a very futuristic city. On the other hand I think that what I have seen so far is very banal design and architecture. In fact, I think you can only talk in terms of architecture in Dubai, because design is somewhat marginal if non-existent. Here is an opportunity to really produce innovative, progressive, responsible, intelligent architecture, but instead I just see many derivative western mundane buildings.

There is so much building going on. There are 830 licenses for hotels that have been handed out in the last few years. So that's serious amounts of construction. There is a lot of talk about Dubai as the most contemporary city, but it's not by any means. Claiming to be the most contemporary city can't just be achieved by spending a lot of money and being really extravagant. Being contemporary is a multi-layered attitude. Design and culture hardly exist in Dubai. But I am optimistic that the new projects and proposals look like they are moving in the right direction.

You've spent a lot of time in Dubai over the last few years, taking part in design events etc ... are you keen to be part of this change?

I am half Egyptian and feel my roots are in the Middle East. I feel close to the culture and feel there are some great opportunities to contribute to the new changing landscape. But I must admit with over 20 meetings I am yet to have secured any really large projects in Dubai. I am doing a restaurant for then new Dubai mall, which is already being challenged by the conservativeness of the Dubai mentality.

The big issue is that part of the Middle East is relying on very ancient icons but you wonder where the contemporary ones are. We desperately need new icons, new signs, new signals, new forms, new ideas, that shape a new Middle East. Every culture has to dig deep into its talent and shape new rituals, new traditions. We need the pyramid of the 21st century. We can�t just rely on the decrepit rocks of 4000 years ago.

Your designs style is quite futuristic; maybe people in this part of the world find it too cutting edge for their tastes?

I do not expect everyone to like my work by any means. I speak, teach, and write about design because I believe in design being a public subject instead of the marginal one that it has been for the last century. The design profession is so steeped in a narrow nepotistic insular world and I don't believe in that. I break rules. I don't believe in a school of thought anymore. In fact there is no good design versus bad design in the 20th century clich'd way. The world is changing and so are we. I am pleased to see my products in non-design magazines and in average homes.

How would you yourself describe your design style?

It is hard for a designer to see 'their' own style and define their place in the world themselves. I have always referred to my work as sensual minimalism, but also 'technorganic' and 'infosthetic'. I try to always have some level, even a nuance, of originality or innovation in my work whether it is a new material, or a new human behavior. A new form, a new production method, a new market, new message be it wit, humor, emotion, meaning, social or political agenda. If I can imbue more than one of these issues into each project I am doubly satisfied.

You've designed thousands of products - what are you most satisfied with?

The Semiramis Hotel gets so many accolades. It has won several awards, so I could not be more pleased! But honesty I feel most rewarded when the public tell me how much a great experience they had, or how much they like my work. The average person's home is my museum.

What is the key to a brilliantly designed object?

I believe that beauty is a seamless combination of the inner and outer. Like an abstract painting we consider beautiful because below the surface there is content. The conscious is the outer the subconscious is the inner. They should be inseparable to imbue beauty. Therefore function and material, and form and performance, and texture and color, and ease are all inseparable in a beautiful object or space.

Give us an example of what you consider to be a really bad design, and how would you change it?

Most of what is on the market is poorly designed, uninspiring, antiquated, unnecessary, obsolete, or just not relevant to this time in which we live. Everything from the awful newspaper boxes on city streets to the awkward bathrooms on airplanes. The ubiquitous ugly garden furniture, depressing office spaces, poorly designed public transit, poorly designed cities. I could go on and on.

You've designed manhole covers, pens, rubbish bins... why are you so interested in such everyday items?

I see the future of our aesthetic world crossing all the aesthetic disciplines so that design, art, architecture, fashion, food, music, fuse together to increase our experiences and bring greater pleasure to our material and immaterial lives. Our motivations should focus around our conscious collective memory, and a desire to fill it with ideas that are seamless between art and life. I bring differentiation, innovation, and human needs and desires to companies - all necessary in business today. Without these, brands will not survive in our shrinking, global, highly competitive market place.

What about your own house is it full of your own work?

I want to live in perfect euphoric contemporary technological sensual spaces. I created a very hard Cartesian white 'blank' gallery like space with white rubber epoxy floors, and a hint of fluorescent orange. The bathroom is fluorescent lime. A pink carpet for the back half. It seems like I am forever changing the space. I was brought up with my father changing and moving around the furniture, paintings, etc. every month and I find I have the same habit.

Generally the furniture changes every month with new prototypes, old ones, production pieces, like a dynamic gallery.

You've written a book called, 'I want to change the world'  that's quite a bold statement! Do you think you've achieved it?

My mission has been to make people live in the present and to inspire them that a contemporary world, and the digital age are a euphoric and phenomenal time. We should embrace the virtual global shrinking world. Design has been the cultural shaper of our world from the start. We have designed systems, cities, industrialisation. We designed everything. If human nature is to live in the past, to change the world is to change human nature.

Where do you find your inspiration?

I look way beyond design and architecture. Inspiration is accumulative. Everything can be inspiring. It is how you look at the world. I am inspired by my childhood, my education, by all my teachers I have ever had, by every project I have worked on, by every city I have traveled to, by every book I have read, by every art show I have seen, by every song I have heard, by every smell, every taste, sight, sound, and feeling. Highly creative people in the world inspire me.

Is it true that you only ever wear white and pink?

Yes I took all my clothes to the Salvation Army on 31 Dec 1999 and have never looked back. I bought one pair of white jeans, a white sweater, and 30 pairs of white socks and 30 white t-shirts all the same brand. I then started to build up my wardrobe over time although it was hard to find white clothes for men - that were interesting and fit well.

I love white for so many reasons. Firstly I feel optimistic, I feel liberated, I feel free, and I do not feel like a 'black-clothed' urbanite conformist. Black is too easy, too macabre, too nocturnal, and too pessimistic. White makes me feel holistic, angelic, and open-minded. It is the canvas for color, like a white seamless room on a movie set, a perfect stage for accessorizing, for embellishing. I wear white hats, white gloves, I have 20 pairs of white shoes mostly my own design white watches, white eyeglasses, white rings, white bracelets.

I also wear pink. Pink is my super optimistic white. We all must be self-expressive and individual in this world.

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