Ron Arad Associates Ltd.
Our design-obsessed editors are always on the lookout for contemporary and renowned artists, like ceramicist, painter and pattern-maker Malene Barnett from Brooklyn, and peering into the late Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei’s globally celebrated buildings. This time around, we dug into the prolific mind of an industrial artist who seemingly does it all—architect and designer Ron Arad—and unlike anyone else.
Architect, designer and sculpture artist Ron Arad is one of the most influential names in the industry, recognized for his experimental lens and creating extraordinary buildings with artful facades as well as a vibrant range of interior artworks.
Think warped metals and woven thermoplastics to make his famous chairs seen in the most prestigious museums around the world.
Ron Arad Associates Ltd.
Originally from Israel, the Tel Aviv native became known for his Rover Chair in 1981 that was crafted from discarded seats from vehicles taken from a scrapyard fused with tubular steel Klee Klamps to make the armrests. They became a bestseller and then Arad got bored. Exploring postmodernist design led him to create more furniture pieces that are anything but your mother’s dining room set. Think warped metals and woven thermoplastics to make his famous chairs seen in the most prestigious museums around the world.
Courtesy of Ron Arad Associates Ltd.
Ron Arad Studio would become the creative hub where he works alongside a group of brilliant industrial architects and designers. The firm’s projects speak to Arad’s limitless approach to design where he adheres to his own creative instincts. “I don’t need to follow any manifesto, any of this ‘form follows function’ or ‘good design is good business,” he says.
For ICONIC LIFE’s interview with Arad, we hopped on a video call that would take us into his private conservatory. The glass-walled workspace flanked by a glass ceiling overhead seems to be an invitation to the illusive London sun, a place he has been working for the past seven months during the lockdown. Donning his signature brimmed hat and a textured scarf around his neck (a remnant from one of his more recent projects), Ron Arad’s youthful energy and dry humor comes through as clearly as ever.
“When I worked on the Watergate Hotel, it was a derelict place where I found this American flag on the floor,” he gestures to the practicality of the flag hanging above him where it casts the perfect shade over his computer screen. As we begin discussing his current projects, the 70-year-old artist describes himself as rather juvenile and even a little lazy, not quite the terms of endearment you would expect from this successful of an individual. But this refreshing conversation reminds us that Arad doesn’t take himself, or his fame, too seriously as an industrial designer and artist.
Read on for a deeper look into Ron Arad’s experiential, playful and non-prescriptive work over the years and during quarantine.
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A JUVENILE WITH A BLANK CANVAS
Growing up in the Middle East helped shape Arad’s vision. He notes that no one is the same there and although he loved his youth in Tel Aviv, he recognizes it is a complex and difficult place to reside. After training at the Jerusalem Academy of Art, he made his way to London to study at the Architectural Association under Bernard Tshumi, along with Nigel Coates and the beloved and brilliant Zaha Hadid. He really enjoyed being an outsider to the British culture and at the time was very excited by a range of artists, including Dylan and Mozart, and has called the regal and culturally rich city of London home since 1973.
While he sifts through his collage-like portfolio, panning across avant-garde furniture and fantastical buildings, I recognize a non-linear pattern to his work.
Ron Arad Architects Ltd.
An exploration of industrial materials to create unexpected shapes, clearly unafraid of color or volume. I ask him where many of these pieces reside to which he responds with, “someone rich has them now.”
At his design firm, industrial architect, designer and artist Ron Arad is the oldest person in the room but assures me he is by far the least responsible, especially with the architects. He begins each project by “doing what we want and then dealing with the constraints later. Even when they say we’ll never get away with it. Yes, we will.” An example of this ethos is the upside down building he constructed in Tel Aviv where the approach was to put all the machinery that is typically on the roof to be on the floor. This way the footprint of the ToHA tech office is smaller than the space it occupies in the sky, allowing for more parks and green space to surround the skyscraper.
Ron Arad Associates Ltd.
Another example of his unconventional style is his adaptation of Mickey Mouse, forever a childhood icon, that he adapted into a 20-piece work titled “Don’t F*** With The Mouse.” Debuting at Over the Influence gallery in the ICONIC CITY of Los Angeles this past summer, the work was to celebrate the 90th birthday of Mickey. Lacquered chairs don oversized mouse ears while dripping paint reads a variety of text, like “Curiosity Killed the Mouse,” for example.
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H. Huntsman & Sons, 11 Savile Row
During the lockdown, he completed a collaboration with the acclaimed tailor Huntsman for their London storefront on Savile Row. The result is a hand-woven car cover resembling the quality of a bespoke garment, that was placed over a re-imagined Morgan car that Ron Arad built using old vehicle parts. Huntsman has said it was one of their most unique partnerships to date.
“I don’t need anyone's opinion about what is design or what is architecture,...and I don’t need a passport to go from one discipline to another.”
Ron Arad Associates Ltd, photo by Paul Cocksedge
More on covering things, during the pandemic he was inspired to make his own face masks while raising money for the UK’s National Health Service. The printed masks feature such iconic faces as Winston Churchill, Mona Lisa and Matisse’s Bianca. When asked about how he chose these individuals, Arad responds with a toothy grin, “whoever pays me the most.”
Courtesy of Ron Arad Associates Ltd., photo by Erik and Petra Hesmerg
A NON-PRESCCRIPTIVE APPROACH
“I don’t need anyone’s opinion about what is design or what is architecture,” says Arad. “And I don’t need a passport to go from one discipline to another.”
In Ron Arad’s world, a chair is also a sculpture, a table is also a game and unexpected materials become vessels for powerful pieces of art. His interdisciplinary approach to design is something that has led him to execute projects across genres, from his exceptional portfolio of architecture to his wonderfully weird glass-blown vases. He talks about his refusal to work inside someone else’s framework saying, “I believe in being non-prescriptive, not telling people what to do or not do.”
For Arad’s 2009 exhibit “No Discipline” that was featured at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, he displayed 140 of his works. The exhibit allowed you to glean into Arad’s mind where both his iconic stainless steel rocking chair and a spiraling Swarovski chandelier displaying digital text are housed together inside of a Corten steel structure designed by Arad himself.
Regarding one of his most notable buildings, Tel Aviv’s Design Museum Holon, Ron Arad wanted to create a space where the architecture would not compete with the exhibits. He is very proud of the fact that the end result looks exactly like the original sketches. The space, wrapped in weaving steel sheaths was structurally done without a single column and blurs the lines between indoor and outdoor. Another industrial architectural and design undertaking for Arad will be the UK’s proposed building of the National Holocaust Memorial designed in collaboration with renowned architect David Adjaye.
Ron Arad Architects, photo by James Foster
ART YOU CAN ACTUALLY TOUCH
“I always found ways to do things not in the way I was expected to do it and yet get applauded for it,” shares Arad.
Previous works by Arad that appease art goers with an inclination to reach out and touch, include a mirrored sculpture-turned-ping-pong table made from polished steel and painted bronze. Ron Arad demanded the table be played on by visitors during its gallery debut. “I am not the greatest ping pong player in the world, but on my table, I am one of the best,” he says tongue-in-cheek. This experiential art seems to be designed with the viewer in mind, giving them a chance to feel the work rather than stand passively by.
Despite the economic slow and social stillness, the world is experiencing, Arad is one artist who continues to make art undefined by the status quo.
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His cedar and steel sculpture “Useful, Beautiful, Love” glides back and forth when sat on and features a quote from textile designer William Morris. His installation titled Vortext is a ribbon-like sculpture beaming with LED lights all protruding from the ground in Seoul, Korea, inviting engagement from passersby in the middle of the city. His product designs include neon-colored glass vases donning actual eyeglasses, Champagne buckets and whimsical bookshelves that break free from traditional form.
When asked about where he pulls inspiration from, industrial architect and designer Ron Arad says, “everything that happened until yesterday at 4:00 in the afternoon is a good source of influence.” A reminder that there is no excuse not to create. Despite the economic slow and social stillness, the world is experiencing, Arad is one artist who continues to make art undefined by the status quo.