Building with Living Matter. An Interview with Patrick Nadeau, Jury Member of This Year’s Design Contest
Patrick Nadeau, jury member of this year’s garden unique design contest, has become internationally known for his achievements in “vegetal design”, which profoundly explores the relation between architecture, design and vegetation. Patrick Nadeau graduated in architecture from the Paris-Villemin School of Architecture and received a post-graduate design diploma from the Charenton School of Architecture. In 1999 he set up his own consultancy in Paris, working for renowned companies and institutions such as Authentics, Boffi, le Festival des Jardins de Chaumont-sur-Loire, la Maison Hermès, Kenzo Parfums, Louis Vuitton and the City of Rennes. build Das Architekten-Magazin talked with Patrick Nadeau about his design philosophy, the garden unique design contest and the future of outdoor design.
Patrick Nadeau, you have become known for designing spaces and objects that integrate plants, making them a fundamental part of your designs. Could you tell us a bit about your background? Where does the interest for “vegetal design” come from; how were you educated?
I am a trained architect. After graduating in architecture, I went on to do a post-graduate degree in design because I was interested in furniture. At the end of the 1990s, I was invited to a residency at the Villa Kujoyama in Kyoto. Kujoyama is the Japanese equivalent of the Villa Medici. While in Japan, I had a chance to step back and rediscovered long forgotten desires; especially I regretted not having studied landscaping. I got interested in researching gardens, botany… As my practise focused increasingly on the living matter, I also started teaching a “vegetal design” workshop at the École Supérieure d’Art et de Design in Reims.
How would you define vegetal design? What is the underlying concept of your work, what are your aims? Do you differentiate in this sense between object design, open spaces and architecture?
To me, vegetal design focuses on issues related to the introduction or management of the living within a built-up environment. As most people live in an urban environment and cities expand, I see vegetal design as part of a broader perspective aimed at rethinking humanity’s relationship to nature and calling upon scientists, artists and scholars. To do so, architects and landscapers work on the scale of buildings, cities or territories, while designers work on the scale of men, objects or plants. The vegetal designer’s work relies on research in botany, in agro-materials, in bio- and new technologies. I am interested in the daily environment we live in, houses, work sites, commercial and urban spaces… Vegetation is a full architectural material with infinite sensitive and aesthetic qualities – visual, tactile, olfactory, hygrometric even. Designing objects or spaces that will integrate the vegetal element appeals to several disciplines: architecture, gardens, landscaping, and design, and the hybrid quality of such projects is very stimulating. From design to construction, a vegetalised house or object can be seen like a landscape.
You work, among others, for renowned companies like Boffi, Hermès, Louis Vuitton. What do companies like these expect from you, what do they ask for?
The brief is always different but every company I have worked for has shown a real interest in the living matter. Hermès asked me to design the terrace of its building in Tokyo – the architect is Renzo Piano. In the end, the project did not go through but we had designed a furniture-garden intended as a manifesto for vegetal design. It was shown at the International Garden Festival in Chaumont-sur-Loire. For Kenzo, I worked on a modular garden that can be disassembled, to embody Flower, its perfume dedicated to the modern woman, urban and yet close to nature. For Louis Vuitton headquarters I designed a terrace that is not only a truly exceptional creation of vegetalised architecture but has also allowed us to test technical solutions to integrate vegetation in future store projects.
You are a jury member of this year’s garden unique design contest. Looking at the competition entries – what prominent trends, interesting tendencies, surprises did you find?
Do you think that the awareness for nature, and for integrating nature and design, has grown in the last years, maybe also due to changes in lifestyle? What does this mean for the field of outdoor dining, for outdoor design in general?
In today’s world, people live increasingly in urban environments and the relationship between humanity and nature is therefore changing drastically, implying a different way to conceive and design cities. In Latin America and in Asia, several megacities have absorbed whole swathes of countryside so that agricultural and herding lands have been incorporated into the urban fabric. In Europe or in the United States, architects and city planners work on urban farm projects (cropping houses or rooftop vegetable gardens, for instance). As it evolves towards more overlap between built-up and vegetalised spaces, both private and public, this urban movement may have impact on the evolution of outdoor furniture. It may trivialise furniture and garden objects to become more routine and humble. It may also generate new kinds of hybrid indoor/outdoor furniture.
Which particular qualities of design for outdoor spaces do you expect to come to the foreground in the near future? Which major developments do you expect, as far as materials, spatial organisation, social interaction for example are concerned?
The last few times I went to an outdoor furniture fair, I was a bit surprised to see how many brands tend to copycat indoor furniture typologies and shapes – kitchen, bathroom, sitting room etc. – to make outdoor furniture. I believe that this is a misconception that denies the singularity of the outdoor space. The light, the wind, nature’s scents, the contact with vegetation, insects’ buzzing, birds’ singing, etc., they are all sensitive dimensions to play with when designing garden furniture. Furthermore, outdoor furniture has developed a formal and unique vocabulary that draws on the constraints of the environment. The need to allow rainwater to drain away has favoured the emergence of rich patterns from perforations on metal or slats on wood. Very common these days, plastics are not subject to the same requirements, and using plastics requires thorough thinking on the form if the charm of garden furniture is to last. Finally, I think that the current economic crisis will bring about a return to gardens’ nutritive purpose. Furniture, objects and tools will follow and make this evolution easier as they open new fields of endeavour to designers and manufacturers alike.