Creating the Unexpected
Paul Cocksedge rounds the corner to throw a firm handshake and immediately launches into a question of what I think about the auditorium design; it gives him time to yawn. Back on track, one of Britain’s leading – and busiest – young designers humorously states: “It’s all air isn’t it? Maybe I should have thought about it more acoustically.” Having founded London-based Paul Cocksedge Studios with Joana Pinho, his inspiration is quite simple: Do what no one else does.
And that belief has brought him this year to 100% Design at the cavernous Earls Court Exhibition Centre. He’s tackled the challenge of conceiving the main auditorium walls out of what seems like nothing. Layered and intertwined, the nearly invisible thread-thin wires are strung and pulled to create an ephemeral cocoon that wraps the auditorium section. Affected by spotlights from above, the design glistens like a dewed spider web. From within, the wires tenuously define the space, and from without, they become an object of wonder.
Inspired, Mercedes-Benz asked Cocksedge to create a piece in collaboration with the Concept Style Coupé being exhibited at this event. The surprising result – four Electro Luminescent Wires forming a spatial net of green glowing diagonal slashes that are mirrored as evocative curves along the reflective car body. Interviewing the innovator just outside this installation, he elaborates on his personal lifestyle, design inspirations, and ideologies that allow him to generate such creations.
How do you typically start your day?
I make a phone call. I phone up a friend and say: “shall we get some breakfast?” I’ve crafted my life so I don’t use public transport. The studio is a walk through the park so I meet a friend, grab a coffee, and go to work. Actually I don’t drink coffee. Tea.
Is routine or structure important for designers?
The studio needs structure as a group to deliver projects, to get things done. But I don’t need structure myself. I prefer much more chaotic ways of working. I don’t have a repeating way of working because then, the results perhaps end up the same. Good ideas come from NOT knowing. The unexpected. So I try to keep that insecurity to the projects.
What are the most important factors in every day life for you to create successfully?
Being healthy I think. I have a lot of juices, juices are important for me. Health is really important. You know I realized that; when I get run down, it really affects me. My life is quite hectic. I live on the edge.
Tell us about your auditorium design here at 100% Design.
Will Knight, a friend of ours, he is now the show director at 100% Design. We were talking and he was like: “Look, we’ve got these areas…we need to think of something…” And I thought: “The auditorium sounds quite interesting because it’s about people.”
I wanted the person to be part of the piece. So we met and it just started to happen. The inspiration for it was this idea of trying to do the opposite of what most people do. And what most people do in these environments is carry large sheet materials (wood, metals) and screw them together to make block divides. My inspiration was starting with something that was completely invisible. So when I showed Will Knight: “I want to build the auditorium out of THIS,” he said: “but what is THIS? I can’t see it!” When you start with something you can’t see, but keep on layering, weaving and connecting, then comes a point when it’s visible, like anything. We took it to the point where it just becomes enough. But the piece is 99.9 per cent air.
And what about your collaboration here with Mercedes-Benz?
So with Mercedes, it was a very simple idea. The car has a green thread that’s part of the detailing. It was that plus the auditorium, and it made itself. What I like about it, which is quite unexpected, is the reflections on the car. You have straight lines. When you look in the form of the car, you get curves. That was unexpected; we knew that would happen slightly, but not to this extent. I’m quite pleased about that.
What is most important to you: beauty, accessibility or function?
It all depends on what it’s for. I’m designing a suspended piece; it’s about creating something wondrous. So in that situation, it’s not about affordability, it’s not so much about practicality. At the same time, I’m designing a speaker, which is a mass production piece. So in that situation, I’m thinking function, affordability, accessibility, and all these types of thing. But I think the most important is: originality. There’s no point in doing something that’s been done before. Original idea is the key to most things.
Was your focus on lighting design a conscious choice or what attracted you to it?
Am I a lighting designer? Is that lighting? (Pointing to the auditorium) Can’t get away from light can I? I don’t like “Lighting.” I think it’s a categorized design. When I go to a Lighting Fair, I want to run away. It’s nonsense.
Light is fascinating, it’s the unknown, and its unpredictability surprises you. It’s part of our lives. The sun, it’s the biggest light source ever, whatever, maybe it’s not. There are bigger suns out there aren’t there? Amazing! We’re so connected to light. That’s how I view light. Not as a table or floor light. I do design those things, but that’s not my inspiration.
Which materials, perhaps rare or unaffordable, would you like to work with?
I like gold as a material. Not gold plating but pure gold. I’m fascinated by gold because humans are so attracted to it. It’s incredibly shiny, reflective, so it’s got this side of things. The other reason I like it is that it’s rare and its got properties that make it out-perform so many other metals; it’s very conductive, electrically. In the food chain, it’s quite up there! It behaves really well. So I’m quite fascinated by that. And diamonds! They’re one of the hardest materials.
How would you describe the relation between creativity and knowledge in your work? Do you do a lot of research?
A LOT of research. But it’s keeping that balance between knowing and not knowing. I think when you know too much, it can restrict you. When you don’t know enough, it can restrict you. So it’s getting the fine balance. It’s a minefield out there! You want to be able to approach something naively because you see the elements and the beauty of it. You want to see things for what they are.
Have you thought of re-conceptualizing a car? What would be your main focus?
Because I’m a Londoner, I’ve an issue with cars. Cars have to be completely reinvented in my opinion. They’re slightly out of date. Cars aren’t always just about bigger, better, faster, shinier, heavier.
So If you were to create The Cocksedge Car, how would you change the contemporary car into your dream?
Styling is not the aim of the game. It’s too connected to an individual or a brand. And therefore, the car of the future is maybe not driven by brand values and a style. It may be driven by what’s actually needed, something that’s really about moving around a city.
You’ve had some amazing teachers and mentors, such as Ron Arad and Ingo Maurer. What is it that you still carry on with you in your work that you learned from them?
Inventiveness. Both those designers, they’re always re-inventing. They’re living the dream. They have such fun, their work is their passion, they’re really healthy, and they’re alive. And that’s amazing! They don’t want to slow down. People get to a certain age and say: “I’m going to retire now.” That’s not them.
As a lecturer and mentor yourself now, what advice would you give young designers starting out?
Just be completely true to themselves. It’s the only way; it’s the difficult way. But they have to do it. Otherwise, they’ll end up producing stuff because they’re told to produce it. Innovation, design, and originality are about finding your mark, what you want to say. Can’t sell out. It’s difficult!
What does your home look like? Is it full of gadgets and design experiments?
No, I keep that quite separate from the studio. I tried to mix live and work before and that was chaotic. I live in a nice house, Victorian house, four floors, nice garden. In Hackney. London Fields. But I haven’t gotten my design there yet.
We heard that you love to travel. To discover a country, what goes with you?
iPhone. iPad. Those are really important.
Finally, what is your secret tip for the design loving London visitor to go and see?
V&A is beautiful. Victoria and Albert Museum. E9, E9 is cool. Postcode. It’s great, Gritty!
Thank you, Paul, for making the time to talk to us!