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Posted in Design Stories

Strange Nature

Flower via natural beauty Pinterest board

We live our lives surrounded by nature. Yet, in our orga­nized twenty-first century world, the fluid forms, geomet­ric sequences, and bril­liant hues of the natural world remain strange to us.

We watch in quiet awe as the natural world system­at­i­cally changes around us respond­ing to nutri­ents, climates and seasons. In her work, designer Patri­cia Urquiola inves­ti­gates these systems, finding not just aesthetic inspi­ra­tion, but rhythms of making and ways of func­tion­ing embed­ded in natural struc­tures. It doesn’t take a micro­scope to recog­nize just how strange nature is — that flowers know to open and bloom, that leaves furl and unfurl just so, or that insects land on deli­cate petals to reach pollen-filled anthers. 

Patricia Urquiola via Frame Magazine by Antonio Campanella 2
Patri­cia Urquiola in What I’ve Learned. Photo via Frame Maga­zine by Antonio Campanella.

As chil­dren, nature stim­u­lates our curios­ity, and what we discover evokes within us a deep sense of wonder. Urquiola calls on our innate curios­ity in each of her creations. She exper­i­ments freely with the way the senses are awoken by forms and mate­ri­als that resonate with the natural world.

Serena Lamp Context 2
Serena Lamp. Photo cour­tesy of Flos.

As a result, Urquiola’s objects each have a strange nature. Serena, for example, takes the form of an enor­mous broad leaf, plucked and supported upright, cocoon­ing the exposed pistil of a flower, which reveals itself as the lamp’s light source. Formed in polished metals, the leaf diffuses the emitted light, provid­ing a soft glow around the bright pistil. When approach­ing this constructed object, we imme­di­ately recog­nize it as relat­ing to the natural world, and then within the same instant, aren’t sure we recog­nize it at all. Embed­ded within this moment of confu­sion is a sense of beauty and purpose.

In our curated inte­rior worlds, we often play out obses­sions with order, propor­tion and geom­e­try. Looking out the window, we notice the twist­ing, billow­ing and reform­ing of plants, atmos­pheres and bodies, all the while think­ing of nature as a mere back­ground to our more rigor­ous, designed lives. Designed to provide a typi­cally inte­rior comfort en plein air’, the loosely formed Butter­fly Sofa strad­dles our expec­ta­tions of a sofa and the strange exte­rior world it is designed to occupy. The profile of the armrest and back­rest is drawn from a quick sketch of a butter­fly mid-flight, wings flut­ter­ing open, full and rounded. As an outdoor sofa it exudes comfort. The result is supremely volup­tuous, beau­ti­fully grotesque, insis­tently and unapologetically fleshy.

Butterfly sofa outdoor bbitalia 16
Butter­fly Sofa, by Patricia Urquiola.

Turning back to the inte­rior, Urquiola responds to the sofa in a differ­ent manner with Tufty Time. Here, there is nothing flouncy to be seen. It’s a more formal language, concep­tual, with ideas rather than images derived from nature. A rela­tively large piece, Tufty Time is a modular system, that can be selected, arranged and rearranged in a styled manner. In this way it departs from being inspired by nature to creat­ing its own nature. When put together, the nine seating squares form a land­scape, becom­ing a low fore­ground in a room of more spec­tac­u­lar vertical objects.

Tufty Time Sofa via BB Italia 3
Tufty-Time Sofa System, by Patricia Urqiola 

The natural world is often equated with the femi­nine. This is a corre­la­tion that can, in many ways, over-simplify both the natural and the femi­nine to curvi­lin­ear, volup­tuous forms, bright colours and close rela­tion­ships. In Urquiola’s work, we find tough, clever pieces, with a touch of the extra­or­di­nary, that ask us to broader rather than reduce our under­stand­ing of this rela­tion­ship. Urquiola reveals herself as a woman of extreme tenac­ity, wit and vision. She is a master not of the cate­gories of nature or the femi­nine, but of calling on our curios­ity as users, and gener­at­ing a partic­u­lar affec­tion between each of us and these strange objects. The sensu­al­ity isn’t super­fi­cial, the prod­ucts aren’t inert — this is a new, strange, nature.

Inspired by the form of icebergs, the Floe Insel sofa system.
Patri­cia Urquiola 

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