Instantly recognizable with her Joan of Arc-style “bowl” haircut and black-framed glasses, Matali Crasset is an iconoclast, a multidisciplinary designer who defies categorization. Since the 1990s, her work has explored a wide variety of domains, from hotel interiors to electronic music, from artisanal production to urban planning. Active in design, architecture and scenography, she recently completed the revamping of the Cité Library in Geneva and unveiled her latest creations at the Milan Furniture Fair. She talks to us about the genesis of her work…
Pluris - At the Milan Furniture Fair last April, you presented a strikingly atypical sofa. How did you go about creating it?
Matali Crasset: I came up with a modulable seating system for the Italian furniture brand Campeggi, a set of pouffes that can be combined to make a chair or a sofa. The modules are stiff enough to be stacked, and rounded to provide the element of comfort. The basic idea is to save space, and the whole thing is easily disassembled. It’s more practical than a sofa, that mastodon of the interior, taking up huge amounts of space and exemplifying bourgeois orderliness, which we have all inherited while wondering why.
How do you view contemporary design?
I don’t work according to any esthetic approach. Rather, I’m constantly asking how I can give more dimension to everyday life. I think that designers should have a more distinct social role, with projects that exert a unifying influence. A designer can offer a pragmatic response with tremendous flexibility of thought. From this overall point of view, eco-responsibility is fundamental for me. A project as a whole must convey values.
One of your latest projects, the restructuring of the Cité Library in Geneva, encompasses many of the issues that are important to you…
Indeed, the project highlights one of my favorite themes: the transmission of knowledge. Libraries are viewed as stuffy, studious places, but personally I think that they should become inviting spaces, open to the outside. They should give us a better understanding of society and revive a sense of community. And the librarians should act as mediators, a crucial role for finding pertinent information amid the masses of data available today.
What are your sources of inspiration?
Life! I travel a lot to give lectures. For example, I was just in Costa Rica, where there’s a real atmosphere of calm and confidence. Health and education are the government’s top priorities, and the defense budget is very low. Forty percent of the country consists of protected nature reserves. Costa Rican society has reached an impressive degree of maturity, and the entire country can participate in the decision-making process. It’s all very encouraging.
In what ways can design change society, in your opinion?
Being active within one’s own home, for example by changing the interior, is a way of being active with the neighbors, the neighborhood and the entire city. In the 1980s the home was considered a “cocoon,” reflecting a need for hyper-protection stemming from a kind of self-withdrawal. Individuals should have control over their environment, with the desire to make well-informed choices. Design fosters a civic attitude. Change in our societies will not come from organizations but from individuals, at the local level.
How do you envision the design world ten years from now?
The methodology of design, which consists of analyzing a context and making a proposal, can now be done using no material. We have to be able to work virtually, and digital technology offers us a wonderful chance to reinstate values and identify new directions. Now we have to seize the opportunity!