Patricia Urquiola

Patricia Urquiola talks fast, thinks fast and works fast. It’s how this Spanish woman has become one of the most productive designers of the twenty-first century. ‘It’s like a journey. You know where you start, but never where you’ll end up.’

Patricia Urquiola. Fotocredits: James Stokes.

Moroso, Kettal, B&B Italia, Kartell, Gandia Blasco, Andreu World, Agape: it’s easy to lose count trying to see your new work. And we haven’t even mentioned your contributions to the catalogues of Molteni, Alessi, Viccarbe, Hansgrohe, Driade, Budri, Baccarat, De Padova, Axor, Flos and Foscarini. Where do you find the time?
‘It’s good that I give the impression of being a hard worker. I am, in fact. Though
the output is less than it was a few years ago. Now we spend more than half of
our time in architecture and interior design projects. I emphasize “we”. When
you look around you can see I’m not alone. How many people are there in our
studio here? Pfff, you’ll have to ask Alberto (her husband and ‘secretary’,
Alberto Zontone). He’s the numbers guy. But sure, the work takes a lot of time,
sometimes more than is good for a mother with two daughters. We’re going to be
moving soon to a location where we’ll combine the house and the studio. I’m
looking forward to that.’

You’ve been working with Patricia Moroso for 12 years. You cherish your clients? ‘When you’ve known each other for so long,
you’re really in sync. If a design is not ready in time for the new season we
just postpone it for a year. We trust each other. That’s worth a lot.’

More recently you’ve been involved with the Italian wall and floor tile company Mutina. You’re the art director there. ‘People who have no idea what
they’re talking about sometimes compare my work with fashion. It must be
because of the decorative use of colours, patterns and fabric. But it has
nothing to do with fashion. You can see that in the Déchirer collection for Mutina.
No colour at all! A tile floor is not a suit you hang in the closet next season
and never wear again. It has to last for years.’

Mutina is a relatively small brand, compared to famous names like Moroso and B&B Italia. ‘In modest enterprises like that you find such
craftsmanship that you hope to help them a few steps forward. Budri is another
one. Initially I was unsure about the commission: I didn’t think I would work
well with marble. When I decided to go for it anyway, I discovered a whole new
world of experiments with material. I made vases, tables and modular panels out
of all kinds of leftover pieces.’

The name Urquiola is almost automatically linked to the description ‘a feminine signature’. ‘Hmm, I’m not a girly girl. Look at me: I wear
trousers, I talk a lot and fast, I know what I want and I can be so direct it
shocks people. Most people think those are masculine qualities. Qualifications
like masculine and feminine are often only tangentially related to gender. In
our home my mother was the husband and my father was the wife. So you see what
I mean.’

After secondary school you went to Madrid to study architecture.
‘That seemed the most logical choice for me, something that combined my
aptitude for maths and my need to create. At the time I had no idea that
designer was a profession too. When I started my studies my teachers were in
thrall to postmodernism. Not my world, with their predilection for
vainglorious, Las Vegas buildings. Luckily Portuguese architect Álvaro Siza opened
my eyes. He demonstrated how to make buildings that fit in their natural
setting. And then there was the film that turned the way I looked at things
upside down. Wim Wenders’s Paris, Texas is about the landscape, emptiness and how you
give this meaning and fill it in with architecture. I also got more out of the
music of The Cure and David Byrne of Talking Heads than out of the architecture
philosophy of Charles Jencks and Michael Graves.’

At the Politecnico in Milan you met another star who steered you towards your present career. ‘Achille Castiglioni. From him I learned how
to approach a project personally and intuitively. And above all how to derive
pleasure from your work. When I came to live in Milan, I would see Vico
Magistretti cycle to his work at De Padova every day. An impressive sight, with
a big beard and red socks. Definitely not the stereotype of the architect: a
revelation. Castiglioni and Magistretti helped me fill my empty rucksack: not
with intellectual theories, but with playfulness and intuition. They helped me
avoid style constraints and dogmatism. It’s why I hop from one thing to the
next so easily. Just like that I’ll switch from a sofa for B&B Italia to
sophisticated crystal for Baccarat: completely different materials and
processes with totally different aesthetic sensibilities. Every new project is
like a journey. You know where you start, but never where you end up. Last year
I took part in the exhibition “O’Clock” at the Triennale Design Museum in Milan.
About 70 clocks, installations, videos and “time pieces” tried to answer
questions like “What is time?”, “Can you measure time?” and “How can you
experience time?” When you delve into a philosophical theme like this, you see
how complex the subject is. A clock can be so much more than a couple of
functional hands recording the seconds ticking by. That exhibition too really
opened my eyes. Time is the only thing that is always there, in abundance. And
yet we never have enough.’

Patricia Urquiola (b. 1961, Oviedo),