● Mr. Azambourg, could you please summarize your career so far? Your education, foundation of your studio… How did you get into design & how did you proceed on this way?
My education was both technical and artistic: in high school I received an electrotechnical training, then I studied Fine Arts (“Les Beaux Arts” in French) and eventually Applied Art at the French National Higher School of Applied Arts and Arts Crafts in Paris.
To pay for my studies, I started working for architectural firms for which I designed furniture. When I got out of school at the end of the eighties, I started interior design while pursuing an ergonomical study on a saxophone that/which lasted ten years / which I worked on for ten years.
Meanwhile, I was teaching design in several Parisian schools: Boulle, Camondo and then, since 2003, l’ENSCI Les Ateliers, the National Higher School of Design, an interdisciplinary industrial design school, jointly governed by the Ministries of Culture and Industry. I founded Studio François Azambourg in 2000. Ever since I left school, have always been a freelancer but it only took shape then.
● Which design/project or period that you can describe as a turning point in your career?
I consider the chair Pack in 1999 a turning point in my career because it helped me be seen as a “researcher-designer”. This chair in 3D textile, built without any heavy steel or aluminium mould, embodies a long-lasting interest I have toward current industrial processes.
Compacted, during transportation for example, it does not exceed the volume of a bottle. To obtain its definitive shape, one just have to activate a button, making the two components of a polyurethane foam meet. The foam spreads between the two layers of the 3D textile and the chair inflates and hardens. This patented invention allows to consider the design of an object from a different perspective: it is closer to sewing patterns than injection moulding.
● Are there any movements or currents that influenced you? Which masters are important for you? Where do you get inspiration from?
The Impressionist movement really inspires me. If you apply its substance to design, it is not the shape of the object that matters but rather the impression you get from it. We could say my lightings are impressionist! With the side lamp “Bouclette”, a limited edition by Galerie Kreo, it is not the light function I am interested in: it is the sensation you recall from what I would rather call an emanation of light or a light substance.
I am also passionate about the world of engineering and aviation in particular. It implies a deep, almost intimate, comprehension of the materials and the efforts they have to endure. I try to keep this engineering approach in my projects.
● What is your design philosophy? How do you define your style?
I explore the expressive potential of shaping of materials and fabrication processes, regardless of whether they are industrial or handmade, innovative or traditional. I try not to be prompted by seduction effects or trend but rather driven by a constant care for economy of means and lightness. The drawings of my designs are under the great influence of fabrication processes and the nature of the materials I use.
● You have some methodologies in your design process such as manufacturing revisited, reflection on light, structure revisited, reflections on nature. Can you explain these a little bit?
There are many ingredients to it: artistic ones such as my watercolour practice, technical ones as mentioned earlier but also music, always accompanying us at the studio when we work, or nature. We as humans do not have the monopoly of producing things. The bees, termites, linen, wood… The rest of the living world is full of instructions as it demonstrates both rigor, total economy and harmony. It still fascinates me like a child. I try to cultivate the ability to wonder but it is a commonplace shared by all of us, isn’t it?
To set an example: why is the ornament of the vase “Douglas” beautiful? By burning, the mold made of Douglas pine planks marks the molten glass of its prints. There is nothing artificial about this print, it carries a sense of truth. There are no such things as bad designs or bad taste in the nature. The Douglas will celebrate its 10th birthday next spring during Paris Designers’ Days (DDAYS) and the process itself makes it still up to date.
The linen chair “Lin 94” is made out of 94% nature sourced materials. Here, the design process would be to replay natural traditional material and reveal its contemporary potential by making the automotive and the traditional textile industries meet.
● Which materials do you prefer in your designs?
I have a particular affection for light materials. Henri Mignet, one of the fathers of aviation, used to say “I weight everything. Light things are sympathetic to me.” I also like materials that have a strong adaptability such as glass, which can be moulded, cut or blown. Since the times have changed, I always try to use them wisely, being conscious of the energy needed to shape them.
● You are designing various products for many different brands. How do you succeed in creating a design language suitable for brand identity and also carrying your own style?
I never forget that the profession of a designer is a service profession. I work for my clients and try to answer their needs. There is a kind of withdrawal in my work. It is what my design identity is made of: a design of the discretion.
● Do you have any projects that you consider exemplary of sustainable design?
I don’t see myself as an environmentalist. We can’t work with dogma otherwise we spend our time giving lessons. It’s difficult to talk about ecology as a designer. What I’m looking for is to use as little matter as possible. The important thing project is the saving of matter, time. The true question is to use the right amount of energy and resources available.
● Do you think the growth and interest in green design is good or bad for product designers?
There is an awareness. Politics are responsible for the state of things. It’s interesting to lean on the rarefaction of materials due to shortage, poverty, war. Resulting on economic gesture. Design is still in art decorative gesture with too much materials. We need to have a management of materials, wood for example is renewable at the difference of gold or oil…
● Finally, what advice would you give to the young designers?
I would advise them to try and decompartmentalize design, cross the Rubicon, as I just mentioned. And, if they design objects, to try to design well-conceived ones, that are solid and that one would want to keep for over 30 years.