Tom Strala

Strala: Failure is a Chance

Tom Strala presented his work at Belgrade Design Week

Kuca stil magazine, Serbia, February 2015

By Vinka Marinovic

The common way of thinking and repeating the same patterns are not producing creative ideas. Therefore, one should allow himself mistakes while working, but also learn from it in order to create valuable works, works that enrich this world. Creativity should be nurtured, emphasized the Swiss designer Tom Strala at the beginning of the interview for magazine Kuca stil during the Belgrade Design Week (BDW) in 2014.

In his lecture at already famous BDW, he shared his thoughts and experiences with young designers and design enthusiasts. He talked very inspirationally about his philosophical views on the world of design, the importance of failures and lessons learned, as well as the process of creating. In a lecture he wove many curiosities from his ten-year career.

Given that he is an architect and in his first architectural projects he was quickly confronted with the fact that in this business there is no room for mistakes and retry. So he turned to the design and already in operation on his first product – the lamps, he realized that it better corresponds his sensibilities. Today, he loves his freedom to create and to make mistakes, because it refreshes his creative ideas.

Where do you get inspiration for your work?

Inspiration comes from many sides. Once while in the bathroom or in the bar, once during the talks as this stands with you, when produced in interaction with another person. When thinking about what people told you, develop ideas and create something interesting and new… However, most of the time you fail. I have many projects in which I did not achieve a satisfactory result. In my work I take failures very seriously – when we are under constant pressure to succeed, we become incapable of creating.

Do you find the inspiration for the forms in nature or in artificial forms?

For me, the design comes from the mind and the heart. When I like the form I see, I’m thinking a lot about it, do not copy it just because I like it. To create, I need to understand what I like about the form that inspired me, and to develop that idea.

During your lecture, you talked about the failures in the creative process. Is this advice for young designers – not to be discouraged by failures, but to see them as an opportunity for improvement in the process of creation?

I think it’s good for all the people in the world if they can make mistakes! This is not only in design, but everywhere where there is pressure to achieve results – when you just tick performed tasks. The consequence is that it does not create anything new, but the world is only maintained as it is. It is for me a reason why the failures are very important, from them man learns to be better and to improve their work.

Do you remember the first product you created? Would you something to change of it now?

I remember, it was a nice iron lamp. It is interesting for me that lamp and all my previous works are completed design venture. When I created an object, I lost interest in it.

What is the main goal you want to achieve by products you design?

I want to push the boundaries of imagination. The reason is simple – the feeling is perfect when you can do that, when you get into a position that you can come up and make something new. That feeling that the world is spreading is amazing! When you’re a kid, you think that the world is large, and as you grow up, travel and meet people … the world is decreasing for you. So when you create an object, the world gets bigger, so you feel like a kid again.

In your opinion, what is the most important thing in expressing creativity through design?

In Switzerland there is a little different opinion than one I represent – I think that it is more important that students and young people in general know to think about the process of creation, rather than just adopt skills. I do not like to give general advice, but when I look at the work of somebody, I like to talk to that person about work and creativity express through this work.

Where does the road that leads to success in the world of design begin?

When I think what it is that someone needs to do to be successful, I realize that there are several things to pay attention to, but there is no magic formula for success.

Following some advice, however, it is possible to increase chance of reaching success for yourself. When you are new one in this business in Serbia, participation at the event “Belgrade Design Week” is a very good start. You
see professionals from all over the world, very well versed in business, and they are willing to talk and share their experiences. You can make contacts and possible cooperation with them, and they can look at your work and discuss them. This is a really good platform through which you can connect with the companies as well, which is a great way to start a career.

How do you direct the urge to express yourself?

The need to express yourself is very important. When you feel like you want to do something but you can’t find a way – those are just thoughts that are pushed forward. Constantly thinking about how to express yourself, how to do something in a different way and get good results. Many times I manage to express myself, but many times not.

It is believed that 90% of the cases that we use in everyday life are actually designed products, and that we aren’t even realizing it. Do you believe that designed products we use every day should be functional or beautiful?
There are many things that are functional, and also beautiful, so it begs the question what is essentially the functionality. The functionality in the design may imply that it is not used more material than what we need, or that some product is very convenient to use and it fits nicely in the hand. The designer decides what is functional for him, and then explains to the audience what it is that makes his work functional and exceptional. Each designer creates the rules according to their own vision.

How someone can today be unique and create something that was never seen before?

If I’d know that, I’d be very rich now.

Icon magazine, UK, 15.10.2014.

By Debika Ray

The Swiss designer spoke to Icon during Belgrade Design Week about quality, compromise and the importance of failure

Zurich-based designer Tom Strala's diverse portfolio includes a railway station, the set of a Hollywood movie and projects for Zaha Hadid, Norman Foster, David Chipperfield and Herzog de Meuron.

In a philosophical lecture at Belgrade Design Week last week about the importance of context in design, he encouraged the audience to "kill automatism" – to challenge automatic thinking that leads to predictable results.

Although he trained as an architect, Strala is now predominantly a product designer. He spoke to Icon about his work.

Your practice is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. How do you think your approach to design has changed over the course of your career?

In the beginning I was concerned with what my style is. Now I'm better able to reflect on what is relevant – and I know that it is quality, not style. I also don't get as nervous as I used to when I don't succeed. Now, not succeeding is interesting to me and I know I have to fail many times to come up with something new. That's why I no longer do architecture – in that field, you can't fail; you only have one chance and that means you don't take risks. In my work, I can take a lot of risks. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, but that's life.

How different is designing products to designing buildings and how do you adapt your approach to these different scales?

For me, it's the idea that's important – not the material or size. Even something small like a stool can have many ideas behind it, just like a big house. Both are about the way you think and the process.
But it was an easy decision to switch to design. In architecture, so many people contribute to the creation process that it's hard to get a result that's not mainstream. Everybody involved in a building wants to see a little bit of themselves in it and you end up with a compromise. That's great for politics, but less so for architecture, art or design.

But you've done many collaborations, which I'm sure involves some compromise. Do you enjoy working with big-name architects and designers such as Zaha Hadid?

I like to work with people who are creative and those who like pushing boundaries. Having a big name on board is good, but not necessary. It doesn't always correspond to value. When I worked with Zaha Hadid, I was working with people who work for her. But that didn't matter – what was important was working with people with great minds. People who work for her could have brilliant or not so brilliant minds. I have no idea if she has a brilliant mind!

Tell me about your latest product.

The Animal Farm lamp is a project about transformation and mutation. The lamp comprises a brass pipe cracked down the middle. When you have a crack in metal, you could buy a new piece or do what I've done and make a hole at the end of the crack to split it so the forces go around the crack. 

I find it interesting to devise intelligent solutions out of a material's typical behaviour. This product is about understanding the material, not pressing it into a form you want, like you would when making a car.

Which of your projects do you like the most?

Bartok, my concrete table, is about a moment we always want to hide. The iron inside a building is always hidden and nobody values it, even though you need both the concrete and the iron for a building to hold together. My table shows off this iron, changing our perspective on the material and what is beautiful.

Another is the Frankenstein chair. I had a friend I used to make fun of because I thought she was always trying to be everything – shy and polite as well as crazy and rude – then I realised I was just like her and that this was very common. That was the starting point of the Frankenstein chair – I took several classic chairs everyone knows and put them together. We feel like when we put many things together like this we get something new, but that isn't always the case.

Read the original article here.

Designboom, Italy, 14.10.2014.

By Andrea Chin

Tom Strala on his Design Practice and Intelligent Materialization

‘The question is not if something is a materialized idea, the question is if it’s an intelligent materialization or not’. – Tom Strala

How can we soak matter with spirit?

How is it that living like bees in a honeycomb becomes a manifesto for modern / contemporary architecture? Something that is typically perceived as plump and poor, suddenly is admired for its formal qualities and considered beautiful? That is really absurd. If an object is beautiful, then it was already beautiful before. The object will not catch the ‘idea’ once it is there, it will not turn into something new. This is the reason why objects must have something more than just physical matter. Something that explains to us humans its intrinsic beauty. That we can see something we didn’t see before. That the object is soaked with an aura which allows a plump and poor building to become a living ideal.

We think that matter is so important because it does not change with time. The point is, we should not take the matter so serious simply because it becomes nothing more than what it is. We should take people who are present enough in the moment to catch a new idea seriously. It’s our spirit that makes the matter to what it is, and not the reverse. We can clearly see that we have big problems when we try to turn dead matter into something that is alive. We can probably make a robot, but Frankenstein’s patchwork of dead body parts remains a fantasy.

A lot of people have the idea that an artist just has to let his work flow. That he brings something out of himself because he is a genius, or something like that. Of course we can be the source of creation, but we have to reflect on what we have produced.

For me it is very important to go into the matter. That means that we are willing to understand and that we try to ask the right questions. That way, we come to a point of no return. And exactly this no return is interesting. Because there we have to break, to open ourselves and to discard outlived patterns. Only in this way something new can be born. If we had known the outcome from the beginning, it wouldn’t be creative or innovative. This is the force of evolution — to define and explore borders in a new way, and to bypass them.

There are different ways to move beyond these borders. We can form not only material, but we can also form the world through the way we think and the way we are speaking. That means that thinking or speaking is a sculptural process too. It helps to see our thoughts and language as something formable when we want to kill patterns, so that we can form letters to a poem. But with the same letters we can also develop philosophy, society systems or build a castle in the air.

What words are for a poet, material is for a designer.
Words have a specific meaning and are the transmitter of a message. It’s exactly the same with material. It doesn’t matter what we are producing – the form always a message. If you take an existing plastic chair and decide to make it in wood instead, it still carries a part of its original message or meaning. That’s the reason why art is not only a process where something is coming out like barf, because what‘s coming out can be something wrong. That’s why the question is not if something is a materialized idea, the question should be: is it an intelligent materialization or not.

Material is not, material arises. that’s really important because that means that material was once something else and already walked through a transformation. What we designers do that is really interesting, is a kind of mirroring of this transformation process. We create new objects with the material given by nature, so that the original material – let’s call it pixie dust – gets a new dimension similar to an evolution.

Material needs a specific process so that it can arise from pixie dust. If we analyze this process and other natural processes, we can learn something where material is starting to get malleable and understand how we can model it. Exactly at this point material gets interesting for a designer. That means at this point we can do something with material. I like this very much. As I mentioned before, US designers come very often to a point of no return. And at this point you have to break, to open and to dismantle yourself — to come to something new. At the point where material can’t go any further, it becomes malleable. Although material is a dead matter it seems that it follows the same principles… As we humans do too… It has to move. So it‘s not only the artist who forms material, it’s also the material which forces the artist. Materials can also decide how our artistic approach is. It gives us guidelines.

Before I start creating a new object it starts with a need I want to follow and a vague idea of how I can follow this need.
Of course we can follow ideas, but we can only materialize them when they are already inherently here so that we can discover them.

Because beautiful buildings [like the ones of Carlo Scarpa, Lina Bo Bardi or Geoffrey Bawa] are possible, we are also able to discover them. More interesting than beautiful buildings, is the possibility to move patterns to the point where the thought is no longer black or white. For a fraction of a moment we perceive this immediacy which has no meaning or given value yet. This is more sensual than anything else on the Earth.

The ‘Bartok’ table showcases the things we typically wish to cover and make invisible. In this design, iron rods which are typically used internally in construction for structural purposes, are given new meaning. In this way, the table offers iron as something that is appreciated for its aesthetics, altering our perception of what is considered beautiful.

Taking approximately three years to bring to fruition, the ‘Seefelder’ series of seating objects explores the possibilities of rattan as a technical and aesthetic material, in which Strala desired to create something of a relaxed modernity — defined forms, and easy to use. With its unpretentious nature and inherent warmth of the employed rattan, ‘Seefelder’ celebrates the poetry of daily life, while conveying the relaxed feeling of a holiday cottage. It is a manifest against the sterile and arduous design that has forgotten its beauty and lust of life. Each piece of the ‘Seefelder’ family is made in a small manufactory. The braided natural rattan is available in three different colors of basket top: white, red or transparent varnish. te metal frame is available in painted black green or brushed chrome.

During Art Basel Miami Beach | Design Miami/ 2014, Strala’s work has been presented in collaboration with his U.S. gallery the NWBLK and Swiss bathroom manufacturer LAUFEN.

Alongside the presentation of Strala’s designs, the Saphirkeramik™ installation by Konstantin Grcic and Toan Nguyen (originally presented at Milan and Belgrade Design Week earlier this year) has been shown at Miami Ironside, in the new US showroom of LAUFEN. on December 3rd, 2014 during the ‘Campus collective night’, an in-depth talk took place with Tom Strala, moderated by Jovan Jelovac, founder of Belgrade Design Week, and Marc Viardot, director of marketing and products at LAUFEN, around the theme of ‘materialized intelligence’.

Tom Strala:
Studied architecture at the ETH Zurich and in 2001 he obtained this masters of science ETH in architecture (MSC ETH arch) with distinction. From the early stages, Strala has been working under his own studio name; and since 2002 has been running his own showroom based in Zurich’s well-known Seefeld.

The recent years have been followed by several exhibitions at renowned museums and galleries and expanded by lectureships and leading workshops at the ETH Zurich as well as at the California College of the Arts (CCA San Francisco). Tom Strala’s growing reputation has led him to participate and chair in international judging panels in the fields of art, design and architecture. Strala has realized projects for star architects as Zaha Hadid, sir Norman Foster, Mario Botta, David Chipperfield and Herzog de Meuron.

About Belgrade Design Week:

2014 marks the ninth edition of Belgrade Design Week, an annual, internationally-renowned festival for creative industries and modern business in serbia and throughout the South East European area. Since 2005, founder Jovan Jelovac has successfully forged multicultural connections between artists, designers and entrepreneurs from the region with the greater global design scene. The initiative serves as a platform for creatives to engage in the exchange of ideas across a range of disciplines — advertising, architecture, arts management, communications, design, fashion, marketing, new media and publishing — delivering approximately 30 international speakers who share their perspectives and personal developments in their respective fields.

This year’s conference program ‘Brand New World’ sets opens up discussion regarding the creation of new values in today’s fast changing world. On the occasion of this edition, President of the Republic of Serbia, Tomislav Nikolic opened the initiative, stressing the importance of the creative industries for the continued development of the country’s economy. Local designers stand side by side with some the world’s greatest talents in a rare opportunity to bring the world to Belgrade and to present Belgrade to the world. 

Update: Tom Strala presents his work in the ‘Brand New World’ exhibition during Milan Design Week 2015 (Via Antonio Zarotto, 1). Sponsored and organized in partnership with LAUFEN and Architonic, Brand New World brings together eight international studios who ‘epitomize the concept of designers, makers, entrepreneurs – defining a truly brand new world of design’.

Read the original article here