Paul Cocksedge On Designing Compression and Marble Sofas for Moooi
British designer Paul Cocksedge does not simply design furniture, in fact, he has no interest in such linear approaches, but instead, he is guided by a vision to design the impossible. And to help bring his inversive, surprise-filled designs to life, he founded Paul Cocksedge Studio in 2004 alongside his partner Joana Pinho. Together with their team of collaborators, the studio has won international recognition for its innovative designs, pushing the boundaries of technology, materials, manufacturing processes, and our imaginations. Specialising in everything from product design to architectural projects and installations, Paul and his team place the human experience at the center of everything they create. And their clients spread across creative platforms, including V&A, London Design Festival, NHS, Swarovski, BMW, Hermès, City of Lyon, Wellcome Trust, Sony to name a few.
Another aspect of Paul's creative DNA lies with his collaboration with Dutch design powerhouse, Moooi, founded by Marcel Wanders, for whom Paul has created pieces that beautifully harmonise his own imaginative design aesthetics with Moooi's open-minded, boundary pushing vision. We met up with Paul at the Moooi showroom at London Design Festival, experienced his radical compression sofa first hand, and talked about everything from technology to the importance of 'force' in design and more...
"That's what I want to do, I want to try to surprise myself and make objects I haven't seen before, and not be part of the process connected to only functional achievements." Paul Cocksedge
CM: Why is it called a compressed sofa?
Because it's all about manipulation of a material and compression of a material to reveal something unexpected. So the origin of the piece is about me not thinking of designing an actual sofa in any way. It was nothing about that, but it was actually about me thinking about furniture in general; about how chairs, tables, and furniture have to withstand the human body which can be very heavy. It's always about dealing with forces. So at the studio, I took an angular block of foam, and I simply pressed down. I was extremely delighted how the straight lines become curvaceous and sculptural and give a place for a human to sit. And in the end, I had a big smile on my face!
CM: How did you come up with the marble stone sofa?
The forces involved in taking something so big and deforming it to give you that shape is actually quite tricky. We needed a lot of weight, we've got marble holding down the foam, and the upholstery keeps everything in place, but in the end it looks effortless, and it looks like it should be like that. And that is because it should be! Its all about letting a material do what it wants to do, and when people sit in it, it's quite an interesting experience. You sit around something hard and all around you is soft. And all around you means, literally all around you, because it curves up close to your shoulders and above, so you feel as if you're being hugged by the sofa. It wasn't about designing a sofa or a comfortable sofa, but it became something which has those qualities.
CM: Does the weight of someone sitting on it affect the sofa?
A little bit, but we calculated the weight so that it's very stable now. Here's a picture of me jumping on the sofa, and it was after the studio experimentation, and I went to the factory and used all these machines to push down on the sofa. And this is the reality of it: we're now in a showroom thats pristine and we're at design week, but the origins of this machine are in industry. It is designed with weight, it comes from experimentation, it comes from what I do, what I love! I really love this. It's not a small piece, it's not designed with complete practicality in mind, so when I showed this to Moooi, I said 'I have one last thing to show you, and I'm not sure you're going to like it...' but he [Marcel Wanders] went for it. So it shows the courage and the ambition of this brand to follow something different.
CM: So you were not given any brief to design this piece?
No I was not. Most of the things I do comes from me directly. If we do have a brief it's more of a conversation. We don't really get told that in the market place theres a gap. In this situation we have the marble and then the foam, so I thought, 'wouldn't it be interesting to reverse that.'
CM: What were your biggest challenges creating this piece?
In a way, the foam one was the most complicated because it involves a lot of forces. That was the starting point, and then how do you go from there? Once the weight is down, it is balanced, because we've worked out where to push down. So that was the hard working, thinking, and the quickly doing... and then the idea of doing it the other way around [marble sofa with foam seat] was the quick thinking, but really hard to do because this took months and months to carve out of a block of marble. So we scanned the foam and then flipped it so we have the seat in a different place, and then we carved into that and made this shape. I was stunned when I saw it, and I was very nervous about making this piece because when you see a block on marble in the quarry, and you know that it took thousands and thousands of years to become what it is, and to then just it away and cut into it, there's a responsibility there. And it ended up weighing that of a small elephant, 6 tons.
CM: Did you use 3D printing or did you ever use 3D printing?
Very rarely, because it's very slow. I need things to happen much faster than that, I need to cut into a piece of paper or carve into a piece of wood. I don't need to see precision to understand whether something is going to work or not. 3D prototyping is exciting and very efficient, but I rather work with my hands.
CM: How long did it take you to get to the end product of the compressed sofa?
Sketch to finish it took about a year.
CM: What inspired it?
For a long time I've been fascinated by the human being part of the furniture experience. The body is everything, it's a force. We see stuff in magazines we tend to see it without the body, but it's all about the weight, and it creates a chaos because thats what life is! We have a dinner table and there are ten people behind it, leaning onto it, standing and dancing on tables... I'm interested in weight and forces, and this piece celebrates the person exerting force onto it.
"I want it to be as brave as courageous as it is interesting. It's not just about designing something that looks like it's going to work, but let's go further into the fantasy because we can always go back if you can't get there, but if you don't go farther you certainly never will." Paul Cocksedge
CM: A word to describe your style in furniture design?
I make furniture, but I don't see it as furniture. I see it as another type of thinking that goes on in my mind. I don't set out to design furniture, and when I see things like office chairs designed to be office chairs, I don't really understand that process. How you can begin the day saying 'I'm going to design an office chair!' because what tends to happen is that they end up looking like office chairs. I've always been confused by that process. I'm just hoping that one day someone will come at that in a way that actually comes from a different part of the process of creating something, and then suddenly you can be lifted and see the world in a new way. That's what I want to do, I want to try to surprise myself and make objects I haven't seen before, and not be part of the process connected to only functional achievements.
CM: So what inspires you in terms of art or philosophical movements?
It sounds very simplistic to use the word freedom, but I've started my whole art, design studio with that in mind, how do you have a space where you can be as free as technically possible, of course you need food on the table and need to support your staff, but ultimately whenever I feel the friction with in the studio, where I feel as though I'm getting pressured to do something that I don't want to do, I will shout, I will say we are not a design consultancy, I don't even like to use the word studio, this is about a group of people who are in the space and are trying to work on interesting projects passion, about doing stuff we believe in. It's not about compromise and that's not a bad thing and we're totally open to changes and adapting. When it comes to this project, there was no "you know Paul, I think it's going to be too big… " The agreed that I had to be the size it had to be this shape. It was a beautiful synergy of energy in our studio, and freedom. You need that.…
CM: Tell us about your background and your studio...
My studio is in East London, in Hackney, a lot of artists canals, real mix of people, A tornado of a mixture, my background… I'm not from an arty background. I am from working-class family, we didn't go to art museums or things like that, but they did allow me to explore so I did ballroom dancing, I did fencing, I was running a lot, I got excited about mathematics, physics and science, and that was my way forward. And then I realised I wasn't very good at physics, so the science dropped off and the art came in.
CM: How do you incorporate your science background into your work?
I had a mixture of the two–of science and art– so I'm not afraid of going back to world of technology. I'm not afraid the future, I'm excited about it! I want to embrace it, let's use it! But let's not use it just for the sake of it, but let's use it if we can help and inspire and create delightful and beautiful things for people. Not just in product design but in space architecture, in how people live. And if we can, let's help…
CM: Do you consider yourself multidisciplinary, incorporating both architecture and furniture design?
I was with a property developer a few weeks ago, and he was showing me a scheme for the building which is going to be a mix of studios and gallery spaces and such. He was discussing all these ideas and said 'I'm happy with what's happening, but I think it can be something else.' So I said give me some time and I'll think of a proposal of what I see this building becoming. So I was in the studio with my team, and I said 'this looks as if it's possible' and my team member said 'but that's a good thing?' and I said 'yeah but let's go further.' I told them that the freedom we had designing certain pieces, I want the same logic going into this project. I want it to be as brave as courageous as it is interesting. It's not just about designing something that looks like it's going to work, but let's go further into the fantasy because we can always go back if you can't get there, but if you don't go farther you certainly never will.
Photo © Moooi
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