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Patricia Urquiola delivers whirlwind lecture about her career at Design Circus

Patricia Urquiola delivers whirlwind lecture about her career at Design Circus


Melbourne’s design community filled out the Great Hall at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) on Monday 5 March to hear an energetic — if not somewhat disjointed lecture due to rapidly connect ideas – from one of the industry’s great creative minds: the Spanish-born, Milan-based architect and designer Patricia Urquiola.

Design Circus attendees wait outside the NGV’s Great Hall

Hosted by furniture company Mobilia, Design Circus seeks to foster the design community with talks and exhibitions that inspire, while raising funds for charity. The event has brought influential designers from around the world to Australia – including Xavier Mañosa, Nipa and Jonathan Levien, Jaime Hayon, Patrizia Moroso and Michael Anastassiades – in efforts to create a “dialogue between Australian design and international design”, says Mobilia founding director Sam Fazzari. 

Mobilia selected Patricia Urquiola, founder of Studio Urquiola and creative director at Cassina, as the VIP guest for Design Circus’ tenth year in Australia. As part of the event, her two exclusive and sold-out talks in Melbourne and Perth this week raised a total of $35,000 for Toybox International, according to commercial director Mirella Scaramella.

Urquiola unites Melbourne design community on Monday

Perth-based musician Banjo from the Mobilia mentorship program warmed up a stylish Melbourne audience on Monday night, before Scaramella called Urquiola to the stage to present between two of her own designs: the Ruff and Dudet armchairs.

Perth-based musician Banjo warms up Design Circus attendees

Allora,” Urquiola kicked off, chuckling, “there was a photo that was very relaxed, but I’m not so relaxed.”

Counter to this admission, Urquiola proceeded to casually dominate the stage, delivering a rapid stream of consciousness Powerpoint presentation that somehow, despite the avant-garde structure, led us on the journey of how she began and how she thinks.

Urquiola shares her story

In 2001, Urquiola founded Studio Urquiola, an interdisciplinary design firm based in Milan, alongside her partner Alberto Zontone, who she acknowledged in the audience. 

“We share our life and work and everything,” she said.

Patricia Urquiola presenting at Design Circus Melbourne

The studio, located underneath her home, operates at the intersection of industrial product design, architecture, art direction and strategy consulting. 

Urquiola explained that her team often approaches problems by asking the question famously posed by artist Louise Bourgeois: “What is the shape of this problem?”

“The way you think as a designer is always getting a world which is plenty of questions and ‘re-questions’, answers and ‘re-answers’,” she said.

Alongside her studio work, Urquiola has also held the position of Cassina creative director since 2015. Her collaborations extend to other major design companies, including Moroso, Kettal, CC Tapis, Louis Vuitton and Kvadrat. Her extensive portfolio encompasses architectural marvels like the Il Sereno Hotel in Como and the Room Mate Giulia Hotel in Milan, as well as innovative product designs for BMW showrooms and Missoni installations.

Among the many projects she jumped between discussing on Monday, Urquiola explained the process behind the experimental ‘Hybrida’ – a porcelain artwork she designed in collaboration with the school Istituto Caselli and the Royal Factory of Capodimonte in Naples. She described setting out to create a “new process for porcelain”, immersing it in unconventional materials, such as sponges, cotton and mosses to create imperfect, natural flowers and hybrid shapes.

Hybrida by Urquiola
Urquiola discusses ‘Hybrida’

This project “took us to a new project”, explained Urquiola, whereby money from its sale was used to create a real flower garden for the students to tend to in their school courtyard.

“You give me the possibility of something then I move to something else,” she said.

During her talk, Urquiola also shared career highlights that have taken place on our soil. This included a dream trip to Uluru, where she noticed lots of red ramps around local stores. She later designed a red ramp at the entrance of a house, “honouring Australia”.

“You are looking to me, but me, I’m looking to you,” she told the audience.

Her talk also touched on 2020’s ‘Recycled Woollen Island’ installation at the NGV. This featured large-scale socks that doubled as seats, which could be moved freely by the public to lie on and admire the stained-glass ceiling of the Great Hall.

“Be part of the context” was a standout message towards the climax of Urquiola’s lecture, as was “the spirit of a place that you always can change, that for me is very important”.

At the sudden end of her slides, Urquiola announced “Here we are. End. Finito”, wrapping up her lecture as quickly as she appeared and as rapidly as she talked.

Lead image by Claudia Zalla. Event photography by Marcel Aucar.

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