Designers as architects debate is "f*cking opposite" of open-minded creativity says Wanders


Marcel Wanders has dismissed the ongoing debate about whether non-architects should design buildings as "an endless conversation about nothing" (+ interview + slideshow).

Marcel Wanders' prefabricated pavilion for Revolution Precrafted
Eden by Marcel Wanders is a prefabricated house design for Revolution Precrafted

Wanders, who is the latest designer to work on a building project with plans for a prefabricated house, told Dezeen that the argument is a waste of time.

Getting caught up in the labels of architect and designer prevents creative people from "enjoying someone else's different opinion and trying to study and learn from it", he said.

His glass-walled prefab house was launched as part of Filipino developer Robert Antonio's Revolution Precrafted project at the 2015 Design Miami fair earlier this month. But Wanders refused to describe the design as "architecture".

Marcel Wanders' prefabricated pavilion for Revolution Precrafted
Wanders' prefabricated house features a relatively small glass-walled living space and a larger covered outdoor area

"I don't want to go there because it's going to be an endless conversation about nothing," said Wanders, who spoke to Dezeen in Miami.

"I would love to not be in conflict with architects, so I won't call it architecture," he added. "I understand the sensitivities of it."

He joins a string of designers that have recently moved into building projects, including fellow Dutchmen Maarten Baas and Piet Hein Eek, along with Thomas Heatherwick, Dror Benshetrit, Karim Rashid and Nendo's Oki Sato.

Heatherwick and Benshetrit's comments about how designers approach architecture have stirred heated debates in the Dezeen comments section, while Eek recently said that most architects are "not interested" in construction.

Marcel Wanders' prefabricated pavilion for Revolution Precrafted
The roof of Wanders' prefabricated house design is supported by a series of patterned columns

"Creatives should be open minded, and we all think we're very open minded," Wanders told Dezeen. "But this kind of behaviour it proves the fucking opposite. It's crazy. We're so picky."

Wanders, 52, is one of the best-known Dutch furniture and interior designers, and co-founder of Amsterdam brand Moooi. A major exhibition of his work will open at New York's Friedman Benda gallery in 2016.

He told Dezeen he is not interested in what the architecture community thinks about his house design.

"According to architectural standards this house might be a piece of shit," Wanders said. "I don't fucking care, I made the house."

"[Architects] think they can do furniture all the time and it's fine, I don't have a problem with them," he continued. "It might be crappy furniture but it's their furniture, if they like it it's fine."

Marcel Wanders' prefabricated pavilion for Revolution Precrafted
A small cluster of Wanders' Eden houses will be built as a prototype development, with units separated by bamboo planting

Wanders also believes that architects have become preoccupied by the exteriors of their buildings, and don't give as much thought to the interiors.

"I think architects design outside in," he said. "Or they design basically outside. They don't get in the building anymore."

"We don't make architecture, we make a home," Wanders said. "We start inside, we start with the human experience."

Marcel Wanders portrait
Marcel Wanders

Read an edited version of the transcript from our interview with Marcel Wanders below:

Dan Howarth: How did you get involved in an architectural project?

Marcel Wanders: Robert Antonio, he's kind of a character. He's doing all these property developments and he came up with the idea that he wants to do pavilions. So he asked us if we wanted to do a pavilion, and we talked and talked.

To me the idea to do some crazy art pavilion was less interesting than to find a way to make a real prefab home. And so I kind of pushed it in that direction, which I think is super interesting. In the end we made a prefab home, which is going to launch in the Philippines.

Dan Howarth: What is the home like?

Marcel Wanders: We decided to make a 60-square-metre home, which is kind of small. One bedroom. And it can be done for a very nice price, so it's something easy to have. As it's in Asia, I thought it made real sense to make an extended roof.

If you enter it you feel the house is 200 square metres instead of 60. You have this inside/outside environment. The roof has pillars around it so you fill this space, then you put bamboo around it so you really feel inside/outside with this bamboo forest. The whole economy of the building is super smart, so it's really affordable for a big house.

We're not going to sell this only one by one, but make little parks. For a prefab home, the ground, the permit, the water, the sewage, the electricity, it's a bummer right? So if we can get that covered for people, it becomes really interesting.

We're going to build a little village and that's the prototype. It's going to be a bit of a community. We're going to organise the landscaping between the houses to include three metres bamboo. We used very little space but you really create intimacy and privacy.

Dan Howarth: Do you think you approached the project differently as a designer rather than an architect?

Marcel Wanders: It's not architecture. We don't make architecture, we make a home. We start inside, we start with the human experience, we start with the family, friends, how you're going to deal with them.

You enter through a corridor and boom, you're in this house of 200 metres with the glass spot in the middle, and it's got this beautiful webbing, poles around it.

So it doesn't have this typical outside style. It's not architecture in that way. It's really a place to live. It's not architecture, it's a home.

It is more an interior than architecture. You won't even see the outside. I mean you might build in different areas where there will not be bamboo and you have a lot of space, but the vision is a bit like that. So we designed it from the inside out and based on human experience.

Dan Howarth: As opposed to an architect who would design the shell and think about the inside afterwards?

Marcel Wanders: I think architects design outside in. Or they design basically outside. They don't get in the building anymore. We start inside. And in this case there is not a lot of outside. If we do it the way we want to do it then there's a lot of green around it and you'll hardly see the outside.

You get these two slabs and these beautiful half transparent poles and the glass, and you see the interior come alive.

I would love to not be in conflict with architects, so I won't call it architecture. I understand the sensitivities of it. Previously we did some lingerie and shawls and dresses, and I really thought you could not call it fashion, let's call it clothing.

Dan Howarth: So it's building rather than architecture?

Marcel Wanders: Or a house. I don't want to go there because it's going to be an endless conversation about nothing.

Dan Howarth: You're worried that people get tied up with labels?

Marcel Wanders: I don't want to make this a thing. According to architectural standards this house might be a piece of shit. It might be, I don't fucking care. I think it's a cool house. I'd rather talk about the house rather than why it's architecture or not.

Dan Howarth: The reason I ask is that we've published a couple of interviews with designers that have worked on architectural projects, and they said that they approach buildings in a different way to architects.

Marcel Wanders: Let's not call it architecture. Let's call it something else. [Architects] think they can do furniture all the time and it's fine, I don't have a problem with them. It might be crappy furniture but it's their furniture, if they like it it's fine.

Creatives should be open minded, and we all think we're very open minded. But this kind of behaviour it proves the fucking opposite. It's crazy. We're so picky.

Instead of enjoying someone else's different opinion and trying to study and learn from it... no no. I don't think it's necessary. If they want to do it it's also fine. I'd just rather not call it architecture.

Dan Howarth: Are there any other building or house projects you're thinking of working on off the back of this?

Marcel Wanders: A long time ago we were asked to do a big building in Mexico and we were in competition with a few big architects. Zaha Hadid was in it, Jean Nouvel was in it. We won that competition, so that was kind of tough. Then they could never build because the guy was working on a football stadium, and it took more and more time.

Dan Howarth: What was the project for?

Marcel Wanders: It was in Guadalajara. The idea was to make two towers, but we thought these towers were going to be kind of expensive. To put a bit of concrete in between was not going to raise the price so much. Then suddenly all these people living on each floor have a ground floor experience, so at the end we made slabs of floor that were super big.

Dan Howarth: Does this project have any similarities with the prefab house?

Marcel Wanders: In a way it's a bit of the same idea as what we are doing now. So a big floor area, housing it so you really have this outdoor experience. It was a fabric of layers, with glass houses here and there with space in between. Trees going through it. And then we cut a bit of a cloud shape out of it. The previous concept was way more about creating this fabric where you live with a ground floor experience outside.

The good thing about the house is that it has these large overhangs. During the day the building heats up, at night it gives the heat back. And in a way this one is also made for tropics, there's a reference to it.

So that's what we have done in architecture. Not architecture... I didn't say architecture!

  • James Coulee

    I kind of understand him. That’s why I don’t think we need proper design specialists like him at all, too: my cousin is quite an ace with CorelDRAW. ;) It is like a pharmacist saying he can be a better doctor than doctors, because [insert contrived convenient cliché].

  • Jimmy

    Round one: fight.

  • WaxWing

    “According to architectural standards this house might be a piece of sh*t”. He makes some valid points.

  • Felix Amiss

    He is right. This house is a piece of sh*t, and if the Dutch people aren’t willing to put up with this crap, what makes him think that the Filipinos will? Bad design transcends all labels and tags.

  • Robin

    Says he doesn’t want the debate about whether it is architecture or not and then says it isn’t architecture because it was designed with the user in mind. Inflammatory fool.

  • K

    Although I sympathise with him that it doesn’t matter who should design architecture, the way he talked about architects, architecture and “building” proved that he had no idea of the profession.

  • Factor

    This coming from a guy who slaps a lamp on a horse’s head and calls it a piece of design. Oh and I don’t have a problem with you. You might make crappy furniture, but it’s your furniture. If you like it it’s fine. But you ain’t no Dieter Rams, bruv.

  • Guest

    I could see Paul Whitehouse as an achingly cool Dutch designer. He’d play it brilliantly. The script is waiting for him above.


    The grass is brown on both sides of the fence. Lots of crappy architecture and lots of crappy interior design. Ninety per cent of everything is crude, and with designed villages usually come rigid rules to maintain the design – good or bad.

  • SJT

    Dezeen, this is a type of trolling. You’re trying really hard to make this into a controversy and the comments don’t support that.

    If famous designers get taken on to lend some “brand” weight to a development, fine, how do they deliver a sensible building that complies with code, cost and sustainability requirements? They employ architects. If they feel like they are the “architects”, bonus for them (they are now clients).

  • blau

    Felix Amiss’ “Bad design transcends all labels and tags” quip pretty much says it all here. The height of his glass cube feels much too high, so the heat gain will be formidable in the Philippines’ tropical climate, shading or no.

    Renderers included nice lighting but forgot to show any A/C considerations (not even vents) but oh well, that’s an afterthought not worthy of a star designer. I’m not against anyone doing anything, but in the end things are going to stand on their merits. Please don’t resort to dragging down disciplines in your personal mire.

  • Sim

    Eames is an architect. Also, I always suspected that the shell for Wanders’ “Random Chair” was heavily inspired by Eames’ dining chair. I could come up with more but umm, I have to prepare for New Year’s Eve. Happy 2016!

    • Guest

      None of them can ever hope to emulate Eames, so just as well reality isn’t allowed to intervene.

  • nick

    This man is the “Lady Gaga of the bathroom design world”.

  • JayCee

    Dezeen resorts to click-bait headlines…

  • Max Davie

    When are people going to start realising that this ridiculous and artificial schism between ‘mere building’ and ‘architecture’ is completely fabricated by a profession terrified of competition and intent on throwing up every barrier they can to keep it at bay!

    The creative community should start discussing why architects have been granted this monopoly over the title. Then perhaps these debates can start to have more effect rather than being a platform to talk endlessly about something so trivial and pointless!

    It amazes me that there are so many bright and learned architects, but not one of them seems to have the honesty and temerity to question this frankly flagrant protectionism.

    This makes my blood boil!

    • Richard MacCrea

      Good design requires practical knowledge and talent. Neither a degree nor a license guarantee this. If we all focused on developing talent and increasing practical knowledge our buildings would be better. More beautiful, energy efficient, practical, and for less cost.

  • Andrew

    As an architect, I agree with his sentiment. Most of what is being produced in architectural schools and studios is facile nonsense that is there to feed the egos of an exclusive set of individuals who have ‘special’ training.

    Certainly if architectural media is a reflection of what is going on out there, then the majority of what is being built out there is purely for a series of orchestrated photographs and then quickly decays into empty, uninspiring, waste of material and land problems for the general public.

    Not only is it construction that is not considered, but function, practicality and the haptic and tectonic properties of a building as it ages are also most commonly ignored or not considered.

  • Jessie6693

    I would agree with Wanders that you don’t need to be a formally trained architect to design a good building. Architects often take cues and inspiration from vernacular architecture, which is a category of architecture that is based on local building traditions rather than formal design.

    However, the way Wanders describes the practice of architecture, as well as some of the renders of his design, makes me think he doesn’t fully grasp what actually goes on in this profession. He seems very defensive, and cagey about his work.

    If you’re going to be any sort of designer, you’ve got to have thicker skin than that (or maybe I’ve just been hardened by years of crits).

  • Sebastián Corral

    Architecture and design have to hold hands in the middle of a project somewhere. Where are the limits? Well, where they feel comfortable, and to a point where its professional and reasonable.

    Respecting that means architects can get involved in designing smaller objects and designers can get involved in architecture. That said, in my opinion, creativity should never be taken as a “license to kill” imposing it over knowledge, studies (wether formal or not) and preparation when we’re talking about a professional project.

  • marmite

    Well put.