Architect Julien De Smedt has launched Makers With Agendas, a new design brand with products ranging from solutions to natural disasters and humanitarian crises to coat hooks and tea sets (+ slideshow + interview).
Makers With Agendas, co-founded by De Smedt and William Ravn of JDS Architects, launches tomorrow at Maison & Objet in Paris. The first collection includes a folding wooden trestle, coloured tea set, a wooden easel for displaying paintings and a butterfly-shaped coat hook that can also be used to hold keys or small accessories.
Future projects will address bigger issues, De Smedt told Dezeen. "We're looking at displacement situations around the globe from either natural disasters such as tsunamis and earthquakes or political conditions leading to civil wars or genocides - and will use our research to create a product addressing it," De Smedt said.
Other stories about Julien De Smedt include a stacked shelving system and a harbour-side housing development that looks like a cluster of icebergs. See all our features about JDS Architects »
Photography is by Nikolaj Møller.
Here's a transcript of the interview with Julien De Smedt:
Marcus Fairs: Why have you decided to launch Makers With Agendas?
Julien De Smedt: Makers' comes for me at the confluence of three flows of needs and desires - to have a recipient for experiments, to address societal issues and to realise things exactly as I want them to be, rather than being a necessary compromise, however successful this compromise might be.
Marcus Fairs: What does the name mean?
Julien De Smedt: We're a capacity. We're designers, thinkers and producers. And since ultimately what matters is the result of our ideas, we put the emphasis on the act, the making. But it is not a random action, it's intentional. We have agendas. Each of our projects tackles issues, provide answers and creates new meaning.
Marcus Fairs: What products you are launching and why? What's different about them?
Julien De Smedt: We're launching six products and have another six in the pipeline. Our first set is focusing on issues of transport, compactness and domestic needs. It sets the tone: even in casual settings we bring a different approach.
Our trestle, Accordion, folds into a single stick making it the most compact of its kind. T.4.2 is a tea set for two people where the cups embrace the teapot. It is our homage to conversation. Stilt gives people a new, nomadic, relationship to their interiors: with it you can move your paintings around the house. No nails are necessary to hang artworks. Butterfly is a coat hook that doubles as key and wallet holder. Who hasn’t run around the house trying to find his or her keys? Swing is a serving tray that allows you to carry full glasses, single handed and without spilling - even if you swing it over your head!
Finally, SMLXL is our first venture in fashion accessories: as one can expect from its name it is four different sized bags in a single design. From a woman stylish purse to a shoulder bag, a backpack and even a big shopper. This last design was also brought into the launch to make a statement and to show that we’re not confined to product design. We’re also working with other designers such as fashion designer Prisca Vilsbøl who was commissioned for this project.
Marcus Fairs: What else is different about the company, apart from the products?
Julien De Smedt: We're organising ourselves and deciding our designs from another angle: we first take topics that we find relevant, interesting or urgent and we analyse them. From this analysis we extract objects. We're now looking at displacement situations around the globe from either natural disasters (tsunamis, earthquakes, .etc) or political conditions (leading to civil wars, genocides etc) and will use our research to create a product addressing it.
We're also working to create awareness of the different aspects of society where design plays a role, whether good or bad. In our poster campaign ‘Design Is…’ we’re discussing issues such as the relationship of the use of Coltan in mobile phones and the biggest death count since World War II, currently occurring in Congo. In a very similar way as Benetton did with [Oliviero] Toscani in the 1980s, we are working with a photographer, Nikolaj Møller, on the concept, message and its physical presence. We’re actually also the only retailer stocking COLORS magazine in our first store in Copenhagen.
Marcus Fairs: Who are your partners in the brand?
Julien De Smedt: We're two founders: William Ravn and myself. William comes from a more business angle. At age 22 he has already been running multiple successful businesses. He interned at JDS when he was 15! Wouter Dons is the third partner. He has been working for JDS for over 6 years on all my product designs. It felt natural and necessary to have him on the Makers’ team.
Marcus Fairs: What do you plan to do in the future with the brand?
Julien De Smedt: Makers' is a recipient for ideas for change. We’re not sure where it will go because we thought of it as a capacity rather than a company with a single business plan. For us, we see Makers With Agendas as the platform we use to discuss matters that interest us. So if we stay curious and creative it can go anywhere.
Marcus Fairs: What can architects bring to the design of furniture, tableware etc that can't already be done by other designers?
Julien De Smedt: I don’t think being an architect grants you anymore skills to do anything better than a designer can. There are good and bad architects just like there are good and bad designers. The difference is in the impact of the crime committed. Architecture is somewhat local only and even if the impact is long lasting, the location is unique. With design the damages go further. It spreads like a virus.
I can only speak for ourselves, as Makers With Agendas: our design orientation is one of ingenuity over beauty, of content rather than looks. Which is why our style is in fact very minimal. We'd like the focus to be on the function and its idea rather than a taste judgment. I function in a very similar way with my architecture. Which is why I often call it 'performative architecture'. Maker' projects follow that mantra.
Marcus Fairs: What do you think about the current state of furniture/lighting/homeware design?
Julien De Smedt: I’m not really aware of what is around and do not focus on that. At least not too much. Maybe that’s already a sign of the state of things. That said, I like a lot of products I see but not always for substantial reasons. I just like them.
Marcus Fairs: Your Stacked shelving for MUUTO has been extremely successful. How did that design come about?
Julien De Smedt: I was asked by MUUTO to make a modular shelving system. I have a wall of stacked shelves I collected here and there and from my family in my apartment. It became an immediate inspiration for Stacked. In a way it was a no-brainer: three interchangeable modules of varying capacity, linked together by a simple clip. I think the success comes from the fact that the design isn't imposed - it's understated and leaves space for people's appropriation.
Marcus Fairs: How do you feel about the way Stacked has been so widely imitated?
Julien De Smedt: It's kind of insane. Sometimes it’s really an issue we can address, but most times there’s nothing we can do. It’s also the risk one takes when one makes understated design: can you really claim to have invented a box? Of course the clip is a different story. That is really our idea.
Marcus Fairs: What architecture projects are you working on at the moment?
Julien De Smedt: I've just delivered a large tower project in Mexico City and an entire neighbourhood design in Istanbul, where we’re also building a 100,000 m2 development. Apart from that we’re building our first projects in Asia, in Seoul and Hangzhou.
We're also under construction of a public project for the city of Lille, a large cultural incubator in Brussels and of course we just delivered the Iceberg in Aarhus and the Kalvebod Waves in the centre of Copenhagen.