Conversation with Alfredo Häberli
You opened your first solo exhibition entitled “Surround Things” at the Museum für Gestaltung Zurich in June 2008 and chose to present objects that were not yours.
“There is a history of design in Switzerland, other designers, and engineers who I appreciate very much and who had an influence on me”
I wanted to look back and dedicate a part of the exhibition to Swiss design history. I chose 200 objects from the design collection here at the museum. It was simply a way to say that I’m not the only one.
Swiss design is often associated with an idea of simplicity. Do you see a difference between simplicity and minimalism?
The word “minimalism” has been overused. There is a little bit of confusion. Minimalism is for me more art oriented than simplicity. So I try to reach this simplicity as much as I can. It’s a search to do more with less.
“I think something very complicated can still be simple”
How important is intuition in your work?
It’s very important. In our profession sometimes we tend to use our brain too much. It’s very Germanic to describe why you design in a certain way. When you are in Italy, they just talk about beauty. The function, which we are used to explaining here in Switzerland, is gone. It’s either beautiful or not. I always try to get as deep as I can to give an object a soul, something you can’t describe verbally, you just feel it.
“I love it but I don’t want to have to describe why I love it”
Besides Switzerland, you work with Italian and Scandinavian producers. What are the differences in their approach to design?
“Italians fall in love with an idea and just do it.
In Scandinavia you check the technique, solve the problems, you go deeply into every step of the design process, all the way through until selling the product. Scandinavian countries are very design-oriented, and designers are put at the same level as musicians or writers.
In Switzerland, during the period of industrial design, designers were providing service to the industry by making objects more beautiful, more practical but they were not considered artists or part of the culture. Nowadays it’s a bit different.
What is your relationship with this city?
I am particularly fond of the neighbourhood Kreis 4 and 5; it’s the liveliest area in Zurich. You have a lot of restaurants and very creative young people trying to bring fresh ideas into the city. You have new art galleries that are interesting, and which try to show young artists. Zurich definitely offers a very high quality of life.
They have a lot of passion and get great power out of that”