Guest of Honour installation 2020

Guest of Honour 2020 interview

Doshi Levien

Like all the previous Guests of Honour, London-based design couple Nipa Doshi and Jonathan Levien have had a busy time during their almost week-long residency. When we meet them, it is of course in their installation in the Entrance Hall – an installation that clearly and discreetly illustrates their sensual approach to design and the process that leads to the finished object.

“We got here with a few days to spare so we could help set up the installation. Everything has run smoothly and Stockholm has been very welcoming to us.”

Doshi Levien Guest of Honour

You have said that all objects have an inner beauty, so is it a designer’s main job to interpret and convey this beauty to the wider world?

“Nipa and I have slightly different views about this question,” replies Jonathan Levien. “I believe that inner beauty is achieved through my close relationship with the material and the technology I use. It’s like the way a skilled chef understands how to create a good meal from the ingredients at their disposal. Both a designer and a chef must have a feel for the material we work with and an ability, through our knowledge of the craft, to let it find its natural form. That’s how we convey the object’s inner beauty!”

“I come from a part of the world where beauty also involves a kind of respect for the way, for example, that you make and serve a meal, all the rituals of everyday life. It’s about an inner beauty that infuses all your daily tasks and about how you present yourself to the world,” continues Nipa Doshi. “It’s an attitude to life.”

Your way of approaching the creative process is very sensual – how is that reflected in this exhibition and in your day job?

“As soon as you step within the walls of the installation, you encounter an overwhelming sense of calm,” explains Nipa. “It’s meant to feel almost like a church in Palermo or a temple. An architectural tranquility. We also prefer to show the whole process rather than just presenting the finished object, so people can understand all the work that lies behind it.”

“For me, sensuality plays a major role. It is achieved through contrast, harmony and balance on several different levels,” adds Jonathan. “In the exhibition, you move from one part of the space and see how the colors and the structure shift, and then there is the contrast between the rough exterior walls and the clean, soft interior.”

Doshi Levien Guest of Honour

We are in Stockholm and at the world’s largest meeting place for Scandinavian design – what is the difference between Scandinavian design and design from the rest of the world?

“There’s a strong design culture in Scandinavia,” comments Nipa Doshi. “It’s a constant presence. Like in Denmark, where you get a lift from a driver who uses Georg Jensen cutlery at home. Or in a little village, where you discover that every other house features Louis Poulsen lamps as part of the decor. Also, I think wellbeing, a sense of beauty and human warmth, and closeness to nature are all very typically Scandinavian, and that is reflected in your design. And now it has become increasingly international, with companies such as HAY and Kvadrat once again leading the world.”

Nowadays, it is almost impossible to avoid talking about sustainability, climate awareness and the environment – what responsibility do architects and designers have in this respect?

“I see sustainability as an extremely broad area,” answers Nipa. “It can be about keeping a local community alive and drawing on the skills they have and offering work in their own neighborhood. It’s not just about material things. What Doshi Levien creates is meant to last a lifetime, so we kind of don’t see ourselves as part of the consumer society. Our design process takes at least two years from start to finish and we carefully consider every tiny detail, so I would say that we’ve been working on sustainability for all of our 20 or so years together. Everything you see around us here in the exhibition has between 15 and 20 years under its belt and remains in production.”

“Talking about the actual exhibition,” Jonathan Levien interjects, “we set ourselves an absolute rule right from the beginning that all the materials should be recyclable. We took that extremely seriously. So we’ve managed to achieve a big event that makes a major impression and covers quite a large space, while having a minimal impact on the environment, because all the exhibition materials can be reused. I believe intelligent design can help towards a sustainable future. You just need to be aware, from the beginning of the projects you’re working on, that things don’t have to be particularly complicated.”