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5th Dec 2021

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Giant of 20th century European design recognised by EU

  • Andre Ricard - the 92-year old Catalan industrial designer - is set to be recognised formally by the EU, as the winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award from DesignEuropa (Photo: Office of Andre Ricard)
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Andre Ricard is the man behind many of the most iconic European designs of the 20th century - from ashtrays to perfume bottles, municipal litter bins to the Olympic torch.

Yet his name is not as well-known (outside design circles), as many of his ubiquitous - and beautiful - commercial works. His Copenhagen ashtray is considered a symbol of the 1960s. A perfume bottle he created in 1968 is still in production and sold all over the world. In 1992, his Olympic torch design shone a light on his home city of Barcelona and introduced him to an even wider audience.

The Tatu table lamp (Photo: Office of Andre Ricard)
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  • Ricard: 'It was an opportunity for the country to redesign its public environment: lampposts, bus stops, benches; everything was different' (Photo: Office of Andre Ricard)

Now, the 92-year old Catalan industrial designer is set to be recognised formally by the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) - as the winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award as part of the DesignEuropa Awards, organised by the EUIPO.

Ahead of the award ceremony itself, on the 19th of October, EUobserver spoke with Ricard, on nearly a century of work, change and inspiration in the field of consumer design - a field in which Europe has always been a world-leader.

How did you first become interested in design - and start a career in it?

My father, besides being a great business manager, used to be very interested in art, and used to paint and sculpt. He subscribed to the magazine, The Studio, so visual arts were a recurring topic in the house. Living in such environment, I naturally also began to paint.

As a young man, I even participated in a few group exhibitions, but nothing yet pointed to a career in design. My future was to succeed my father in the family business.

It was in 1951, in London, where I did commercial training at Davies & Turner, that I discovered this new creative discipline. It was the year of the magnificent Festival of Great Britain and the opening of the Design Council. It was an opportunity for the country to redesign its public environment: lampposts, bus stops, benches; everything was different.

I understood that we didn't have to accept the form and the use of things that tradition had dictated as a given. Everything we used could always be improved and could provide a more comfortable function, just by changing shape or material. I contacted Raymond Loewy, the great designer of the time, who had just published his book, Never Leave Well Enough Alone.

I wanted to know more about this emerging profession. He was kind enough to answer me and we exchanged letters. He recommended some books on the subject. Years later, I visited him in New York and he was the one who put me in contact with the organisers of the future ICSID (International Council of Societies of Industrial Design). I was invited as an observer to its founding congress in 1959 in Stockholm. I met people from the new world of design.

From then on, nothing was the same for me. Thanks to the relationships I established there, I began to develop myself not only by debating issues but also by starting to create things: to design. The ICSID was the place we needed to help us grow. It was my "university", because at that time design was a budding discipline and, except for the school in Ulm, it did not yet have as many schools as exist today.

The 'Copenhagen' ashtray (Photo: Office of Andre Ricard)

What would you say was the greatest highlight of your career? And - perhaps - a lowlight?

A decisive moment in my career was when I came back to Barcelona and read in a newspaper that a group of architects who I did not know, had asked for permission to create an Institute of Design in Barcelona, permission which had been denied.

Although this was bad news, it gave me the names of others people who were also interested in design. I was not alone! I reached out to them and told them about the ICSID and how important it would be to become full members of this international design council. To do this, we had to form a professional association, which was not easy to do under the dictatorship. To avoid asking for a permit that we knew would never be granted, we tactfully joined FAD, a cultural group that had been around since 1904, as their design section. And so the ADIFAD was born, and the following year ADIFAD became a full member of the ICSID at the congress in Venice. Later, at the congress in Paris in 1963, I was elected Vice President of the ICSID, a position I then held for the next 15 years. All this was important since it allowed us to meet and invite lots of other international designers to be lecturers or judges for our competitions. Spanish design was being opened up to the rest of the world.

I think what I regret most comes years later in 1971 when we organised the ICSID International Congress in Ibiza. We had envisioned the event to be an open meeting point for professionals with a more relaxed atmosphere and plenty of opportunities for inter-professional dialogues. This total freedom was to allow for impromptu meetings. But this style of meeting was not really understood by many of the regular congress participants. They were used to the more conventional arrangements that had been used in previous editions based on keynote speeches and large dinners, and fewer opportunities to actually meet with others. I don't think that our idea of openness was understood. And I think this is something that is still yet to be achieved.

Recycling bins in Catalonia (Photo: Office of Andre Ricard)

Now in you nineties, what are your thoughts on contemporary design?

I don't dare give an opinion. Perhaps I'm too rigid. As I see it, these days, lots of works are being presented as "designs" when they don't offer any kind of improvement on designs that already exist. Design isn't simply changing something for the sake of it. It is fundamental to distinguish between simple, fun, and short-lived gadgets and functional advances that truly improve the quality of use of certain objects. To judge the level of creativity, you first need to establish a system that differentiates works according to their creative focus. What is sad is that this situation is happening at a time when we need true creativity more than ever to correct the many errors and imperfections that exist. I think that there are so many things, objects, containers, utensils, tools, that can still be improved upon. Why limit ourselves to creating a new version of something that already exists and presenting it as something new, but not something improved? Design must not be a marketing tool, it is a type of judicious creativity that leaves no room for frivolity.

And the future? With design now having to be green/ecological?

It is an interesting topic. I believe that creativity should be oriented to that purpose. The slogan is "Save the planet" when, in fact, it should be "Let's save humanity". The planet will remain in existence with or without us here. We have to fundamentally shift our habits and our creativity: more solidarity and more austerity. There should be more public services instead of more products. For instance, if we talk about mobility, the private cars we know today, should be replaced by more agile, comfortable and convenient public transport. Agile in the sense that there's more than the overarching infrastructure, there are also last-mile vehicles for the last leg of a trip. A circular network of mobility that does not only consist of large "arteries" with a fixed route, but also of other means of public mobility, allowing all people to reach their destination. Some improvements have already happened along these lines. Both cars and bikes are available for anyone to rent in several cities. It is in this same mindset, of offering services, that we must rethink every area of daily life. Creativity will help us design coherent, synergistic systems rather than unconnected products. Will we be able to do it? Will we make it in time?

1992 Barcelony Olympic torch (Photo: Office of Andre Ricard)

What does the prize mean to you?

First of all, it is a truly great honour, since it is the European Union awarding it to me. The fact it recognises my entire professional career just makes it even more so. My entire life, really. I didn't expect this award so it was wonderful news to find out that I had been given it at this time in my life.

Antonio Puig's 1968 Agua Brava (Photo: Office of Andre Ricard)

Author bio

Matt Tempest is EUobserver editor, former political correspondent with The Guardian, and the author of the 20th Century Berlin architecture map.

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