Binge-Worthy Netflix Series: “Abstract: The Art of Design” Explores the Creative Processes of Visionary Designers

We’re expected snowmageddon this weekend (maybe) or at least a return to February. Perfect timing for a deep dive into the creative processes of eight visionary designers. The new eight-part documentary series, “Abstract: The Art of Design,” now streaming on Netflix, is good stuff.

Aphorisms abound, beginning with this pronouncement in the trailer: “You’re looking for a moment when you feel you’re as close to the soul as possible. That’s what good design is.” It’s heady stuff. Perhaps never more so than in Episode 8, which focuses on “Ilse Crawford: Interior Design.”

The former editor of Elle Decoration UK, and the author of such lush, coffee-table books as Sensual Home: Liberate Your Senses and Change Your Life, and its follow-up Home is Where the Heart is, Crawford is a London interior designer whose anthropological studies have guided her into a sensory approach to design. “We spend 87 percent of our lives inside buildings. How they are designed really affects how we feel, how we behave,” Crawford says, before demonstrating how she creates spare yet comfortable spaces in which texture, color, and material are juxtaposed to generate the optimal experience. “Rough feels rougher in contrast with smooth,” she says at one point, placing two textures next to each other, by way of explanation.

The segment shows a diverse array of Crawford’s projects—before and after—including Aesop, a London skin and beauty products company; Duddell's Arts Club; and the Stockholm luxury hotel Ett Heim. She’s also designed products for Ikea. “Empathy is the cornerstone of design,” Crawford says, as her staff at studioilse examine a variety of chairs to find the perfect height and shape, or she describes combining the stone, metal, natural wood, and patterns she assembled for Cathay Pacific’s lounge in Hong Kong. “Ultimately design is a tool to enhance our humanity. It's a frame for life,” Crawford concludes.

In contrast, Episode 4 on Bjarke Ingels is uproarious, with the young Copenhagen and New York based starchitect—whose firm, Bjarke Ingels Group is known as BIG—shown riding his bike through his large-scale housing projects and floating mid-leap a la Yves Klein’s Le Saut dans le vide (Leap into the Void). We see how Ingels’ 8 House was designed and constructed as a figure-eight-like residential mixed-use building in a suburb of Copenhagen, and a ski slope was constructed on top of a waste-fueled power plant. “It’s the kinda shit we do,” he says in the segment, which he describes as a documentary version of the film “Inception.”

The scale of his work and the deconstructive qualities of his designs have been termed revolutionary. He talks of “hedonistic sustainability,” which is about increasing the quality of life by using inexpensive resources to design “something completely different,” and incorporating pathways, gathering places and gardens into his massive apartment complexes.

Uncritical and celebratory, the binge-worthy series is entertaining and inspirational. Also featured are the graphic designer Paula Scher, illustrator Cristoph Niemann, the photographer Platon, Nike shoe designer Tinker Hatfield; automobile designer Ralph Gilles and set designer Es Devlin. Here’s a preview.

by Camille LeFevre

 

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