Talks

Federico Babina

Designer multitasking

I’m interested in design when it’s made up of ideas not just shape and an attempt at functionality. Good ideas turn design into an expression of an era and of a society”.


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The homes of the great directors imagined through the filter of their most famous films (Archidirector - http://federicobabina.com/ARCHIDIRECTOR), a history of the last 100 years told, decade by decade, through the iconic objects of each period (Style-Life - http://federicobabina.com/STYLE-LIFE), the homes of superheroes (Interheroes - http://federicobabina.com/INTERHEROES) and music transformed into architecture (Archimusic - http://federicobabina.com/ARCHIMUSIC): Federico Babina’s illustrated series are imaginary worlds in which architecture and design dialogue with other disciplines developing a sort of combinatory art with apparently infinite results.

_You describe yourself as a “multitasking designer”, but apart from that it’s not easy to track down a biography of you online. Could you tell us a bit more about your professional career?

I’m Federico Babina (since 1969), architect and graphic designer (since 1994) I live and work in Barcelona (since 2007), but above all I’m a curious person (since forever). These are the only things of interest in my biography, the rest of the information would be boring.

_How does your passion for illustration mesh with your work as an architect?

Sometimes I’m an architect with a passion for illustration; sometimes I’m an illustrator with a passion for architecture.

I don’t divest myself of my architect’s robes to don those of an illustrator. The common denominator in my work is “me”.

I find analogies, similarities, affinities and infinite relationships between the various forms of expression. The creative process for an architectural composition responds to mechanisms that move and crank up the motor of any intellectual work.

An architect has to be a good illustrator. Capacity for visual communication is a crucial tool. Drawing is the first way of fleshing out an idea. Ideas are sculpted, shaped and transformed by illustration. I was raised on fairytale illustrations, I grew up with comic strips and matured with architectural design. Illustration is part of my imagined and my imaginary world. I love turning architecture into an illustration and illustrations into small pieces of architecture.

_Where did the idea for your illustrated series come from?

The series were born with me. I’ve always worked in illustration; it’s a means of expression that I enjoy using. One day by chance I decided to try and publish some of my illustrations.

_How does your creative/design process work? Invention, thought, cultural references: what’s it made of? And to what extent?

I don’t really believe in inspiration. Ideas are there, waiting for us, you just need to know how to see them. Looking for inspiration and ideas is a daily task and a constant one. My sources range from nature to the world of graphics, art and architecture, taking in comic books, advertising and music. Everything is capable of generating interesting triggers and stimuli. I always look for a core element, a point of departure to give shape to and sculpt an idea. Sometimes the image rotates as if suspended by a centrifugal force around this core element and at other times it takes different and surprising directions.

In my images I try to set up an imaginary and imagined dialogue between different disciplines. The threads that bring together and enmesh the relationships can be fine and transparent or robust and weighty. A heterogeneous and fanciful web that connects architecture with apparently different worlds in an illustrated whole. I am a child of the culture of my time, like everyone. It’s as if the culture of our time was a city that each one of us is visiting.

_Looking at your illustrations, references to the work of Saul Bass and cinema, in any case, often tend to crop up in your work. Could it be said that you have a “cinematographic” imagination? What are your other sources?

The link between architecture and cinema was the subject of one of my first projects. The homage to Saul Bass was obvious and inevitable, especially when dealing with a subject like cinema posters. I have numerous references, even though the aim is always to develop my own language laying bare the framework that builds and supports it. 

Posters have gone through an interesting metamorphosis over the last few years. On the whole, graphic cinema posters have given way to photographic material which is often less appealing and evocative. This is probably why posters are carving out their own niche in the hearts of collectors and romantic “fetishists”.

I was an adolescent when posters played a fundamental part in the imaginations of a dreaming generation. This generation has grown up and wants to carry its dreams forward with images that spark the imagination, which is why posters have transited from teenagers’ bedrooms to adults’ sitting rooms.

_What seems to emerge from your illustrated series is a certain taste for the influence of other worlds on architecture. So, what relationship has or should have architecture with the world around it and with the other disciplines?

Architecture is people. It is created by people and for other people. Architecture changes along with society, follows it, and in some cases guides it. The challenge facing architecture is to make our lives better. I like it when architecture is capable of surprising me and reawakening unexpected feelings. Architecture must be capable of communicating but especially of listening. I love the silences of architecture.

Historically, the plastic arts are linked by an indissoluble thread.

I try to make sure the disciplines come together to tell their own stories and show themselves off. Possible and impossible encounters, probable and improbable connections between expressive and aesthetic languages, sometimes distant and sometimes very close. I enjoy inventing (un)known dialogues.

_There’s a great deal of talk about design, but professional debate aside, what do you think is its real impact on our lives as people and as consumers?

A design object should be like a “gift”. The paper that envelops it, the box and finally the gift, the surprise. If one of these elements is missing the result doesn’t work. I am interested in design when it is made up of ideas, not just shape and an attempt at functionality. Good ideas turn design into an expression of the culture of an era and a society. Design objects are like toys for adults, the rules of the game are similar, not everyone knows how to play.

_What does being a designer mean today? What skills are required?

A bit of everything. It means having a crosscutting vision of things, trying to capsize things to read shapes without the inhibitions of experience. Trying to see the world from upside down. The world doesn’t change, all that alters is the way of looking at things to reveal the spaces, the silences and the surprises hidden amongst the shapes.

_What is your relationship with your home?

My home is a casket full of memories. I have a photographic memory of the houses I’ve lived in. I remember the details, the objects, the smells and the shapes of all the spaces I’ve inhabited. I always feel at ease at home. Houses and the objects they contain (original or “copies”), which fill the spaces, become a memory of our past, an affirmation of the present and a discovery of the future.

_Have you got a comfort zone? A space that is yours alone?

No. My comfort zone changes according to activity, time or state of mind. Each space, each object has its moment. The house changes continually, the light, the smells, the seasons transform the rooms, which are never exactly the same, although they might appear so. I don’t always eat in the same place, it helps me have different perspectives.

_Is there an object (or more than one) in your home that you would never be without?

Over the years I’ve learned to separate myself from objects, it’s a tough exercise but it helps us to avoid being slaves to things. I’ve turned monogamy into an open relationship, the objects and I love each other but we are not possessive.

_Architects, directors and actors appear in your illustrated series. Is there one figure – not necessarily an architect – that you regard as inspirational? Something like a model or a teacher?

Over the years I’ve absorbed and been nourished by the culture around me. We are like “blenders” that mix and combine different ingredients to produce a personal compound. Lots of people have inspired, helped, surprised and guided me. I feel like a mosaic in progress, in which many people, for better or worse, known or unknown, have contributed to the overall composition and to the positioning of every single piece.

_What are you working on at the moment? Can you tell us a bit about your new projects?

I always try to work on several projects at once because it allows me look at my images from a certain distance. If I concentrated on just one project, I’d lose perspective. Changing one’s imagination and images is a bit like not seeing someone every day. A meditative pause helps me keep my relationship with my illustrations alive and fresh.

Now my projects include creating small ceramic sculptures inspired by architecture, turning some illustrations into 3D.

 

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All images are drawn from www.federicobabina.com, where the complete portfolio of Federico Babina’s illustrated series can be found.