Mårten Claesson is most well known as architect, designer, and co-founder of Claesson Koivisto Rune Architects in Sweden. His studio and practice famously takes a multidisciplinary approach to design, working on projects in many fields, from architecture and interiors to furniture and household object design.
He has been a juror in the world’s leading design awards, such Germany’s Red Dot Design Award and the 2015 Interzum Award. He also has experience surveying design in the Greater China region: he has been a member of the jury for the recently founded China Good Design competition, and in 2016, for the Golden Pin award group–the Golden Pin Design Award and Golden Pin Concept Design Award–in Taiwan.
Perhaps due to his wide-reaching experience across both disciplines and continents, Claesson views design as a somewhat borderless profession. “I try to design from all corners of the world all the time. The [design] profession is strongest in the local culture and heritage, so quality design can be found within every world culture,” he explains. The differences, he continues, are often more superficial, more on the surface. In terms of concept, a preference for quality is universal.
A recent architectural project Claesson Koivisto Rune Architects worked on in China represents a concrete example of this borderless nature of design. “We worked on a residential project in Beijing with a private client. There wasn’t really that much of a difference working with [the Beijing client] than working with a Finnish client, except of course the language,” Claesson notes. “In architecture, there are some requirements, certain minimums, so when we meet with local architects, we find a lot of similarities.” And indeed, it is not the differences that Claesson is interested in; he is more fascinated by the similarities in design from different cultures.
This September, when Mårten Claesson was in Taipei judging products and projects in Taiwan’s Golden Pin Concept Design Award 2016, a sister award to the island’s premier design competition, the Golden Pin Design Award, he said that he saw in many of the projects an interesting bridge between the East and the West.
“From where I see it, the Chinese design tradition has a very long history that spreads out over thousands of years, but it has been a history of refining the culture–not reinventing it. I think the modern Western style product design is not so much about refinement, it’s about invention,” he explains. “Chinese designers need to understand the concept of invention to find the identity within the Chinese culture, and it is a process that is ongoing.”
Drawing on his experience judging entries in the Golden Pin Design Award, Claesson noted that he could see a clear search for identity present among the Taiwanese and Chinese products and projects on display. The strongest category in the award this year, he says, is graphic design [the Visual Communication Design Category], which he believes must have a longer history of development in this part of the world compared with the less established field of product design.
It seems the quality of design in the Greater China region is rapidly improving, as Claesson notes: “Five years ago, when I traveled to Taipei for the first time, I saw design that was in my opinion a little bit immature. Now, today, five years later, I see mature design that is not yet known in Europe. I foresee that in five years from now, we will know the names of a number of Chinese-speaking designers; I see a very bright future for the growth of Chinese design.”
Following his visit to Taipei this year, what advice does Claesson have to designers in this region? “For the inspiration of any designer, not just Chinese designers, study architecture because I believe that it is the relationship of spaces that matter. If you study the principles of architecture, you will become a better designer. Secondly, learn English. It is the language of the world, no matter what you think. It is the way that you communicate globally; it is the way to find information,” he concludes.
About Mårten Claesson
Mårten Claesson was born in 1970 in Lidingö, Sweden. After studying at the Vasa Technical College in Stockholm in the department of Construction Engineering and at the Parsons School of Design in New York in the departments of Architecture and Product Design, he graduated in 1994 with an MFA degree from Konstfack, the University College of Arts, Crafts and Design in Stockholm. He is co-founder of the Swedish architectural partnership Claesson Koivisto Rune, which is multidisciplinary in the classic Scandinavian way and pursues the practice of both architecture and product design. Claesson is also a writer and lecturer in the field of architecture and design.