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Interior Designers and Architects visiting Vitra

Laura Bielecki's views on Papanek

The Vitra Campus in Weil am Rhein in Germany is very well known among interior and industrial designers and, of course, among architects. The buildings on the grounds were created and built by archi-stars like Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, Herzog & de Meuron and many others. Walking the campus is like strolling through a huge exhibition.

The Vitra Design Museum is currently featuring a retrospective of the life and works of Victor J. Papanek (born in 1923), who was a progressive thinker, educator and influencer, far ahead of his time. He claimed that everyone was a designer, designing the environment by inventing tools, educating children, creating a piece of art, etc. He was an advocate for the poor as he asked for social justice. He was a fiery environmental activist, criticising pollution and thoughtless waste. He summoned designers to involve their customers and the users of their products in the process of design, as design had to be functional and useful.

Geberit feels strongly connected to Papanek, as their maxim “Design meets Function” is, overall, attended by his thoughts. It is no surprise that Geberit decided to become the main sponsor of this exhibition. They are inviting architects and designers from all over the world to visit this place, giving them the opportunity to experience the vibe of the campus and to revive their perception of Victor J. Papanek’s ideas that are more topical now than ever.

  • Laura Bielecki, photo © Christian Walker, wahaphotos.ch

One of the Interior Designers who joined such a Vitra-trip was Laura Bielecki, working for Ellington Group. Ellington is one of the prime real-estate companies in Dubai that develops develops art and design led properties in areas like Palm Jumeirah, Jumeirah Village Circle, Meydan and Downtown Dubai. Laura Bielecki studied and worked in Canada, moved first to Qatar and then to Dubai and was awarded “Middle East Young Designer of the Year” in 2012. She is very interested in green building and the construction process of buildings. She spends time and attention to understand the products she is using in her projects. Therefore, learning about production processes, about quality and technique, motivated her joining this trip.

Laura, you graduated with a bachelor of Applied Interior Design in Calgary, Canada. Did you come across Victor J. Papanek? Are you familiar with his work and his theories?

Yes, I learned about him and his theories. During my studies we had to get familiar with many contemporary designers, design theories and concepts and Papanek was one of them. He has influenced by personal design philosophies as a means of designing for form and function with an emphasis on bettering the lives of inhabitants. By putting extra thought into my projects I am able to make conscious environmental and efficient design decisions that benefit both the sales of our projects and the end user.

  • Interior Designer Laura Bielecki in Vitra Museum

Sustainability and environmental protection were important topics for Papanek and are so for Geberit. You have a LEED accreditation for green building, and therefore working under those aspects too. How important is this in your daily life?

Coming from Canada, it was very important for my projects in Canada and in the USA where LEED has a strong influence. In many respects Dubai still has a long way to go for implementing sustainable techniques into legislation and common practice. I work on bringing in sustainability as where I can, with material, sanitary, lighting selections, as well as thinking of waste products and efficiency of material use etc. It is still very difficult to convince clients and end-users that it’s worth the effort and the financial impact that sometimes accompanies such decisions.

There has been progress in the past few years and the Emirates, specifically Abu Dhabi are certainly moving in the right direction. When efforts are realized as regulations rather than leaving it to designers and clients personal visions the effect is much stronger. LEED does not have a strong influence in the Emirates. Estidama is strong in Abu Dhabi, with the Pearl Rating System currently applied to all new buildings in the Emirate in line with “Abu Dhabi Vision 2030”. Abu Dhabi has taken the lead in the UAE for sustainability. The Sustainable City Dubai has created a community around recycling, community living, green building standards via their three-tied approach of Social, Environmental and Economic Sustainability

Functional design is a big topic for Papanek, but also for Geberit. How important is functionality for your customers? You are dealing with very luxurious, prestigious objects, so I guess functionality also has a big influence.

We are a Property Developer with primarily multifamily residential apartments. Our projects are therefore smaller than the grand palaces Dubai is known for, which means that the function for the end user via space planning and efficient design is key. Optimal utilization of space is vital to the success of our projects and brand. We consider storage needs, ensuring that you have considered where users belongings go. We think of every user as a person, not just a buyer, so that each and every unit has the same attention to detail from design to construction to hand-over. Functionality is our daily business, and a little touch of style never hurt.

Is space an issue when you build in Dubai?

There was a time where everything was just big. But now there has definitely been a market shift to accommodate the growing working class. Our beautiful city is growing and as much the density needs to increase to accommodate.

  • Laura Bielecki, photo © Christian Walker, wahaphotos.ch

For you as an interior designer: what is important for you when you choose products and materials?

Dubai has a great ability to procure and source from around the world. It is important to stay on top of the latest research, trends and successes in the market, with a primary focus on quality. Strong and well recognized brands are very successful in the market and aid buyers in understanding the developers' quality standards.

Do new-comers have a chance with you?

Yes, for sure. I keep an open mind to new products and manufacturers and even manufacturers from overseas that I have not heard of. In general, however, durability, functionality and cost are still the key factors. If I am not convinced that the product has been tried and tested, is appealing and fits the budget restraints, how can I sell it on to my end users?

Are you also involved in equipping a bathroom?

Yes, definitely. As an Interior Designer, bathroom ceramics and brassware selection are vital in the success of our designs. I enjoy learning about new products and trends on the market and applying them into my work.

Have you worked with Geberit before?

Yes, we have used Geberit cisterns and flushplates in many of our projects. We haven’t had the experience yet with the ceramics. The product range is still quite new to me but there are still a lot more opportunities.
Tomorrow we are going to visit Pfullendorf to see how the cisterns are produced. It is important for me to see how things are made, to understand the quality, to understand the brands. Every factory is very different, but this helps to understand the companies and markets much better. Even just the vibe of the people in a factory, the sunlight, the cleanliness, gives you a strong understanding of the company and its values. I believe every designer should visit as many factories as they are able. It is a very important part of our continued learning.

How did you like the trip so far? Was it worth it to spend so much time?

It has been fantastic. I believe what we gained in education from yesterday’s session on how the products are made, how they are tested, how they work, what works, what does not work, was incredibly valuable information. It would be so usefull for every engineer and designer that is part of the process of developing buildings to properly understand what the latest innovations and techniques are.