Ron Arad: rejecting labels, free designer

Israeli architect and designer Ron Arad (1951) occupies a prominent place in the gotha of contemporary designers. He emerged on the British design scene in the “post-punk” years, before quickly gaining international recognition. Ron Arad has developed a unique style, marked in large part by experimentation with shapes and materials. In 2008, the Centre Pompidou devoted afirst monographic exhibition to him under the title: ” No Discipline “. This article aims to explain this title, which Ron Arad claims through some of his most striking creations.

Ron Arad left his country to train as an architect in London. In 1979, he graduated from the Architectural Association School of Architecture, having had the Franco-Swiss architect Bernard Tschumi as his teacher and the late Zaha Hadid (1950-2016) as his colleague. He founded hisfirst studio: One Off Ltd in 1981, in collaboration with Caroline Thormann. Success came quickly for Ron Arad with the Rover (1981) and Well-Tempered Chair (1986).

Ron Arad

The Rover Chair is simply a Land Rover seat salvaged by the artist from a junkyard, combined with two Kee-Klamp structural elements to stabilise it. At the beginning, Ron Arad was quite influenced by Marcel Duchamp’s Ready-Made, afirst clue that already explains his refusal to be confined to a particular discipline: architecture, design, or art. As he says himself: ” I have always been more interested in Marcel Duchamp than in Marcel Breuer. More interested in Claes Oldenburg than Mies van der Roh. As for the Well Tempered armchair, it shows the designer’s inclination for diversion, this unusual seat revisiting the codes of the club chair.

Vintage Rover Chair, design Ron Arad for One Off, 198

Ron Arad subsequently affirmed a style marked by a love of curved and pure lines. He rejects straight lines and angles. His FPE (Fantastic Plastic Elastic) chair created in 1997 for Kartell, and especially the Bookworm storage shelf (1993), which became a worldwide bestseller and made him internationally known, are perfect examples. With Bookworm, Ron Arad breaks free from the traditional codes of horizontal or vertical storage: his creation defies gravity and undulates in space like a coil.

FPE chair, design Ron Arad for Kartell, 1997. Aluminium and translucent plastic

Zigo armchair, design Ron Arad for Driade, 1992. Stainless steel tubular frame and natural rattan shell. Zigo is another example of Ron Arad’s love of sinuous shapes
© Contemporary design

Ron Arad is a protean designer. Trained as an architect, he gave a new lesson in the use of curved lines by designing and drawing the Holon Design Museum, the first museum dedicated to design in Israel, opened in 2010. Created in collaboration with architect Bruno Asa, this museum is a unique work that features 5 monumental ribbons that envelop the building to impressive effect. In contrast to the international architectural style of the Bauhaus, Ron Arad’s architecture is decidedly undisciplined…

Holon Design Museum, design and architecture: Ron Arad & Bruno Asa. The ribbons that encircle the building are made of Corten steel. Original fact: they take on rusty tones that vary in intensity depending on the light of day!

But where Ron Arad’s style stands out the most is in his desire, from the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s, to create a sculptural design. Ron Arad experiments and plays with materials to give them unpredictable forms. The result is new and unconventional pieces that make him a designer-sculptor. A refusal of labels – the famous ” No Discipline ” – which suits this bulimic designer very well. Ron Arad knows no boundaries between art and design.

This taste for sculptural design can be found in his work ” Rolling Volume “, in which Ron Arad designs large rocking chairs that become, as the materials he uses evolve, real furniture-sculptures with a reflective surface. Ron Arad is thus a true “technician” of materials: his original pieces evolve with the technology and materials used.

Rolling Volume Chair, design: Ron Arad, here a piece made of stainless steel. The first piece produced by Ron Arad in 1988 was a rough hollow structure with visible welds that held the curved steel parts together
© Denver Art Museum

Rocking chair model MT3 in a classic interior, design Ron Arad for Driade, 2004. A real piece of furniture-sculpture. The functionality of the object is not the first concern of the designer who experiments without complexes or rules… the famous “No Discipline”
©Archi Products

Another series of seats emblematic of Ron Arad’s work bears witness to his play with volumes and materials. In 1986, Ron Arad had already had fun revisiting the club chair with his Well Tempered seat. Two years later, in 1988, he created Big Easy, a new interpretation of the club chair with a vision of visually soft furniture and full volumes. While thefirst version of Big Easy was made of steel, Ron Arad, faithful to his method, has over the years proposed different versions of Big Easy in line with the evolution of materials and techniques.

Ge-Off Sphere suspension lamp, Not Made by Hand Not Made in China collection, design: Ron Arad, 2000. To create such an object, Ron Arad collaborated with the American rapid prototyping company MATERIALISE using a CO2 laser powder sintering process: SLS (Laser Sintering)
© Centre Pompidou

All Light Long table, design Ron Arad, Paperwork series. Ron Arad uses a composite material of carbon fibre and honeycomb structure. In the end, the material of the table is extremely resistant and the piece of furniture itself very light!
©Art Design Tendance

Oh Void 2 rocking chair, design Ron Arad, 2004. To create this exceptional piece, Ron Arad used a material that was still little known at the time, Corian ®, at the initiative of the American chemist DuPont de Nemours, who wanted to bring this material to light. Corian®, a plastic material based on acrylic resin, enabled him to create this translucent piece in which fine stripes are drawn
©The Gallery Mourmans. Photo Erik & Petra Hesmerg

One constant with Ron Arad is the confrontation with different materials and the technical processes used – often cutting-edge technologies – which lead the Israeli designer to create objects that are aesthetically very sophisticated. Here are a few examples of Ron Arad’s work, which still make him a very influential figure in contemporary design

In 2019, for the Ruinart champagne house, Ron Arad designed 3 champagne buckets in crumpled pewter… Like a desire to abuse the material and reminiscent of his work in 2013: Pressed Flowers – the principle of dried flowers -. The artist, rather than the designer, presented a series of Fiat 500 cars flattened by a pneumatic metal press… So, is it really possible to choose a label to describe Ron Arad’s work?

Cover photo credit : © Galerie Downtown

François Boutard