Artur Sharf INTERVIEW: Designing revolution. The Ukrainian Experience on the World Scene.
The history of Ukrainian design and architecture consists of four stages. The first one was the comprehension of the existence of “design”, defined as the end of 19th – beginning of 20th centuries. At that time, the artistic-industrial development of Ukraine was mainly due to the rapid growth of industry in the Eastern regions. A fertile new stage of design swept through in the 1930’s – the era of Stalinist industrialization, when real progress was achieved in factory/ engineering culture. After WW2 technological inferiority was a problem in the USSR, especially evident in the production of consumer goods. The plants manufactured goods were restricted by the limitations and the requirements of factories, and the final consumer usually had to be content with low-quality knock-offs of foreign products. In the 60’s, artistic design teams started to appear at some new enterprises. However, Ukrainian designs compared poorly with Western designs. The prevailing ideological dogmas and obsessions stymied the development of an artistic culture, and the planned economy and stodgy Soviet bureaucracy prevented the introduction of progressive design and new architectural projects.
What happened with Ukrainian design and architecture after the collapse of Soviet Union?
Until 1991 AUSIID (All Union Scientific Institute of Industrial Design) was a Design Institute with 15 huge branches, young personnel and a common shared experience. After the collapse of USSR, the single document management system was lost. The euphoria of the early 90’s, under the illusion that a flood of new knowledge that would open incredible vistas to us, actually led to disastrous results. The chance to translate documents was lost; the data was never digitized. So much fundamental research in design and architecture were destroyed along with the libraries and funding of all AUSIID branches. Professional communities and collectives also disappeared. Due to this, professional design of Ukraine at the beginning of the XXI century basically was a laboratory, demonstration, and exhibition period, so its originality and uniqueness was preserved.
A new stage in design development started with the appearance of young specialists in the industry. Recent graduates of leading art, architecture and design universities in Ukraine demonstrated hopeful results, to a point.
Over the last five years, the number of design studios that create, sell, and successfully realize their projects have more than tripled! Our designers are now bestowed with famous architectural awards and have numerous publications in the international press.
The number of successful foreign orders shows that the Ukrainian design has arrived.
One of the most promising architectural bureaus of this new generation is the YoDezeen studio, under the guidance of Artur Sharf and Artem Zverev. For quite a while, their architects have received commissions from all over the world; they have successfully promoted their unique style to the West. Artur Sharf, a co-founder and a chief architect of YoDezeen studio, told us about his experiences working with foreign clients, and how an architect’s work varies on different continents.
Could you tell us how your clients differ between Ukraine and Abroad?
All our clients around the world are financially and professionally self-made people who travel a lot and follow trends in fashion, art and design. Billionaires have evolved to wanting a much more subtle demonstration of their social position. People from the new elite try to consolidate their status through knowledge and cultural capital, they prefer to spend their money on education and health, rather than on material goods. On the one hand, it is easy to work with such clients, because they know what Design is, but on the other hand it is kind of difficult to surprise them, so you always have to study, to keep your hand on the pulse, and practice outside-the-box thinking. You use this approach most in the United States. For example, the main distinction of American clients is that they spend more time on the decision, but as soon as the decision is made, they want to receive the pertinent information and move forward quickly. Less talking – more action – is one of the basic rules of successful entrepreneurship in America, which we try to follow. In addition to determination, American clients are open to interaction: they are willing to discuss projects with employees at any level. And these conversations occur directly, not through a secretary. The more ideas, the more effective the process is.
How, in your opinion, do American interpretations of Architecture and Design differ from the Europeans’?
In countries with a warm climate, there are more opportunities to implement outrageous and startling ideas. The same applies to a client from developed countries – he has more financial heft, so can implement the most extraordinary ideas.
What do people prefer now in design? What do they almost always want? And what is unacceptable to Americans?
We have many projects in Miami and Los Angeles, and clients everywhere want to receive a modern European design: consolidated spaces, maximum functionality, surfaces of natural materials, several lighting scenarios and a well-thought out color palette. The new luxury style- metal and stone panels, marble and wood are very current nowadays. All over America, when they buy a property, the first thing they pay attention to is the view from the windows, not just from the living room or bedroom, but from all rooms in the house. The use of water has become very popular because in a hot climate- swimming pools, fountains, artificial ponds, and spacious terraces; all help beat the heat. Also, customers in Los Angeles demand multiple parking spaces, for a house – at least 5, for a flat – 2.
Different zones have become an important feature. It is necessary to provide day and night zones, large and small living rooms (large for the reception of guests, small for family meetings). Also in the US, large wardrobes at the entrance give way to spacious halls.
You have experience working for foreigners. Why did these clients choose a designer from Ukraine?
We have a very strong design shop and vital fresh ideas in Ukraine. Thanks to, or despite the totalitarian past of our country, Ukrainian designers have studied and developed in a kind of vacuum, so relied on our national traditions and borrowed international experience. Because of this, today Ukraine boasts its own design character- of flexibility and spontaneity… which is very popular with foreign clients.
Tell us about the Value of Customer Service to Westerners
Almost all Ukrainian entrepreneurs try to provide their clients with good service and know that a satisfied customer helps create a satisfied employee. Without loving his job, an employee won’t be happy enough to serve the customer with pleasure. Don’t try to convince me that everyone is the architect of their own happiness; the happiness of a person is affected by everyone around them. That’s why high-quality client management must be the first and foremost priority of the company. If you want to create a prosperous concern, you have to take care of essentials.
Do you have any advice to young architects- what should they pay attention to to achieve Success?
If you want to succeed you need to work every day on yourself: learn something new, follow trends, read the professional press, and attend specialized exhibitions and festivals. I recommend students start working in their first or second year of University so by the time they graduate they already have significant experience.