Design & Style


Meet three trailblazers from Melbourne Design Week.

25 March 2022

Experimentation, innovation and speculation are key to the work of three talented designers exhibiting at Melbourne Design Week. Architect Roland Snooks, ceramic artist James Lemon and product designer Helen Kontouris reflect on the role design can play in creating the world we want.

Design & Style


Meet three trailblazers from Melbourne Design Week.

25 March 2022

Experimentation, innovation and speculation are key to the work of three talented designers exhibiting at Melbourne Design Week. Architect Roland Snooks, ceramic artist James Lemon and product designer Helen Kontouris reflect on the role design can play in creating the world we want.

Ceramic artist James Lemon, product designer Helen Kontouris and architect Roland Snooks

For Melbourne Design Week 2022, we chat to three leading designers about their work: architect Roland Snooks, ceramic artist James Lemon and product designer Helen Kontouris. Image: Tim Carrafa and Sean Fennessy.

  • Roland Snooks

    Roland Snooks

    Roland Snooks

    Roland Snooks is the director of Melbourne-based architecture practice Studio Roland Snooks and an Associate Professor at RMIT University where he directs the Tectonic Formation Lab, which explores the design implications of new technologies. 

    Architect Roland Snooks
    The videos shows Roland Snook from Melbourne Design Week
    Watch again

    MB: What drew you to pursue a career in architecture?
    Roland Snooks:
    The things that drew me to architecture as a career are very different from the things that inspire me to be an architect today. When I began studying architecture, I thought it was about the creation of buildings. As my career progressed, I realised it’s much more about speculation on the future, experimentation, development of new processes and imagining what the limits of architecture might be.

    MB: Can you tell us about some of your influences?
    RS:
    Many of the influences I draw on come from complex systems and complexity theory. My work draws on swarm intelligence and operates through a multi-agent algorithmic process. Through this generative design approach, instead of directly drawing or modelling the object, we set up the rules from which the architecture or object emerges.

    MB: Which emerging technologies do you find most exciting?
    RS:
    For me, the most exciting technologies are the ones that are changing the way we construct buildings. We’re looking at advanced manufacturing (such as robotics and large-scale 3D printing) as a way of developing new processes for building. We’re at the forefront of applying a large-scale 3D printing technique called WAAM (Wire-Arc Additive Manufacturing) to architecture. This is an exciting technology that has considerable potential to shift the fabrication constraints on architectural form and structure.

    Architect Roland Snooks for Melbourne Design Week

    Roland Snooks with Remnant 1 on display at Melbourne Design Fair, presented as part of Melbourne Design Week. Image: Sean Fennessy.

    MB: How is technological innovation solving architectural challenges?
    RS:
    Our practice is less concerned with architectural problems and more interested in using technology as a means for experimentation and speculation. I’m interested in how technology can be used to reinvent architecture to create objects that couldn’t have been created in any other way.

    MB: What do you want people to take away from your work?
    RS:
    At the Melbourne Design Fair we’re showing Remnant 1, a large-scale metal printed object belonging to a series called Remnants of a Future Architecture. The object is presented as an architectural artefact from the future, so it deals with notions of future ruins and future archaeology. We collect remnants of architecture from antiquity, so with this object I’m questioning whether there’s a role for collecting fragments of future architecture within the art and collectible design market. It’s an interesting opportunity to show this work to the public for the first time to demonstrate what’s possible with these techniques and how it might impact architecture.

    Remnants of a Future Architecture (Remnant 1), 2022, was designed by Roland Snooks, with research and fabrication by RMIT Architecture | Tectonic Formation Lab and FormX Technology.

  • James Lemon

    James Lemon

    James Lemon

    Aotearoa/New Zealand-born artist James Lemon creates colourful, textural, subversive ceramic objects in his Northcote studio. Whether audiences laugh out loud or recoil in disgust doesn’t bother James, he just wants a reaction – any reaction – from gallery goers.

    Ceramic artist James Lemon
    The videos shows James Lemon from Melbourne Design Week
    Watch again

    MB: Have you always been a creative person?
    James Lemon:
    Yes, I have been. My earliest ambitions were to be on stage working in theatre, film and making music. I drew and sketched a lot too, so it makes sense that I’ve ended up somewhere between it all. My first ‘artwork’ that was a bit abstract to my parents was a gruesome scene that I’d seen play out when our family cat died. My parents didn’t understand what I’d drawn until I explained it to a visitor, to their horror.

    MB: How did you get started with ceramics?
    JL:
    I learned some basic throwing in 2015 from an ex-partner. I was working in hospitality then and I’d be revved up by the end of the evening, so I’d get on the wheel at 3am when I got home. Ceramics is all about timing, so I tried to get as much practice in as I could early on. I then got a casual job mopping floors and recycling clay at a ceramic studio, Cone11. I thought it would be wise to be mopping floors with access to expertise and further expand my understanding of the studio environment. I’ve never taken any formal classes, but I’ve been surrounded by lots of skill and knowledge.

    MB: What are your influences?
    JL:
    My primary influences are from the animal kingdom, religious imagery and the history of the material itself. I get a lot of colour and texture influence from insects. I’ve focused on eusocial insects like bees, ants and termites in the last few years, not only for their curious and almost alien physical qualities, but also for their architectural construction processes and complex social relationships. I intuitively draw from disparate sources and locate connections between them with material, form, and function. Clay is a good material for this.

    MB: Do you think the design world needs to embrace humour more?
    JL:
    I would like it too because I'm terrible at hiding my boredom. I see humour working in tandem with seriousness, rather than being oppositional to it. Humour creates and soothes tension when wielded with humility. It’s embedded into my practice as I find it's often an efficient and comprehensive way to communicate. I draw a lot from meme culture for this reason.

    Ceramic artist James Lemon for Melbourne Design Week

    James Lemon with his works on display at Melbourne Design Fair, presented as part of Melbourne Design Week. Image: Tim Carrafa.

    MB: When have you innovated in your practice?
    JL: One could argue 'innovation' thinking has landed us in the global warming / ecological destruction crisis we’re facing right now. It almost feels a bit delusional. But I once participated in a show called Welcome to Wasteland with Friends & Associates, where I picked up numerous discarded toilets from the roadside redecorated and refired them. Call it ‘recycling’, ‘upcycling’, or ‘innovation’, it led to a transformation of the object as it entered the system again, rather than landfill. While not perfect, this cyclical thinking ties into my curiosities over eusocial insects. Using just the body, excrement, and dirt – i.e clay – these massive populations have supported themselves for millions of years without bringing a sixth mass extinction. I see clay as inherently innovative while also being not new at all. Also, I wouldn’t recommend picking up toilets from the side of the road, it is unpleasant.

    MB: How do you want people to react to your work?
    JL:
    I typically want people to have a visceral response. Lukewarm is boring and asks no questions. A satisfying or discomforting physical reaction to material and form is often behind decisions around my work. We perceive the world through tactile experience, so intentionally playing on these polarised associations creates room for broad interpretation. While my work may be harsh in this way, there's also softness, whimsy, and a spirit of celebration. Activating the senses through form, colour, objects, and materials like this can be a way to engineer a new moment of experience. Like a kid on the piano playing whatever they drop their hands on. Sometimes it's just chaos and awful, but sometimes they play a smooth jazz chord, and you're like, 'yeah, so true, I feel that.'

  • Helen Kontouris

    Helen Kontouris

    Helen Kontouris

    Helen Kontouris is a celebrated designer of striking, sculptural furniture and objects. Her iconic 101 Chair was acquired by the NGV after it made a bold statement two decades ago. A special edition of the chair has been created for the 2022 Melbourne Design Fair.

    Product designer Helen Kontouris
    The videos shows Helen Kontouris from Melbourne Design Week
    Watch again

    MB: Whose work inspires you?
    Helen Kontouris:
    Some of my biggest inspiration comes from Australian sculptor Clement Meadmore whose work paved the way for my early work, as well as Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore because of how important negative space is in their work. For me, it’s important for people to be attracted to a product from different angles and find interest and intrigue from the negative space. It’s about allowing a product to breathe and giving people an opportunity to explore it a little further.

    MB: What drives innovation in your practice?
    HK:
    A high degree of innovation is required to think differently to solve complex problems, not only in the design phase but also when collaborating with manufacturers and artisans. Our products look simple but most people wouldn’t realise what’s involved in creating them.

    MB: How did you respond to the Melbourne Design Week theme, ‘Design the world you want’?
    HK:
    The theme opened up my imagination to explore my creativity and think about how – as a designer — I’d like the world to look.

    Designer Helen Kontouris for Melbourne Design Week

    Helen Kontouris with a special edition of her iconic 101 Chair on display at Melbourne Design Fair, presented as part of Melbourne Design Week. Image: Sean Fennessy.

    MB: How important is an object’s lifecycle in your practice?
    HK: 15 years ago, I realised the world was on the path of ‘throwawayism’, which is super concerning. My intent is to create products that have emotional resonance, so that people will want to retain these items because they mean something to them. As my design practice has evolved, we’ve pulled back the number of items needed to create a product. We’re also using materials that can be recycled and repurposed. We’re working on minimising internal construction to make it less impactful on the environment. The product should be able to last a lifetime, but beyond that there’s the hope it will be passed onto generations to come.

    MB: What are you most proud of professionally?
    HK:
    The 101 Chair is over 20 years old but it’s still relevant and still selling today. It was the first furniture design that I created and was quite forward-thinking for the time. It might have been ahead of its time, but it’s settled in nicely. I feel proud that it’s retained its mark within people’s lives.

Mercedes-Benz is proud to be a major sponsor of the National Gallery of Victoria’s Melbourne Design Week 2022.

By Jo Stewart