Born in London, Deyan Sudjic studied architecture in Edinburgh. He went on to edit the architecture and design magazine Domus in Milan and later the British design magazine, Blueprint.
His books include B is for Bauhaus and monographs on Pawson, Jan Kaplický and Memphis architect Ettore Sottsass. This summer Sudjic will oversee the Design Museum’s move from Shad Thames to W8.
WHERE I LIVE
I live in a terrace house in Camden Town which is an extraordinary bit of London. We moved there in 1997 from Hampstead — it was the first proper house I had. In Dombey and Son, Dickens describes the area north of King’s Cross as being cut in two by the railways and the canals, and also talks of streets marooned in midair with half-houses hanging off them, and I think Camden Town still feels like that.
On the one side you’ve got the ever-expanding market where you can get any kind of body part pierced, and also short-sighted dope dealers offering me stuff that I’m flattered they think I might want. And then on the other side there’s Regent’s Park, the nicest park in London.
Our’s is a funny street. Three different Conrans have lived there at different times and our house used to belong to Jasper Conran. He commissioned architect Nigel Coates to transform it when he lived there with John Galliano.
And then he had to sell it and the people who bought it off them tore out everything big time, except for two fireplaces, and painted it all green. So when we arrived we tore out everything that they’d done. Terrible behaviour, it’s like trying to make your mark on the house.
My office is at the top of the house. My wife Sarah [Miller, the former editor-in-chief of Condé Nast Traveller] now runs her brand agency Sarah Miller and Partners, so the kitchen is sometimes the new workplace. Ikea should be doing special kitchen tables that turn into desks.
It’s a tall, thin house and the walls are white. The one thing we did to make the house feel connected was to use the Dinesen Douglas fir floorboards John Pawson uses in his interiors. I collect chairs — so in the living room we have a Charles and Ray Eames lounge chair, a Bertoia side chair from Knoll and a Le Corbusier/Charlotte Perriand chaise longue for Cassina. In the dining room we have a Barca dining table by Piero de Martini for Cassina, and Hans Wegner Wishbone chairs.
With architecture, I think you should put your money where your mouth is. Very early on I got the late Jan Kaplický to turn my flat in Maida Vale into a spaceship, basically. It was great but very extreme. He had just been made redundant from Norman Foster’s office so I was his first client. Of course he went on to greatness, designing Selfridges in Birmingham and the Lord’s Test Box, with his practice Future Systems.
FAVOURITE STUDIO SHOP
I really enjoy going to see the furniture designer and manufacturer Sheridan Coakley. He’s got two shops and he is always interesting because he is never predictable, there are always things you haven’t thought of.
Another place I have always found amazing is Ron Arad’s studio opposite the Roundhouse — it’s a bat cave that Ron created himself from rusty steel. Going to Tom Dixon on the canal at Portobello Dock, W10 is great, and chef Stevie Parle’s restaurant blends into the showroom beautifully.
Magma bookshop in Covent Garden is always fascinating. I love the way that people will not stop making magazines for love — so many little magazines are done by people who will never make any money out of it, but everyone has got energy, whether it’s about cycling or conceptual art or sport. It’s amazingly creative. It’s counter-intuitive because people assume print is going out of relevance, but it’s not. And it is hard to beat Daunt Books’ travel bookshop in Marylebone High Street.
MY DESIGN HERO
It was great to get to spend time with Ettore Sottsass who had this amazing ability, where half his brain was thinking about how you actually make things work, simply and well, and the other half was spent trying to make objects that bit the hand that fed them. They were meant to be questioning consumerism. There’s always a suspicion that designers are trying to persuade you to buy something you don’t need — and Sottsass had that suspicion, too. He had a much richer life than most designers do. He knew everybody from Picasso to Hemingway to bizarre billionaire Italian terrorists. I do have at home the bright red Olivetti Valentine S portable typewriter that Sottsass designed in 1969 for young people at a cost they could afford. I’ll never use it again but it’s just comforting to have it there. A young person told me recently: “How amazing you don’t need a printer with a typewriter.”
I picked up a book the other day which asks a dozen museum curators from around the world to name their favourite museum that was not their own, and half of them named Sir John Soane’s Museum. It is the Desert Island Discs choice.
I think Tate Britain is the unloved, but actually much more attractive experience than Tate Modern. The pressure of visitor numbers is not actually making the Tate or the British Museum particularly wonderful places to go. And Tate Britain has become rather a civilised place.
I enjoy going to the Gagosian King’s Cross gallery. They have done amazing shows on Richard Serra and James Turrell, and I am really sad that their customers feel it is too far-flung, so they are now opening up a giant place in Mayfair.
I always love the river and there are still bits of the Thames where you can see the water. It’s got such a fantastic light, so walking from Pier Head in Wapping, although it has become surrounded by trendiness, there are still bits of it where you can actually get that sense. I have also found going to Stratford really interesting recently because that area is in such transition. You can now see what will soon become quite bleak high-rise apartment blocks, but at the moment they’re just a cluster, within sight of the Olympic Stadium, where there are four lift cores, each 40 floors high, which are the most amazing, slender things. It’s like Stonehenge in a way.
What I would really like is to bring Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House to Regent’s Park.
WHY KEN GOT IT WRONG
One of my favourite places to browse in is the National Film Theatre/BFI bookshop, it’s a great place to buy all the DVDs.
Though I do find the Southbank difficult. We’ve told ourselves for years that it’s a windswept, concrete wasteland and yet it is now overwhelmed by perhaps too many people. So you to have fight your way through pop-up Mexican restaurants to actually see a great Sixties building.
In the past 10 years, we thought London was a gentle place — mostly we are quite conservative and we don’t like skyscrapers.
But if you look out of the window from the Design Museum at Shad Thames, it’s utterly ruthless, the nearest thing to Shanghai in Europe, and it happened without anybody understanding what was going on.
When Ken Livingstone [London Mayor for two terms, 2000-2008] came to power, we assumed he was a populist leftie, but then he hadn’t done the deal with the City of London to say: “Right we’re going to become the world’s financial capital which will create jobs and attract people.”
And it’s true it is starting to grow in London again, but no one quite expected it had to look like Dubai in the process.