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December 5, 2009

Before the melee of Design Miami got underway I had a chance to chat with the show’s director, Ambra Medda, about the Designer of the Year, and what we could expect from this year’s event, which kicked off in Miami’s Design District on December 1st. Here’s what she had to say.

Ambra Medda portrait

You’ve chosen the rather young Dutch designer Maarten Baas as the Designer of the Year for Design Miami 2009. How do you go about making that selection?

We spend a lot of time doing research and traveling all over the world and staying in touch with members of the design community, and though the decision is an in-house, Design Miami choice, it’s the product of many conversations and investigations we’ve done. The first year we chose Zaha Hadid, then Marc Newson, Tokujin Yoshioka, the Campana Brothers last year and now Maarten Baas. Each year we commend a designer on their work so far, and on how they’ve changed the design landscape. We believe that we’re rewarding people who are making design history. People who have effected design in a positive way.

So is this Designer of the Year Award based on a designer's work in just the last year, like say a Pulitzer Prize for a novel, or more of a lifetime achievement award like the Nobel Prize for literature? 

It’s both a recognition of the designer's work presented to that point and then also for a project presented in the last 12 to 16 months. 

So why are you giving it to Baas?

Maarten has throughout his life, and he’s only 31, produced work that has been very different from what else is out there and it's very surprising. It’s as though we in the design world have been glued to the screen of a movie, and each scene keeps getting better and better. The project that really got me in the last year or so was one called Real Time, which debuted in Milan. Maarten takes time as his subject and investigates how to present it, how to present a clock, both digitally and in analog, and to see what clocks mean in our contemporary time. We also chose him because he demonstrates a great passion and commitment through his work and he also has a great desire to explore through his sense of imagination. Maarten has made a huge contribution through his work, and truly he started gaining recognition even with his graduate project from the Eindhoven Academy. He has opened up a world of possibilities for younger designers to really be taken seriously.

Something that sets Design Miami apart from other shows, like say ICFF, is that you’re not a trade show. You have galleries over companies showing their work. Why is that?

We are a forum for an exchange of culture and commerce surrounding limited-edition design. We’re interested in unique or limited pieces, and each gallery that shows with us makes an effort to present striking and unusual exhibitions. It could be a gallery that shows 1940s French design, or something totally contemporary. But you’re right, we don’t show companies, we are more into curated galleries. 

Is there a particular gallery you were excited about this year?

Sebastian + Barquet in New York did an exhibit on Mexican design, with half of the space dedicated to historic Mexican design and the other half to sustainable contemporary Mexican design. 

After we visit the main show in the temporary structure in the Design District, are there satellite shows I should be sure to check out?

We used to have more satellite exhibitions, but this year we’re bringing them all into the temporary structure, which is by Aranda\Lasch, an emerging studio that we discovered and fell in love with. There is a show at the Cappellini showroom that we are supporting where they take a look at some of their limited edition pieces. 

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