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A coffee with Léonard Kadid

At the Residence Kann coffee shop, the designer of the Tal chair, architect and product designer Léonard Kadid spoke about his creative universe, sources of inspiration and artistic techniques. The Tal chair marks Kann’s first collaboration with the designer and the birth of a collection-in-process by the same name, Tal. “T” in “Tal” stands for the shape that characterises the assembly structure of the entire collection, and “al” stands for aluminium. 


You majored in architecture: how did you end up getting into product design?

I studied architecture at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland and at the École d'Architecture de la Ville et des Territoires in Paris. My design practice started in workshops of architecture agencies, especially the atelier of Herzog & de Meuron, which has a very large mockup workshop with plenty of machinery and materials at hand. That allowed me to develop, alongside my architectural practice, a practice to create specific physical objects. I could work on the actual scale of the object, deal directly with the materials, which allowed me to develop technical solutions of assembly or solutions that could come from technical components. During those early years of my architecture studies this was always something I found interesting and have continued to do so to this day. 

With objects, was it the shorter production time that appealed to you? 

Exactly, in architecture, there are plenty of projects that are never advanced, that can remain on the competition or sketching stage. This is why for me the truly important component of a project, whether in architecture or product design, is the mockup. It is the physical element that will remain of the project. It is sort of the first built.


How do you divide your time between architecture and product design?

It really is 50/50. When it comes to architecture, I work on projects that deal more with renovation or extension, but I would like to advance towards more important projects. I am as passionate about architecture as I am about product design. They simply have very different responsibilities and temporalities.


How do the two of your passions interact?

Whether in architecture or product design, what interests me immensely is the breaking-down process that helps find simpler construction systems, a simple and easy-to-manage realisation model, to avoid possible construction hazards. I like to approach the task on the actual scale of the object: to know the machines that produce certain types of elements, know their modes of production. This allows me to consider potential construction models with a facilitated implementation. On the other hand, in terms of design, the question of structure is fundamental to my work, aiming at the economy of means. With this in mind, I develop certain tactics—structural principles that only use material when necessary and simplify the matters of assembly, disassembly and modularity.


Do you see yourself as a minimalist?

No, not at all. Minimalism can be an end in itself. But that isn’t my idea at all: there has to be usage. I aim for reduction. I let the material shape the object so I can rationally use just this amount of matter. If the shape is extravagant, there’s a reason, either structural or usage-related.


Is it the usage that gives an object its initial shape?

No, at first, the direction really comes from the material. The material influences the mode of implementation, of production, and, keeping in mind those modes of production, I then define a structural system that will naturally function with the material that suits best its usage, indeed a variety of uses. I’m interested in the idea of putting the same object to various uses, in broadening the field of possibilities for the object. Recently, I designed two lamps that were exhibited at the Poggi gallery and which are, when switched off, monolithic, yet the idea isn’t to make them monolithic: rather, to make the user want to open the lamp, break it down into fragments, and understand the object through their own action and observation. This isn’t simply a form, even though the form and proportions are fundamental for the object’s future use. The object must “achieve” its usage, it is part of the object’s “programme.”


Would you say that you have certain “fetish” materials you like to work with?

Not at all. I am open to working with any material. For example, concrete. One of the two lamps exhibited at Poggi in 2020 is made of concrete, as I absolutely wanted to work with concrete on the scale of the object. The form of the lamp corresponds to the implementation mode of the material. As this is a cast material, these are shapes that are very simple and easy to unmould. The manner in which an object is produced is also something that informs its design. Thus, the material used can define the shape but this may also comes from the technical element. This is the case for the Tax collection design for Kann, and it is yet to grow. The collection shares in the concept of architectural assembly that I wanted to transfer into product design. Here it informs the constructive system that uses T-shaped aluminium profiles.


What’s your relationship to paper?

I draw in notebooks, always in the A4 format. I sketch a lot and I do it all the time, not necessarily in a practically applicable fashion, often late in the evening to put down a concept or an idea for a future object. While sketching, I start thinking of the assembly and montage techniques. I always draw before modelling on 3D software, to clearly see the options and already eliminate quite a few.


What happens after the sketching?

After completing the 3D model, for example for the chairs, I make 1-scale paper model arranged on a stool of the height I like. This scale 1 paper model allows me to test the contact surfaces. That the chair is comfortable is part of the programme: it must be. Usage is essential. For the Tal chair, the assembly was also influenced by the fact that I wanted it to be delivered flat to cut the shipping costs. It's part of the development of the project. Of course, I am very sensitive about proportions, materials, colours and contrasts, but my concern is above all with the essence of an object.


Is it this question of essence that makes you start designing an object?

Yes, I am constantly asking myself: what is the essence of the object? What does the material want to be? What would it takes so that the material would say "by being this object, I am it in an optimal way".?” I try to give the object a presence. I am always in this search of understanding the object’s essence. I first began with lightning, lightning in design.


You give the impression of a chemist-composer, simultaneously aware of each component, the materials, the colours, the technologies, the modes of production…

Yes, there is also the notion of durability. In my work, face-to-face with the current environmental and ecological issues, I am primarily interested in the cycle of life and durability of the object, and the same goes for architecture. If the object is well-designed, if it lasts, there’s no need for replacement. It can be transferred, and if it can be transferred, the problem of recycling is eliminated.


How do you sustain your creative universe?

Travel is one of my most important, fascinating and liberating sources of inspiration. Countless projects have been born while travelling. When I was in Hong Kong, I was surprised by many simple useful objects made of bamboo. I brought back a little teapot. I always try to bring back objects or materials from my travels. My home is beginning to turn into a real cabinet of curiosities with exhibits like rock samples, a block of cellular concrete, something made of lava stone...