Will Hunter As a judge for Something to Sit On, what will you be looking for in the winner of the AJ and Tacchini's competition for architect-designed seating?
Amanda Levete It's hard to define, but you know it when you see it. It goes beyond what is expected, takes risks - and is therefore perhaps not perfect.
Will Hunter What was it like designing furniture for Established & Sons?
Amanda Levete They had a very clear idea of where they were going and yet gave the designers total freedom. What is interesting to me about Established & Sons is the irony in the name in that it alludes to the past, which might sound odd coming from Future Systems, but I think it's important. Not in an obvious way, but everybody who has done a piece for Established has picked up on that irony. My Chester pieces referenced Chesterfield sofas because I like the idea of the gentlemen's club matched with an organic form. For the edition piece I worked very closely with restoration-furniture specialist A T Cronin, who were real craftsmen using traditional upholstering materials.
Will Hunter Have you used your smaller-scale designs as formal explorations to test the implications of your architecture?
Amanda Levete I find the design of furniture and small objects really interesting, because you can explore geometries from which you can get feedback that you can then use in architecture - and which I could also imagine being relevant at an urban scale. I've always wanted to do a timber building and now that I've done the Drift Bench I'm totally fixed on it, because of the richness and slight unpredictability of the material.
Will Hunter Do you find the design process of furniture different to architecture?
Amanda Levete Furniture is a much more singular way of working. It's very iterative but, compared to buildings, the duration is a few months rather than a few years.
You'd imagine that furniture wouldn't have the complexity of a building, but it's very difficult to design something that works; it's not as precise a science and you don't have the same engineering checks. It starts with a sketch and plasticine model. After manipulating it on the computer, a polystyrene model can be produced that shows all the imperfections. This can be carved or drawn on by hand, and transferred back to the computer until it is right.
Will Hunter Do you think an architect's education lends itself particularly well to furniture design?
Amanda Levete Architects have always done great pieces of furniture: Mies, Breuer, Corb, Eames. Certainly the emphasis now on computer manipulation and graphics presents a danger that if you don't really understand what you are doing - either in terms of the structure or the invested meaning - it can just become superficial form-making. But I also think that architects have a different sensibility to product designers, who are perhaps more fleeting.