Article by Michelle Heslop. Photos by Gwenael Lewis. Portrait by James O’Mara.
Designer, Architect, and entrepreneurial sage, Omer Arbel heads dual companies out of this Vancouver-based Office, Omer Arbel Office (OAO) and Bocci. As the Creative Director at Bocci, Arbel has fashioned an experimental laboratory where the behaviour of materials are intimately examined and their process-based approach speaks to form. Arbel has been deemed one of the most commercially successful creative minds in Canada and one of the world’s greatest designers of light.
He is the figurehead of contemporary lighting and form, eschewing classic shapes and materials in favour of surprising sculptural configurations. With it’s infinite possibilities, Arbel has refreshed the art of glass blowing and taken it to unimaginable heights. Between being invited to the London Design Festival at the Victoria and Albert Museum and to Euroluce, a part of Milan’s Design week, Omer Arbel spoke to Modern Home Victoria about the international, and organic growth of Bocci.
With your companies spanning design, architecture, furniture, and lighting, what is the basic premise of your methodologies? Can you speak to the synergy between the two companies?
We find form in the intrinsic qualities of materials and the processes we have at our disposal to manipulate them. Thus, projects tend towards the particular rather than the universal, and have a formal appropriateness to them derived from physical, chemical or mechanical process, rather than from abstract ideas in the author’s imagination. Direct access to high craft ateliers has meant that design at all scales is investigated as an analog, sculptural exploration, using technology only as a secondary analytical tool. The approach of the company demands a high level of collaboration between craftspeople and designers, and as such has shied away from conventional manufacturer-designer relationships. Instead, the practice does as much as possible in house: manufacturing as much as possible of our own designs.
From an aesthetic perspective, the idea of scale is secondary to these intentions, which we try to apply across the entire spectrum of our activities, ranging from buildings to objects. From a business structure perspective, our practice has evolved to intimately combine the fields of industrial design, architecture, manufacturing and materials research. This interdisciplinary approach was born of the necessities of building a sustainable and ambitious office in a context with little opportunity within the cultural periphery in Vancouver, almost as a survival mechanism. Over time and as our work has become international in scope, our approach has transformed from necessity into a working structure uniquely positioned to explore the rich area of investigation in the overlap of these fields.
You are approaching a decade with Bocci since it’s inception in 2005. Can you tell us a little bit about your history with lighting and design? Your inspirations and influences?
I began working with lighting almost by accident. In 2005 I designed the 14, which became a near instant success, measured both critically and commercially. From there, the rest of the work evolved in a very organic way. With regard to influences and inspirations, it is always the materials.
One would note that your Bocci light collections are catalogued by number. Can you tell us about your intention with this?
You have referred to your process as a ‘poetic engine’. Can you expand on that process?
The materials or technical ‘discovery’ which we find while experimenting with materials, is the poetic engine. Once the ‘alchemical’ discovery occurs, we overlay pragmatic layers of utility, function, composition, etc. upon the work to make it meaningful in the real world.
Can you speak to the sustainability of your products? Are these objects lifelong companions?
We strive to create objects that become companions in people’s lives. We believe that an object contributes, in the most meaningful way, to the sustainability discussion if it is, quite simply, never thrown away. If we are able to make objects that suggest the possibility of a commitment to living an entire lifetime alongside them, then the selection of one object over another becomes important and meaningful and therefore, investment in the quality, value, beauty and worth of the objects that surround us becomes paramount.
If we are able to co-opt existing manufacturing systems to yield unique form in every iteration, then perhaps we’re able to add value and specificity to the objects we make such that they can integrate themselves more meaningfully in people’s perception and day to day activity.
As Bocci approaches a decade in Vancouver, how do you maintain your stylistic edge? What does the future look like for Bocci?
We are opening an office in London at the moment, and have already established a warehouse and office in Berlin. The future looks more international! Apart from that, we will continue working organically as we always have. Its very difficult to imagine where that will take us, and perhaps better not too! Thus, we don’t limit the possibilities.