The purest form of thought
The purest form of thought
Alfredo Häberli is a professional dreamer. His clients, hailing from all over the world, appreciate that about him. His designs, big or small, are all done with heart and soul. All he needs is a pencil and some peace.
|ZURICH IS …||one of the most beautiful cities in Europe.|
|ZURICH IS NOT …||sunny most of the year.|
|MY FAVOURITE MUSIC:||soul, jazz and good pop|
|MY FAVOURITE MOVIE:||Any movies with actors giving their best (not Hollywood)!|
|MY ROLE MODELS:||My parants and grandparants, Achille Castiglioni, Bruno Munari|
|A good day starts with...||a sunrise and a good idea.|
|I'AM HAPPY WHEN ...||I find a solution to a problem; when my child laugh|
|I WOULD NEVER ...||lie to anyone.|
Häberli’s workshop overlooks Lake Zurich. It’s housed in a sober 1970s building: concrete, glass and little spurts of green peeking out between the cracks in the brittle asphalt. He answers the door himself. He’s only got an hour for us, that ‘s all he can spare, he says. Too much to do. Just like everyone else, designers have to make money – sometimes, for others. For years he has had six people working for him. He glances at his watch. There’s always time for an espresso though.
We follow him into his studio, where a breathtaking scene awaits. Steel shelves are cluttered with memorabilia and objects collected over the past twenty years: plastic spoons, comic figures, plenty of junk, and childrens’ toys everywhere. There’s an old scooter and tricycles, some of them over fifty years old. There’s fabric and plastic contorted into different shapes hung on the walls, none of which serves any discernable purpose. Lamps in all shapes and sizes, as well as an eclectic assortment of dishes, glasses, cutlery, eyeglasses, divers’ masks. A prop collection? What for? Who is this man?
Alfredo Häberli was born in Argentina and came to Switzerland as a young man. For the past 22 years, he has been living and working in Zurich. Amongst his clients is an array of European furniture stores with illustrious names such as Moroso, Kyadrat, Iittala, Alias. He designs furniture, lamps, cutlery, big things and small things–anything that needs designing. He doesn’t invent things, he says. He discovers. He is inspired by observation, which to him is the purest form of thought. He spends much of his time on the street, on his bike or in his beloved 1993 Saab convertible.
Häberli enjoys being among people. He’s edgy, but nevertheless a likeable guy. His charisma has opened many doors for him–it certainly doesn’t do any harm that meeting people and exchanging thoughts comes naturally to him. He’s likable, someone who likes to laugh and most importantly someone who knows how to listen. Häberli is well known in the coffee shops around town and a welcome guest in the city’s upscale restaurants. A bohemian? A bon vivant? Only at first glance.
“Switzerland’s biggest problem is mediocrity.” Häberli is fighting this with all he’s got. He is not looking for “the latest and greatest, the revolutionary, the different”. His journey takes him inside his own world, his fantasies and dreams. All he needs is a pencil and some peace. To him, drawing is fundamental; sometimes he can even feel the pencil moving on its own.
His drawings look like sketches in an old school notebook. They are rough, incomplete. It takes a some time to notice the minute details and striking symbolism. Archetypal forms and figures play with insignias and blazons and hint at a deeper meaning. This is a child’s world full of mythology, yet never dark or frightening. It’s the magical world of Saint-Exupéry’s “The Little Prince”, a world of carefree remembrance that looks for significance even in the smallest detail – an exciting world for Häberli.
Is Häberli’s dream world still relevant today, where efficiency reigns our world of glass and concrete skyscrapers and hypermodern transportation systems? When financial feasibility trumps design and content? The answer is a resounding yes. This is precisely when and where Häberli’s work is most relevant. This is where he is most wanted, where his quaint organic humanity is most appreciated, where his ideas and designs are most needed. People trust him to breathe life back into an architecture that has long ago succumb to pragmatism.
A few years ago, Häberli was asked to design the interior of a Zurich hotel, 25hours. The monumental steel building with large windows with its 126 rooms spread across six floors is in the heart of what has been crowned as the city’s most important area of urban development. Without a doubt, this was Häberli’s biggest challenge thus far. The money they gave him for preparing his pitch he spent on travelling to other cities trying to get an idea of what kind of competition he is facing, as well as familiarising himself with the design of other boutique-hotels popping up all over Europe. He filled his sketchbook with ideas and outlines, and finally discovered a rather simple but memorable concept: “I’m at home away from home.”
Häberli’s design was captivating. He showed his initial drawings and designs to the builders. He wanted to do things differently. The hotel was supposed to be homey and comfortable. What else would a guest expect? Häberli won the commission, and suddenly he had the chance to single-handedly shape a concrete block into something inspiring and to “breathe some life into it”.
He went to work immediately, creating lamps, building furniture and designing carpets, curtains, fabric and room dividers. Nobody interfered with him: everything drawn from his imagination was realisable and only limited by the restraints of budget. Häberli stayed on course, true to his concept – liveable, homey, comfortable and quaint – and it certainly worked. The design is playful yet practical. Every object serves its purpose. Strong, rich colours set the tone, the décor plays with contrast. Nothing is dark or sinister. A ping-pong table sits in the large lobby, whil st comfortable lounge areas with well-tended flowerpots, add to the ambiance. Now, the hotel also offers state of the art electro-bikes and a small fleet of Mini cars, available to every hotel guest at no extra charge. First come, first serve. It’s just like at home: you snooze, you lose.
The hour Häberli wanted to spend with us has turned into an entire day. He takes a seat at the hotel bar and exchanges a few words with the barkeeper. People know him here. Then we toast to the end of the day.
“The chair over there is not my design”. Häberli points to a small chair in the bar, which clearly sticks out. It’s been six months since he finished his work here. Music becomes audible distracts him from his thoughts. A DJ has set up his equipment in the background and is mixing some tunes. Lounge music fills the air of the busy bar along the open terrace. Häberli surveys the crowd. He seems content. Then he looks at his watch. “Any more questions?”, he asks with a smile. And then he orders another round.