In the Mix
Design in Wonderland
A chat with Domaine de Boisbuchet’s Mathias Schwartz-Clauss on the occasion of the storied design center’s 30th anniversary
In 1986, design expert Alexander von Vegesack purchased an exquisite 150 hectares of land in Lessac in southwest France with a singular vision in mind: He wished to create “a place where design meets education,” an off-the-beaten-path escape where designers, architects, and other creatives could come together to practice and experiment in conversation with an incredible natural environment.
He set to work renovating the complex and soon after launched an international workshop program in cooperation with Vitra Design Museum, where he’d served as founding director for 20 years. Since then, Domaine de Boisbuchet has become a dream destination for the international creative community. Its renowned architecture park mixes new and old structures, from a restored historical chateau and an 1863 Japanese guesthouse (transported from Western Japan and lovingly rebuilt onsite by expert craftsmen) to a contemporary pavilion by renowned architect Shigeru Ban.
Boisbuchet’s workshops, residencies, and exhibitions, meanwhile, annually draw students and practicing designers and architects from across the globe. Experts are invited each summer to lead hands-on, week-long workshops at Boisbuchet that engage the picturesque natural setting, using the land as a laboratory in which to explore collaborative, sustainable design and architecture concepts.
This year, on the occasion of its 30th anniversary, Boisbuchet is dedicating its summer workshops to the theme of Energies Synergies: A Revival, as well as opening Ideas Taking Shape, a new exhibition featuring works from von Vegesack’s expansive, world-class collection. We sat down with Boisbuchet Director Mathias Schwartz-Clauss—a longtime Design Miami friend and one of our favorite design experts—to talk about the magic of Boisbuchet, its latest summer programs, and the center’s plans for the future.
Experimentation and collaboration have always been at the heart of Boisbuchet’s approach. This year’s workshop, Energies-Synergies: A Revival, sets out to make projections for the next step in our post-pandemic lives. How will Boisbuchet’s signature approach inform these particular workshops?
The pandemic has accentuated fundamental problems of civilization: social pressure, for example, the digitalization of everyday life, the precarious relationship between freedom and responsibility, a lack of cultural integration or international coordination.
But the last year and a half have also shown that Boisbuchet has always been a perfect laboratory for working on all these issues. In the projects of our workshops, we mainly use the natural resources of the Domaine as well as the recycling of existing materials and objects. We bring together professionals, students, companies, and universities for the experimental development of sustainable solutions, while our collaborative and tolerant approach to everyday life and work constantly promotes a cooperative coexistence of people of all ages and from different cultures. We also discovered that Boisbuchet's generously sized, free spaces ensure the sanitary security that everyone needs today.
The program that we have carefully put together for this special anniversary edition sets special focus on international cooperation, social responsibility, and the shaping of (and with) our natural environment. We are inviting participants to work alongside our tutors for the building of a traditional Arabian pigeon tower, for example, in a hands-on thinktank on postnatural creativity, or on inspiration between yoga and design, on food design with fermentation, and on the linguistics of fashion. We are planning to merge natural and artificial sounds and spaces, to experiment with cork, bamboo, corn, and hemp, and to construct an observatory for Boisbuchet's incredibly beautiful night sky.
What is the thread that connects all the creative tutors you’ve invited to contribute this year?
If the title Energies-Synergies does not already express what we are about this year, I think that the term integration sums up the program best. After all, in our workshops it always comes down to the integration of cultures and competences as well as of human needs and natural conditions.
You’ve also curated a special exhibition this season. What do you most hope visitors take away from seeing Ideas Taking Shape? Any highlight pieces we should note?
Of course, a birthday exhibition with Alexander von Vegesack's collection cannot do without highlights: There is the organic armchair designed by Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen, for instance; Jean Prouvé's vintage Cité fauteuil; Joris Laarman's Bone Chair; a traditional Japanese Kimono; Marcel Breuer's first version of the Wassily armchair; a BMW R69 S motorbike; and an ancient Corinthian helmet.
Ultimately, however, it is the mixture that really makes the music in this collection. I really hope that visitors to this exhibition will not only be fascinated by single objects. They should get inspired by Alexander von Vegesack's life and work and better appreciate the value of everyday culture. They should also get to know Boisbuchet better as a place of design education and discover design as a discipline that shapes people's lives and environment in many ways.
The occasion of your 30th anniversary is an amazing opportunity to take stock in a way. At this moment, what are you most proud of to date?
What fills us with the greatest joy after 30 years are the reactions that still reach us years later from people who were once in Boisbuchet. The experience of living and working here—even if it is only for a week—very often has a lasting impact on the personal and professional development of our alumni. In fact, over the years we have met more and more people who have found their way in life and career, and often their partner too, thanks to their stay in Boisbuchet. Some of them have become internationally acclaimed designers and architects, and today they come back to us as tutors themselves to inspire the next generation.
And what do you still wish to achieve as a center?
We are currently working to intensify Boisbuchet's possibilities of including agriculture and forestry further into the life of our growing community on the Domaine and into the practical experiments of our workshops. We are also increasingly aware of our role as a mediator between local and international competences and interests.
Beyond that, we also need a building that meets museum standards for exhibitions and housing the more than 2000 pieces in our collection, and which, thanks to sustainable construction, shall be another important building block in Boisbuchet's architectural park. To achieve all this, we are currently looking out for long-term partners—a university, for example, or a company—who are committed to the ethics behind our projects.
Thank you, Mathias! ◆
Domaine de Boisbuchet’s 2021 summer season runs through 19 September. To learn more, visit boisbuchet.org.