Ab Rogers is part of an impossibly creative family dynasty, but he has the interior architecture and design quarter well and truly covered. His metaphorically and literally luminous residence in Wimbledon, south London is also home to the Ab Rogers studio, which has produced wonderfully immersive and striking internal cosmetics for the likes of Conde Nast, Tate Modern, Comme de Garçons and Topshop. Ab has selected five books for our Bookshelf feature, and they are a very nicely considered selection that begin to contextualise some of the finer motives that explain what and why he and his studio do so well.
Leviathan Paul Auster
There are so many great things about this novel; the dysfunctional nature of the hero, the idea of destruction as integral to creation, and most of all, the character of Maria – a fantasist/artist/detective based on the artist Sophie Calle. Like Calle, Maria turns anything into art, but especially herself and her life. She will only eat certain coloured foods on certain days and she follows people until her life intersects with theirs. It’s a completely inspiring book.
Master and Margarita Mikhail Bulgakov
This book’s fantastical narrative (what happens when the devil visits the aestheist Soviet Union) is interwoven with darkness and light, and that’s something I like to include in my own. The extraordinary journey that the Master and Margarita go on deals with the craziness of communism, greed, ambition and dark magic. There are stories within stories – such as when the people take the Master’s gifts of clothes and money only to have them evaporate, leaving them naked in the street – which convey the messages with clarity and a kind of anarchy. The sheer imagination of its characters – the giant smoking cat, the severed heads, the exquisitely sensual Margarita and her ability to fly – make it so rich that I find something new every time I read it. It’s a great place to go when searching for ideas. When I was asked to design a shop for Emperor Moth by Patriarch’s Pond in Moscow, I got really excited. It seemed the perfect excuse to go even deeper into this fantasy world. But as with so many architectural projects, it remained a fantasy. The shop was never built.
The Material of Invention: Materials and design Ezio Manzini
I first read this book when I was studying at the RCA in 1996 and it has become something of a bible for me over the years. Its combination of technical information and poetic narrative is something we strive for in my studio. It stresses the importance of lightness and the power of transparency and how they can change the way we live, through design. It addresses complexity and composites and the extra potential that understanding them can offer. It also looks at the relationship between matter and temperature and how a world in which these concepts are fully explored, could be very different from the one we live in. The designs in the section called Exercising Invention (in particular Alberto Meda’s Tender To Me – a micro car that can transport the pedestrian but is also light enough to be transported by the pedestrian) are totally inspirational.
The last of the really great Whangdoodles Julie Andrews Edwards
This is a children’s novel that was first read to me as a child and that I’ve since read to my daughters. It is a book dedicated to imagination. In order to get to Whangdoodleland you must liberate your mind, set your imagination free and wear a funny hat. Once there, anything is possible and the pictures that such freedom conjured up are still vivid in my head. The charming professor Savant has an umbrella filled with images of brightly coloured butterflies, which he carries to make people look upwards rather than down at the pavement all the time. I want to do that too – find ways to encourage people to look up, liberate their vision and see what else is around them.
The New Science of Strong Materials: Or why you don’t fall through the floor JE Gordon
This must be the most accessible, readable account of the fundamental principles behind materials ever. In around 300 pages it unravels the essence of particular materials, explaining their true potential and their negative qualities. It’s written by a man similar to “Q” from James Bond who carried out research for the military in World War II. One of my favourite tales is about the development of something to land aircraft in the middle of the Atlantic during the war before the aircraft carrier had been invented. They tried using an iceberg but found out it wasn’t bomb-resistant. So they created a man-made iceberg – adding grass and straw to a natural one to make an organic compound, reinforcing the ice to make it stronger. A great idea, but by the time it was completed, someone else had invented the aircraft carrier. You really need to know the dynamics of materials and how they can be manipulated to the greatest advantage; it’s something that has been vital in all our work.