Fiona Lynch Portrait
Rob Mills Portrait
Zvi Belling Potrait
Jan Kath Portrait

2017 Speaker Series - Mindful Design

More than a passing trend, mindfulness permeates many facets of life. We hear it spoken about it in yoga and meditation, of course; but also within conversations about sport, business, relationships and even finance.

Creativity is no exception. There is a neat parallel between the state of ‘flow’ resulting from a mindfulness practice, and the meditative flow that creative practitioners speak of in pursuits such as writing, making music, pottery or painting. After attending several rigorous meditation retreats, award-winning Vietnamese architect Vo Trong Nghia has even instilled a daily 2-hour meditation across his studios, claiming that it improves the practice’s relationships with clients, environment and project designs. It’s an interesting idea — but not practical for everybody.

So in our talk titled ‘Mindfulness: Putting The Breaks On Design’, we turned to some esteemed panellists from the creative industries to ask — what is mindfulness in design? What does it mean to a creative practitioner? And how does the concept of mindfulness influence the creative process?

This session started with a short meditation in our semi-enclosed Speaker Space the middle of the exhibition hall. Yet even here, in a very public space, audience members were able to close their eyes and focus their awareness on their breath for just a couple of minutes. And so began our discussion…

Architect Rob Mills started with a disclaimer: “I don’t think I’m qualified to comment on mindfulness,” he said, admitting that he doesn’t always achieve that work/life balance personally. Ironically, the projects he designs — primarily residential — exude a calm, peaceful serenity. His grandfather’s simple, yet profound, definition of architecture as ‘designing spaces for people’ has guided his approach, and that of his award-winning practice. For him, “Home is a refuge, a place where you nurture yourself, your family and friends. I need calm environment to return to each day, to find that balance that I don’t always have at work.”

Interior designer Fiona Lynch has developed a philosophy of balance after working extremely long hours for many years in various practices, before starting her own. Here, she cultivates a more mindful approach with team meditations, a policy of leaving on time and the opportunity to leave early if work is complete. Mindfulness also comes through the studio’s reductive approach to design. “There is a focus on not filling every surface; space for clients to express themselves, or just not have to look at design. It’s almost anti-design,” she said.

Jan Kath is internationally renowned for his rug designs (available through Cadrys), which typify a Slow Design philosophy — each rug takes 10 people up to 4 or 5 months to create. The eponymous brand has a holistic approach, with a team in Nepal sourcing wool from the mountains of Tibet, bringing it down to valley in Kathmandu, then washing, spinning, carding and dyeing the wool. Simultaneously, a team in Germany works on the design, marrying them to the raw materials that are gathered; from there, a rug is woven. For Jan, mindfulness relates to the connection to the people that work with him — “It’s our responsibility to make their life better so we have a future,” he believes.

Zvi Belling, Principal at ITN Architects, agreed, describing mindfulness as “An awareness of self and connection; how you relate to your community and your world.” In a professional context, he referenced a commercial project in Collingwood that included an art installation of Hitachi met trains, a cultural nod to “a moment in Melbourne’s art history — the birth of graffiti. [It’s about] understanding the culture you live and work in — and create spaces for,” he said.

The paradox is that the speed our world rushes in, and the demands of media and clients are anathema to Slow Design and Mindful Design. “There is a problem in designing a new collection every year,” admitted Jan. “We have to — although our rugs last forever. A lot of designers ask me, ‘What’s new? What are you working on?’ But they’ve not had a chance to digest what we have done last year, and the season before.”

But despite the overarching challenge of time, the panellists find outlets to bring more mindfulness into their everyday lives. For Zvi, jazz music is the yin to the yang of architecture, and he is involved in at least 6 musical collaborations at any one time. Jan adores the moments watering his garden in Chiang Mai in the cool of the morning and evening. “It is the most relaxing thing, where I can switch off, where I have visions. I don’t think but thoughts are rolling in. It’s a very strong source for me,” he shared. As with many of us, Fiona enjoys travel — not just for the shift in perspective, but for practical reasons. “Once you get on a plane, no-one can contact you! The iPhone is probably the worst thing to happen our generation… My kids are addicted, I’m addicted,” she lamented. “We all need to completely detox”. And it’s cycling that most often takes Rob into a mindful state, fostering his love of wilderness and nature. “Almost within a second of getting on a bike I relax, he said. “I think clearly when I’m riding. I’m energised; aware of the present moment. It takes me to that mind place.”

The demands of everyday life are real and pressing, however all these creatives seek out balance in their own way. Without time out, we suffer and our quality of work suffers. Running faster does not solve the problem but simply takes you to a finish line that looks a lot like burnout. Our mental and physical health should be the priority, but unfortunately it’s become very fashionable to talk of how busy we are, how many projects we’re working on and how little sleep we are getting. Like a lot of fashionable talk, it has no substance at its best and is highly dangerous at its worst.

Personally — although it’s counterintuitive — the busier I am, the more I know I need to take time out, so that I can see things more clearly. Instead of being in the the storm, clearing my mind allows me to sit and observe the storm from above. From here, I can become aware of where the storm has come from, where it’s headed, avoid (or prepare for) further danger, remove obstacles, and start clearing damage that has already taken place.

I’ll leave you with a Zen proverb that sums it up:
“You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day — unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.”

Podcast Part 1


Podcast Part 2

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