The upside of Royalty has never been clear to me. Kings and Queens seem to function mostly as expensive ways to preserve an outdated system of social inequities and pumped up national self-importance. But I may have gotten a glimpse of what all the fuss is about on a recent trip to Cordoba Spain for a design ceremony. Cordoba is most well known for its historic Mosque (Mesquite), not for contemporary design.
Each year Spain holds their Premio Nacionales de Diseno (National Design Award). The government appoints a jury to bestow the prestigious honor on two design firms. They rotate the site of the festivities around the country. It’s a big deal. Government ministers and local dignitaries attend. They even commissioned this short video for the ceremony. Check it out and test your Spanish.
The Prince and Princess showed up to deliver the award and hang out with designers for an afternoon. When the Royal Family makes an appearance, all of a sudden people across the country take note. National media cover the event. This was cool. The Prince spoke for more than five minutes about the importance of design and its relevance to Spain’s economy - he was more than a passive, token symbol. Does the national media cover the event because the Royal Family is represented or did, in this case, Prince Philippe and Princess Letizia attend because Spaniards generally treat design with respect? Don’t know, but it’s hard to imagine a comparable event in the US, where only other professional designers seem to be aware of whom among them excels (with the obvious exceptions of rock star architects like Frank Gehry).
I had two good reasons to attend the event this year. The ceremony was being held in Cordoba, and, even more importantly, one of the two awards went to STUA. I’m a big STUA fan. We introduced them broadly to the US market at Design Within Reach in 2000 where they have become a classic signature of the company. You will also find their products at many museums and high-profile places around the world ranging from the Milwaukee Art Museum to the Zurich airport to small cafés like Piccino in San Francisco. And you can find them in my kitchen. SUMMA, the other winner, is an internationally recognized branding firm.
The après awards event was held in an adjacent 12th century Cordoba courtyard where we were served Andalusian snacks and wine. Though it is forbidden to take photos of the Royal Family at these events, I was able to take a snap of Princess Leticia’s shoes. This snowballed into a documentation of many of the shoes that attended the ceremony. Take a look.
There are more amazing sights to behold in Cordoba than contemporary shoes. And there is a more famous courtyard. The Mesquite (Mosque) ranks as one of the most spectacular pieces of architecture in Spain if not in the world. And Cordoba is pretty easy on the eyes at every turn. Take a look.
Public acknowledgment of design takes many forms. In the UK you can become a Knight like Sir Paul Smith or Sir Norman Foster (who is also a Baron). In the US we have the Cooper Hewitt National Design Awards, and our 2008 award winners were just announced. It is a talented group. I served on the jury once before, so I know how rigorous the selection process is taken. But without a Prince or Princess to hand out the award, who will find out about these people and how will we begin to realize that design is a critical national asset?
That’s one argument for Monarchy (though I doubt we in the US will opt to go back to that system before the mid-term elections) - someone to embody and disseminate a nation’s culture. There is a rumor that Michele Obama will deliver this year’s awards in a ceremony at the White House in October. That would help. A lot. For my part, I will just list the award winners below and say Bravo.
Lifetime Achievement: Bill Moggridge
Design Mind: Amory B. Lovins
Corporate Achievement: Walker Art Center Finalists: Dwell Magazine and Heath Ceramics
Architecture Design: SHoP Architects Finalists: Architecture Research Office and Michael Maltzan
Communication Design: The New York Times Graphics Department Finalists: Hoefler & Frere-Jones and Project Projects
Fashion Design: Francisco Costa for Calvin Klein Collection Finalists: Thom Browne and Rodarte
Interaction Design: Perceptive Pixel Inc. Finalists: Potion and Lisa Strausfeld
Interior Design: TsAO & McKOWN Architects Finalists: Ali Tayar and Work AC
Landscape Design: Hood Design Finalists: Andrea Cochran and Rios Clementi Hale Studios
Product Design: Boym Partners Finalists: Salvor Projects and Smart Design
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