Award-winning landscape architect David Font (at right) is the head of seven-year-old Font Designs, and so when presented with the opportunity to interview him on the eve of Design Miami, we had to begin with the obvious question: Does Font Designs ever get mistaken for a type foundry? “Yes, on occasion. Not very often though,” he told us. “When we first opened the firm we also had several inquiries from people thinking we were graphic designers.” That settled, we move on to the big news: Font’s extraordinary exhibition design for “Beyond Organic: Design in the State of Nature,” a themed satellite exhibition that is Design Miami’s first foray into mixing contemporary and historical design.
Showcased in a 6,000-square-foot space inside The Collins Building, “Beyond Organic” is meant to be an “an exuberant, witty, and inspiring celebration of the natural world reflected through objects” contributed by the likes of Moss, Richard Wright + Arik Levy, and Demisch Danant. Font’s exhibition design integrates the objects—here a Swarovski chandelier resembling cherry blossoms, there a pair of Max Lamb chairs sculpted from stone—into an organic environment that includes 50 pick-up trucks full of topsoil, more than 700 pieces of native and exotic plant material, and a large wall covered with patches of grass and slices of tree trunks. Below, Font tells us about how he approached the project, some of his favorite objects in the exhibition, and how he brings a little bit of the Italian Renaissance into the spaces of today.
1. How did you approach the assignment to create the interior environment for Design Miami’s “Beyond Organic: Design in the State of Nature” exhibition? What were your inspirations?
I researched natural indoor environments as they related to the art world and tried to do something that hasn’t been done. I didn’t want the landscape design or the art pieces to overpower, outweigh, or compete with each other. I wanted to create a cohesive and integral environment that flowed while avoiding certain pitfalls of making it too manicured. I wanted to achieve an unstructured, natural environment.
In terms of inspirations, one was one of the design objects that I was creating the exhibit to showcase: the Michele Oka Doner “Tara” chandelier (pictured at left), which is a candelabra made out of bronze that is in the form of a cut down tree stump. That piece, in particular, was inspiring because it really depicted what the aesthetics and overall theme should reflect. One of the challenges in organizing the space within the Collins Building was taking a rectilinear box and giving it a free-flowing design to mimic what the landscape is doing. We accomplished this by creating a curvilinear stage and carrying it throughout, having that pattern radiate out from that center stage.
2. “Beyond Organic” includes 50 design objects. Any favorites?
I have so many favorites, but there are two that stood out in particular; the candelabra that I explained was also a source for inspiration of the exhibit and the eight-foot Zaha Hadid “Iceberg” bench (pictured at left), which I appreciate because I understand the work behind the intricate design that it requires to create something that appears to be unstructured and free-flowing. It was one of the challenges I faced in designing the space.
3. What was the most significant challenge you encountered in designing the “Beyond Organic” exhibition?
The most significant challenge was probably trying to do all of these amazing design objects justice by creating the perfect environment for each piece in an overall cohesive setting.
4. You’ve studied the cultures and architectural characteristics of 23 cities in 13 countries. Do you find yourself returning to a particular city/region/culture for inspiration in your own designs?
Yes, I pull a great deal from my experience in Italy because that’s where I spent the majority of my time, specifically the Italian Renaissance gardens. I don’t try to mimic the gardens but there are certain elements I do utilize in my design. For example, in creating a space there is a progression and, as is done in those gardens, I create compressions and expansions of spaces which evoke different emotions in those that experience the space, instead of just designing the space to be aesthetically pleasing.
5. Given your expertise in exhibition design, is there an exhibit (not designed by you) that you’ve seen recently that has particularly impressed you?
Not really. I haven’t in my research or recent experiences, seen anything like what I’m doing at Design Miami. I’m hoping that this exhibit will start to create a new way of thinking in terms of how these types of exhibits are designed. As a landscape architect involved in Design Miami, we enjoyed the challenge of thinking outside of the box and pushing the envelope with our design. A landscape architect of note that has really pushed design to the edge is Martha Schwartz who is known for her extremely unique work.
6. Best/most memorable design-related encounter?
Design Miami is probably the most memorable because it is within a new industry that we haven’t worked with in the past and it is such an honor to be associated with the most prominent forum for international design.
7. Proudest design moment?
Because part of my design philosophy is, “If I give a client just what they expect, I’ve failed them,” I would have to say my proudest design moments are creating outdoor environments for my clients that are way beyond what they could have ever imagined.