I am down in Hawkes Bay at David Trubridge studio http://www.davidtrubridge.com – a design and make studio set up based in the old Whakatu meat packing works: a strangely eerie place full of old and discarded machinery, boilers and unused spaces. David has set up what can only be described as a 'magical wonderland' a place where time hurtles past facilitated by enthusiastic conversation and the to-ings and fro-ings of a small army of dedicated designers and assistants who lovingly describe their work here, the atmosphere, the international design projects and the life that they are living in Hawkes Bay. Talking with Amy I find out she studied furniture and product design at the reputable Kingston University in the UK. Before working for David, she was designer for Danske Mobel based in Mt Eden, Auckland but she decided to escape, follow her dreams and live the life she wished for.
David's workshops are within what was originally the woodworking 'shops' that supplied the area with its cabinet making needs. The place is light spacious and full of history. Over lunch (David provides a communal lunch on Fridays so my luck is in) I hear stories about some of the other staff that are away tramping, surfing and exploring. I also listen to descriptions of what it is like inside the rest of the old meat packing works: huge vacant spaces where nobody goes, strange noises emanating from still used packing machines and the fruit cannery that still operates from there.
The day before visiting I has been in Taradale at EIT (Eastern Institute of Technology) I had been I wondering how many of the 'locals' might own a David Trubridge design. Speaking to staff and visitors to EIT many have heard of David and in the evening I find a retired antiques dealer and furniture restorer who is making a living by renting out an old church as tourist accommodation (in fact, the oldest church in the Hawkes Bay region) I am told that he is aware of what Mr Trubridge is doing and thinks its great – David is obviously somewhat of a local celebrity.
David and Linda live in a home they designed and built for themselves in the 90's. The house is in many ways the manifestation of David's design philosophy, one which has held steadfast over the decade and is in tune with current modes of thinking: ironically, David is now fashionably progressive. The house, which is concrete block construction, is reassuringly strong. Inside, the air is warm and dry. When I mention this to David he tells me "how this was (one of) the first block houses to be built after the planning laws had relaxed allowing for block building to be competitive against timber fame construction". He also tells be that when he designed the house he sought out a builder who was prepared to experiment with mixing cement render with PVA glue: a formula that would allow for using one less layer of render on the interior walls than normal – and the results look great over a decade later.
Back at the workshops, I look around the workshop unaccompanied by David and I start to see evidence of his attention to detail everywhere – in his models, maquettes, failed attempts and successes: David is following a path that is truly creative and like all creative paths full of mistrials and 1000's of hours of hard graft. The staff seems to be infected with David's attention to detail. I over hear discussions about materials; curvature and exact size of rivet heads. I see CAD drawings of new forms and material combinations that look very exciting. I talk to Mat (who studied Object Design at the Unitec School of Design) who is in charge of production and he tells me about what he is doing at David's and how graduates need to (paraphrasing here) "understand how they will gain employment, how they will productionize their artistic works"
Navigating around the workshop I see examples of David's wish to utilize off cuts, scraps and the by-products of unsuccessful experiments: one of the staff is trying to find a way to use up components from a machining mistake – the upshot is looking like the start of a new form for a product. Further discussing David’s design philosophy with him, I learn that he has for many years been considering the impact of his products in terms of materials usage, ecological footprint, functionality and cultural enrichment.
Looking through the design studio I see 8-10 lights in various stages of resolution, images of 9 meter high sculptures and photographs of houses David designed for clients in the Hawkes Bay region – David is truly a renaissance person. David an I talk about his recent trip to Europe, his visit to the Milan Salone and London's 100% Design – He is unhappy about much of what he has seen and he shows me an example of the lowlights of his trip: a postcard of a chair that in in an unhappy marriage with a sheet of laminated plywood turns into a ugly and quite ridiculous table – hum, I wonder what I sit on whilst I am eating at this table?
Design has alot to answer for as do the manufacturers of needless and meritless offering that are regularly offered to consumers as a quickly fix or as David prefers to call it 'junk food' rather than 'nourishment'. Nourishment is a word David uses frequently and he uses it to describe how he feels design should enrich our lives – he believes that much of today’s designed products leave us unsatisfied and hungry for more: that "designers know that they are doing damage with many of their solutions but just down know how to stop".
It has been along time since I visited such an interesting design studio – the last one was probably that of Thomas Hetherwick in London http://www.thomashetherwick.com – another true renaissance figure. What I feel whilst I am here at David's studio is an overwhelming sense of connectedness between the designer, the materials and processes, the studio staff, the context within which he is working and the needs and wants of customers. David has can draw upon a diverse and rich background one which has seen him tackle different professions in different countries much of which has already been written about. I must say though that when I see an article pinned on his studio wall in which he is described as 'boat builder turned designer' I can't help wondering what the writer thinks the difference between the two is.
Having spent a day with him I see that he is determined to find ways to address the issues of mass consumption and the erosion of meaning in contemporary objects and spaces. He talks about the need for systems not objects, for awareness not blindness, for a shift away from individuals working in isolation to communities working together. Over the day and night that I have been here I think David has some valuable ideas, a progressive point of view and a refreshingly humble attitude for a designer so well known (outside of his country) and the studio and workshop are an excellent model of community involvement and contemporary production. Certainly one to watch closely.
My thanks to David, Linda and all the staff at David Truebridge Studio.