Explore Karim Rashid’s unconventional journey shaping design amidst the complexities of the digital age

DEC 13, 2023 | By Shriti Das
Karim, known for his interesting use of colour and forms combined with technology often conjures path breaking ideas, pushing the envelope of design; Photograph Courtesy Karim Rashid Inc
Raionul De Peste, Floreasca, Drawn from the colours of water, the restaurant is designed to evoke fluidity. The decor elements have been largely designed by Karim for the space - tiles made in collaboration with Italica Tiles, Ottawa chairs for BoConcept and Nafir ceiling lamps for Axo Light (both in the VIP room); Photograph Courtesy Karim Rashid Inc
The fibreglass bench is a sculpture installation with an undulating surface designed by Karim in 2023. In association with Suncheonman International Garden Expo, this bench is created for 196 people to symbolise unity since Karim’s vision was to dissolve differences and bring different nationalities and social backgrounds together; Photograph Courtesy Karim Rashid Inc

If he were granted a superpower for a day, Karim Rashid’s choice is intriguingly practical – teleportation. “I spend too much time travelling!” says the man who realised his calling at the age of five, accelerated high school, applied to university at 16 years of age and had already traversed continents by the time he was a young adult.

It is serendipitous how unconventional paths led him to extraordinary destinations in design. Born in Cairo, he lived in Rome and Paris before moving to London (as his mother is British), at two and a half years.

Architect Karim Rashid; Photograph Courtesy Karim Rashid Inc

He was around six, aboard the Queen Elizabeth, sailing from London to Montreal, yet again moving countries (continents actually) where he won a drawing competition for children. “I drew luggage since I was really perplexed at how we packed up our entire belongings into some suitcases to go to the new world,” he explains.

This AI generated design conceptualised by Karim in 2023 embodies unique, sensual and organic designs utilising elements like ceramic. While Karim experiments with technologies, he also expresses a profound concern for new student designers who will use AI for building their designs through superficial styles which may not allow them to develop a unique vision for creating authentic designs; Photograph Courtesy Karim Rashid Inc

He would eventually go on to establish Karim Rashid Inc in 1998 as we know it today. Referring to his growing up years, he calls himself a “confused teenager” who was torn between architecture, fine art and fashion.

He originally sought admission at Carleton University but was delayed in his application, only to be informed that he could be accepted in the architectural stream of the Industrial Design course.“I went to Carleton University expecting to study architecture, but fate had it, that the second I took some industrial design courses, I knew that it is what I wanted to do.”

The Metaverse Multi carpet for Nuzrat is designed with the belief that all objects that surround us should radiate vigour, optimism and happiness. The designs are handwoven and hand-tufted from 100% finest New Zealand Wool; Photograph Courtesy Karim Rashid Inc

Cut to present day, with innumerable projects across the spectrum of design, countless accolades and awards later, Karim lists the Artemide Cadmo, Bobble, Garbo Canfor Umbra and Prizeotel Hotel in Bremen, Germany as few of his cherished works. For Cadmo, in his words, he set out to design an object that looks like it is defined by the density of the light it contains.

A solid surface is forged into a fluid shape to elegantly rise up, and embrace what appears to be a volume of light. “Artemide was kind enough to make me a custom Cadmo for my home in baby pink,” he reveals.

Raionul De Peste, Floreasca, drawn from the colours of water, the restaurant is designed to evoke fluidity. The decor elements have been largely designed by Karim for the space – tiles made in collaboration with Italica Tiles, Ottawa chairs for BoConcept and Nafir ceiling lamps for Axo Light (both in the VIP room); Photograph Courtesy Karim Rashid Inc

Garbo, made in 1995 for Umbra is essentially a waste basket made of highly tactile polypropylene material, has found function as a clothes hamper, a champagne cooler and a vase, to list a few. “Garbo is 29 years old and still so successful and sold over 10 million pieces to-date,” he mentions.

But his most challenging project, he cites, is the Naples Metro, which commenced in 2004 and concluded in 2011. The dynamic station with vivid colours, curved walls and sculptural columns is an interesting contrast to the history, offering a point of pause and contemplation to the umpteen travellers who commute through it.

The Yum Collection, 2023 consisting of a serving plate, flat plate and mug cup, his second collaboration with Kutahya Porselen (preceded by Skallop), Karim brings to the table (quite literally), vibrant greens with greys to reflect a dynamic style; Photograph Courtesy Karim Rashid Inc

However, it is the chair that he mentions as the most complex undertaking, a “never ending challenge,” in his own words. “It is the perfect ideological model of design. It is so difficult to find an original yet authentic way of supporting our body and back. So I look towards either new structure, new form, new technology, or  new materials,” he says. But beyond a product or concept, he regards originality to be the greatest predicament of our times.

Inspiring fashion designers and manufacturers to experiment with and design colourful, understandable and adaptable printed materials, the Digi Bag, 2022 is 3D printed in leather; Photograph Courtesy Karim Rashid Inc

He explains, “Since the digital age is affording so much imagery that it’s harder and harder to find a personal individual authentic expression. I suggest not to look at Pinterest and Instagram and find ideas based on other criteria like human behaviour, function, production capabilities, etc.” Since there is no denying the influence of artificial intelligence (AI) in shaping the future of design, he cautions to tread carefully.

The graphically designed modular table system is made from single sheet metal. In collaboration with Vadasiga, the minimal base is formed with one sheet metal with three simple bents. The graphics on these tables resemble 10 Lithuanian city crest icons. These tables have the ability to spread, systemize or stack; Photograph Courtesy Karim Rashid Inc

“It becomes especially easy for student designers. It is not from their soul or vision and they have not learned to conceive their ideas. Also, a strong concept is critical for good design and AI at this point is only superficial style. This is very concerning,” he advises. Although it has not deterred him from experimenting with it.

“With new technologies, I can create new sensual and organic shapes that never existed before in history,” he says. “With thousands of images of my work online I notice many designers are sending me work and just with my name and a few words it generates very amazing imagery that looks like I designed it,” he mentions.

When asked about his thoughts on product design, Karim replied, “I assumed that one had to be an architect to design a chair or a coffee machine or a product. I loved the Italian product design landscape and all those products that I admired for years that were in our house were designed by architects.”

Launched at the Milan Design Week 2023, Chin Chin, the collaboration with Sans Souci is a playful lighting system featuring crystal components fashioned into drinking glasses of varying sizes; Photograph Courtesy Karim Rashid Inc

When quizzed about what he would be if not a designer, he replied, “When I was a child I wanted to be a mathematician, but now maybe an electronic dance musician or a motivational speaker.” The Gaetano Pesce motorcycle, was a project he wished he had worked on. He replied with The World Is On Fire But We’re Still Buying Shoes by Alec Leach, when asked about his current reads.

In the ever-evolving landscape of design, Karim is not one to rest on past achievements. His journey, marked by destiny’s own plans and his passion to catalyse design for human betterment, serves as a reminder that true greatness lies in the pursuit of authenticity, and we can only but wait for what he unveils next! 

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