Industrial Designer of the Year 2011: Omer Arbel
Omer Arbel helps us rethink 21st-century life.
If Vancouver’s Omer Arbel has managed to upend the design world’s expectations, it’s because he had no expectations himself. The 34-year-old creative director of the design and manufacturing house Bocci is focused on process, rather than product. So, when he asked a team of glassblowers to inhale rather than blow, the result was a mesmerizing pendant light series, released last year, with miniature interior bubbles created via vacuum. When he asked metalsmiths engaged in sand casting to save the crackling overspill that everyone else slices off, he ended up with gorgeous brass art pieces that are trimmed with an almost volcanic-looking lace. “Most protagonists in the design world are obsessed with form,” he explains. “It creates a vocabulary of shapes—Frank Gehry is the obvious example. We’re trying to develop a new way of working where it’s process and material properties that are our focus. What we’re designing is the procedure—and then that yields form.”It’s that kind of clear-headed thinking that prompted judge Geoff Lilge to say, “Omer’s projects are refined to perfection. He’s raised the profile of Canadian design internationally. He’s a truly unique design mind.”Arbel’s pendant lights are de rigueur in modern homes, and now he’s expanded into architecture—he trained with luminaries John and Patricia Patkau. (Don’t miss the stunning shots of his first house, which appear in next month’s Western Living.) The mind is fertile; the products, groundbreaking. Arbel has positioned himself as more than an industrial designer—he’s a designer of 21st-century life.