I’m at the Domaine de Boisbuchet, in the Poitou-Charente region of France, for a week – already I’m wishing I had longer – to participate in a design workshop run by the Vitra Design Museum. Actually it’s day 1 and a half – after a plane, a train and a coach ride which took me deeper than seemed possible into rural France, I arrived here in time for dinner on Sunday.
The first thing to explain perhaps is the setting. The ‘Domaine’ consists of 150 hectares of French countryside, lush and buzzing with cicadas at this time of year, throughout which is scattered an eclectic collection of buildings, a placid lake, and a pack of beautiful but apparently un-rideable horses. All is presided over by Vitra Museum Director, Alexander de Vegesack, for whom the 15th Century estate has been a second home for years, and who more recently decided to relocate the summer design workshops (which had been taking place in Weil am Rhein, the home of the museum) to this remote corner of France.
This week, as is usual, there are three workshops running concurrently – on lighting, porcelain (conveniently Limoges and its factories are nearby) and performance art. So there are around 45 people making up a varied and international group, and all our rustic meals are eaten ‘en plein air’ on long trestle tables, with wine and beer on tap.
The first task on the lighting programme, run by Milanese architect Marco Zanuso, was a group project to construct a light using only chicken mesh, stone and glass nuggets – and although we eventually came up with something we didn’t hate, it was quite a stark reminder of the skills needed for people, particularly designers, to co-operate and collaborate. There is a definite value in working with other people on a project, even if some would rather go it alone. Apart from the very practical consideration of being able to get more done with more pairs of hands, everyone sees things, including solutions to problems, slightly differently. And in a three hour session where the whole process is condensed, the delight that can result from the accidental is clearer.
After dinner we had a brilliant and hilarious presentation from Russian performance artist Andrey Bartenev – more on him later I think. And there was a spot of late night swimming, but watch out for the nutrias (giant waterborne rats). Tomorrow we are starting our own lighting projects, and I’m hoping to accompany the porcelain group on a trip to the Limoges factory later in the week. The first day has been richly packed, experience wise, so can’t wait to see what the rest of the week has in store!