Design Chew: Award-winning Alexander Lotersztain discusses sustainable and honest design

Design Chew: Award-winning Alexander Lotersztain discusses sustainable and honest design

For someone only in his 30s, Argentinean-born and now Australian-based designer Alexander Lotersztain has packed a lot of success into his life—starting off with winning the Design Institute of Australia prize for Best Design Student, after graduating from the Queensland College of Art. 

Since then, he’s been named one of the 100 most influential top designers worldwide by Phaidon, Top 10 most influential faces in design by Scene Design Quarterly 2007 and Top 10 of the 100 Young Brightest Australian Achievers Bayer/Bulletin award. 

He’s also won a bunch of awards for both his product and interior design work, and his work has appeared in design journals around the world. Lotersztain is also part of the Smart State Council work group for the Queensland Government, drafting the Smart State design Strategy 2020. 

Famous for his funky and sustainable furniture, interior and object designs, Lotersztain has participated in international exhibitions with Sputnik, Designers Block London, Tokyo, Milano, New York, San Francisco, Berlin, Moscow and one of his products is part of the design collection at the Pompidou Museum in Paris. 

In 2003, he set-up his own design studio, Derlot, which focuses on unique design products that are made in Australia for clients in the Asia-Pacific region. 

We caught up with Lotersztain for a quick chat when he was in New Zealand last week as part of UFL Group’s “Pop Up” Showroom in Wellington (running through until 10 March). 

His most essential design ingredient? Honesty. He tells us why design is about being smart and balancing popularity with honesty, and where a six-pack of beer fits into it all. 

Who the heck are you? 

I’m a designer. I don’t like to box myself as a natural designer, a furniture designer or an interior designer. I believe that if you have a creative streak, it’s up to you to take the challenge of designing whatever comes along. 

I run a studio called Derlot. The studio takes care of projects ranging from hotel design, all the way to product design, graphic design, art direction, furniture and lighting design. 

Why did you make the move to Australia? 

One of my biggest passions is travelling. Design and travelling have always gone hand in hand with what I do. When it was time to study overseas I thought it was a great excuse to come to Australia to do my degree. I could have studied in the States or Italy. But a friend of mine was coming back from Australia and told me how beautiful it was. 

As a designer, you end up going to Italy regardless. I’ve been going to the Milan Fair for many years and did live in Milan for one-and-a-half years after I graduated. I have also lived in Japan for about two years. 

How has travel influenced you? 

Travelling is a big eye opener. It really gives you a perspective on what’s happening in the world. It nurtures you and builds you up as a person and a human being—and that transfers into the work that you do. 

What piece of design are you most famous for? 

Twig. A bench seat that I designed in Australia and is currently manufactured in Australia and Europe. 

Twig, plastic (2009)

Twig, upholstered (2009)

Twig, concrete (2009)

Your three essential design ingredients? 

  • You need to be honest.
  • You need to have a human connection—something that connects with people at an emotional level.
  • Something that is innovative. 

Honest design is the most important to me in terms of my sustainability work. It’s really about taking sustainability to a larger level—not just the green bubble we’re currently experiencing. 

It’s about being smart and balancing popularity with honesty. As designers we have a huge responsibility. The amount of things we design that go to a landfill is insane. I want to be clever about design. 

For me, honesty is one of the biggest players in sustainability. When you want to design something sustainably, you need to think about everything—how the product can be recycled, sourcing sustainable materials, finding the right manufacturing process, and localising design and manufacturing. 

In my case, I could easily have gone down the road of doing everything in China for half the price. But I decided to use the skills of a designer to design everything in Australia and make everything in Australia. I think that’s the responsibility of the designer. It’s not only about creating sustainability in terms of the material selection. It’s also about creating sustainability within the local economy. 

I’m passionate about going to manufacturers and factories and sitting down with the people there. I take a six-pack of beer and really learn about their years of experience. I then use that design and creative thinking to come up with innovative ideas to design a chair that will still be manufactured in Australia and will still be able to be competitive with things coming in from overseas. 

haus, 2010. In collaboration with: RW Joiners, Corian by Dupont, Bisazza, Laminex and Euroluce

Any Kiwi designers you’re particularly fond of? 

I love the work from ALT Group. I think it’s fantastic. I’ve met Dean Poole a few times and we really click. We’ve just started to do something together. 

Thoughts on the New Zealand design-scape? 

For a country like New Zealand to have so much style is something that’s always impressed me. There’s a sense of coherence with everything you guys do. From fashion and interior design, to your tourism campaigns, there is a sense of balance. 

New Zealand has managed to create a sense of symbolism to everything it does, and a lot of it comes across as natural and sustainable, which is a very big selling point these days. But New Zealand design is also thoughtful. The work of Fisher and Paykel is fantastic and I’d love to collaborate with them one day. I also love Formway. There are a lot of little companies in New Zealand that are doing so much great work. 

solitaire, 2006

sigg, 2002-2008

Lotersztain at the UFL pop-up showroom opening in Wellington last week

coral light, 2009

softsofa, 2002

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