INTERVIEW: Copenhagen Architect Johannes Torpe Studios
Johannes Torpe runs an international design studio, out of Copenhagen, with a passion for breaking away from mediocrity, pushing creativity forward. He practices The Five Tibetans daily, and had countless sleepless nights trying to re-brand the Danish icon Bang & Olufson, which he successfully mastered in 2013.
Tell us a bit about your background, did you grow up surrounded by design?
I wouldn’t say I grew up surrounded by design. Not in a classic sense anyway. I did however grow up in a community that advocated the freedom of creative expression. My mother is a painter and my father was a musician and I lived most of my childhood in a caravan in the Danish hippie camp, “Thy Lejren” in rural Jutland together with my mother. My first glimpse of design was in science fiction cartoons and movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey. Combined with a very free and safe childhood I think that really gave me the inspiration to become a creative.
You were the creative director of Bang & Olufsen – would you tell us about that experience?
For a Danish designer (and musician) I don’t think you can find a more legendary company to work with. It is one of those companies that all Danes feel like they have a share in. It is something we identify with as people and feel pride in. So of course I was extremely honoured when asked to come work with them. I grew ten feet the day I was appointed. It was in many ways a dream come true, but I also realised that it would be a huge challenge, because, part of my job description was to revitalise a 90-year old brand. This responsibility gave me many sleepless nights, but I am very proud of the results the team achieved in my four years with the company. We managed to create consistency, not only aesthetically, but also in the product releases, the retail concept and the overall brand message. Bang & Olufsen is in a better place creatively than it has been for years. Therefore I was also able to leave Bang & Olufsen last October with peace of mind.
You are ‘Self-trained’, can you tell us about this process and how you pushed through to where you are today?
I get this question a lot and I think what brought me where I am today is a combination of a sturdy belief in my own abilities and intuition, and of course a lot of hard work. Starting my first company as a teen, I also quickly realised that it is key to find the right people to work with. Setting the right team is the alpha and omega. It is also extremely difficult, which is why I devote so much time and attention to that in our company. I also believe there is a connection and universal energy that makes sure the right people meet each other. That there is a reason for everything, basically. It is not a coincidence that I am doing this interview with you right now. So far my life has been a very interesting journey, and that is due to the people I have encountered along the way. They drive me to meet even more people, share my experiences, to try to do better, work harder and to keep fighting mediocrity, the one true enemy to creativity.
Very true - Where do you go to unwind or for creativity around the world?
Every morning I do a routine called The Five Tibetans. This helps me relax, clears my head and allows for new creative ideas to make their way. And I don’t cheat when I am travelling, which can make for some awkward situations in planes across the Atlantic. I also enjoy going places where there is no reception on my cell phone. For shorter periods of time mostly, but to be out of reach from time to time is important to me. For the last ten years I have been a frequent visitor to a small mountain hotel in the Dolomites. Here the world comes together for me, this place gets me back on the ground – even though it is situated on a mountain top!
Any other experience in relation to design (such as a hotel, restaurant, shop, space) that you recommend experiencing?
I think it is of great importance that everyone experiences Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. This movie and the set design have inspired so many designers, including myself. Back in the late 1990s I even designed a nightclub in the honor of the movie. That was a very curated nightlife experience, but the un-curated type of experiences, that happens at midnight markets and in the food stalls, on the small side streets of the city, are very important as well. I encourage everyone to go explore the weird and the unexpected and find joy and inspiration in the simple things designed by everyday life. I can also recommend looking into the architecture done by Bjarke Ingels and his team. Not only is he a dear friend and co-explorer, but he is also on a mission to fight mediocrity. Just look at the new waste-to-energy-plant they are building in Copenhagen. It cleverly integrates with the community. The chimney makes smoke-rings and the roof is a ski slope. We need more people like him.
What projects are you currently working on for 2016 -
We are working on a lot of different things this year. Everything from creative directing a new natural beverage brand, designing a high-end travel collection for the frequent traveller, a lamp collection, different pieces of custom made furniture, creating brand art installations for one of the world’s biggest international sports brands, a few private residence projects, a hotel project and the design of a restaurant. We are also doing a rebranding project and a handful of other projects that I cannot tell you about just yet, but amongst them is one of my favourites, so I am really looking forward to being able to disclose it to the public. Currently we have projects under development in Iceland, Taiwan, France, Norway, China, Hungary, USA, UK and Denmark.