Causing a stir in the
bathroom

StyIepark interviews Philippe Grohe

Vice President of Design Management Philippe Grohe

A sensuous water experience

Axor has ventured into new territory with the “Axor Starck V” well mixer, and is literally causing a stir in the bathroom.

Stylepark's Thomas Wagner spoke to Philippe Grohe, the Vice President of Design Management at Hansgrohe SE, about ways to experience water sensually.

Glass mixer with visible water vortex

So who actually came up with the idea of furnishing the bathroom with a real vortex?

Philippe Grohe: It was my father's idea. The fact is: if you don't do something out of the ordinary with water, then you won't see its movement. It's totally transparent and calm – quite unspectacular really. The vortex allows us to visualise the vitality of water.

Now I'm someone who feels completely at home with the calm aspect of water. But there are two dimensions to water. It's calm, yet it's turbulent. It can energise us or soothe us. So on the one hand we have meditative water – like the water in a well, and then we have active water – as in a vortex.

Your father had the idea, but it was you who then implemented the vortex in collaboration with Philippe Starck?

Philippe Grohe: Yes, it was a long process from the initial dream through to the finished industrial product. As with any design process, however, there was another factor to consider: the issue of tranquil, visible water.

For over a decade, I've been discussing this with architects, interior designers and product designers, and we've often discussed our use of water in our everyday lives and wondered how we could bring it more to the forefront.

Which is why I also felt that it was really important for the water to remain present in the “Axor Starck V” mixer at all times. That means: on the one hand we have a tranquil well, on the other an incredibly fascinating spectacle in the form of the vortex.

On seeing the vortex for the first time, Philippe Starck commented: "This is a gift for modern people, because it allows them to intuitively discover and grasp nature's beauty and complexity". When people ask me: So what does your bathroom look like? – I tell them: "I have a large window and a small bath tub (laughs)." Which is great, because the natural world outside contains everything I need. In cities, of course, things are a bit different.

As a rule we want both, of course, active water and calm water. How important is it for you to be able to show both states?

Philippe Grohe: Immensely important. Water affects us both visually and haptically; we feel better if we go outside and experience a bit of nature. That's just the way we are. In some ways we are still animals who have come a long way thanks to our culture.

Jean-Marie Massaud once said to me: "Since coming down from the trees, we've been missing something." That may sound trite, but I've always had a very clear picture of things. When people step into a room, I want them to see water too.

Water as the elixir of life?

Philippe Grohe: In the depths of the ocean there's no light, but there's life in the water. Water and life go hand in hand. Water is a powerful medium with regard to our relationship with ourselves and our bodies: when we're in a bad mood, a shower lifts our spirits, and when we're tired, water raises our energy levels. When we're agitated, water calms us down.

The well was always a central theme.

Glass mixer in a dark, artificial ambience

So does your work focus not just on water, but on emotions too?

Philippe Grohe: Other cultures have not lost sight of this emotional aspect to the same extent that we in the West have. We're rediscovering it, little by little.

Antonio Citterio once said to me: "Why do we shower for longer than three minutes? It only takes a minute to get clean." He's right. So it can't be all about hygiene.

What's the greatest challenge technology currently poses? What does technology bring to the water experience? What is triggered by the design?

Philippe Grohe: We can discuss the visually emotional aspect of water, but we can also talk about water's tactile properties.

Both involve technology and design.

Philippe Grohe: Yes, of course. You can't separate the two. If we take air out of the water, something happens; and if we re-inject air into the water, something happens. However, whether the water flows through one large hole or 90 small holes makes a huge difference.

That's why it is so incredibly exciting that technology can repeatedly stimulate things for us. There are some fantastic people in our company, some of whom are the third generation to work for us. So, as a sanitary company, we've put a fair few miles on the clock.

In specific terms: you have the idea of creating a vortex of water and start developing the technology to be able to do it. What happens next? When does the designer get involved?

Philippe Grohe: In this case, we actually presented Philippe Starck with the technological solution. He's extremely candid and fair-minded. Even if we weren't involved, he says: "Hey, I really didn't have to do anything much." Of course, then he makes a joke of it and says: "That was still transparent, but now even less so."

It's often really important to get inspiration from outside when we start exploring new territory. In today's ever more complex world, large investments are required in order to succeed, so our company's experience and expertise is just as crucial as maintaining a long-standing relationship with a designer.

Which aspects came together in the case of "Axor Starck V"?

Philippe Grohe: The vortex is certainly the most spectacular element. But it was very important to us to make a well, i.e. to depict the calm aspect of water. Which is why, when talking about "Axor Starck V", I tend to call it a well mixer. This gives it a new dimension.

Did you decide to use glass as the material from the outset?

Philippe Grohe: We opted for glass because of its transparency. It's more scratch-proof and more resistant to cleaning agents than chrome, and has hygienic qualities that you don't get with plastic. It's also sustainable – all of which were good reasons for us to try out glass.

What do you learn from collaborating with designers, irrespective of their very different temperaments?

Philippe Grohe: Design processes can easily take years, so often a very personal relationship is established. You end up no longer talking just about taps or bathrooms, you also find yourselves chatting about life's joys and misfortunes. I feel that it's a great privilege to be able to work with so many very different people. Obviously, you need to carefully consider which designer is best for which theme.

Was it clear that the vortex was a perfect project for Starck?

Philippe Grohe: Pretty much. Because Philippe Starck tackles every project with the fresh innocence of a child. He doesn't get bogged down with whatever he's done previously. That's one of his strengths. I find that I'm not able to completely ignore the past. Maybe that's because I'm German. But Philippe just shrugs it off and focuses resolutely on the future.

Axor Starck V
PR Manager Astrid Bachmann

Author

Astrid Bachmann PR Manager Axor