Raphael Kadid

Artist Interview

Published April 2019

Moon, Raphael Kadid. ©

The design works of Basel-based Raphael Kadid are sculptures in their own right; beautiful objects that exist as examples of accumulative, eclectic inspiration lineages that span across offerings from the past century. With a focus predominantly on lamps in particular, his creations— futuristic, uncanny and beautifully strange, remain a bastion of hope for independent craft, creation and their respective cultures.

DM—Tell me a little about your journey as a designer/architect thus far. How big a role has education played in it, and what was the turning point in focusing nearly exclusively on lamps?
RK— I began studying architecture in 2007, after two years of technical drawing studies in Paris. Following an exchange in Berlin and my graduation in 2012, I came to Basel to work for an architecture office. Seeing how the constraints of the architectural program, the context, the internal hierarchy, were leading to strong design compromises, I started to work for myself on small objects, to achieve the wish of an independent process. To experiment with forms and materials, not only by drawing shapes but also by the act of building them, is something I found missing. An architect spends most of his time in front of a computer, and a large part of the work only remains on paper. As I see it today, design is a simple way to focus on the pursuit of an idea, to its physical transcription. A lamp is a good example. It is a simple object with a simple function. Unlike a chair or a table, it is not limited by a specific height or measurements corresponding to specific usages. The only user-interface is the switch, the rest is free of interpretation. The clear purpose, bringing light in a room, is also comforting. I am interested in compositions, impressions, atmospheres. The thought of doing sculptures for themselves always made me sceptical.

DM— Many of your works, if not all, seem to be created with an air of Swiss-German aesthetic; almost ‘Bauhaus-esque’, if you like. Functional, simple and focused on the interaction between respective materials. What is it about such an approach that is so important to you?
RK— I guess the first reason is that I like to give myself constraints. I don’t pursue the idea of something I can’t build myself, and I always look for processes that could be easily repeated. Even if until now I didn’t reach the point because of the small quantities I produce, I never built an object without thinking of a simple way of doing a series. I also work with limited tools and machines, which in a way has been a help in making design decisions. I like to assemble prefabricated parts together, simple industrial elements, something one could link to an affection for the modernist movement.
The second reason is that a lot of contemporary design lacks honesty, because good materials cost more. The first time I went to a warehouse to choose profiles, I was amazed by the weight of a thick brass rod, the smell of copper or the thickness of massive aluminum. I prefer to use simple industrial profiles because I know they will last forever— because somehow they are true. Like aluminum, brass is easy to work by hand, and it doesn’t need any protection. With the years the surface change, patina leaves traces. I always say that my products have a lifetime guarantee; it is kind of a joke, but well, who knows.

DM— What is your design process like, and how has it changed since you began designing?
RK— I always start with a detail. Finding specific assemblies for structural-formal purposes are most of the time the beginning of an object. I do quick sketches to bring the idea to life, it helps myself to better visualise it and give it a scale. Then I look at profiles, thinking on what will become the body of the object. I also spend some time doing a 3D model, to set proportions and verify the measurements. My lamp, Signal, was a big turn in my work because of the use of computer manufacturing. Until this point, all the lamps were only made by hand, adjusted, drilled, filed and polished. But to go further with the production, I needed to find a way to prefabricate. It started by concentrating the design on assembly parts, having the body of the object remaining as free as possible of interventions. This also allows to keep low prices and so make the objects affordable to everyone. The BLX2 for example, is made of a single bended brass rod and a specific aluminum head design. Of course the freedom 2D water-jet cutting makes possible any kind of drawing. Complex shapes, precise cutouts are not a problem anymore. Today I am trying to use it as an opportunity to draw new types of assemblies, where aesthetic meets functionality.

Signal, Raphael Kadid. ©

DM— I’m intrigued the most about your project ‘Signal’ — what was the starting point for such a concept? How complex was it to create in comparison to your other works?
RK— The idea was to create a standing blade, a very thin lamp, so thin the image of a lamp would disappear. I was taking pictures outside recently, and people passing stopped and asked me “what is it”? This was exactly the question I wanted to hear.
It became my most complex project probably because all the parts of the lamp are specific, and need a lot of precision during assembly. My previous objects are for most the result of an experimentation on standard profiles, finding a way to join them, to assemble them. Here, the pieces had to be drawn from scratch, with the real question being regarding how they will react structurally. But the real starting point of the lamp came with the width of the leds, 5 millimeters, also what made the idea of the lamp come to my mind. To stay as close as possible to this dimension, the central core is made of a single hollow element, surrounded by two thin polished brass plates. The light bounces from the inside of the plates, as well as on the outside, producing different shades of light. Giving the lamp the impression of being suspended was also important, and so the base had to remain very simple and compact. It is an aluminum tripod made of two elements, one black one red, the only details visible, like the signal light on the tail of a plane. The need to lower the gravity center to enhance the stability of the lamp came with the first prototype, and three steel weights were added within the thickness of the blade. As a result the lamp is 6.3mm wide, in a dark room only a thin black line remains visible on a stripe of light.

DM— Aside from design, what other sources do you draw inspiration from for your works?
RK— I guess it is like for almost everyone, inspiration comes from many places, other people’s stories, exchanging ideas, what we see everyday. I am a visual person— photography has always been a way to collect what touches me. I also spend some time collecting images for an art and architecture newsletter every morning. I imagine that looking for references from various sources, is consciously or not, a way I get inspired.

Autumn, Raphael Kadid. ©

DM— What modern invention that exists today, do you wish you had thought of first?
RK— It is a tricky question. Not that I wished I had thought of first, but I think that 3D printing and CNC processes in general, are an amazing gift for everyone wanting to build, since only a computer is required to produce single custom parts. Unfortunately today they are still often associated to the reproduction of objects, people, or the embodiment of complex computer generated shapes. But I am optimistic that the trend will pass, and people will see them more as versatile design tools.

DM— What would you like people to feel when buying/using one of your products?
RK— Maybe to realise there is nothing unnecessary, and to feel the materials for what they are.

DM— What’s the best & worst advice that you’ve been given, as a designer?
RK— The best is the enemy of the good; it is what my mother often told me. I think that it’s important to not miss the right point to stop. The worst advice, I can’t say.