Paul and Christopher Massie began their careers designing together as Massieoffice in 2003. They were approached by Design Within Reach to sell their massively successful Flying Vee Shelves and quickly made a name for themselves as a progressive design duo to watch. Fast forward to 2009 and the Massie brothers have begun a new and more concentrated endeavour – Christiaan+Planck – a design studio focused exclusively on lighting, guided by an ethos grounded in refinement, simplicity and high quality, domestic production.
Probably best known for the Sentry Pendants, now sold and distributed by Spanish lighting company Metalarte and with a growing number of custom projects to add to their roster, Christiaan+Planck are proving the fortitude of their craft. Lightform caught up with Paul Massie and to ask him about his thoughts on Canadian design, his sources of inspiration and how it all began.
LF: Tell us the story about how Christiaan+Planck began.
C+P We started Christiaan+Planck in late 2009. Prior to that we had been operating the design studio Massieoffice. Under Massieoffice, we worked primarily with clients outside of Canada, collaborating on product design and development. After that we wanted to start something we had more direct control over, something more personal that we could build nationally and one where we could take advantage of the manufacturing opportunities in Canada.
LF: Did you always know that you wanted to be an industrial designer?
C+P Not in terms that specific, but Christopher and I were fortunate enough to be raised in an environment that valued creativity, in any manifestation, which certainly did get us started down the right path. Before Christopher and I began working together professionally in 2002 he studied drawing for his BFA. It was during work for his Masters of Design while I was in my undergrad for the same that we began working together seriously.
LF: What inspires you on a day to day basis?
C+P Inspiration is a slippery issue, but for me, it’s usually found in specific examples that can be defined by generalities. Right now it’s the work of Sanaa, which I find hugely interesting. A lot of Japanese work actually, but Sanaa in my opinion is the best right now and at the top of their game. The tools that they are using without peer are, economy, precision and expressiveness. Look at the New Museum or the Zollverein Building, which are both simple white boxes, but I challenge you to find a building with more character. Those ideas of generating so much from so little are what we’re thinking about these days, but ask me tomorrow and I’ll give you different answer.
LF: There’s been a lot of talk recently about the emergence of Canadian Design, and some hotly contested opinions on what that term means or represents. What does the term mean to you? Do any visuals come to mind immediately?
C+P The idea of Canadian design having a recognizable identity is an ambitious one. Unfortunately it’s not quite ready to knock on the door of The Great Design Nations Club. To even think about doing that, design needs to be essential to the fabric of the nations existence, both culturally and economically. Canada doesn’t have the design history behind it, or manufacturing infrastructure to validate that.
LF: How much do you associate yourself and your brand (if at all) as distinctly Canadian?
C+P There is no Canadian identity to our work, speaking strictly from a stylistic or philosophical basis. I think that is a narrowly defined and somewhat forced rubric to practice under. What we do want is to contribute to elevating Canada from being perceived as hewers of wood and drawers of water, to get away from being the world’s pantry if you will.
LF: In what ways do new technologies in lamping and manufacturing shape the direction of your design process?
C+P It’s impossible to speak of lighting design without immediately looking at LED developments and how they affect your work, but I think any new technology is a loaded gun and must be handled as such. Even if revolutionary, it’s sometimes best utilized in an evolutionary manner. One of the beautiful things about lighting is its physical presence, LED technologies allow designers to nearly do away with those dimensional restraints of traditional lamping, so as designers we have to make sure were pointing the gun in the right direction.