Marc Newson - Design New York Wednesday, June 11, 2008 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Syn Studios, Tokyo, Japan

  • Literature

    "Syn Knock on Wood," Tokyo Classified, October 12 1996, pp. 2-3 for further discussion of Syn Studios; "Syn Studio," Sound & Recording Magazine, January 1997, pp. 48-49 for further discussion of Syn Studios; Satoshi Yumazaki, "Interior," Esquire, January 1997, n.p. for further discussion of Syn Studios; Julian Mitchell, "Syn Studios," Audio Media, March 1997, pp. 130-133 for further discussion of Syn Studios; Alice Rawsthorn, Marc Newson, London, 1999, pp. 128-131 for illustrations of Syn Studios; Chaim Estulin, "Make Your Own Sweet Music," Time Magazine, January 12 2004; Chaim Estulin, "The Price of Fame," Time Magazine, January 5 2005 for further discussion of Syn Studios

  • Catalogue Essay

    Marc Newson: Syn Studios
    For Marc Newson the launch or completion of a project, be it an exclusive limited edition or a mass manufactured object, never signifies its absolute end. Instead it is the latest leg of a complex journey in which the lessons learned and experiences gained will inform the following departure points.
    This trajectory, spanning some twenty years and at least three continents, has left a clear and distinct trail. Throughout all Newson’s accomplishments, from his early days as a struggling designer in 1980s Sydney to the more recent unveiling of his suborbital jet designed for EADS Astrium in Paris, there has been both an increasing consistency of exactitude and also a constant vocabulary, or visual language. Newson has claimed he can’t see this signature-style for being too close to the work, yet it is this authorial tone, the visible hand of the artist, a DNA stamp that makes his work so desired and desirable. It also liberates his work from any specific moment in design history – rendering projects timeless as they retain their vibrancy and validity.
    It is in the handful of interiors that Newson’s signature sleek industrial style is seen in its most concentrated form. More than just self-referential collages of Newson’s motifs, the shop interiors in Sydney, Tokyo and Paris; the restaurants in London, Manchester, Cologne and Manhattan; the hotel in Madrid and now his airplane and club lounge interiors for Qantas, are all extreme and succinct examples of Newson’s tactile and rigorous exploration of materials, processes, and skills. According to Newson, however, “designing Syn recording studios in Tokyo, Japan was without doubt one of my most important interiors projects. It is truly unique, a one-off. Never done before and never to be done again.” It was also an opportunity for him to work in the buoyantly heady days of mid 1990s Tokyo and for a client – the music composer, co-founder of Syn, and Newson’s best friend – Nick Wood.
    Japan has always held a unique magnetism for Newson. As he says, “[it] is probably the one place in the world that I find inspiring and conducive to being creative. It vibrates at a sympathetic frequency for me.” Newson’s peripatetic lifestyle had brought him to Tokyo on a number of occasions during the mid to late 1980s, but his most informative and productive sojourn, from 1987-1991, was at the invitation of the Japanese design entrepreneur Teruo Kurosaki and through his furniture company, Idée.
    The idea behind Syn, to establish one of the first international music production and recording companies in Japan, was originally conceived by Wood in London in 1988 with Duran Duran lead singer Simon le Bon. It wasn’t until Wood met Naoka Hyuga (at the time, a distribution manager for CBS Sony and now CEO and partner of Syn) in Tokyo three years later when the concept became a reality and Syn was born. Its name, a sly wink to the excesses of the music industry, was actually forged from an acronym of the principal partners Simon (le Bon), Yasmin (le Bon) and Nick (Wood).
    The original studio – a one-room apartment on the twenty-second floor of a tower block in Tsukiji –had barely enough room for equipment, let alone staff and artists, consequently the business expanded along with the expectations of and desires for its premises.
    At the time, Newson, having left Japan in 1991 to set up studios in Paris, was blazing a trail across Europe winning commissions from prestigious European manufacturers including Flos for lighting, Cappellini and Moroso for furniture. His invigorated palettes, refreshingly futuristic forms and dextrous ability to move between design typologies made Newson a favourite of the manufacturers and media alike. As he’s said of the designer's protean role, “People cant understand how it is I can work on so many different typologies, how the same person can design an interior and design a car, a bicycle, a watch and design a perfume bottle. But for me that’s what design is. Design is the ability to tackle all of those things.”
    By 1996, when Syn was looking to commission the new studio, Newson was, in his own words “top of the list” and the call came through at time when he had the flexibility and liberty to engage all his energy and invest all his passion into this single project. “I don’t really do that many interiors any more, because there is just too much to consider. I guess I did it then, and I could do it then because I had the time to configure it all. Most importantly, as it was designed for my best friend, I put a lot of extra effort into that place – more than I would have done for just about anyone else. It was at a moment in my career when I could devote such time. I could really labour over things and have fun. Designing one off pieces of furniture is a luxury that, as ridiculous as it sounds, I can rarely afford now.”
    The site itself was relatively small, so Newson tasked himself with opening it up, creating clear paths and deceptively spacious rooms that also met the strict acoustic and technical requirements for a recording studio. For Newson, this was, “the point of the exercise. Each recording studio has its own signature acoustic and is chosen by artists and managers alike for it’s particular sound quality. I had to make sure every surface and all the materials were directed towards this.” To this end, Newson worked with a UK based acoustic engineer to establish the perimeters. It was the first time in his career in which the restrictions and demands of a specific industry were to set challenges that both informed and progressed his technical abilities and materials knowledge. “Up until that point I had been typecast as a ‘wacky’ young designer who was doing slightly crazy things, but at that moment, working with such a cutting edge and technically driven space, I had to really embrace the idea of working with particular areas of expertise that I didn’t really know anything about.” In a way it can be read as a precursor to the learning curves of the aviation industry that Newson now spends ninety percent, if not more, of his time now focussing.
    Undaunted by the limitations, Newson created many firsts for a recording studio and established a number of visual clues – such as the square forms with rounded corners – that have since become the keys to his signature style and much copied the world over.
    Certainly a first for recording studios everywhere was his inclusion of enormous porthole windows throughout, particularly between the control room and the main studio – affording the technicians a full view of the recording artists on the other side of the glass rather than the usual vista from waste-up. It was a logical conclusion for Newson, one that he has since returned to in his restaurant and shop designs – yet it still surprises him that no one else had thought to incorporate such an obvious and laterally conceived detail.
    Aside from the wall-to-wall white perforated leather sofa in the control room that, according to Newson “saw a lot of action”, perhaps the largest single piece of furniture designed for the space was the desk and console in Wood’s office and personal studio. Given their friendship, nothing was spared in creating the most luxurious and exacting high gloss lacquered pieces. Despite Japan’s long-held reputation for lacquer expertise, the table was actually executed in Italy. Though its perfect finish and execution is indicative of Newson’s credibility with and access to the finest European craftsmanship and manufacturing at the time.
    The typically restrained palette of black, white and metallic silver were punctuated throughout with what Newson describes as ‘Lamborghini Miura green’ – a nod to his obsession with the marque (he’s subsequently bought an immaculately restored, 1969 bright yellow Miura) and an acidic color to which Newson has since returned for projects as varied as concept cars and coathangers. Its most arresting application in the studio was in the acoustic tiles in the main studio’s rear wall. Made from polyurethane foam then electrostatically covered in a flocking material to give them the lurid green, the A5 sized tiles were bespoke molded to Newson’s now-infamous orgone shape and adhered to the wall to absorb and diffuse the sound. Like the hexagonally shaped laser-cut oak floor panels, the tiles were specifically designed for the main studio as modular units that could orientate themselves across unusual surfaces and spaces.
    Indeed, no surface of the space was left untouched by Newson – from the floors, the walls, the lighting, obviously the furniture designs and the engineering units. The success of the studio owes much to this holistic approach. “The basic idea was to create a space that had a very personal and particular vibe. Most recording studios don’t tend to be as well thought out or considered as this. Its an appealing space on a number of levels, as its regularly used for fashion shoots and as a venue – not just as a recording studio.”
    Syn has since been listed by Time magazine as one of the world’s top facilities, alongside the Beatles’ favorite haunt Abbey Road in London and Muscle Shoals Sounds in Alabama where Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and the Rolling Stones have all laid down tracks. Simon le Bon, Janet Jackson and the late Robert Palmer are amongst the various artists to have recorded in the studios and Syn has overseen the music behind literally thousands of television commercials with clients from Sony, Nike, Cartier and Shiseido.
    While the lessons learned and signature motifs have since been digested, revised, refreshed and reborn by Newson throughout his prolific outpourings (and imitated by many others), unfortunately the technologies that are housed in Newson’s designs have since become obsolete. The studio, now over ten years old, is due to be redesigned accordingly and the journey will begin again.
    Libby Sellers, 2008
    Marc Newson was born in Sydney, Australia in 1963 and studied sculpture and jewelry at Sydney College of the Arts. His prolific career as an industrial designer has seen the creation of lighting and furniture for major international manufacturers including Flos Cappellini and Moroso, household objects for Alessi, Tefal and Smeg, luggage for Samsonite, a bicycle for Biomega, a concept car for Ford and now, as creative director of Qantas, the interiors of the A380 fleet and club lounges. He has exhibited limited edition works and projects in galleries and public institutions including Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain, Paris (1995, 2004); Powerhouse Museum, Sydney (2001) and London’s Design Museum (2004-5). Newson's designs are present in most major museum collections including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, London's Design Museum, Musée National d'Art Moderne - Centre Georges Pompidou and the Vitra Design Museum. In April 2005, Marc Newson was named as one of Time magazine's Top 100 most influential people in the world. He is Adjunct Professor in Design at Sydney College of the Arts, and in the UK has been appointed 'Royal Designer for Industry'.
    Marc Newson lives in London, with studios in London and Paris.


Unique and important wall shelf, from Syn Studios, Tokyo, Japan

Lacquered wood.
10 x 106 1/2 x 19 3/4 in. (25.4 x 270.5 x 50.2 cm)

$80,000 - 120,000 


12 June 2008, 2pm
New York