She has the mind-set of an artist and the practical skills of a designer. Her works are pieces of art that have been shown in art galleries in Europe, like Carpenters Workshop Gallery in Paris and London or Galleria Antonella Villanova in Florence, and in the US, including the Workshop Residence San Francisco with “Dirty Toys” exhibition: a collection of unique and limited editions lights locally made from pre-owned industrial components scavenged from local recycle yards and dumps. Johanna Grawunder, owner of Johanna Grawunder design, is an International designer and architect with a studio in San Francisco and Milano. Her portfolio includes companies like Flos, Boffi, GlasItalia, the Museum of Art and Design in New York, San Francisco MoMA, Fendi, Chanel Gold Bar in Madrid. For Fendi she designed lighting installations for their travelling exhibition “Un Art Autre” and an integrated color and light installation for the facade of Fendi Miami, inaugurated during Art Basel Miami. If you go to the Luxembourg Freeport, the high security storage facility adjacent to Luxembourg Findel Airport opened on September 2014, you can see her permanent installation of “light tags” throughout the building, as well as a unique light façade. Graduating from CalPoly in San Luis Obispo with a degree in Architecture, she worked first with Cristiano Toraldo di Francia (Superstudio, Florence), until she met Ettore Sottsass. He saw and recognized her talent immediately and they started a long and productive collaboration. From 1985 to 2001 she worked with Sottsass Associati, becoming a partner in 1989. Here she had the chance to learn from the Maestro and to define and discover her own style, her own personality. Johanna now collaborates with many prestigious architects and designers, including Peter Marino, Noe' Duchaufour-Lawrance, Stanley Saitowitz, Steven Volpe, and Jensen Architects.
D: How did the local design and architecture industries have changed in the last 5-10 years?
JG: Three main trends emerge regarding Design and design discourse. Firstly, it is much more international, with resources like Dsegnare and Dzine filling the void left by the very much missed LIMN. At the same time, it has also become more local with institutions like the Workshop Residency, and the Makers events around town. These two factions seem to compliment each other quite nicely. Happily, the discourse has not erupted into a moralistic sum zero game, but all sides seem to want to allow design to be a major cultural and economic force in the City. And finally, technology has taken its rightful place in the design discourse in the Bay Area. And I don't mean just IDEO or Apple, but in general, the awareness of design, whether experienced through the medium of a cell phone, a glass table, a custom chandelier, or a Tesla now acknowledges a debt to technology in the broadest sense.
D: What are your favorite design pieces and architecture projects in the Bay Area?
JG: I love the De Young Museum. It is a miracle of tenacity (I mean, that it even exists) and really a sculptural masterpiece. I love the Sculpture Garden at SFMOMA (still there, by the way, untouched by the expansion). It is a rooftop oasis of perfection and simplicity. Classically, I love and have always loved the Trans America building. Again, amazing they actually built that. A classic and simple form that defines the skyline.
D: And those you don’t like at all?
JG: There are a lot of nondescript things going up all over, especially in SOMA. A sort of texture of mediocrity.
D: In your opinion, who are the new young and talented designers and architects in the Bay Area? The future stars of the industry?
JG: The Bay Area is a very tough customer and it takes so much to build well here. So the "future" architects, at least the near future, are probably not "new young". There is a small group of amazingly talented professionals who have been around for a while but are finally getting opportunities, that perhaps an architect in Los Angeles gets much more of and much sooner. Some are clearly masters, like Jim Jennings and Stanley Saitowitz. Firms like Jensen Architects, Fougeron Architects, Mark Cavagnero also come to mind.
D: What are your thoughts on San Francisco’s and the Bay Area’s future?
JG: The success is not going away anytime soon, so we probably need to accept this fact and start to find solutions to all the problems made worse in the last few years (homelessness, traffic, housing, prices etc).
D: What do you think about the Eleven Magazine new design competition focused on restyling the Tenderloin?
JG: I am not that familiar with it, but generally, re-styling is not a good word. Also not a good idea. Design is a multidisciplinary profession that even in a simple form, like designing a chandelier, has many cultural, environmental and philosophical implications. The Tenderloin is not a re-styling problem. For design to have any effect, it needs to partner with politics, economics, sociology, etc. And still, not an easy fix, as we have seen.
D: What are you doing to leave a positive mark on it?
JG: Staying under the radar.