The Creative Space: Mike Rundell, Founder of Rundell Associates

Once again we discover the places around the world that are inspiring designers in our industry. This weeks Creative Space series continues with, Mike Rundell, Founder of Rundell Associates who tells us about the place in Barcelona (Our city focus this month) that got his creative juices flowing…

With projects like Damien Hirst’s Pharmacy and White Cube Galleries under his belt, Mike Rundell has had a varied and unconventional career that has included working in the Middle East for 5 years as an oilfield Engineer, working in Russia for a similar period and gaining a First Class degree in Fine Art in 1990 to accompany his Masters in Economics and Engineering from Oxford University in 1980. His Engineering background, combined with his degree in fine Art, has allowed him to develop a highly personal and distinctive style that does not conform to any stylistic movement.

Mike Rundell Creative Space Design Insider

Founded by Mike Rundell in 1996, Rundell Associates built its reputation through a series of projects carried out in collaboration with artists throughout Europe, including the creation of the aforementioned Pharmacy with Damien Hirst in 1996 and the design of the White Cube Galleries in Hoxton and St James’s. Work for private clients remains the backbone of the company and the office is currently working on a number of highly bespoke residences.

We asked Mike;

Can you tell us about a space/environment in Barcelona that has inspired your work? 

Barcelona Mies van der Rohe Pavilion – In 1929 no one had seen anything like it before. A building with no evident purpose, a pavilion of spaces bounded by intersecting planes of glass, steel and the finest marble, surrounded by water, accessed via a causeway, home to a sculpture.


Image Copyright: © Pepo Segura  – Fundació Mies van der Rohe

It still seems breathtakingly ambitious, hovering somewhere between minimalist folly and prototype workspace. Every corner is animated – either by the views, the materials or the sense of anticipation of what lies just round the corner. And this is how it was meant to be: sparsely populated with its own furniture, focussed on a single piece of art, surrounded by the emptiness and peace that defined its purpose.

I first visited the pavilion when I was working as a conceptual artist in Barcelona, a city that at the time was brushing itself up in preparation for the 1992 Olympics. The city was my home for several years – a wonderfully optimistic place where possibilities were limitless and opportunities abounded. And there it was that I first stumbled across the pavilion.


Image Copyright: © Pepo Segura  – Fundació Mies van der Rohe

I slowly came to know every slab of Travertine, every precisely machined angle of steel, every swirl of the red bookmatched marble and – in time – felt that I understood the thought process that had inspired its creation.

It is, of course, a perfectly paced set of planes and volumes, on the one hand knitting together exquisite materials to bring life and energy to otherwise banal surfaces, on the other hand using deliberately repetitive travertine to emphasise the infinity of the long wall that defines the entrance. The surrounding lake enlivens the ceilings with reflections and provides a sense of detachment from the rest of the city; the glass and steel allows visitors to grasp the importance of the solid planes that cut through the space.


Image Copyright: © Pepo Segura  – Fundació Mies van der Rohe

It was such an iconic object to me – part sculpture, part building – that it became the setting for a series of photos that were commissioned by the city authorities to help promote its cultural agenda. So for a few months my four poster bed found a home all over the city, bringing its unexpected and slightly surreal personality to sites ranging from the Metro to the Sagrada Familia, with the collaboration of a huge number of otherwise po-faced security guards who sparked into life when the idea of helping to create a piece of art was offered. And the bed was warmly welcomed by the Mies foundation where I spent a happy day floating it on its magic lake, hoping somehow to add to the richness of the pavilion by emphasising it as a building where a bed was more at home looking inwards than on the inside looking out.

Rundell Associates - Harrods Fine Watches design insider creative space

Image: The marble staircase, Fine Watches Department at Harrods, designed by Rundell Associates.

And today I still use the ideas learnt in that pavilion; I still choose bookmatched marbles to enliven otherwise banal surfaces, still use planes to define space in an informal but precise manner, still try to ensure peace and focus within my buildings. It was an excellent lesson to learn.

About Kate Nannery

Kate is a freelance writer for Design Insider. She thinks that the beauty of design comes from great craftsmanship and has a masters degree in tea-consumption. If you would like to appear in Design Insider, please email
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