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Lighting the Fuse

Yves Béhar puts his utopian design stamp on Miami real estate.

Yves Béhar

It’s not every industrial designer who creates a condom logo, fashions organic underwear and heads off to Burning Man. But Yves Béhar isn’t just any industrial designer. He’s a bona fide visionary who is moving the world toward utopia one project at a time. To follow the work of his San Francisco-based design and branding firm, fuseproject, is to understand Béhar’s philosophy of better living through products: from Mini Jambox, the just-debuted diminutive wireless speaker from Jawbone (where Béhar serves as chief creative officer); to virtually indestructible computers, distributed through the One Laptop Per Child initiative; to Béhar’s first-ever Miami project, a residential tower called Centro (centromiami.com) that will house—in lieu of a parking garage—a fleet of on-site Smart Cars. The change-through-design advocate spoke to us about bringing his utopian vision to Miami... and the world.

What inspired Centro’s access to car-sharing?
It makes a lot of sense if you think about downtown and providing the right lifestyle amenities. A lot of people don’t want a car that’s going to remain idle for a period of time. In San Francisco, downtown has changed radically. People are living downtown and we’re seeing that all over. People want to be part of the culture and part of the social life downtown, and that’s what Centro is about.

Are your choices of design elements—aluminum surfaces from Neal Feay, Swarovski amplify lights and Herman Miller designs—intended to draw attention to processes and materials?
Yes, a lot of the philosophy is to celebrate the raw materials as they are. We use concrete, wood and aluminum, and instead of covering up surfaces with marble or faux-marble, we reveal them and show their beauty and quality.

These are so-called counterculture values that have become mainstream, so when we consider the counterculture, have your experiences at Burning Man influenced your work?
Well, I’ve been at Burning Man a few times, and I have a number of artist friends who go. It’s a utopian city, a utopian moment. I’m not sure if there’s an aesthetic I’m taking from Burning Man.

The designer’s Sayl chair

What about providing glasses for children in Mexico and the Bay Area?
Isn’t that part and parcel of Burning Man’s utopian goal? Yes. Design can have a social aim, and, whether it’s a $100 laptop or producing free eyeglasses for Mexican students, design joins with utopian goals by being efficient so we can distribute more and reach more people.

In light of these initiatives, do you think the term industrial design is too limiting to describe what you do?
I think a lot of what we do is to create a whole experience. People are starting to realize that products deliver a moment in their lives that they can appreciate. I think it’s the same for the SodaStream [fuseproject’s home soda machine that lets consumers turn still water into sparkling]. It allows people to use bottles less or none at all. When you enable people to do what they want to do, you generate a whole different kind of love for your work.

It seems like you’re turning people into advocates for the process, huh?
This is something I believe in very strongly. The time of blind consumption, without understanding, is long gone. Now we have sophisticated consumers who want to be involved, so we’re bringing them into the story.