Radical Thinking: Tony Duesbury from SHH


A compelling read from Tony Duesbury on his choice of radical thinkers and inspirations


Words by Tony Duesbury

Can you pinpoint the thought, whether yours or someone else’s, that led you to a career in design?

I was running a business, restoring furniture. I would draw up construction details of some of the pieces and loved the drawing as much as the making. My business partner’s wife had just started a course in interior design, which sowed a seed for me. I decided that I needed that radical change so I enrolled for an interior design course at my local college. It was a first step for me towards a different, bigger world.

Tony Duesbury SHH
Tony Duesbury SHH

In terms of the design and architecture industry, what do you consider the most radical era or pivotal moment?

Now is a real pivotal moment with the potential of 3D printers to build more components, AI evolving potential production processes and dynamic live walkthroughs sowing the seeds of technological change in our industry. Balancing this technology with a more sustainable future is a huge opportunity for positive change.

Which radical thinkers have been inspirations to you in your career?

Rachel Whiteread has always been an inspiration, as an artist who considers people’s relationship with objects and the space around us. I have a fascination about how we see space and how those objects affect us personally. The principle of taking that object away and leaving its cast space to contemplate is beautiful.

Rachel Whiteread’s Judenplatz Holocaust Memorial in Vienna, completed in 2000. Image Credit: HEINZ BUNSE
Rachel Whiteread’s Judenplatz Holocaust Memorial in Vienna, completed in 2000. Image Credit: HEINZ BUNSE

Who are the radical thinkers who inspire you right now?

I love the Design Emergency interviews from Paola Antonelli and Alice Rawsthorn. The interview with Neri Oxman was very inspiring. Taking the idea of collaborating directly with nature to a whole new level of bio-engineering through Oxmans Material Ecology.

Who outside the industry can architects and designers learn from?

Nature is the greatest thing we can learn from, being curious about what we see around us, whether it’s the structure of leaves, shadow patterns from trees and the amazing natural colours we come across.

What will lead the way for more radical thinking in your/our field?

Real-time rendering will make it so much easier for us to explore our interior designs virtually. Being able to visualise schemes with our clients will inevitably challenge us and the expectations of the final product.

Returning to John Berger’s Ways of Seeing has helped Duesbury view things from a different perspective
Returning to John Berger’s Ways of Seeing has helped Duesbury view things from a different perspective

Could you recommend a book/article/blog that inspired your thinking?

Ways of Seeing by John Berger is such a classic text. I can’t remember when I first dipped into this book, probably at university, but coming back to it occasionally helps me rediscover the way of looking at the world around us.

Could you name two buildings/pieces of furniture that you consider radical designs of their time, or perhaps still to this day?

Dancing House or ‘Fred and Ginger’ as it was known, by Frank Gehry. It was one of the first buildings I saw that really had a sculptural quality to it and was designed to look like it had movement. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater is also fascinating in the way the building interacts with its natural surroundings.

I think best with… (my hands/a pencil/ with a computer)

A cup of coffee, staring into space and day-dreaming.

I think best… (first thing in the morning/ last thing at night)

Last thing at night. Thoughts mature from the day or planning for the next day, and form into ideas that pop up and need to be captured.

I think best when… (in a gallery/at home/ outside/over drinks/with friends/on the bus)

Travelling, looking out of a train window at the moving landscape or looking out from the plane window at the scenery below.

The thought that keeps me up at night is…

How are we going to make a swift enough change in our mindset to climate change to really start making a difference for our future.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, a house designed in 1939 in south-west Pennsylvania. Image Credit: VALE CANTERA / SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, a house designed in 1939 in south-west Pennsylvania. Image Credit: VALE CANTERA / SHUTTERSTOCK.COM

The thought that gets me out of bed is…

Learning new things, meeting new challenges and getting introduced to different ways of thinking.

Do you like to think with, or think against?

I tend to think against, and to challenge conventions.

Whiteread’s Embankment was produced for the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall and comprises 14,000 white polyethylene boxes. Image Credit: MARIUS WATZ
Whiteread’s Embankment was produced for the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall and comprises 14,000 white polyethylene boxes. Image Credit: MARIUS WATZ

If you weren’t a designer/architect, where do you think your way of thinking would have led you?

Making furniture or sculpting something out of clay. There’s something about getting your hands dirty making something out of raw materials.

Duesbury is inspired by her use of objects and space. Image Credit: TONY HALL
Duesbury is inspired by her use of objects and space. Image Credit: TONY HALL

Could you describe radical thinking in three words?

Curiosity, challenge, change.

What’s the most radical thing you’ve come across today or this week?

Vertical kitchen gardens, while researching for an F&B concept. There are some fabulous ideas on how we can produce locally and get that farm-to-fork experience.








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