Capella García Architecture is a studio founded in Barcelona in 2001 by architects Juli Capella and Miquel García and designer Cristina Capella, who have a passion for design and architecture in all its forms. Since then, they have been developing a diverse range of projects on scales small and large, offering a comprehensive professional service with creativity and flair.
In recent years the studio has specialized in the fields of hospitality, leisure, and entertainment, taking up the challenge posed by the current boom in the sector. The studio’s design concept is focused on functional, contemporary design with a touch of the unexpected, and it finds inspiration in an organic, Mediterranean creativity to create welcoming, expressive spaces.
The studio has undertaken numerous architectural and interior design projects in hotels, restaurants, and venues all over the world. Among them, their design work for renowned Chef José Andrés in his Jaleo restaurants in the USA and in Mercado Little Spain in New York stand out.
We interviewed Juli Capella, co-founder of the studio and one of the great promoters of design culture in Spain. He was founder-editor of the magazines “De Diseño” and “Ardi” and design editor for “Domus” magazine, he is the author of books such as “Nuevo Diseño Español,” “Made in Spain (101 iconos del diseño español)” and he has also written on design, architecture, and culture in general for publications like “El País,” “El Periódico de Cataluña,” "Interni," and "Abitare." What’s more, he has curated many exhibitions both in Spain and abroad, such as “Diseño Industrial en España,” “COCOS,” “300% Spanish Design,” “Bravos,” and “Tapas. Spanish Design for Food,” and in 2000 he was awarded an honorable mention at the National Design Awards.
Interiors from Spain: How did your passion for architecture and design come about?
Juli Capella: It didn’t. I enjoyed taking toys apart, making all sorts of gadgets, DIY, and inventing things. But being an inventor wasn’t a career. So, I did a course in industrial design at the Escola Massana school of art. There they told me not to waste my time with design, that the time was nowhere near ripe in Spain, and that I should do something serious like engineering or architecture. And so, I ended up making buildings, but quite by chance, other creative professions appealed to me as well, all of them in fact.
Interiors from Spain: What are the essentials that a good design absolutely must have?
Juli Capella: It needs to have appeal; people need to like it. I know that sounds a bit flippant, but it’s the most honest answer. If something is appealing, it’s generally because it works, it’s cheap, and it’s beautiful. The reasons can be many and varied, depending on who and what it’s for. But I’ve come to the conclusion that the value of a good design lies in seducing the user. And when it seduces a lot of people over a long period of time, we call it a classic. And then we analyze it, saying that the form fulfilled its function, or that it had the right proportions, or that it was innovative, blah, blah blah, but that’s justification after the fact. There are lots of objects that fulfill their function perfectly adequately, but that are not examples of good design. There’s an extra emotional factor, fortunately an unpredictable one. If not, a robot would be a better designer than a human being.
Interiors from Spain: And communication - how should we communicate it?
Juli Capella: Primarily through the marketing circuit, of course, but backed by the cultural domain, exhibitions, magazines, books, and now blogs, websites, and social media networks in the sector that promote it. This is how the Italians have been so successful: by promoting good design, not only as a well-designed and impeccably produced commercial product, but as a creative contribution to society that provides cultural value. And in this sense, in Spain we’re a long way behind. There’s still a certain level of mockery regarding design, not without cause. And a lot of it’s our fault, the fault of the design sector itself. We have to get over it.
Interiors from Spain: Is there such a thing as the perfect object? What’s the recipe for success?
Juli Capella: It doesn’t exist, of course. It’s absurd. As a joke, I’ll quote Munari: “The egg has a perfect shape, even if it's laid from the ass.” What is true, though, is that the more difficult it is to improve an object, the closer that object is to perfection. For example, fishhooks have been the same shape for centuries, so have paper clips, buttons, and so on. That means that the goal has been achieved; it’s not possible to take it much further. But when it comes to the furniture or lighting sectors, the possibilities are endless. There are lots of perfect chairs, one for every need. And they’re always provisional, because when a new technology or material comes along, they’re pushed aside. If the Thonet was the perfect chair in the 19th century, Breuer’s tubular Cesca chair supplanted it in the 20th. And one of today’s polypropylene chairs that’s cheaper, more resistant and ergonomic, recyclable, and made from recycled materials could be considered even closer to perfection. But luckily, no object is perfect. Or to put it another way, lots of things are perfect temporarily, for some people. Long live non-categorization.
And on the other, watch out, because there are objects that appear to be perfect, but that nobody appreciates. Once again there’s something inextricable between creativity and success.
Interiors from Spain: And human beings, what role do they play in the design of an object?
Juli Capella: Two clear roles: firstly, as the maker, since an object is always designed by a human being; and secondly as the recipient, since it’s always used by a human being. The source and the goal. I don’t think there’s any other discipline that’s as narrowly anthropocentric as design. The intrinsic focus of design is human. It seems paradoxical, but the object is intimately linked to the subject.
Interiors from Spain: How important is a sense of curiosity for you? How do you apply it to your work?
Juli Capella: I have a three-year-old son who never stops asking questions, touching everything, and taking it to bits with an unprecedented curiosity. And that reminds me of when I used to like finding out new things, reading books about how things work. I had a craving for knowledge. Now I have to make an effort, because as you get older you tend to think you know everything. Or that which you don’t know doesn’t matter so much, or there are simply things you don’t understand, and so you dismiss them. But I recognize that a hunger for knowledge is the number one ingredient you need to be creative. You need curiosity, passion, and talent, in that order. Well, and the luck, the social status, and the right environment to be able to develop those things.
Interiors from Spain: You’re one of the great promoters of Spanish design culture via your books, founding or editing design magazines, or writing articles in both national and international publications. How has design in Spain changed over these last twenty years? How do you see things today?
Juli Capella: Fortunately, today Spanish design has many more—and better—promoters than me. But I was certainly lucky, together with Quim Larrea, to be able to take advantage of a certain gap that existed in Spain in the 80s, and to work to fill that gap with content. So many doors were open to us, “El País,” the Reina Sofía Museum, the Olympic Games, Expo Sevilla, the Primavera de Diseño, "ARDI," and "De Diseño" made it possible for us to revolutionize the sector. At the beginning by improvising, copying from others, and with more enthusiasm than knowledge, but with passion. Now promotion is more rigorous and knowledge-based. And I think we have great communicators who are better than we were. Although they’re not particularly well-respected and not very well paid. It’s a shame and a mistake by the design sector that should be looking after them. Their promotional and cultural activities are key for the development of design here in Spain.
Interiors from Spain: Your teaching work allows you to keep your finger on the pulse of the new generations of Spanish designers. What can they bring to Spanish and international design over the coming decades?
Juli Capella: I see that they're all very competent and well-prepared—good for them. But it worries me that they all take their inspiration from the same sources: the social networks, Instagram, Houzz, Pinterest; they see the same things, their imagination is fed by the same things, and so they end up doing the same things as well. It’s all very good, very correct, and very professional, but it’s all the same. And that’s really not good. It’s as if they were all vomiting the same thing after eating the same thing. I’d prefer to exchange a bit of technical skill for more excitement. A more personal menu. Less predictable forms and fresher ideas. Purposeful hand drawn sketches, rather than impeccable horrenders. Looking inwards doesn’t stop you from looking outwards as well, and it brings more genuine surprises.
And I know where you are from, Galician or Sevillian, with no false fronts of being international, and that way, you will actually be one day. Josep Pla said " the more local cuisine is, the more international". It's the same with design, which is very similar to cooking."
Interiors from Spain: And this year Valencia is World Design Capital 2022. What does this event mean for Spanish design?
Juli Capella: It’s a wake-up call. Valencia’s on fire. They’ve been able to maintain a powerful and sustained collective commitment to design since the 80s. They’ve all worked together in solidarity and as a community; that’s the secret. They have an incredible bunch of good designers who are very original, as well as a great range of dynamic industries where all that creativity can be applied. There are schools too that the best creative minds have got involved with, not just bureaucrats with PhD degrees. Really good, passionate and well-informed journalists well-informed journalists. And what's more they’ve been able to get councils involved, convincing them of the importance of design without them weighing in and making a mess of things, which is what usually happens. As well as being honest, enthusiastic, and timely, their commitment to the city’s year as World Design Capital hasn’t been the typical five-minute wonder, as there’s a focus on the legacy that it will leave, on what it will bring, and how it will transform society. It's an important change from the fleeting, superficial dynamics of such events that politicians have got us used to. If you’re only thinking about starting new things, you’ll never be able to put down roots. And it’s not the usual egocentric, endogamous event typical of the small world of designers—the me, me, me that bores people and alienates them. Quite the opposite. This will have a very positive impact on the future.
Interiors from Spain: You’ve curated many exhibitions around the world. What do you remember most about them? What exhibitions are you currently involved in, and where?
Juli Capella: Each exhibition is a shot in the arm that makes you feel passionate about something. A pleasant obligation to research a subject. At "Tapas," it was a question of collecting information on how much design has contributed to gastronomy in Spain and all over the world. And seeing how much they love us, everywhere from Toronto to Tokyo to Sao Paulo to Manila. It helped to create the food design boom in Spain, which was something almost unknown. At "COCOS," with Ramón Úbeda I discovered the fascinating world of copying and coincidence, a huge problem. At "Bravos," we anticipated the talented new generation that was soon to triumph, with Jaime Hayón and Patricia Urquiola, Culdesac, Martín Azúa, Emiliana Design, Curro Claret, La Granja, Stone Design, Héctor Serrano, Los Díez,..... The most recent one was "Por qué soy así," a very modest exhibition with objects from the Pérez de Albéniz-Bergasa collection, where around a hundred objects speak for themselves. A Bic pen says, “I make it cheaper,” a folding umbrella says, "I make it smaller," others say "I complement, I facilitate, I surprise." Small everyday objects like a cigarette lighter, a funnel, the Swiss army knife, or a toilet brush are things that make our lives that bit better, yet we pay hardly any attention to them. It's on at the Centre del Carme in Valencia as part of the World Capital of Design 2022.
Interiors from Spain: With chef José Andrés you designed the interiors of the Jaleo restaurants and the Mercado Little Spain in New York. Thinking about your relationship with him, what have you learned? Or what have you both learned? What New projects are you working on with him?
Juli Capella: José is amazing. He’s enigmatic and irrepressible, and he has a tremendous personality. All intuition and overwhelming force. He has a great nose for creativity; he’s demanding and piles the pressure on, but at the same time he’s committed and trusting. If we spend an hour together, we can throw out masses of ideas, and some of them end up coming to fruition. What’s more, his social solidarity work from the World Central Kitchen is exemplary. We’ve just opened a Jaleo in Chicago, and a speakeasy-style cocktail bar called Pigtail as well, which is another one of José’s ideas for new themes. It’s focused on Iberian ham, hence the name. And we’re just finishing a Jaleo in Dubai. We’re also redesigning the overwhelmingly successful Mercado Little Spain and taking a fresh look at the Beefsteak vegetarian food project to make it sexier.
Interiors from Spain: Are you involved in any other projects outside Spain at the moment apart from those you’ve already mentioned?
Juli Capella: We’ve finished two hotels for Hotusa in Lisbon, the Eurostars Universal and the Ikonik. We were responsible for both the architecture and the interior design. And another one in Budapest as well, the Aúrea Ana Palace, which is located in a wonderful historical building, where Empress Sisi had been. And we might be doing a really sophisticated restaurant in Los Angeles for Aitor Zabala, but it’s early days yet.
Interiors from Spain: At the international level, which markets do you most enjoy working in, and where do you feel most at ease? And why?
Juli Capella: The place I feel most at ease when I’m working is right next to where I live, because then I can go home every day and keep a firm grip on how things are evolving. When you’re further away, you have less control. That's just how it is. No matter what the star designers and architects who spend all day traveling might say. They end up missing a lot of things. But it’s true that if you’re aware of the problem, you can try to make more complete, more detailed, and extremely precise projects. While it makes the execution easier, I must admit that it does hinder making improvements on the fly, and it kills some of the on-site improvisation that’s so beneficial to many projects. So better France than Australia. But getting a call is what’s always exciting, even if it’s only your next-door neighbor. What matters is whether or not it’s a good opportunity to create something interesting, not the fact that it’s a long way away and gives you the chance to boast about being international—that’s pretty banal.
Interiors from Spain: In a world as turbulent as today's, with a pandemic and our continent in the grip of a war, do you still think that “Design can save the world”? How can design contribute to progressing towards a more sustainable, more democratic, and in short a happier society?
Juli Capella: That’s something I very naively said many years ago. It was a wish, an ideal. But now I defend it in a way that’s a bit more provocative. Isn’t it bad design that’s brought us to where we are now? Cars that pollute, destructive weapons, obsolete objects, unsustainable production, ridiculous consumerism, and so on. Design is destroying our planet. But on the other hand, it’s only design itself—a new, different, conscious, social, and ecological design—that can turn things around. I think it’s a rational assertion. But regardless of whether it is or not, it is my belief, my faith, as Enzo Mari would say. It’s what I fight for: a design that’s humanist, not one that’s merely commercial.