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The Isolation Diaries v39 Header

Welcome to the March volume of the Isolation Diaries, our monthly round-up of the things that keep us creatively motivated. In each instalment of 2021, Clear will connect with friends, colleagues and peers to explore their view of the world. Next up, we’re talking with Mark Simpson, Partner at the Design Office.

The Isolation Diaries v39 Headings

With the year’s rhythm being stop-start—who recalls Covid Lock Down‚ The Trilogy—and the shocking reminder of homeschooling trusted upon us? Well, Australian born comedian, songwriter and ex-teacher, Ben Knight launches his new show at the Comedy Festival aptly named… Teacher.

Prince Akeem, Semmi, King Joffe Joffa and Cleo McDowell are back with Coming 2 America, and we salute Golden Globe winning Borat Subsequent Moviefilm— High Five! Tune into an introspective Sacha Baron Cohen through the podcast series Sway. Explore the inherent challenges of meaning and ethics in the computer age with The Emphathy Diaries: A Memoir.

Discover what does love mean with Kazuo Ishiguro; Klara and the Sun. Just waking up… roast and gently stir with Ottolenghi to create your own granola. Feeling peckish at lunch? Boot to Melbourne’s CBD and get your snack on or wander the Domain Gardens with madmen and lovers at A Midsummer’s Night Dream.

The Isolation Diaries v39 Interview

Welcome Mark Simpson, Joint Creative Director of the DesignOffice, an award winning Collingwood-based architectural and interiors practice renowned for their pragmatic approach and stunning originality.


The travel industry has been stalled by the pandemic.
If you could freely travel the world, where would you go?

Japan. In the fog of 2020, a myriad of trips there have blurred into one exhilarating, surprising and restorative memory and its the place I’m longing to dip back into. Cycling through back streets of Tokyo in dappled sunlight, sitting in an open air bath in the middle of an obscure city or being presented with a plate of beautiful but unidentified food. I still get that sense of other-worldly excitement from my first trip there 10 years ago — exciting, weird, precise, rigorous, unfathomable, calm and chaotic — all at the same time.


Which artist or designer inspires you the most?
It’s too difficult to name one! The roll call of influences and inspiration grows, evolves and changes all the time. Donald Judd for textural simplicity, Friederike Von Rauch for composition, Margarethe Odgaard for colour and Gerrit Reitveld for delightful detail — to name a few that come to mind. The other notable influence is from the time when Damien (the other half of DesignOffice) and I first started working together; in London in the early 2000s with Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby. It was something of an awakening for both of us. Lessons from their approach to colour, form and scale have stayed with us, and, most critically, working in the context of a studio where all design problems are explored holistically and explored with a human-centric focus.

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Which musical artist is on high rotation at the moment?
Currently loving the work of Ainslie Wills in particular, interspersed with obscure disco gems.


What are you reading and/or watching at the moment?
I have to confess to not being much of a recreational reader! But, following a recommendation I’ve just started Loving Frank, about the relationship between Frank Lloyd Wright and one of his clients which is great so far. The other good COVID discovery is the online library of the Golden Age Cinema. A gloriously curated mix of documentaries, art house and just the right kind of trashy indulgence.


What do you see to be the emerging trend of 2021?
The trend may be specific to your discipline or it might in the way we interact or wear our pants. Is flexibility a trend? This seems to be a key outcome from this turbulent 12 months! I’m still making plans and moving forward with all the good things in life, and we’re lucky that we’re all in a pretty amazing situation compared to most of the world, but everything still needs to be somewhat tentative. I”m also enjoying the slightly slower, more considered and more empathetic approach to life generally — hopefully what we’ve all been through will bring positive changes in small but important ways during 2021.


Has the pandemic changed the way you structure your working day?
Not very much to be honest. It’s fair to say that working from home is not something I embraced and I’m very happy to be back in the studio with the rest of the team. My working day has always been somewhat fluid and design solutions often don’t come when sitting at a desk — more often its the clarity that comes when travelling, swimming or cycling around the city. If anything, COVID has freed up our thinking a little to remind us that its OK to take the time to be in the environment which works best for the task at hand.


What is the current view from your desk?
Daylight, books, space.

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What project has you up late at night?
Currently, it’s my own house as its something I often only get around to looking at late in the day. We found a great little townhouse in Carlton a couple of years ago and are getting ready to start shedding its 1980’s pink laminate layers and giving it a new lease of life. The house is part of an old brick warehouse down a laneway which was converted into townhouses over 30 years ago. The white spiral stair and multiple shades of pink and apricot have earned it the nickname of Barbie’s Dream Townhouse so it’s fair to say it’s ready for its next chapter.

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Vale Michael Gudinski

Related Project — Isolation Diaries, Volume 38