How my childhood made me the designer I am today

Updated 24th September 2015
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How my childhood made me the designer I am today
Written by Matthew Ponsford, CNNZahra Jamshed, CNN
Six of the world's top architects and designers are delving into their deepest, darkest and most distant memories for a new exhibition. The exhibition hopes to shed light on the elusive role of childhood experience in shaping creativity in adulthood.
"Childhood ReCollections: Memory in Design" at Roca London Gallery will include six modern-day "cabinets of curiosities" created by architects Zaha Hadid, Kengo Kuma, Daniel Libeskind, and Denise Scott Brown, plus Spanish design duo Nieto Sobejano, and hat designer Philip Treacy.
The "multisensory" cabinets aim to record and recollect designers' early memories -- bringing together photographs, text, objects, materials, scent, film, music and sketches -- and contribute to visitors' understanding of designs they have since produced.
Exhibition curator Clare Farrow has been keen to uncover influences that may fly under the usual radar. She says designers are often asked whose work inspired them as students, but that childhood memories can influence by "less direct" means. "Memories can be consciously retained as part of a creative identity, or triggered by an image, sound or scent, or slowly uncovered in a sequence of layers, like materials stored inside a box," she says.
For writer and curator Farrow, the exhibition's texts are as important as the visual displays. The text included with each designer's cabinet was curated from interviews she conducted with each designer. In addition, Denise Scott Brown has contributed extracts from her new, unpublished manuscript, as well as other sources. The gallery at the top of this page collects together quotations from each designer.
The designers recall childhood inspiration, ranging from Daniel Libeskind's mother's geometric underwear designs in early 1950s Poland to a furniture studio in Beirut that inspired a 7-year-old Zaha Hadid. Treacy vividly describes his fascination with wedding gowns and chicken feathers, while Kengo Kuma found solace and excitement in disused Second World War bomb shelters.
But Farrow says she has found interesting similarities in the designers' experiences too: "In the process of making the exhibition, certain patterns have emerged: the impact of world history on these very personal stories; themes of displacement and difference; the importance of nature and music in childhood; the links between science and art; and the involvement of all the senses in establishing a unique design vision."
Some designers have created original work for the exhibition, including new sketches by architects Kuma and Libeskind inspired by their childhood memories, while Nieto Sobejano has developed an interactive display.
The free exhibition will run at the Zaha Hadid-designed gallery space -- part of the London showroom for Spanish bathroom brand Roca -- until 23 January 2016.