In Conversation

Zoe Ryan

Thoughts on life and design from the John H. Bryan Chair and Curator of Architecture and Design at the Art Institute of Chicago

What’s the first thing you do in the morning?

Have a strong cup of tea.

Who’s your design mentor or hero?

Every time I organize an exhibition or work on a book, I collaborate with talented designers who become my inspiration, such as Graphic Thought Facility, Konstantin Grcic, Greg Lynn, Jurgen Bey, Erwan and Ronan Bouroullec, Edward Barber & Jay Osgerby as well as fashion labels such as Bless, Boudicca, and Sandra Backlund.

What’s the best-designed object in your life?

Konstantin Grcic's Mayday lamp is a particular favorite.

What recent movie or TV show has inspired you?

One of my favorite directors is Pedro Almodóvar. The use of color, composition, and attention to detail in his films is incredible.

What's your first "design moment" or "design memory"?

Growing up, we would eat family meals around a large table sitting on bright red wooden chairs. I always loved these chairs but it wasn't until I saw them on view at the Victoria & Albert Museum during a school trip that I knew they were Carimate chairs by Vico Magistretti, a designer I have since come to admire greatly. I realized then that design was inherently about everyday life and the objects we use daily, and that this was something that I wanted to be a part of.

What's your favorite room in your house?

My balcony. I have an incredible view of the Chicago skyline. It is a history lesson in modern architecture.

What's your favorite public space?

In Chicago, I love Millennium Park and going to concerts in the park in the summer. I also love sailing on Lake Michigan and being out on the water and looking back at the city.

What's the best city for design?

I visited Stockholm earlier this year and was inspired by how good design was seen as a given, as an essential part of daily life.

Do you work to music?


What 's your favorite building?

I love the El Train in Chicago. Not technically a building, but more a piece of infrastructure, it is the best way to see the city. I recently came back from Los Angeles and saw the Eames House and the Stahl House, which were both very inspiring. The Stahl house still seemed so glamorous.

Mac or PC?

Mac. My favorite device is my iPhone, and I'm in love with emoticons—so cheesy, but so fun.

Pinterest—thumbs up or down?

Anything that can help disseminate and raise awareness of the importance of design is a positive thing. However, we will always need professional designers.

What's the best museum for design?

I love visiting the places where designers and architects have lived and worked. For me, they give the most clues to the way someone saw the world. Achille Castiglioni's studio in Milan, John Soane's home and museum in London, the Eames house in LA, Frank Lloyd Wright's home and studio in Chicago. These are some of my favorites.

What's the last thing you do before you go to sleep?

I read. I am currently reading Susan Hill's Serailler detective novels.