As Editor in Chief of Contract, I was so pleased to present the 36th Designer of the Year Award to Martin Lesjak at the Interiors Awards Breakfast on January 30 in New York. Lesjak is the founder and creative director of the architecture and design firm INNOCAD and the product design company 13&9 Design in Graz, Austria. As Zach Mortice, the writer of our feature story on Martin, wrote: The INNOCAD portfolio of architecture and interiors for offices, exhibitions, hospitality, retail, and residences affirms a designer’s ability to pull power, grace, and emotion from seemingly otherworldly spaces. Lesjak designs engaging and sensuous environments that connect minds to bodies and intellect to creativity. Innocad began in 1999 as a partnership between Lesjak with his architecture school classmate and friend Peter Schwaiger in 1999. Martin has taken the creative lead for INNOCAD, and Peter continues with the firm as the chief financial officer, and business manager. The firm now has about 15 employees.
In recent years, the firm has built a body of work that has allowed it to be recognized not just in Europe, but also at the Interiors Awards Breakfast, where it won three total Interiors Awards in the previous two years, including wins in both Large Office and Small Office categories two years ago. The 2013 large office win was for the Vienna office of Microsoft, and the Small office win was for the office and testing lab for the lighting company XAL. So, the Interiors juries last year and the year before actually gave me a solid assist in the selection of this year’s Designer of the Year. One of Innocad’s first significant projects was called Golden Nugget, and you will see that in the video. Lesjak developed and designed the building in 2005, and INNOCAD’s office is on the ground floor. The building is so striking in its historic streetcape context that it’s been an architectural tourist draw for a decade. INNOCAD designers gave tours to more than 2,000 people before they realized they had to stop to actually be productive.
INNOCAD’s latest and most significant completed project is the 23-story office interiors for the headquarters of the Austrian rail company, which you will also see in this video. And now the firm is designing projects in the Middle East and the rest of Europe, and is eager to design for clients in the states as well. Martin is not just an architect and designer of interiors, though. For one, he is a DJ, and has actually received more than one design commission as a result of his DJ stints. And, just in the last two years, he has launched the product design company 13&9 Design with his partner in life and in business, Anastasia Su, who you will also see in this video. The number 13 is her birth date and 9 is the jersey number that Martin wore when he played soccer in Austria. Anastasia’s background is, in part, in fashion design, and together they design fashion, jewelry, lighting, and furniture. Early in the video, you’ll see Martin wearing sunglasses, which he and Anastasia designed.
There’s a bravado about Martin and his design skill that allow him and his work to truly stand out. As one of his colleagues has noted, the photo of him on the cover of our January issue simultaneously captures Martin’s strong character, his warmth, and his curiousity, all vital traits for a great designer. And above all, as Martin puts it, he and his colleagues are on a quest for the SOUL of DESIGN in all of their work. I have no doubt that Martin is on a course to be an international design star, which is why he is our Designer of the Year.