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Ray Winkler Stufish hero 2

"This is not a job, it’s a passion" says Stufish design director Ray Winkler

How I got my job: Ray Winkler started out in furniture design but now heads the design team at London-based entertainment architecture studio Stufish, creating stages for iconic musicians including the Rolling Stones. He told Dezeen Jobs how he got there.

Name: Ray Winkler
Job title: design director
Company: Stufish
Location: London

Dezeen Jobs: When did you first realise you wanted to work in architecture and design?

Ray Winkler: When I was very young. I was born into a family of architects. My dad was an architect but he was also a stonemason, a potter, a painter, a sculptor and a woodworker. I grew up in Indonesia. I was born there and raised there. All through my youth I was exposed to his atelier style of working. His offices were next to us, the pottery studio was next to our house, so there was never a distinction between work and life because it was a creative environment to be in. So that creative stuff was never questioned.

Dezeen Jobs: Where and what did you study?

Ray Winkler: My father always said to me: "If you do want to study architecture, learn a craft first." So I did that. I came to the UK in 1987 and I did an Higher National Diploma in furniture craft in High Wycombe – so furniture design and making, understanding how things are made, understanding the value of tools and processes.

Then after that I was very fortunate that I came to London in 1990 at a time when Peter Cook just took over the Bartlett architecture school. I walked in there for an interview and said: "this is the place I want to go". It's just one of those weird reactions that you have where you have a very strong gut feeling. And I had the best times of my life.

I went to SCI-Arc in Los Angeles, spent some time there, then came back and did my diploma here in London. As it happened, [stage designer] Mark Fisher was my external assessor. And as it happened to be, he didn't like my work.

That was a bit of a worry and a shock. But then the oddity was that he did agree on awarding me a distinction and he offered me a job, so I couldn’t quite figure that out. But it didn't really matter. I came to Stufish first of all to do a six-week stint with him, and it sort of extended now to 20 or 25 years or so.

Dezeen Jobs: So this is the only job you've had then?

Ray Winkler: I worked with [structural engineer] Atelier One all through my college years. I still have a working relationship, a very strong relationship with them. They did all the lightweight structures for us. 

Dezeen Jobs: What was your career progression at Stufish? What different hats did you wear?

Ray Winkler: There weren't any hats to wear… you had to wear them all. When I walked into the studio it was in Mark's spare bedroom and there was three of us in total, so you did everything. You did the drawings, you did the model, you did the tea, you booked the hotel, you booked your flight. We did everything.

So my progression through this place was that Mark was pretty much the master and I was the apprentice, and through the years I grew into my role. I became a fellow director. When he passed away in 2013 I took over the company.

Ray Winkler of Stufish has worked on the design of every Rolling Stones tour since 1996
Ray Winkler of Stufish has worked on the design of every Rolling Stones tour since 1996

Dezeen Jobs: What kind of projects do you work on?

Ray Winkler: The broad spectrum for us in anything that has to do with entertainment and brings architecture into the fold. In terms of scale it's everything from a building to a ship launch to a lectern, to an outdoor show, an indoor show, it doesn't really matter. We design for an audience, so it could be a building, it could be a show.

Dezeen Jobs: Which musicians have you worked with?

Ray Winkler: This year alone we've worked for the Rolling Stones, we’ve worked for Queen, we've worked for U2. We're working for Elton John. All of those that I’ve just mentioned have been repeat clients of ours, some of which go back for 30 years. And so, the case of The Stones, we've done everything since the Steel Wheels tour in 1989 all the way through to the last show. We've worked with U2 since the Zoo TV tour in 1991.

Dezeen Jobs: What's your career highlight?

Ray Winkler: From an emotional point of view, I think doing the show with Jean-Michel Jarre at the Pyramids of Giza in 2000. I know it goes back many years, but to stand on the ridge and look over the desert and see a 220-metre-tall green frog projected onto the Pyramid of Cheops… I couldn't beat that one from an emotive point of view.

Logistically it was pretty amazing, to turn up in the desert and bring everything with you in order to make this fantastic show. Made even more amazing, on the night of the show, an 100 year fog rolled in and you couldn’t see anything! [Egyptian president Hosni] Mubarak sent his henchmen down to arrest us because we hadn't delivered the show we promised because of the fog! It wasn't our fault though was it? We didn't turn up with the fog in a suitcase… but they were very upset.

Winkler designed the stage for the Rolling Stone's No Filter tour
Winkler designed the stage for the Rolling Stone's No Filter tour

Dezeen Jobs: What kind of people do you hire?

Ray Winkler: This is not a job, it's a passion. We're looking for people who are creative, who are dedicated, who are hardworking and who don’t underestimate the value of having fun in what you do. And love what you do, that’s really important. Why bother doing it if you don't?

Dezeen Jobs: How many people have you got working at Stufish? How many are creative people and what other roles do you have?

Ray Winkler: We’re 20 people, and I would say three quarters of those are on the design and creative side. Plus we have some admin people. We have a rendering department.

Dezeen Jobs: What qualifications and skills do you require?

Ray Winkler: Most of the designers we hire here are architects, but not all of them. I look for a degree of autonomous thinking and working. There's often a need to do some hand sketching or some rendering or whatever it might be, and that's important. If you work at Stufish it's because you're obviously good enough to deliver on the production side. What we're really looking for is people who can bring ideas to the table, because you never know where the next best idea will come from.

Dezeen Jobs: What's the office culture like?

Ray Winkler: We're not a studio that is set up as a pyramid, that there's a man at the top who dictates how everyone else should think. We do have a structure, and there are responsibilities and roles, but I think we like to work in teams, and we like to work with shifting teams around. So even if I call myself the lofty title of design director, I can be very much in a support role on some of the projects because I'm not taking the lead.

I think people just have to come here with an open arm and a willingness to embrace the challenges and enjoy doing it. It’s not a chore.

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Stufish: visit company profile
Locations: London, Hong Kong
Number of employees: 0-50