Didi Han

Didi Han is a prominent figure in South Korea’s blooming electronic music scene, her career marked by a fusion of diverse influences and innovative sonic explorations. With a background in textiles and fashion and a love of electronic music production, Han brings a unique perspective to her compositions, blending elements of tradition and experimentation. Her EP ‘In The Zone’ garnered widespread acclaim for its immersive soundscapes and evocative atmospheres, showcasing Han’s ability to craft compelling narratives through music.

Having established herself in South Korea’s electronic music landscape, Han has witnessed the scene’s rapid growth and evolution firsthand. She is now based in Paris and draws parallels between the current scene in her native country and the French capital a decade ago. She envisions a future where South Korea’s electronic music scene attains similar global significance. Han is fuelled by a passion for music and a commitment to pushing creative boundaries. NR joins the artist in conversation. 

As a musician who traverses various electronic music genres, how do you approach blending different styles and sounds in your compositions?

There are so many artists that inspired me. These include Four Tet, Skrillex, or many producers from the 90s. I try to practice something new, and bring inspiration from past projects as well. This approach can bring some new sounds, I guess. But even when the music has something new, the fundamental elements in there can’t be new. All music genres share similar fundamentals, even if the sound differs. I try to understand the basics of music as much as possible. It’s like cooking, how you combine familiar ingredients. 

Your EP In The Zone” received acclaim for its innovative sound could you walk us through your creative process and inspirations behind the EP?

At that time I bought a TR 8s and I started to compose with this machine. I often begin by sketching ideas with this machine, even though I later replace the samples. I concentrate on how these beats could drive movement. Living near a busy street in Paris, I was constantly exposed to sirens, which contributed to a sense of anxiety within me. I believe this EP reflects that period of my life. I incorporated sounds from vintage synthesizers to evoke a 90s vibe.

Having been a part of South Koreas electronic music scene how do you think the landscape has evolved over the years and how different is it to working in Paris now?

I’ve noticed that South Korea’s electronic music scene has been rapidly growing. I heard this is similar with the scene in Paris about ten years ago. I think that in another ten years, South Korea’s electronic music scene will be as significant as France’s. Good thing in Korea, people are more excited about these kind of events because it’s rarer than in France. However, working in Korea as DJ is quite hard because Seoul doesn’t had proper DJ booking agencies so many artists are managing themselves and facing challenges. But I heard there are some company starting managing this so I guess it will be better and better. 

You trained as a textile and fashion designer, how does this influence your music?

After I started being into music production, I realised the similarities in the creative process between fashion design and music. Both involve finding inspiration and developing it into a form of art to share with the world. This process has helped me develop ideas for EPs and express myself through music and show myself to people.

What advice do you have for young creatives looking to work in the industry?

Do whatever you want and follow your heart with your pure passion.

Credits

Photography · Adam ZM
Styling · Pierre-Alexandre Fillaire
Hair and Makeup · Angie Marqueton

Hundebiss

Hundebiss is Here to Stay, and Simone Trabucchi is Here To Party

Britannica describes folk music as music “passed down through families and other small social groups” which is “learned through hearing rather than reading.” In a 2014 interview with Tiny Mix Tapes, Simone Trabucchi said, “I’m doing folk music, I’m playing with cheap technologies. This cheap technology has a story; the language that technology develops has a story.” Nearly ten years later, this still rings true.

Trabucchi, who runs Italian record label Hundebiss, has never believed he was doing something out of the ordinary. He was living in the small comune of Vernasca, hours away from Milan when he started the imprint back in 2007, only with a goal of sharing music he loves. Just as folk music lives in oral tradition, so do the eclectic collection of sounds from Hundebiss.

Throughout the 16 year run, he’s released with the likes of Lil Ugly Mane, Hype Williams and more. What started as black market for niche music and an underground noise party has expanded into a respected independent record label—Trabucchi’s brainchild that evolves just as often as he does.

Arielle Lana LeJarde: Tell me the story of Hundebiss. What made you decide to transition to doing a label instead of just throwing parties and making music?

Simone Trabucchi: The early 2000s was a good moment for “noise music”. There were a lot of things happening in the US, UK, and all over Europe. There was like a nice scene—very, very active. Every week, there were people releasing dozens of tapes and CD-Rs. At the time, I was living with my girlfriend. We were very excited about the scene and we wanted to know more about it. So we started a little distribution [company]—buying stuff and re-selling to our friends here. From that, it was very easy to switch to the label. 

Right after we started to set up Hundebiss nights in Milan because it’s such a big city and there was not much of that scene around yet so we felt like we were filling a gap in a way. For a few years, it was very, very good. The parties were quite weird. If you think about it now, it was so weird having just 50 or 100 people listening to someone playing a Behringer mixer in feedback. It’s very absurd. I feel like all the music now is a bit more functional and – somehow- predictable. Back then, it was really someone making white noise for 20 minutes and people were just there listening.

Arielle Lana LeJarde: How did people find out about your parties back in 2007? MySpace?

Simone Trabucchi: Yeah, MySpace. Probably a little bit of Facebook later. And then the community—word of mouth, People started talking about it.

Arielle Lana LeJarde: That’s so cool. What’s your favorite memory from the Hundebiss secret show era?

Simone Trabucchi: In the beginning, we started this party in a Chinese bar. They had a secret door and there was a small room with the perfect sound environment. Every time you touched something or plug[ged] something [in], there was a shock. Very scary, but at the same time it was beautiful. [It was] a bit on the outskirts, not in the center, so the people that were coming were really into it. 

Arielle Lana LeJarde: Is the bar still around?

Simone Trabucchi: No. We organized a year worth of programming, but after two parties, it closed down forever without notice.

Arielle Lana LeJarde: What can people expect from Hundebiss parties today?

Simone Trabucchi: Very good turnout. Very different. Usually it starts with a live show and then a DJ set, so the first part of the night is listening and the second part is more dancing. It’s doing super well. I think people like the fact it’s thrown in a squat that is very chill and that it’s different from going to a club. I have nothing against clubs, but it’s different.

Arielle Lana LeJarde: Is the DIY scene in Italy poppin’?

Simone Trabucchi: I think it’s always been poppin’, to be honest. It goes through waves and it’s changing. Obviously, it’s adapting to times. The good thing in Milan is the same people you’re going to find in a DIY party are the same people you’re gonna find in a non DIY party, so it’s good. It used to be more of a political statement to throw or go to a DIY party. The political component of it is something I really care about. I don’t consider myself an activist, but I think I think it’s good to bring content into activists’ venue, and expose people to different things.

Arielle Lana LeJarde: What kind of statement do you want to make?

Simone Trabucchi: I don’t want to make any statement. To be honest, I don’t feel myself politically committed because it’s too complicated for me. But I care because I grew up in an anarchist environment and these people have always been open and nice to me.

Arielle Lana LeJarde: That’s fair. In 2014, you made a statement that Hundebiss was “doing folk music for the Twitter age.” But now that it’s almost a decade later, does that still ring true?

Simone Trabucchi: I still like the idea of folk music. I like the idea that most music is folk music for our age. That’s a bit of a provocation because I don’t really believe there is much experimentation these days. It’s very easy to be labeled as “experimental” right now because they don’t know where to put you in. So I still think I’m releasing folk music and I’m making folk music because my sound references are folk. For instance, I think trap is super folk. It’s always been folk, vernacular.

Arielle Lana LeJarde: How do you balance running a label while also having your own music project?

Simone Trabucchi: I think it’s all part of the same thing. You can definitely tell when I was more into certain things, musically. But I also don’t think that the sounds of the artist I’m releasing get inside my music automatically, but maybe thematically sometimes.

Arielle Lana LeJarde: So do you feel like the transition from Dracula Lewis to STILL reflected in the label as well?

Simone Trabucchi: A bit, yeah, definitely.

Arielle Lana LeJarde: With a label known to release in physical format, why did you start Digital Hundebiss?

Simone Trabucchi: Because physical format is a pain in the ass! It’s super expensive to produce and absolutely not sustainable on any level—for the planet, for myself economically, or for the artist. An artist is expecting to get some money out of a record, which is hard with physical. But I’ll tell you the truth people are much more happy. I also like the fact that it’s more immediate. [Digital Hundebiss] is doing well because people are buying the tracks they want to play in a party the day after.

Arielle Lana LeJarde: How did the vinyl delay debacle during the pandemic affect the label?

Simone Trabucchi: Quite a lot, because everything was getting super slow. Producing a vinyl was taking almost one year. But it was also nice to see the reaction of the people. Right during the pandemic, we released a record with Muqata’a, but vinyl came out exactly one year after. I was expecting many people to cancel their order, and ask for a refund, which would have been like a massive problem for me. Nobody asked for a refund. This kind of loyalty and support was quite impressive to see.

Arielle Lana LeJarde: As someone who has a penchant for the physical format, what do you think about NFTs?

Simone Trabucchi: I was trying to understand what was going on, but I didn’t find my place in there. Not yet, at least. It’s definitely interesting and I think there are some people that are doing some intelligent stuff. But I don’t know. It’s a bit too nerdy for me. Too far away from my daily life maybe? I’m still very analog somehow.

Arielle Lana LeJarde: What about AI?

Simone Trabucchi: I have nothing against it, actually. AI is a tool. I like it to be honest… I found my way through Chat GPT and now it’s a tool that I use quite consistently. I don’t think it’s much different than Google. I’m not anti-technology and have never been. 

I don’t even think it’s affecting any artistic product, so I’m not worried. I don’t think you can replace an artist. But you don’t even need to be an artist. I don’t think you can replace a human. We are too dysfunctional to be replaced.

Max Höll

Team

Photography · Max Höll at Diller Agency
Styling · Claudia Cerasuolo at Atomo Management 
Hair · Fabio Petri using David Mallett
Make-Up · Yvane Rocher at WSM using Glossier
Talent · Iana G. At Premium Models
Photography Assistants · Matheus Agudelo and Maximilian Mair
Styling Assistant · Laura Bellini
Production · Benedikt Höll
Hair Assistant · Paulo Reimberg

Designers

  1. Dress and earrings JIL SANDER
  2. Top and skirt SPORTMAX, earrings JIL SANDER
  3. Jumpsuit with incorporated boots YANN CHIFLET and earrings JUSTINE CLENQUET
  4. Top DROMe and tights SERGIO ROSSI X WOLFORD
  5. Jumpsuit with incorporated boots YANN CHIFLET and earrings JIL SANDER
  6. Top ACNE STUDIOS
  7. Dress FERRAGAMO, boots J.Simone and earrings JIL SANDER
  8. Dress ALEXANDER MCQUEEN, body MAISON MARGIELA, boots J.SIMONE and earrings JUSTINE CLENQUET
  9. Dress MOLLY GODDARD, tights SERGIO ROSSI X WOLFORD, shoes ROGER VIVIER and earrings JUSTINE CLENQUET

Tom Hancocks

The illusionist shaping the space of tomorrow

What does designing space mean when the human perception of its living environments is experiencing an unprecedented moment of transition? The profound change we are witnessing, unlike in the past, is no longer simply aesthetic, but gnoseological and psychological too. 

As the walls between factual and simulated reality are collapsing, such a reflection no longer seems to gravitate around stylistic issues but calls for a rethinking of the role of the interior designer themselves, as well as of their platforms of expression. 

Since speculation about the Metaverse and its impact in shaping our future lives began, many brands — some more hysterically than others — chased the trend, coming up with their own virtual spaces. Their needs were met by a generation of creatives that, by making the most of AI and design softwares, unleashed their imagination. Social media became their springboard and many brands, from fashion to music, their patrons. 

Just like the radical designers of the Seventies kept most of their utopian projects on paper but still reclaimed their revolutionary stance, this new frontier of design could perhaps represent a futuristic shift for the whole industry albeit proudly reclaiming its digital-only existence. Are now the self-trained rookies of the internet taking over the professionals thanks to the freedom and viral visibility offered by social media? How far can we go with dismissing self-designed digital footwear or chair concepts as fakes when they could, in return, inspire a change in the industry? Perhaps it’s time to surrender to the illusion.

To dive deeper into the exciting opportunities and the controversies of this still fully unexplored realm, we spoke with Tom Hancocks, the Australian designer whose uber-realistic furniture and interiors may equally just be some of the most eye-pleasing you’ll see online — and some of the most adventurous, design-wise. 

This issue revolves around the theme of Virtuosity, which is something that may resonate with you more than many other artists since you’re self-taught. This may sound as something equally liberating and scary. Did the absence of any academic learning process freed your virtuosity and somehow unlocked new creative trajectories? 

I believe so. I also feel that ‘self-taught’ is a term I’ve regretted using as I’ve grown older. The absence of an academic influence is certainly something that has dictated my trajectory. I think it helped by allowing me to have more agency over what influences and communities I could organically gravitate towards, but on the other hand, you also miss some of those unanticipated experiences and exposures that can be stimulating to react to. So, whether one is better than the other, or if that had an impact on virtuosity in particular is hard to say. 

How did you come to the decision of avoiding formal teaching in the field of design? 

I would say mainly because of the accessibility of the internet. Because of how drawn I was to that growing up, formal teaching in any capacity never seemed like a necessity, especially in something as fluid as art or design. Sure, the resources of an institution would have been great, but it’s a luxury that is intentionally withheld from a lot of people, so I went in a different direction.

Although created digitally, your projects do retain an extraordinarily strong and fascinating dimension. This leads us to ask you what, in your opinion, virtuosity means today? 

I would instinctively say that virtuosity is the ability to communicate something, very effectively, through creative expression. So, I would argue that the intent only matters if the art is meant for others, or to convey something to the world. But it’s something that’s entirely up to the viewer to decide in somewhat of a self-determining way.

What that means today in particular, though, is hard to say, as there’s more stimulation and communication than ever. So, maybe, ‘virtuous’ is what is most pure and able to cut through all that noise.

The great Gio Ponti was among the first to argue that design, art and architecture were made to interact among themselves. Having worked with fashion brands, design firms and even music artists, do you make interdisciplinarity a core of your practice and a necessity for the contemporary industry? 

Absolutely. I think art and design is nothing if not just a form of communication. And as most would tell you, expanding your perspectives and experiences will almost always lead to more reward, if that’s something you’re able to do. That’s also a big part of digital art, though. You have this very malleable tool to reimagine just about anything. So that helps a whole lot as well, of course. 

How do multiple and diverse stimuli inform your work?

My process is fairly inconsistent because I usually try to wait for the right ideas to come to me. But this same approach can lead to running into creative walls too, and feeling like everything isn’t a purely original concept, which means it’s somehow dishonest. 

“I try not to get too fixated on one style, but rather navigating around and carrying my taste and values into different genres.”

So, although I think that everything is some kind of subconscious reimagination, I would like to get better at doing more direct sampling and using that to further explore ideas that feel more unique. I actually think about this a lot in parallel to music sampling, and how beautiful it is when done in the right way. 

Your Instagram bio reads ‘digital sketchbook’, which suggests that the content displayed isn’t necessarily devoted to pragmatic scopes. Does working in the digital field grant you a creative and experimental freedom that you wouldn’t otherwise experience? 

Definitely. Art and the creative flowing of ideas can sometimes be hindered by pragmatics. It’s nicer to look back at things I’ve posted and see a progression of ideas or themes, rather than a perfectly refined portfolio.

The sketchbook idea is because, in the arena of social media and its fleetingness, I’d much rather just gesture to an idea. That’s the extent of the communication I want to make there. If something will only be seen for 5-10 seconds, then I don’t need to get too much across, just a sketch.

How speculative can design be in an increasingly digital society? 

Extremely. A big part of digital art is just visualisation of ideas and concepts. If people are able to see something visually, it will inevitably create a stronger reaction. Which then hopefully provokes a more engaged response.

Up to just a few years ago the idea of designing furniture and objects exclusively for digital fruition would have sounded heretical. Do you feel like you’re contributing to rewriting the perception and rules of your industry, perhaps helping other designers to better understand, even in real life, the bond between objects and the space they occupy? 

If I do, it’s really not something that I’ve thought about much. But not because I think I’m above it. More because I don’t think I’ve fully integrated into an existing community or an industry, since I usually don’t resonate with what’s at the centre of them. So, I feel more like I’m navigating around the outskirts just following my nose. But if that in itself can inspire others to do the same, then I would be very excited to see what that leads to.

Thinking about the school of Radical Design, some of the most brave and adventurous projects conceived in design and architecture were born as utopian and never truly brought to life. Others — like much of the Gufram catalogue, for example — were put into production thanks to brands that believed in the intuition of young, revolutionary creatives that refused the traditional norms of the industry. 

Do you believe that the prominence of digital platforms and experimental and out-of-the-ordinary designs can give firms the push to be braver and, as a consequence, foster a new exciting season in design — from furniture to fashion? 

In all honesty, I’m not sure. I do agree that digital, creative-based platforms allow for more of those things to be seen. But as capitalism grows exponentially and everything becomes more commodified and monopolised — including digital spaces and assets — those forces will always work against the progress of creativity and culture. So I agree with the former, but I don’t see firms becoming braver any time soon, nor young creative people having more time or resources. Same goes with digital spaces becoming more democratised. I think the opposite is happening, unfortunately.

In the past, design goods also represented an elitist status symbol and they were often connected to physical possession. Is the rise in popularity of NFTs as well as digital designers — from sneaker and football shirt concepts to furniture or uber-realistic AI-generated content — somehow replacing physical desirability with a virtual and more democratic one?

Most definitely. From virtuosity to virtues. So much postmodern theory has already touched on this, so it’s probably better to reference that rather than hear my bastardisation of it. But I will say there seems to always be an inevitable contradiction between the designer and the consumer, until one or the other won’t exist any more.

One puts them-self into the world, and the other takes the world for them-self. Which is not to justify some artistic prejudice. I don’t think those roles are inherent, and anyone can create something beautiful, but until we abolish those roles and change the relationship we have with art and design, these exploitations will always occur.

Credits

Design · Courtesy of Tom Hancocks

Sophie Hicks

“Architecture appears to be moving towards helping human beings live, work and experience their lives better. And if that means the building looks like shit, then so be it!”

While still a student at the Architectural Association, Sophie Hicks founded her London-based architecture firm in 1990. The practice started out designing private housing, and by leveraging her insider insight, it is safe to say that Sophie Hicks has become one of fashion’s favourite architects, with her firm designing stores for the likes of Acne Studios, Chloé, Yohji Yamamoto and more.

Hicks became a chartered architect in 1994, prior to which she worked as a fashion editor for Vogue and for the iconic designer, Azzedine Alaïa. Hicks’s relentless efficiency has allowed her to lead her practice with extensive experience in the fashion world. Particularly strong on design, her approach is both conceptual and practical, and is highly attuned to the zeitgeist.

Outside of her fashion clients, Hicks’s residential projects embody the spirit of their surroundings, and champion honesty and boldness of materials. Subtle yet meticulously considered details are typical of Hicks’s architecture, which is best characterised by her discreet, restrained and durable ways of working.

NR Magazine speaks with Hicks about the ins and outs of her career, and to learn more about what distinguishes her identity as an architect.

What inspired you to change career path from fashion to architecture? 

I think it two things, really. I was very excited about being in the fashion world. From the age of about 17, when I entered it, it was very exciting. I enjoyed being a stylist and identifying new trends and fashions, creating pictures, and putting teams together, but I got to a point where I saw the fashion cycle coming full circle with the types of images and models coming out, and I was only about 26. I felt that it was too soon for me to be getting stuck into a cycle. I didn’t want to be part of a world that was going around in circles.

What I really wanted to do was to be creative and to create something myself. With photography and styling photographs, you are in effect, being creative but you’re putting together teams like a director. You’re grabbing clothes, putting together teams of photographers, models, hair, makeup and inventing a story, but you’re not actually taking the photograph or designing the clothes. I’d always been interested in architecture ever since I was a teenager, and I just decided to completely change paths and see if I could be an architect and create things myself that would affect how people experience the world.

Was that scary? The fashion world is such a dynamic and intimidating place to work in. Was it a shock moving into the world of architecture? 

Yes. I quite like having new and different experiences, and I quite like taking risks. Towards the end of my fashion career, I was working for Azzedine Alaïa doing a set of photographs with him of his previous collections from the start until that point in the mid-80s. We were recording all his collections for a book that he eventually bought out. So I was dressed top to toe in Alaïa – the tailored pieces, not the slinky ones, but I was pretty sharply dressed. I’ve never been so smart since.  I swanned up to the Architectural Association for an interview looking like something they’d never really seen before.

They asked to see my portfolio, and I told them I didn’t have one, only my fashion sketches. In those days at fashion shows, you weren’t allowed to photograph the clothes because they were kept embargoed until they actually got into the shops, so if you were an editor, you sat there sketching in your notebooks. You had to sketch extremely quickly because the models would come by quite fast. I showed them these books, and I was sitting there in a black tailored double-breasted suit – I think they just thought I was mad. I heard afterwards that they really didn’t think I would stick it, but they didn’t realise that if I decide to do something, I do it.

But they offered me a place, and on day one, I knew I shouldn’t walk in there all dressed up, so I decided to go completely under the radar and became unnoticeable. You had to absorb yourself and become a chameleon. It was about the second term, when someone turned to me and asked, ‘You’re not that Sophie Hicks who used to be the fashion editor at Vogue, are you?’ and I said, ‘well, yes, I am actually.’ and she said, ‘why do you look like that then?’ it was all quite amusing. I just really enjoyed drawing and making things. We did a lot of work in the workshops – we would weld, cut, saw, and make models. I loved all of that. We did a lot of expressive drawings, which were pre-computer, and I’m not a good drawer by hand, so I’d make a lot with clay, plaster, carving, printing, and etching etc.

We would talk a lot about our ideas. And the Architectural Association is brilliant at teaching design, and brilliant at teaching you how to think. I’m an external examiner there now, which I’ve been doing for the last four years, and it’s amazing how they get their students to think – to a level that I don’t think you get in other schools.

It’s a bit like if you were thinking about conceptual art, I suppose. Thinking about what the concept is, what the meaning behind it is and why you’re doing it. Absolutely everything needs an explanation when you design, and it’s got nothing to do with aesthetics until you know why you’re doing it, then the aesthetics happen naturally. Of course, some people do their aesthetics better than others – some people have an elegance, and some people don’t. But if there isn’t a reason behind why you’re doing something, then I don’t think it’s very meaningful.

I’ve always thought that film directors have a very interesting job, with the way they approach a project and how they set up a team and choosing all the people who are going to gel as unit. It was Grace Coddington who taught me how to set up a team when you’re doing a fashion shoot. The psychology of a group is incredibly important. I took that kind of thinking with me to the world of architecture: thinking broadly, out of the box and about how to set up an architectural project in a way that is more likely to be successful.

What inspiration do you draw from other engineers and architects – particularly with Félix Candela and Paulo Mendes da Rocha? 

They worked brilliantly with concrete. Recently, I’ve used quite a bit of concrete in buildings I’ve made. I think Félix Candela was probably the most brilliant user of concrete who has ever lived. He mathematically worked out how to create very thin, reinforced concrete shells that were very elegant and incredibly clever. And if you can do something very clever, why wouldn’t you? He also did this because he was designing quite simple structures like bus shelters and churches for communities in Mexico. The budgets were very tight, and I believe he even designed some churches without windows. Because of this low budget, he used less concrete, so the building was less expensive. Because of that, he designed these extraordinary floating canopies and canopy rooves, where the geometry is really his invention. His brilliance as an engineer allowed him to do that. There are some wonderful photographs of this, one in particular which has workman standing on top of this mushroom-like roof. It’s about 10 or 15 metres high and incredibly thin. It’s just a brilliant demonstration of history.

Paulo Mendes da Rocha’s buildings in and around Sao Paolo have an incredible force to them. They’re raw and feel very dynamic, as they have so much embodied energy, in that they are incredibly still. The thing about him which I find very interesting, and which I feel reassured by, is when when I hear about architects of his stature that did what I do, which is having an office of one. An architect of his stature, you would expect to have an office of quite a lot of people, but he maintained a very small office. I’ve never had a big office – I’ve had an office of about 10 people perhaps, and I found that I wasn’t properly designing myself. I was spending too much time looking after other people and checking their work.

Everything froze with the crash in 2008, and I felt like I really needed to get back to basics. What I really wanted to do was design buildings, and what I really wanted to do was actually be the one doing the designing, not passing it down. I’ve got the most brilliant kind of situation now, where I work very closely with my colleague Tom Hopes, and we work very well together. He’s very strong on construction, and I’m very strong on design. He’s teaching me construction and I’m teaching him design – we do both and understand both sides. My aspiration would be to continue to work in this way, and to continue to work in the way that Mendes da Rocha worked. That involved only bringing in other team members for a project when you need to, so you don’t have everyone in the office all the time.

The most recent building I did was a house in Northamptonshire, and it was a reasonably big team. We did all the drawings here, with about 10 or so people, but it worked very well because the quality of the design and the detail was that bit higher. We work very closely as a team and get much better results, I feel. But it’s an unusual way to work, so I’m always encouraged when I read that someone like him created really interesting buildings with that same process.

What do you value most about a living space?

That it’s really comfortable, and not just literally. It’s important that you feel relaxed, calm, and able to be yourself in and around it. The word ‘comfortable’ might have the wrong connotations because it makes you think about sitting on squishy chairs, but it’s not that. It’s a kind of feeling – feeling yourself.

When I design for other people, I want to find out what makes them feel right. If I’m designing a house for somebody, I want to know everything about how they live, how they behave, what makes them feel comfortable, and what kind of impression they want that building to embody. With the house that I designed for my daughter recently, which is called House Between Two Lakes, it was really important to her that it wasn’t a show-off-y house. She didn’t want a flashy house. She didn’t want a house that was obtrusive. She wanted something that was the opposite of a designed house, which is why we made something that sat very gently in the landscape, and that is very streamlined.

As the theme of this issue is identity, I thought it would be interesting to know if you’ve ever had kind of ‘identity crisis’ with a project?   

That’s a difficult one, because architectural projects are very long and very complicated, and they involve an awful lot of solving problems. These problems might be thrown up by the environment or by the building problems that crop up during construction. If you’re working on a project where you’re solving problems, an identity crisis is less common.

There’s initial design that you tend not to go forward with until you’ve got the concept sorted out. Projects don’t go ahead if you can’t get that right. It’s a difficult question for me to answer. I know it sounds as if I’m not admitting to self-doubt, but that’s not it. As an architect, you’re a servant of the client, so you need to understand what they’re all about. If you don’t understand what they’re all about, the project tends not to go forward. If you are trying to understand what they’re all about, you carry on until you reach a point of agreement, and during that process, there are often moments where you doubt if you’re ever going to get there. There are multiple points in time where I would be searching for the solution that would embody the character or the ethos of a brand, or the character of the person or thing that they want to embody in the building. It might be some sort of feelings or atmosphere, and I might be struggling to understand what they really mean. And even when I do understand, I have to then find a way of translating that into a built form.

There is a kind of lightbulb moment when you get it right. It happened with the Chloé shop early on for Phoebe Philo. I was struggling with what to do for this luxurious brand, and for its new, young, dynamic designer. She’s got great ideas and a contemporary way of looking at things. At the end of the day, it’s a Paris luxury house, and had stores on fancy shopping streets. I thought about what we could do to bring the spirit of that young designer into the shop environment in a way that would feel how I think she feels about her designs. I really thought we weren’t going to get there. I really didn’t know what I was going to be able to suggest, and then suddenly, we had riots in Bond Street. There were some demonstrations, and the shop fronts were boarded up, and that was my lightbulb moment. We used railing and raw plywood like you would use to protect your front window. We put that inside the shop and used it as the finish for the walls. There’s a real beauty to basic plywood. Not fancy plywood and beautiful veneer, just the bog-standard shuttering with lots of faults in it. I wanted to bring that into this luxury space and offset it with the pink marble and gold-plated metal fittings that Phoebe was working on. We gave it a kind of spin that would tell the kinds of rich women who are going to come into shop, that there’s something else going on here. The spirit of the place is just a bit more rooted in reality.

Your Acne Studios flagship store has a very forceful and distinct presence, reflecting the studio’s designs and aversion to conventional Swedish design. What were the other influences behind this project?

When working with a fashion client or a brand, they have very distinct characteristics and their brand identity is important to them, so it’s about finding an architecture that will embody that character and ethos. When I have a new client, I go and study that person, or that group of designers.

I’d never been to Sweden before Acne Studios contacted me, so I spent a long time shadowing Jonny Johansson during design meetings, hearing how he spoke to other people and absorbing how he works and how he makes his choices. I also spent quite a lot of time travelling around Sweden and going to the islands to gather information in my mind about Swedish light.

One of the most important things for that Seoul flagship store was the kind of light you get in Sweden. In the summer, you get a very strong and completely engulfing flat light. Light is very important in Sweden, because for many months of the year they don’t have a lot of it, and then they have a lot of it all at once in the summer. Something I noticed from studying Jonny and the other Swedes in the office, is that they were very private and keep their cards quite close to their chest. Seoul is a very dynamic, outgoing place in comparison. I thought if I were going to make a building in this very dynamic city for a brand whose culture is much more reticent, then I would like to make the building sit as a quiet, almost brooding monster. Monster isn’t quite the right word, I know, but there’s something very still about the concrete frame within that building. It’s very grounded and permanent, but then it’s held inside this misty white box. With this misty white box, you get no hint of what’s going on inside until you enter. I also had no idea that the light was going to be as good as it was until we built it. I thought it would be nice, but it really is extraordinary. All the daylight comes through this white polycarbonate material, and it makes you feel as if you’re in a white cloud. It’s quite odd and does strange things to your perception. I think that aspect of it is the Swedish part – this sense of unreality and dreaminess that is present in Sweden, particularly in the islands, that are so silent. It embodies that quietness of the Swedish character.

So it’s kind of in opposition to Seoul, but then all the air conditioning and all the services, we had piled up on the roof. All the rooftops in Seoul are a mess of air conditioning units, so we did that as a nod to Korea, but in a very neat and tidy way. This also allowed us to keep the space inside the building free, without any dropped ceilings or internal surfaces hiding anything. I don’t like finishes and I don’t like hiding things, so I don’t like having to build internal walls to hide services. I like the internal finish to express the structure of the building.

How did you go about combining both Japanese and Parisian aesthetics and design principles with your Yohji Yamamoto store?

I knew Yohji anyway, as I’d seen his first shows in Paris when I was working at Vogue, so I knew how he was when he landed in Paris. He landed with this extraordinary new vision that was completely different from anything that had come before. I knew how he’d been incredibly shocking to the Parisians and the world of fashion entirely. I also knew how he’d become comfortable over the years in Paris and opened one of his design studios. He had a big office in Paris and worked quite a few months of the year there, so I knew he’d become much more embedded in Paris than say Rei had – she was much more Japan-based.

When I was working on his project, I basically shadowed him. But with him, he didn’t like anyone close, so I’d be observing and studying from a distance. He’s a very private person, and Japanese shopping culture is very sophisticated. They don’t like to show off. It feels very wrong to put a mannequin in a window for a Japanese client.

I decided to include glimpses, and he was open enough to be able to show glimpses into the store from the windows, so we used a kind of Shoji screen. We played with the idea of things on axes, like in formal French gardens. You get glimpses through the screen, and as you get closer, you can see into the shop. We included without heads, so basically had all the dresses floating in the space. And when you entered, you’d have a series of glimpses that would start from a kind of corridor of wooden folded screens. As you move down this corridor, the view suddenly opens up, and that’s when you can tell a story about menswear and womenswear. It was all to do with opening up really, which I think is a very French thing, and then through showing his clothes in a progression – that’s how I tried to make the link between him and Paris.

What qualities of materials do you think lend the most atmosphere to a space? And what do you enjoy working with the most?

For an interior space, I like the structure of the building to be expressed internally. I want to be able to see what the structure is, and it’s the expression of those structural materials that I think gives character and atmosphere to the space. That’s one reason why I don’t like decoration. With House Between Two Lakes, we had one or two internal walls, as we had to divide the space somewhat, and it needed a surface finish. I hate decoration so I didn’t know what to do.

Because the roof is made from precast concrete planks and the floor is cast in situ concrete, decided to do something related to those two materials. We used render with some pigments to give it a more interesting colour, and it was very important to me that the sand and cement render was done by the plasterer. I would have hated it if someone else came to do a clever finish. We wanted to keep any expressive movements. We chose the colour to relate to the earth. That piece of land was a brick quarry at one point, so we chose this brick red colour. This was the only way I could find to do a finish that would be as far away from decoration as possible.

I’m also slightly allergic to tiling in bathrooms, so we put a waterproofing agent into the mixture, and put it in all the bathrooms. I’ve done tiling in other projects, I’ve done lovely marble bathrooms and stone-clad bathrooms, but for the House Between Two Lakes, it is a house in the mud. It’s unbelievably wet there. The house is supported on pairs of steel piles, that go something like 16 or 18 metres down into the ground to anchor it into the mud. You basically want to smear the mud on the walls. Fancy things wouldn’t make sense – it just doesn’t read visually.

Is there anything you consider to be an architectural faux pas?   

I don’t know about faux pas, but over the past decade I’ve noticed a tendency for architecture to be sculptural, or a tendency for a piece of architecture to be a bold statement about form and glamour. That is something I don’t feel comfortable with, so I’ve been biding my time hoping this moment will pass, and I think it has.

This year’s architecture biennale in Venice was very much on a different track. Architecture appears to be moving towards helping human beings live, work and experience their lives better. And if that means the building looks like shit, then so be it! I much prefer that. Of course, they never do, because if you make a building that really functions beautifully for human beings, then by definition, it’s going to work and be a wonderful piece of architecture. I think it’s a great moment for architecture to get re-grounded and not be concerned with making a flash statement.

Some of the South American projects are fantastic. They’re more left wing and democratic. They have a history, that is not so far buried, of making buildings to serve the people. I’ve been sucked into this world of clients who aren’t really serving the people. I know that most of the projects I’ve been commissioned to do are projects that may be wonderful, and I may be pleased with them, but they are projects that aren’t necessarily needed. You don’t need a fancy store. I happen to enjoy designing a store, because there’s an intellectual exercise of trying to identify what the ethos of that brand is.

I think brands are moving more towards the social and cultural changes that we’ve experienced in the last two or three years. They are recognising them, reacting to them, and bringing something of them into their shopping experiences. I watch with interest to see if any of the big luxury brands react to this, but at the moment, I haven’t really seen anything that makes me think that they’re willing to break the mould and allow people to shop in a different way. I have various theories about it, and I’ve had a couple of potential clients in the last year who might have gone for it but didn’t in the end.

How important is sustainability to you? 

It’s very important. I’m very ‘waste not want not’, so it is in my nature not to throw things away – I like to reuse, and I like things that are very durable. What I’ve realised is that I’ve been creating buildings in the last 4,5,6 years, that are going to be incredibly hard to demolish. They have these big concrete frames that express a kind of solidity which I love to use in contrast to a lightness. I like the solidity and I like the delicacy as well.

The Earls Court House that I built for myself, has a basement which must be, by definition, constructed out of concrete. So, I decided to bring the concrete up to grow out of the ground and combine it with the delicacy of the glass. Mass concrete is incredibly comfortable to live in. It very slowly and gently absorbs heat or the cold, which means that you have a very constant temperature, so you can avoid using lots of electricity for heating. It’s very sustainable for electricity usage, because what you don’t do is use a lot of electricity for heating.

When you manufacture concrete, you use a lot of energy and you disturb the land because of the quarrying, so it is disruptive, but if you if you use concrete, and you don’t intend to demolish your building, it quite quickly becomes sustainable. I think there’s a balance. I think until a building has lasted a certain number of years, it’s not sustainable, but once it’s been in for a certain time, and you factor in the reduced energy usage, then I think it’s reasonably sustainable.

With the House Between Two Lakes, I reused joinery and doors from previous buildings that had been demolished and stored. The bronze front door for example – I think it’s quite rare for architects to reuse old parts in new buildings like that.

I think in the future, what I would really like to do is make a building where we use materials that are available very close to the site, whatever that might be.

What do you anticipate for the future of your work? 

I’d love to do housing development, rather than one-off housing. I would love to be approached by a developer who wants to design some sort of group of houses that is particularly suited to life now – perhaps family life.

Discover more here sophiehicks.com

Honey and Prue

Blown Tissue

Christine Haroutounian

“I’ve always had a desire to go from the unreal to the real”

Founder of the production company Mankazar – a platform to explore independent cinema in Armenia and beyond, filmmaker Christine Haroutounian works between Southern California and Armenia. Her work explores transnational life, ancestral inheritance, and darker layers of humanity.

Attending an Armenian school in Los Angeles’s San Fernando Valley, Harourounian didn’t head down the filmmaking path immediately, as she was first an art school student, then a photographer. Her time studying for an MFA in Directing/Production from the UCLA School of Theater, Film & Television was when she produced both her shorts ‘Fixed Water’ and ‘World’. They have received Official Selection in International Film Festival Rotterdam, Ann Arbor Film Festival, Palm Springs International ShortFest, and more. Mankazar is currently in development with Haroutounian’s first feature film, set in post-Soviet Armenia.

Haroutounian’s first short ‘Fixed Water’ follows the lives of an older Armenian mother and daughter who are seemingly the same yet worlds apart, delving into a difficult family dynamic. Like her first short, Haroutounian’s second film ‘World’ also explores a mother–daughter relationship, this time with a sharp and impolite rendering of end-of-life caretaking. Each film uses different textural approaches to impressionistic slow cinema.

NR Magazine speaks with Haroutounian to gain deeper insights into the cultural ties in her work and her attitude towards the concept of identity in her filmmaking process.

What inspired you to start your production company Mankazar Film?

My directing style is deeply intertwined with the production process, so it was only logical to start a production company. Mankazar is a filmmaking platform for a new Armenian cinema that works independently to the commercial film industry.

You have an MFA in Directing/Production from the UCLA School of Theatre, Film & Television – what did you learn about yourself during this time? Can you pinpoint a specific moment where you started to really shape your creative vision?

I learned all the rules of filmmaking but ultimately, no school can teach you how to look. In order to move away from a story,

“I realised my whole life had to become a work of art, and that starts with observing.”

You’re currently developing your first feature film set in post-Soviet Armenia. What has this process been like?

It’s been a complete act of faith. Psychic, scary, and ecstatic.

The film is titled ‘After Dreaming’ and is described as an odyssey of selfhood, drawing on the mythologies of freedom, family, and motherland. How have these concepts shaped your identity as a filmmaker?  

I would say that it has shaped my identity as a filmmaker as throughout my life I’ve always had a desire to go from the unreal to the real.

What has resonated with you the most from working across Los Angeles and Armenia?

I feel spiritually vacant in Los Angeles and very aligned in Armenia. The latter is largely viewed as a corrupt place, where there is no stability or future but plenty of romanticism. I feel like people are deceived into thinking Los Angeles is somehow none of these things. It’s fascinating what stories and projections we choose to believe over others.

‘World’, your second short film, is a sharp and visceral take on end-of-life caretaking, and you’ve mentioned that it questions how one should behave as a caretaker and a daughter in the presence of fear and death. Are these things you’ve had to navigate in your own life? Does this presence of fear ever restrict your creative process?

The film is fiction, but I do grapple with fear and attachment because I love life very hard.

“If fear gets in the way of my creative process, it’s usually because my brain is asking the wrong questions.”

Your first short film ‘Fixed Water’ also explores a mother-daughter relationship and intergenerational tensions. Does the filmmaking process ever take on a cathartic role for you?

I don’t use filmmaking as a psychological exercise, but it is cathartic in that I focus large amounts of energy into something that doesn’t exist until it materialises the exact way I envision it.

What was it like growing up in Los Angeles’s San Fernando Valley?

I always felt that there had been some kind of terrible mistake for me growing up in Los Angeles.

What things help to develop your filmic voice?

Knowing in my heart that cinema is a gift.

You mentioned that Andrei Tarkovsky’s ‘The Mirror’ and Chen Kaige’s ‘Yellow Earth’ were among the films to make an early impact on you. Could you talk a bit about the specifics of these inspirations?

I am almost an amnesiac when it comes to films and mainly just remember the physical feeling I’m left with. I recall feeling crushed by the landscapes and weightless through the rhythm of time, and also how real the classical elements felt through such simplicity. I should probably rewatch these soon.

What would you say your ambitions as a filmmaker are?

Total freedom!

You’ve described your background as being of a very particular ancestral inheritance, and that being exposed to the darker layers of humanity from a very young age has made you very sensitive to the human condition. Could you talk a bit more about this?

To learn Armenian history and to look at the present, are in many ways a collision with the abject. I don’t have the option to unsee these crude existential realities, and some days, it engulfs everything I do. It’s a forced awareness of what people are capable of, for better or worse.

With the theme of this issue being Identity, I’d love to know your thoughts on how you feel you explore your own identity with your work.

I follow my intuition more than any intellectual concept, and I can’t work from a preconceived agenda. Even if I’m going through something or making work that is informed by my cultural ties, I never experience it as ‘identity’. Nobody processes life this directly. It’s inherent. Simply being is more specific and universal than any one identity.

Where do you see your practice heading? 

Making more films!

Credits

Images · CHRISTINE HAROUTOUNIAN
www.mankazar.com

Zantz Han

“To truly appreciate light is to observe it intentionally everyday”

Light: a single word draped with a plethora of definitions. It may be about the metaphysical virtues and beliefs that crouch into the human traditions, an object that wounds into the fixtures of homes, or for Zantz Han, an essence in photography. The Singapore-based photographer employs light to charge his images with character and underscore the colors that accentuate his mood, the subject, and their overarching philosophy. As he confesses his reverence for moving versus still images, Han recalls his voyage towards capturing portraits and how color, expressions, and the vision of self immortalize his every shot.

Let us go back to your roots in photography. Before pursuing this medium as your primary means of communication to the world, what influences and incidents triggered this penchant to photography? Was it rooted in your upbringing, or did you discover it during your studies?

I studied animation during my college years, and I was specifically interested in 3D lighting and rendering, but I chanced upon photography during a sub-module course provided by the school and decided to pursue photography as a career later on.

You desire to evoke the senses of your audience when they rifle through your portfolio. What are the senses that you envision to be provoked? How would your images tap into your audience’s emotions and reflections? Why is there a desire to carry this out?

In the sea of content and moving images, still images have less of an impact now. I hope to evoke a good feeling or any sort of feeling to the audience so that they can have a second look at the picture. I wanted the picture to have a lingering effect on that instead of just being another still content – a sensation or nuance of something they can take away from looking at the images.

 

As your concluding statement on describing your photography, you have mentioned the union of art with commerce. In what ways do you marry art and commerce through photography? Also, how do you define art and commerce? Are they separate or combined entities?

My idea lies in creating a business through art and being able to sustain a living through the art that I create. Here, art converges with commerce.

In some of the still images you captured, you induced the stark shade of red/orange in the shots. How do colors influence your photography? What role do your emotions play in your photography? Also, do you relate to the emotions your subjects exude during a shoot?

I think color plays a big part in my photography because it evokes a sense of emotion that brings the picture to life. Growing up, my taste in colour treatment and lighting started to evolve because of the experiences I encountered, and I try to translate them into the pictures via the mood, tone, emotions, and color.

The overview page on my portfolio or website is a collection of recent works that I produced by channeling my inner frustrations into pictures; the darkness and stark reds are strong emotions that I want to portray having experienced them all by myself. The emotions in the pictures are essential in bringing out the story behind it and to evoke a feeling within the audience.

Going through your Overview page, I notice how portraits infiltrate this section. How do you perceive portraits? Are they a reflection of who you are as an artist? What other styles of photographs have you explored?

I think portraits are an easy go-to and the simplest form of human photography. I like to explore still life and documentary photography too.

Your style crosses the boundaries of ethereal and surreal pop, dreamy and hazy vibes, and solemn looks. Do you define your approach in photography, or do you go for a more free-flowing manner? How do you transition from one mood to another? Is it an easy move to do?

I approach photography through my mood and feeling, and express them through the crafting of light, expressions, and colors. The transition depends on the chemistry between the subject and myself, and how expressive the subject can be.

I have also noticed the play of light in your photographs. In some images, the light seems to be subdued, while vibrant in others. How essential is light in your photography? Do you plan its use, or is it more spontaneous? Then, does light – in its figurative, metaphorical, or obvious term – mean anything in your life? How do you incorporate these beliefs in your art?

Light, something that is very sensitive to the eyes and camera, is one of the essence in photography. To truly appreciate light is to observe it intentionally everyday. I like to take my time in constituting my light and modifying its quality to my taste to match the mood and tone I am envisioning.

Light, in its simplest form, provides energy to all life forms. It is essential in creating imagery because it brings the picture to life. It gives it a soul; without it, everything will be pitch black.

Anne Holtrop

“The driving force behind both temporary and permanent work is similar; it’s about the performance.”

Dutch architect Anne Holtrop started his eponymous studio in 2009. Anne designed the Bahrain pavilion for the World Expo in 2015, without having visited the country beforehand. Now, the architect divides his time between his hometown, Amsterdam, the Kingdom of Bahrain, where he is working to refurbish heritage sites, and as a Professor of Architecture at the ETH in Zürich, Switzerland. Anne’s work spans temporary installation to permanent structures, but it is his use of tactile and organic materials for which the studio is both recognised, and recognisable. Having started out as an assistant to Krijn de Koning, the Dutch artist known for his site specific installations, Anne’s first project was the Trail House in Almere. As part of an exhibition by the Museum De Paviljoens in 2010, the installation consists of a series of paths that make up the house’s structure – described as ‘A house that curls, bends and splits through the [vegetal] landscape’ surrounding it.

Alongside his work in Bahrain, Anne has worked with John Galliano since 2018 to redefine the brand identity of the Parisian fashion house, Maison Margiela – culminating with the remodelling of the label’s London store earlier this year. The curved gypsum walls and fabric-cast surfaces are evocative of both the studio’s signature feel, and of Margiela’s recent in-store presence. But, as Anne explained over Skype back in February, his work process is limited to neither the studio, nor Galliano’s vision for Margiela. Rather, he heralds the disappearing craftsmanship of specialists and family-led artisans. ‘For Margiela,’ he explains, ‘almost everything is produced in Italy. Around the time I started working in Bahrain, I started working a lot in Italy with small workshops that were specialists in the different materials I’m interested in.’

The gypsum casting that embodies Anne’s work with Margiela? It comes from a small company in Veneto; the profession almost died out, I’m told, because house molding is no longer en vogue. When Anne started working with the company, they had only two employees; they’ve since re-hired former collaborators. That’s not to say that irreparable damage hasn’t been done to artisanal craftsmanship though; despite enjoying something of a renaissance in recent years, Anne is quick to point out that ‘because of our lack of interest for a long time, these industries, which are often small family-based companies, have died out.’ The aluminium that features in the Green Corner building in Bahrain (2020), was cast at a foundry in the Netherlands, where their specialism allows for the experimental techniques that Studio Anne Holtrop employs.

Central to Anne’s design approach is an innate belief in the ‘gestures’ that define materials; the source of those very materials, and the ways in which they’re used to construct spaces and the architectural environment. And as our conversation below demonstrates, these are themes that inform Anne’s vision for the temporary, the interior and the exterior.

Does your practice take on different approaches depending on whether you’re creating something temporary versus a permanent?

With [Maison] Margiela, we did a catwalk show in 2018, shop windows in Osaka and a pop-up store in Tokyo. So these exist for one week, one day, a month – and in architecture, that’s a very short time. What I like about temporary work is it can be more radical in a way, because we have less to fulfil for a permanent use. So for instance, with Margiela, the [display] in the shop windows in Osaka, we made them out of very thick felt that we let hang. So it was a kind of architecture that’s literally soft; that has no rigidity. To make architecture that is literally soft is very difficult to maintain or to use. Although Margiela would love that idea, the practicality of it is just more difficult to manage. The driving force behind both temporary and permanent work is similar; it’s about the performance. You know, how can we form space and how can we also discover space?

The Margiela store in Paris has crooked columns (textile-cast gypsum), which was a process of making, where we deliberately searched for an undefined outcome. It redefined the process of making, and the outcome is different every time you produce it. In that sense, we can discover and invent spatial conditions. John Galliano describes this kind of pyramid where everything starts with the artisanal collection, and then it trickles down. With architecture, we build maquettes of projects with the materials that we want to construct with. So that’s also a kind of temporary building – to scale, but it exists. It has a reality. Even if a project is permanent, that’s its temporary state.

I was looking at images from your work with the Charlotte Chesnais jewellery store in Paris from late last year; the acrylic sheets you use have these really organic shapes. I’d love to know a bit more about the kinds of materials you work with, and how you translate these into organic forms?

I have a liking for irregular forms like the Rorschach inkblots, the butterfly inkblot tests that are basically just ink on paper. But because of its form, you imagine things in it and for me, the irregular or organic forms of things have more possibility than a purely rectangular form. You can project more into it. That’s the way that we work because we have form that is not necessarily architectural. So, we can start to imagine how we’ll use something; how can we read the architecture? And for visitors, that happens [all over] again.

With the Charlotte Chesnais store, [the approach] came from a project before that, where we started casting materials directly in sand, using sand as a natural relief. So we cast another material in it and it takes the imprint of it in the material. We started doing that with gypsum, concrete and aluminium. For the store, we used acrylic but we didn’t cast it; we scanned a 3D relief of the sand. The irregular relief diffuses the light a lot more than it would a flat surface, which works more as a mirror.

[But] the irregular relief starts to diffuse the light so you cannot see through it anymore; the ceiling has this irregular form, and that diffuses light into the space and onto the display. Then we repeated the exact same thing with the display table, which works as a backdrop for the jewellery. So with the specific treatment of a material, we benefit from certain characteristics of it. By changing the relief, we have different characteristics that we can work with. So the material is the same, but the way it is formed and treated enhances, or brings forward, other properties. That is something I call material gesture; to work with the gestures that are intrinsically bound to a material, but also the gestures that, in the process of making things, are formed with the material.

And this is the same process you used for the Green Corner building in Bahrain?

Yes – in the Green Corner building, all the concrete (so, the façades, the walls, the floors) are cast on land next to the building. So we cast it directly in the sand; every time the sand has been worked on by the workmen on the site, and so every time we had different reliefs in the concrete. It was also very efficient, so in that sense it contributes to an idea of sustainability because most of the form work is just in the sand, in the ground that is already there. We didn’t have to transport building materials, just the concrete. I think up to 50% of the energy [to build] is used in making form work, and the other 50% to cast it. So, by shortcutting that first 50% of formwork, we reduced the energy consumption used to make a building. But that’s not the only driving force.

The driving force is that we can building something that feels very local, and very [site specific]. The site itself produces the building, and leaves its mark on the building. With the façade, each one is a fragment of the landscape, but also a moment in time. One was done in March 2019, another in April. So you have this time recording in it as well. The building isn’t static; it becomes a time document and a process. With the Green Corner building, we also have aluminium doors and windows that are also sand casted, but we did that in a foundry. But with aluminium you can’t cast solids so, with the doors, the front side is an imprint of the sand and the back side is hollow.

By changing the material, you get something else. Suddenly you have the negative of the sand that you could never see in concrete. For that reason, we placed the doors and window shutters facing the other way. So when you see the sand cast concrete, you see the aluminium as a hollow version, so they are in a kind of juxtaposition with each other.

You’ve been living and working in Bahrain for seven years now – how has this time allowed you to use different techniques like, for example, the sand casting?

I mean, I was already doing that when I was [still] in Amsterdam. I was visiting Jordan, and going to Petra, a few years before I moved to Bahrain. So, for me there was definitely an interest in the type of landscape and conditions there. It’s very minimal – it’s rock and sand, and that it’s base. And I like that base because that’s also the base of building material; when I see a building standing in that landscape, I just see two versions of the same thing. And I was very excited to work in a place where I can research that kind of relationship.

So the Green Corner building is a very clear building for me in that way because it builds hat relationship between the soil in which it is built, the material, and the matter of it – the building itself and its construction.

The aluminium was also chosen because Bahrain has one of the largest aluminium smelters in the world. I saw it as being a local material, a vernacular material. When we look back in history, we say, you know, we built with clay, stones and things like that. But over the past 50 years, aluminium [has become] one of these materials. It’s a process [rather than a material], but nevertheless still part of it. And I like to build up that relationship. It’s all part of that investigation of material gesture; from the sourcing of material, the process, the craftsmanship of working with the material.

Larry Hallegua

In 2014 I moved to China to teach English in a primary school for one year. I was based in the west, in Chengdu, the capital of the Sichuan province.

During this time Chengdu had a growing population of over 14 million, and was one of China’s ‘pilot reform regions’. The city was experiencing rapid economic growth, resulting in heavy investment in infrastructure, such as a fast expanding metro and rail system, as well as the building of new schools to cater for the large migration of rural workers and increasing urbanisation.

I was amongst only a handful of foreigners living in Xipu on the outskirts of the city, and would receive daily stares from locals who rarely saw or mixed with foreigners. I used my camera to record, albeit in a whimsical manner, some of the behaviours of a city experiencing a growing sense of self confidence.

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