Studio MK27

Brazilian Architecture: A Poetic Exploration with Marcio Kogan

Architect Marcio Kogan, a native of São Paulo, brings a fresh perspective to Brazilian modernist principles through his minimalist design approach. Established by Kogan in the early 80s, Studio MK27 has emerged as a prominent player in contemporary Brazilian architecture. Situated in the vibrant atmosphere of São Paulo, the studio seamlessly integrates traditional building techniques with innovative design concepts, providing refined and elegant solutions. Kogan’s remarkable achievements extend to his status as an honorary member of the AIA, his role as a professor at Escola da Cidade, and his recognition among Brazil’s top 100 influential individuals.

Marcio Kogan, your accolades are as impressive as they are extensive. From being an honorary member of the AIA to your contributions to esteemed institutions like Politecnico di Milano and MASP. Could you share shortly with us the journey of Studio MK27 from its inception to its current stature?

It’s been practically a lifetime dedicated to architecture and a body of work built slowly and consistently, with the help of an excellent team.

The studio was founded in the early 80s, right after my graduation, and turned into a collaborative practice in the beginning of the 2000s and today is composed of 60 collaborators internally. Since 2010, Studio MK27 has constantly grown and globalised its activities, creating a larger and more diverse group of consultants and partners around the globe. The team members are great admirers of the Brazilian modernism generation and seek to fulfil the task of rethinking and giving continuity to this iconic architectural movement.

I like to think that Studio MK27’s architecture represents attention to detail – we give the same importance to a master plan as we do to a doorknob – and the effort to create a flawless architecture. This quest for perfection fascinates me.

If you had to describe Brazilian architecture with a poem, what would it be?

Instead of a poem about Brazilian architecture, I will choose a phrase from a Brazilian architect, Oscar Niemeyer, which is my motto: life is more important than architecture.

Speaking of poetry, we were fascinated by Casa Azul. What were the main challenges in designing the house amidst the lush and protected nature of Serra do Guararu?

Because Serra do Guaruru is an environmentally protected area, there was a tight delimitation of where the house could be deployed. This demand led the architecture to raise the house on pilotis, generating a 12-meter span and with 3 meters cantilever.

The newly configured terrace became the main social and leisure area of the house. Also, by raising the house, the living area could linger amidst the treetops and enjoy the sea view. I visited this house last week, and I was happy to confirm that it’s still one of my favorites.

Could you provide further insights into the Casa Na Mata project, which appears to be another compelling case study? Looking forward, how do you envision the relationship between architecture and nature evolving in future projects, considering the success of this organic integration in the current design?

The Jungle House clients, a couple with four kids, wanted a house to be used on weekends and holidays, as the plot is located on Sao Paulo state’s coast. They also wanted a nice social space to gather friends and family. The site is in a rainforest region and has a mountainous topography with dense vegetation, the idea was to insert the house into the landscape as unobtrusive as possible while maintaining the connection to the existing vegetation surrounding it and allowing for the sea view.

The placement of the house, in between trees and in such topography was a great challenge, but what at first appeared to be a limitation, actually, prompted us to seek a bolder and more creative architectural solution. In that sense, nature never limits us, it always drives us. We always seek to give maximum importance to the site. How to get the maximum feeling from the space? How to extremely integrate the landscape? How to be delicate with which surrounds us? These are constant concerns of our team.

What makes C+C House unique, and what motivated the choice to integrate revolving windows into the facade design as a significant feature? 

The C+C house is one of our urban houses, and as São Paulo is a very dense city, the plots are mostly narrow, so we need to get creative when developing the architecture. No matter the size of the plot, there is a constant search for enlargement of spaces.

In this house, the upper volume appears to float, supported by a linear wall that extends throughout the plot, connecting all living areas. A white-painted mashrabiya makes up the freestanding façade system, with pivoting windows that are totally imperceptible when closed. It also works as a light filter, allowing for a controlled transparency. These camouflaged openings balance the notions of empty and full. The entire project revolves around this dilution of limits between the interior and exterior, creating an intense and spatial dynamic.

What aspects of working on private homes have fascinated you the most? 

When I graduated I wanted to work with social housing, which was challenging, because they are mostly governmental projects, and here in Brazil everything was poorly made, with no desire to do better. I ended up migrating by coincidence to the opposite side, extremely luxurious houses, which gave me the possibility of doing something that I really like, deep detailed, and the possibility of doing everything with perfection, from the architecture to the interiors, from the large to the small scale, and sometimes, even contributing to the house’s soundtrack.

Marcio Kogan, your contributions extend beyond design practice to academia, where you inspire future generations of architects. How do you see this mentorship aspect influencing the studio’s legacy? 

For me it is very clear that teaching is a two-way street. Every time I go to workshops in Mantova, Italy, the mission is to teach, but end up learning just as much.

What are the challenges and opportunities faced by young architects in Brazil today, and how do socio-political factors influence their work? 

São Paulo is currently undergoing a huge transformation due to an enormous  boom in civil construction, and this unrestrained onrush upon the city profoundly disturbs me. The restaurant where we used to have lunch near Studio MK27 was demolished so that a building could be raised. And so was the bakery, the café and the florist’s, which means the destruction of what I hold dearest in my neighbourhood. Everything is disappearing. On the one hand, we have a lot of work ahead of us, but on the other, the city’s history is fading.

The ethos of Studio MK27 is deeply rooted in formal simplicity and meticulous attention to detail. How do these principles translate into your approach towards sustainability and environmental consciousness in architectural design?

We are always pursuing sustainability goals. For us, sustainability reflects a cultural deepening, an improvement of values and an understanding of our performance in space – the environment itself.

In order of appearance

  1. Blue House (Casa Azul), Guarujá, São Paulo, Brazil. 2015-2020. Architecture Studio MK27. Architect Marcio Kogan. Co-Architect Samanta Cafardo. Interior Design Diana Radomysler. Photography by André Scarpa. Courtesy of Studio MK27.
  2. Jungle House (Casa Na Mata), Guarujá, São Paulo, Brazil. 2009-2015. Architecture Studio MK27. Architect Marcio Kogan. Co-Architect Samanta Cafardo. Interior Design Diana Radomysler. Project team Carlos Costa, Eline Ostyn, Laura Guedes, Oswaldo Pessano,  Fernanda Neiva, Mariana Simas and Ricardo Ariza. Photography by Fernando Guerra. Courtesy of Studio MK27.
  3. C+C House (Casa C+C), São Paulo, Brazil. 2011-2015. Architecture Studio MK27. Architect Marcio Kogan. Co-Architect Samanta Cafardo. Interior Design Diana Radomysler. Project team Carlos Costa, Eline Ostyn, Laura Guedes, Mariana Simas and Ricardo Ariza. Photography by Fernando Guerra. Courtesy of Studio MK27.
  4. Hotel Fasano Itaim, São Paulo, Brazil. 2018-2023. Architecture and interiors Studio MK27. Architects Marcio Kogan and Diana Radomysler. Co-architect Luciana Antunes. Project team André Sumida, Carolina Klocker, Giovanni Meirelles, Gustavo Ramos, Letícia Lacerda, Luísa Vicentini, Oswaldo Pessano, Regiane Leão, Renato Périgo and Ricardo Ariza. Photography by Fran Parente. Courtesy of Studio MK27.

Paul Cournet

The Genesis of CLOUD

Paul Cournet, an architect and researcher based in Rotterdam, has carved a unique path in the world of architecture. From his formative years studying in Bordeaux and Paris to his tenure at OMA, where he played a pivotal role in diverse projects, Paul’s journey is one of exploration, creativity, and innovation. In 2022, he founded CLOUD, an international architecture, research, and design studio, marking a new chapter in his career. We had the privilege of sitting down with Paul to delve into his experiences, insights, and the fascinating intersection of architecture, education, and research.

Paul, thank you for joining us. Can you share with us the inspiration behind founding CLOUD, and what drives your vision for the studio?

Right after COVID I felt the world was in a different place. Honestly, COVID was a wake-up call for me. The world has been changing so rapidly in the past few years and I felt it was time for a different approach to architecture. An architecture driven by a new generation. I was also having so many conversations with so many inspiring people that, after a decade working at OMA*AMO, I thought it was the right time to start a new project – a multidisciplinary practice, at the intersection between architecture, research and design. This is how CLOUD was born. At CLOUD our interest lies in the materiality of architecture, both for its intangible as well as its tangible aspects, and the tension between them. We work on buildings as well as many other projects such as books, curation, scenography, and objects. We are currently working with clients such as the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam for which we are renovating the public areas of the museum, furniture pieces for galleries and brands, a modular timber housing concept in Belgium, as well as self-initiated research projects exploring innovations in materials.

It’s fascinating how interconnected our paths can be. For six years, I had the opportunity to collaborate with AMO on several fashion projects while working through a creative studio. I’m intrigued to learn how your experience in that realm has shaped your perspective on architecture and research.

Originally I come more from the art side of things. When I was a teenager I used to spend my time painting murals in abandoned factories and train stations. This got me interested in architecture and cities. I then studied architecture in France in the early 2000s and it was a moment of cultural explosion thanks to the internet where all of a sudden it was really easy to download any kind of movie, music and book online from across the world. This really opened my mind. At this moment, Rem Koolhaas had just published his new book ‘Content’ (2004) and AMO was developing all kinds of research-based projects with exhibitions, lectures, and installations which appeared to me so inspiring as a practice, and radically different from the architecture scene in France at that time. So as soon as I could, I applied for an internship and started working there at the end of 2010. Today I am still very interested in the possibility of working at different scales. I see architecture in everything and I believe that you can make a point with a building as much as with a chair.

When discussing Rotterdam, a city I once called home, I always admired its ongoing social evolution and its uniquely pragmatic approach, distinct from other European cities. How do you envision Rotterdam evolving over the next decade?

Rotterdam has changed a lot in the last decade that is for sure but for me, it has been the perfect place to start an architecture studio for different reasons: It is still the largest harbor of Europe which has made the city truly embracing diversity in its history. The city is also still relatively affordable and is not yet overly-saturated compared to Amsterdam or other larger European cities. In short, it is still pretty easy and affordable to start a studio here. Our studio is located in one of the ‘antikraak’ buildings which allows us to rent a space way under the market value. There is also a lot of industry around the city making it easy to produce things with manufacturers locally. And to finish, Rotterdam is pretty much in the center of Europe which makes it central and well connected to Paris, Milan, Brussels, Amsterdam, London, for work. Also overall I love to be in Rotterdam because it is a city pretty much under the radar, and we can simply focus and work without being too distracted. But yes, indeed, the city is changing rapidly and I bet in 10 years the city will be very different.

Could you elaborate on the ‘Datapolis’ research project? I’m interested to learn more about its objectives and how it fits into the current architectural landscape.

Datapolis is a project I initiated at the architecture faculty of TU Delft in 2019 as a research and design studio with Negar Sanaan Bensi. The central question was trying to understand what the ‘CLOUD’ is and how it operates. You know, the ‘CLOUD’ is this thing that we talk about every single day when we send emails and photos to each other, order online, use social media platforms and work from home; but that we can’t grasp how it truly works nor where it is or what we should share or not with each other online regardless of time zones or political borders. The ‘CLOUD’ is a metaphor but also a reality. Our intuition was that this immaterial CLOUD is indeed made of a tangible infrastructure with a vast physical footprint on our planet – think for instance data centers, connected satellites, automated distribution centers, undersea internet cables and humanoid robots. This intriguing complexity made this project an urgent research for us considering the discussions on climate change and ecological footprints of this data infrastructure. As the university studio grew into a bigger project and we expanded the conversation outside of the school, we then turned the research into a DATAPOLIS book in June 2023. The project now continues in different forms and we are now working on a series of DATAPOLIS exhibitions that will open later in 2024.

The recent design week showcased your involvement in numerous activities. Although we didn’t get a chance to chat, I expressed my gratitude to Sabine, with whom you collaborated on the scenography for promoting design and culture during the AlUla opening. Could you share more about your role in this endeavour?

Sabine and I were invited to curate and design the scenography of Design Space AlUla for Salone del Mobile 2024 in Milan. The show presented the outcomes from the latest design initiatives in AlUla. Here we wanted to create an immersive experience to translate some of the magical features that one can find while visiting the oasis: the stargazing and the moonshine in the desert, the visit of the old town and the historical Hegra sites that we translated in different features for the exhibition, respectively: a suspended light box changing colors during the day, the ‘urban carpet’ painted on the floor of the basilica that organized the exhibition layout and the monumental entrance that opened the exhibition to the streets of Milan.

We also visited Capsule Plaza during design week, now in its second edition. What distinguishes this unique concept?

This year we unveiled the second edition of CAPSULE PLAZA, the design festival that I have co-curated with Alessio Ascari, and launched the third issue of CAPSULE, the design magazine. A hybrid between a fair and a collective exhibition, Capsule Plaza brings together designers and companies from various creative fields, bridging industry and culture with a bold and multi-sensory curation that spans interiors and architecture, beauty and technology, innovation and craft.

This year the event took over two iconic Milanese locations: Spazio Maiocchi and 10 Corso Como. What is really exciting is to be able to create projects between all of these different industries and create a collective experience under a single roof. On top of the exhibitions, we also curated a dense program of live activations with talks, dinners, performances, workshops etc during the whole week which allows us to program both the hardware as well as the software of the event. This year the event was sub-titled ‘Radical Sensations’ as for us design is much more than a bunch of chairs and sofas, and design should call to activate all our senses.

As a guest teacher and lecturer across various universities in Europe, how do you approach educating the next generation of architects?

The world is changing rapidly and therefore education should also rethink completely how it operates more than ever. I have seen so many schools that claim to think outside of the box and promote a free and utopian thinking for their students but when you look at academia, they operate in a complete echo chamber. At the end of the day, they are the box. The relationship of ‘master and slave’ between students and professors should completely be abolished and schools should operate in a more collaborative process. There are some great examples in the past, look at Black Mountain College for instance. Education should be horizontal. We should also impose on anyone with a professional activity to go back to school every 5 years for a semester for instance. It would really change the dynamics for the better I think.

It might seem like a straightforward question, but I believe that our deepest passions often drive us to explore research and undertake projects. Can you share a situation or project where your emotions played the most significant role?

Just quit the job that you had built for over a decade with a stable position and all the benefits that goes with it. Call it quit on Friday and jump into the void. Start your own studio with no masterplan in mind, just because you have this feeling this is the right thing to do that day and that you believe something positive will come out of it. Focus on creativity and surround yourself with people that are smarter than you. Just take that risk …

Fifty-two years ago, the Club of Rome issued its seminal report, ‘The Limits to Growth,’ alerting the world to the finite nature of our planet’s resources. As an architect and researcher, could you share your perspective on what has been achieved in the past five decades and what remains to be addressed? Most importantly, what steps should we be taking now?

Architects are probably the best at giving lessons, but also probably the worst at taking them. Over the last 100 years, the modern movement embraced industrialization in the name of standardization and cost efficiency without taking into account the costs their actions would have on our planet. Today, the construction industry is one of the most polluting industries. If you look at any city in the world today, we still build architecture using almost exclusively concrete and steel. We are so short sighted that any of our buildings are fully climatized and contemporary architecture has become disposable in 90% of the cases. Architecture has lost any meaning for our society. We need to create a world based on new radical regulations where architecture has become non-extractive, where our cities produce more energy that they consume and where our society truly coexists with the environment. We also need less things and focus on quality instead. Only then we will be able to claim that we have properly read the Club of Rome’s report and learnt our lessons …

In order of appearance

  1. CLOUD / Studio Sabine Marcelis. Design Space AlUla. Milan Design Week 2024. Photography by Alejandro Ramirez Orozco. Courtesy of CLOUD.
  2. Paul Cournet. Photography by Nikola Lamburov. Courtesy of Paul Cournet.
  3. Datapolis: Exploring the Footprint of Data on Our Planet and Beyond, Paul Cournet, Negar Sanaan Bensi. Published by nai010 publishers, 2023. Photography by Riccardo De Vecchi.
  4. CLOUD / Studio Sabine Marcelis. Design Space AlUla. Milan Design Week 2024. Photography by Alejandro Ramirez Orozco. Courtesy of CLOUD.
  5. CLOUD / Studio Sabine Marcelis. Design Space AlUla. Milan Design Week 2024. Photography by CLOUD. Courtesy of CLOUD.
  6. niceworkshop. Capsule Plaza. Milan Design Week 2024. Photography by CLOUD. Courtesy of CLOUD.
  7. Panton Lounge. Capsule Plaza. Milan Design Week 2024. Photography by CLOUD. Courtesy of CLOUD.
  8. LC2 Chair. Paul Cournet. Photography by Titia Hahne. Courtesy of CLOUD and Titia Hahne.
  9. Barcelona Foam. Paul Cournet. Photography by Titia Hahne. Courtesy of CLOUD and Titia Hahne.

studioutte

Exploring the roots of studioutte: a conversation with founders Guglielmo Giagnotti and Patrizio Gola

In the heart of Milan’s Central Station area, the modern charm of rationalist architecture is experiencing a renaissance under the touch of studioutte. Led by the dynamic duo of Guglielmo Giagnotti and Patrizio Gola, who established the studio in 2020, studioutte is not just about architecture—it’s a multifaceted practice that delves into interior design, decoration, and the creation of collectible designs.

Deriving its name from ‘hütte’, a term that evokes images of huts, cabins, and shelters, studioutte’s ethos is rooted in a blend of distinct Italian tradition and harmonious, integrated design principles. The studio’s approach is informed by a deep engagement with vernacular architecture and varied regional influences, striving for a design language that eschews redundancy and extremity for clarity and expressiveness.

Guglielmo and Patrizio, nice to meet you. It’s exciting to learn more about studioutte, which you established in 2020. To start, could you tell us what inspired the founding of your Milan-based practice?

We were led by the idea of restoring a certain cultured and gentle minimalism that have always been present in the Italian history but recently disappeared in favour of an eclectic ultra – decorative approach. 

If I asked you to show me a place uniquely Milanese, where would you take me?

We are truly fascinated by the powerful presence of the Angelicum by Giovanni Muzio in Piazza Sant Angelo.

The name “studioutte” is quite unique. Can you explain the meaning behind it and how it reflects your approach to design?

Hütte means hut, shelter. We are always linking the idea of architectural composition to a sense of protection and retreat.


Your work emphasizes a hybrid design of architecture research and influences from various regional practices. How do you incorporate these diverse elements into a cohesive design language?

It is a kind of spontaneous digestion of an infinite accumulation of images, observations, travel experiences that naturally flow towards the final object. Always guided by a precise research of proportions and materials.

What does the idea of a “waiting room” evoke for you?

A sense of suspension and tension towards something assertive and definitive, that for us means timeless Architecture.

I understand that studioutte aims for a design aesthetic that reaches beyond simple forms to express a primitive essence. Could you expand on what this means in your creative process?

It is an instinctive path towards simplicity  and mute forms of a space or an object. It is taking a lot of energy and time while aiming to reach a balance of shapes and material that leads to a sense of metaphysical anonymity.


Lastly, how do you envision Milan’s evolution over the next decade as a cultural hub for designers and artists?

Milan is a great hub, the challenge will be being more and more open to different cultures and paths intersection without loosing its own rational introvert dark and magnificent identity 

In order of appearance

  1. Milan Design Week 2023, studioutte x district eight. Photography by Vito Salamone. Courtesy of studioutte.
  2. Bedroom, Viale Brianza Apartment, Milan, studioutte. Photography by Paolo Abate. Courtesy of studioutte.
  3. Entrance, Viale Brianza Apartment, Milan, studioutte. Photography by Paolo Abate. Courtesy of studioutte.
  4. Rootine Wellness Club, Munich, studioutte, , Photography by Romain Laprade. Courtesy of studioutte.
  5. Master Bedroom, Antwerp House, studioutte. Courtesy of studioutte.
  6. Stair View, Moncucco House, studioutte. Courtesy of studioutte.
  7. Steel Lamp, Milan Design Week 2024, studioutte. Photography by Romain Laprade. Courtesy of studioutte.
  8. Milan Design Week 2024, studioutte. Photography by Romain Laprade. Courtesy of studioutte.
  9. Bathroom, Via Volturno Apartment, Milan, studioutte. Photography by Vito Salamone. Courtesy of studioutte.
  10. Entrance, Via Volturno Apartment, Milan, studioutte. Photography by Vito Salamone. Courtesy of studioutte.

Studio HAOS

Through the Lens: From Photography to Design with Studio HAOS

Sophie Gelinet and Cédric Gepner didn’t have formal training in furniture design, but they shared a passion that led them to create their first lamp. That lamp became the foundation for a collection, and in 2017, Studio HAOS was born.

They believe in keeping things simple, using materials like oak plywood and sheet metal to create thoughtful furniture and lighting. They focus on clarity and proportions, avoiding unnecessary complexity. Now based in Lisbon, their work is recognised worldwide, and they’re represented by galleries in major cities like Paris, New York, and London.

Sophie and Cédric, thanks for being here with me. Could you narrate the journey of Studio HAOS, from its inception with the creation of your first lamp to evolving into a fully-fledged design studio?

We had the desire to work on something together, on the side of our regular jobs. We had a shared interest in photography, and that led us to a few personal projects in France and in the north of India. At some point I wanted to try something new and started working on the prototype of a first lamp, and Cedric soon joined me. It was just something we were doing for fun on the side of our regular jobs. From what was initially a single lamp we made a small series, we then reached out to the press, got some publications, started getting some orders, etc. It started like that, quite randomly. We created the studio in 2017, and a couple of years later reached the point where we could both work full time on HAOS. 

How did your previous exploration in photography inform or shape your approach to design?

Looking back at it I think it helped in three ways. The first one was learning how to collaborate on a creative endeavour, which is not simple especially when you are also partners in life. The second was that it helped us develop our understanding of what makes a good picture: just as much as in photography, design is about arranging shapes, finding harmony, playing with light, shadows, shades, textures… The third and maybe most important is that it’s usually fruitful to be exposed to as many fields as possible. It’s often at the intersection of seemingly unrelated interests that cross pollination or creativity happen. Trying to understand and replicate the appeal of pictures by Stephen Shore, Joel Sternfeld or Alec Soth, to name a few, that must have permeated into our practice of design in many positive ways that we don’t necessarily understand.

Your design ethos revolves around elevating humble materials such as plywood and sheet metal. What attracts you to these materials, and how do you integrate them into your designs?

One key feature of photography is that the most vernacular subject matter can be transformed into singular, poetic images. And this kind of transmutation can be achieved with the most basic equipment. All that is required is an understanding of colour, form, and composition. We believe design should work in the same way. Very intricate and time-consuming savoir-faire applied to opulent materials, that’s where craftsmen can shine. In our view the focus of designers should be on shape and form. The more accessible the materials and techniques, the better, as it is the thinking process that then takes center stage. If a piece is thought-out, it doesn’t need to be loud to catch attention. On the contrary, we believe there is a particular form of elegance that lies in the ability to express or evoke emotions with restraint and with purposely limited means. It’s not exactly a new idea, it has been exemplified by many designers and artists for more than a century, just think of Gerrit Rietveld and his crate chair, Achille Castiglioni’s floor lamp based on a car headlight, or the works of minimalists such as Donald Judd or Charlotte Posenenske. But this conversation is not over and it’s especially relevant today.

What does the concept of “slow design” signify for you, and how does it manifest in your creative process and final products?

Actually our practice tends to go in the opposite direction. We are now trying to experiment faster, because the more experiments we undertake (with new processes, new materials, etc.) the more chances we have to stumble upon something worthwhile.

How has the environment and atmosphere of Lisbon influenced your creative process and the direction of your designs?

Lisbon happened by accident. The initial plan was to relocate to Tangier in Morocco, but as the pandemy picked up again late 2021, we decided to make a stopover in Lisbon until things settled. It’s a city that’s hard not to like, and the stopover turned into a long-term installation. Being here enabled us to open a large-scale workshop, where design, prototyping and production can happen side-by-side. We can go from an idea to a finished piece in a matter of weeks instead of having to wait months for a first prototype. And we now have a lot more freedom to play with materials, processes and finishes. 

Studio HAOS is known for embracing simplicity while eschewing unnecessary complexity in design. How do you navigate the delicate balance between minimalism and functionality in your creations?

It can be tempting to free oneself from the “functionality” constraint, and make pieces that have more value as a work of art than as a functional object, and some do it very well. As for our way of practicing design, we feel it’s important to keep it because ultimately constraints are essential to the process of creation. Paradoxically the more constraints you have and the more creative you have to be, and besides functionality, we don’t have that many of them. We indeed have to balance this with quite a minimalistic approach, but they are not necessarily opposites. Minimalism for us is not about stripping everything out, it’s about achieving the desired effect with restraint, trying to be subtle rather than loud, leaning away from frivolous complication. In that sense ornament can be necessary, and functionality is not a cross to carry.

Reflecting on your journey so far, what advice would you offer to yourselves when you were first embarking on this path?

We were quite self conscious when we started, not having a product design background, and we would spend way too much time on each object. It usually doesn’t make them better, quite the opposite in fact. Looking back I would tell myself to be more confident, build more pieces, because with each new piece we make mistakes, learn, and get better at what we do. In other words, “it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey”.

As Studio HAOS continues to evolve, what are your aspirations and goals for the future of the studio?

I hope we’ll always have the curiosity to experiment with new ways of doing things, and that we will keep doing so surrounded by a team of talented and fun people. And above all, I hope that we always get to keep the immense privilege of being allowed to spend our days making beautiful things, and be paid for it. 

In order of appearance

  1. ANTIMATIÈRE Exhibition, 2024, Paris. Photography by Depasquale and Maffini. Courtesy of CONTRIBUTIONS Design
  2. Aluminium Side Table. Photography by Inês Silva Sá. Courtesy of Studio HAOS.
  3. Aluminium Dining Table. Photography by Inês Silva Sá. Courtesy of Studio HAOS.
  4. Grid Chair. Photography by Inês Silva Sá. Courtesy of Studio HAOS.
  5. Leather Chair. Photography by Inês Silva Sá. Courtesy of Studio HAOS.
  6. Aluminium Lounge Chair. Photography by Inês Silva Sá. Courtesy of Studio HAOS.
  7. Aluminium Arm Chair. Photography by Inês Silva Sá. Courtesy of Studio HAOS.
  8. Aluminium Bench. Photography by Inês Silva Sá. Courtesy of Studio HAOS.
  9. Steel Lamp 3. Photography by Inês Silva Sá. Courtesy of Studio HAOS.
  10. Steel Lamp 1. Photography by Inês Silva Sá. Courtesy of Studio HAOS.

Frederik Fialin

From Denmark to Berlin: Frederik Fialin’s Unique Approach to Furniture Design

Today, we have the pleasure of sitting down with Frederik Fialin, a designer hailing from Denmark but based in Berlin, specialises in crafting bold yet whimsical minimalist furniture using durable, frequently recycled materials. He enjoys playing with contrasts, blending elements like sturdy construction steel with vibrant velour upholstery. Despite his traditional training as a cabinet maker, Fialin consistently challenges conventions and explores new possibilities in his work.

Frederik, your furniture pieces are characterized by their bold yet playful aesthetic. Can you tell us more about your creative process and what inspires your designs?

I’m usually content with my work when it makes me laugh and wonder at its oddness. I aim for it to be disproportionate or unexpectedly shaped, yet maintain a clear and simple structure. I find great beauty in simplicity and honesty, and I strive to infuse these qualities into my furniture. I often make only minor tweaks to the original concept, mainly to address functionality and overcome technical hurdles. I enjoy exploring extremes and using the full range of sizes available, whether from ready-mades or custom fabrications. Why stick with a 50mm pipe when you can use a 270mm one? It might be unnecessary, but it’s decorative and adds a touch of humour.

How does your background influence your approach to furniture design and craftsmanship?

Clearly, my background as a classically trained cabinetmaker must have some importance, but never in any directly noticeable way. If anything, not having a theoretical background has probably benefited me in some ways and has potentially given me a more naive approach, which I think is clear when you look at my furniture. Starting out not knowing design history, theory and the mere fundamentals has both been challenging and rewarding. I think not taking it all that seriously is probably the main one. After all, it’s just furniture, and theorising on a particular piece or subject is generally pointless. Either you like it or you don’t.

Your pieces often challenge the notion of industrial design. What other design categories or influences do you draw inspiration from?

Do they? I don’t see it like this at all. My furniture makes use of very well- known and often basic materials. I usually try to simplify as much as I can and remove all unnecessary elements. I don’t take inspiration from anyone or anything in particular and I work based almost solely on gut feeling, but almost always to make myself happy. I like the framework that using mainly common geometric shapes gives me though. For me, it’s about combining these well-known shapes and placing them in unusual ways, adding or decreasing thickness, changing the diameter, or something else that can turn a simple circle or cylinder into something interesting, aesthetically pleasing, and most importantly, a functional piece of furniture.

How has Berlin’s dynamic cultural scene influenced your creative process and the development of your designs?

I doubt that Berlin has had any particular influence on my work. It’s more a place I happened to be while maturing and realising how I want to spend my time professionally.

Could you tell us about any specific challenges you’ve encountered while experimenting with materials or pushing the boundaries of design?

As with everything; finding the balance between beauty, functionality, humour and self-interest.

What role does sustainability play in your work, particularly considering your use of recycled materials?

I haven’t used recycled materials in quite a while; instead, I try to make use of materials that are not transported thousands of kilometres and should they eventually be thrown out, it would probably be aluminium (which is infinitely recyclable) or wood. I don’t believe that what we do in my studio has any particular influence on the status of the world. We produce furniture in very small quantities, sometimes in exotic materials, sometimes not. It doesn’t matter in the greater scheme of things and is not something I worry about.

Looking ahead, what are your goals or aspirations for your furniture studio, and how do you envision the evolution of your designs in the future?

At the moment, we are planning the next year. There will be some shows and design festivals as well as further developments of already existing pieces and new ones. I simply hope to be able to continue doing what I do and have fun with it.

In order of appearance

  1. Flagpole Lamp, Elephant Tripod Table, AC01 Dining Chair, Spaghetti Shelf System, Monteverdi Daybed. Courtesy of Frederik Fialin.
  2. Flagpole Lamp, 2023. Courtesy of Frederik Fialin.
  3. Elephant Tripod Table, 2023. Courtesy of Frederik Fialin.
  4. Springloaded Light, 2024. Courtesy of Frederik Fialin.
  5. Hefty Table, 2024. Courtesy of Frederik Fialin.

MOCK Studio

The Art of Furniture: Insights from MOCK Studio

Upon encountering the products of MOCK Studio, a palpable aura of tranquility enveloped me. The seamless blend of wood and aluminium spoke volumes of the meticulous craftsmanship behind each piece. Specialising in bespoke furniture and interior installations, MOCK Studio boasts a diverse portfolio that spans from individual items to entire interior environments.

What sparked MOCK Studio’s foray into crafting furniture and interior installations?

We are architects who wanted to create a furniture line for our commissioned projects that follows our design ethos, we simply wanted to extend our design thinking into furniture that was rooted in simplicity, proportion and material selection. Once we started making our own pieces we received an overwhelming response and so we decided to launch a furniture brand. Our focus has always been on accessible and easy to manufacture furniture.

MOCK: each letter an adjective.

Modest, Obvious, Clean, Kind

Could you walk us through the process of ideating and crafting your pieces?

We tend to start with a material we like and think of ways that it can be manipulated with the least amount of effort, our process is very intuitive but we are always striving for effortlessness. We are constantly questioning our processes and how they can be simplified to achieve the most satisfying results with the least amount of physical effort. 

Given the shifts in the human-home dynamic observed during the recent Milan Design Week, how do you foresee the role of furniture and interior installations evolving over the next 5 years?

We feel like this is both overdue and inevitable as the design community struggles with notions of sustainability and resource scarcity. Where it will go in the next 5 years is anybody’s guess however we can only hope that it only continues to grow in prominence because it is an ethos that really resonates with us and the way we approach design. 

If you had the chance to gather three influential personalities for a dinner soirée, who would you extend the invitation to, and what draws you to them?

Donald Judd because we are so inspired by his work and how it was able to make such simple things be so iconic. Dieter Rams because of his commitment to intentional design thinking, functionality and reason. David Attenborough because of his ability to engage our curiosity about the natural world. 

Could you spotlight a project that serves as a prime example of MOCK Studio’s guiding principles and ethos?

There are moments that embody our ethos on a project called TBSP and some more in our 2023 NYC X Design installation but we are still evolving as a practice and there is still a lot left unexplored which we are very excited about.

Peering into the future of MOCK Studio as it strides into 2034, what visions do you behold?

We behold a strong vision of life in the Mediterranean, we mean that both metaphorically and literally, as we are starting to shift our focus towards Europe, specifically Greece, and we are continuously drawing inspiration in the way we design from aspects of life in that part of the world.

Credits

Photography · Sean Davidson
Courtesy of MOCK Studio

Nifemi Marcus-Bello

Crafting Contemporary African Design

Nifemi Marcus-Bello, a Nigerian designer based in Lagos, specializes in product, furniture, and experience design. Celebrated for his talent in crafting sustainable products that originate from local ecosystems while making waves in international projects, Nifemi is the creative force behind nmbello Studio. He is at the forefront of shaping Africa’s design landscape with his innovative and unconventional designs. His work seamlessly blends historical perspectives with contemporary influences, resulting in conceptual products that marry artistic expression with practical functionality. Nifemi Marcus-Bello’s approach to design aligns with the emerging trend that explores the intersection between producing individual pieces and small series. His creations are deeply rooted in culture and often serve as vessels for profound meanings.

Hi Nifemi, thank you for joining us for this conversation. Can you share more about your childhood experiences that sparked your interest in product design and manufacturing?

My story into design is a bit of a cliche to people who eventually chose a path of creativity. As a kid I was curious and got excited around dismantling any object I could, so at the age of 13 my mum introduced me to a welder who I would have an apprenticeship with for a few years after school. Even with all of this, I never thought of design as a career path, I gravitate more towards art and architecture because contextually, they were a lot more familiar at the time. After staying back home for a few years after high school, my mum eventually would be able to send me to school in the United Kingdom. Here I stumbled on to design as a practice and profession and it was love at first sight. 

Looking back, what advice would you give to your younger self as you embarked on your design journey?

I have been described to be a “cynic optimist”, a trait I had in my younger years and still have till now. For me I think all good designers possess an energy of optimism when creating any piece of work in the sense that you are presenting an idea into the world with the thought of changing what or how the world currently sees itself. So my advice to my younger self would be to remain optimistic and hopeful. 

In today’s society, what role do you believe design should play in addressing contemporary needs?

I think design is already playing a very important role in contemporary society and is helping to enhance experiences within technology and even the analogue world. I think it’s easy to forget that everything around us and that we use in our daily lives has to be designed by someone or people, from the chair you sit on, to the laptop you use, to the medical devices you use. So we as a people wouldn’t survive without design, it’s everything to us. I just hope that pushing forward design plays a role in the consideration of ethnography, where design solutions are culturally considerate to users and systems. 

In your view, how does the concept of “the society of fatigue,” as described by German-Korean philosopher Byung-Chul Han, manifest in contemporary design, where there’s a growing emphasis on hyper-productivity and efficiency?

I think that design as a practice is and will evolve within the coming years. I think a bigger shift (which is already happening) will see design and designers take greater consideration of systematic, ecological and human sustainability approaches to creating products and design solutions. A good example is a hyperlocal approach to manufacturing, scope of work and distribution. 

What initiatives or partnerships have you engaged in to promote African design globally?

I think the easiest thing to do is to be true to yourself and be as authentic as possible when it comes to your design approach and context. As the studio grows, with both a commercial and artistic approach and collaborations with brands in North America and across Europe. I sometimes have to educate clients that yes, the studio is based in Lagos and the work we do is contextual but we actually live in a global village, where everyone uses an iphone, practically see the same movies via Netflix so consumption of aesthetics and information has become global but with a hint of local context, for example, Kids love Stussy in Lagos, Nairobi, London and New York. 

What motivated the establishment of nmbello Studio, and how does it align with your vision for the future?

Before established nmbello Studio, I did my rounds as a junior and then lead designer for various companies, designing mobile phones, phone accessories, medical devices and furniture across the continent. I decided to start the studio for many reasons but the one that kept me curious was understanding and documenting material evolution and production availability of modern day Africa through a design practice. 

For me the future is in Africa, we have all the resources and with the youngest population in the world, we have the numbers so it is important for us to dictate our on futures and tell our own stories by creating our own products that will eventually dictate how we live and our future aesthetic.    

Can you provide an example of a manufacturing process or technology that has inspired your work?

As a lot of my work is contextual to availability I try not to have too much of an emotional attachment to one material. But one material and process that inspired my way of thinking approach to designing within my studio will have to be sheet metal and laser cutting. I know this might and usually comes as a shock for most designers but a great deal of this process is readily available in Lagos due to the production of electrical products such as generators, and they have become the norm in the streets of Lagos, a few indigenous manufacturers who need to produce casing for such items, popularised the process in the early 2000s.

Looking ahead, what aspects of your practice and the potential impact of your designs excite you the most?

I am very happy to be getting busier and being able to have work that resonates with a large audience. A great deal of the commercial work coming out of the studio sells on the continent and outside the continent as well. With this, I think there is untapped potential when it comes to strategic brand partnerships and special projects and a lot of discussion is being had around these possibilities.  With my artistic practice via the gallery shows getting a lot of museum acquisitions and discussions around the documentation of my work, I am deliberate in taking the right steps to communicate and archive my work effectively when it comes to the design process via mediums as film and photography, which has helped bring another layer into my design practice as a whole. 

In order of appearance

  1. Nifemi Marcus-Bello. Photography by Stephen Tayo
  2. Selah Lamp, nmbello Studio. Photography by Kadara Enyeasi.
  3. Friction Ridge, nmbello Studio. Photography by Kadara Enyeasi.
  4. Waf Kiosk, nmbello Studio.

All images courtesy of Nifemi Marcus-Bello

2050+

Designing diversity: a conversation with Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli and the transformative path of 2050+

An architect and curator thriving on diversity and multidisciplinarity, Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli honed his skills across various projects at OMA, ranging from the Fondaco dei Tedeschi in Venice to Monditalia, the expansive Arsenale exhibition at the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale curated by Rem Koolhaas. Four years ago, he chose to return home to Milan from Rotterdam, taking a more independent stance to develop his own agenda. With a team comprising over 15 individuals, including architects, curators, researchers, and art directors, 2050+ has become a hub for diverse talents. We had the chance to catch up with him, delving into discussions about his agency, architectural practice, and vision.

In navigating the intersection of design, technology, environment, and politics, how does 2050+ function as an interdisciplinary platform, and how does the urgency embedded in the agency’s name, ‘+’, influence the nature of its projects and collaborations?

2050+ acts more as a platform than a traditional architectural office. Each project requires a different ecosystem of expertises and perspectives that are either present in 2050+ or are part of our network.

Through the past years we have worked with artists, filmmakers, writers, scientists, philosophers, technologists, etc. in order to dissect and reflect on today’s complexities. For us the only way to remain relevant is to multiply the point of views, to look at crucial and urgent questions from different angles, to constantly negotiate our position as spatial practitioners with other disciplines, while finding a common and actionable ground. We actively look for projects that allow us to remain political and to tackle urgent questions in line with our overall agenda. This is evident in our research work, often commissioned by cultural institutions, but it’s also a goal for the more commercial side of our practice.    

In what ways does 2050+ utilize spatial practices as a medium rather than a goal?

Often as an architect you are expected to imagine, design and build spaces to inhabit, but that is just a small fraction of what architecture means as a discipline. Anything we observe, from politics to technology, from science to policy making, from climate to fashion, etc. has spatial implications. Space is a lens to investigate and understand contemporary dynamics and the formats of such explorations range across writing, film making, performance, digital environments, exhibitions, installations and architecture. For these reasons we prefer the definition of “Spatial Practitioners” to the one of “Architects” as it reflects how expansive our definition of architecture is.     

Given your belief that emotional engagement has been the driving force behind your choice to embark on this new chapter, could you share which project from the last four years of 2050+ has had the most profound emotional impact on you?

It’s a difficult question and there is no straight answer. I develop different relationships with different projects and that depends on many factors: its political potential, the way it relates to bigger questions, its ability to speculate on alternative presents or futures, or simply its mere aesthetic qualities. If I need to really pick, I’m particularly moved by projects involving live performances, where narrative, space and time come together to deliver a powerful message. The recent scenography for Il Diluvio Universale by Gaetano Donizzetti in Bergamo falls definitely into this category.

Together with the duo of artists film-makers Masbedo, we worked on a version of the classic opera that reinterprets the traditional narrative structure of Il Diluvio Universale to give voice to the “unheard prophets” of today: through the trope of the flood, the opera urged us to face timely and urgent issues related to the climate crisis, social injustices and political instabilities. The imagery of the work was entirely based on climate activism and protesters.

It was a way for us to bring inside an institutional theater and through the medium of a classic opera  the instances of climate activists. That’s the reason why we collaborated with Sea Shepherd, a non-profit, marine conservation activism organization, which generously shared footage from their actions that was incorporated into the scenography.   

Which significant projects are currently occupying your focus and attention? 

We are about to open a research and installation at SALT in Istanbul focused on toxicity and the politics of air in Turkey and beyond. For this project we have collaborated with a local toxicologist and with an Italian AI artist, Lorem, who has produced the soundscape for the work. On the other side of the practice spectrum, currently we are also busy with a project of architectural transformation of the XVIII Palazzina dei Principi at Capodimonte in Naples, which will host the Marcello and LIa Rumma collection of Arte Povera. These are two examples of how schizophrenic life in 2050+ can be… 

Originally hailing from Sicily, you grew up in Milan, making your recent experience akin to returning home. A spontaneous question arises: as we look ahead, how do you foresee Milan evolving while maintaining its position in the central space between the Mediterranean and continental Europe?

Milan is a very dynamic city. It’s a relatively small metropolis with a global footprint, where creativity is truly multidimensional, combining design, fashion, art, photography, architecture into a unique social environment. At the same time I’m rather concerned about its recent development after the expo 2015. Milan is a place where real estate speculation is running wild, where inequalities are growing at escalating rates, where bigger and bigger sectors of society are being marginalized and pushed out of the city, where marketing has taken over and environmental policies are insufficient and very fragile. I’d like to live in a city that is open, inclusive, diverse, multicultural…but not just for the rich. Milan should look more to the south and not just to northern european or anglo saxon contexts. I feel Palermo or Naples provide far more interesting models than London in this particular historical moment.  

Discussing Milan, there has been a notable resurgence of interest in 10 Corso Como lately, piquing my curiosity to explore the project further. When considering the Project Room and the Galleria, you liken them to a flexible theater or a “transitory museum.” Could you provide insights into the modern significance of these analogies and explain how their flexibility addresses the ever-changing cultural and social demands that the space aims to fulfill?

“The Transitory Museum” is the title of an interesting book on Corso Como 10 by philosophers Emanuele Coccia and Donatien Grau. It argues that categories that have governed for long our modern lives, such as art, fashion and the museum are being redefined, and that clear boundaries between such categories are being dissolved. As the first ever concept store, Corso Como 10 embodies the notion of a transitory museum, or a space without a fixed role or identity, where the relationship between contents, audience, display and architecture is constantly reinvented. It’s a spatial manifestation of the current state of instability and uncertainty that our society is permanently experiencing – or of a “liquid society” to use the words of another thinker, Zygmunt Bauman – a condition accelerated by the continuous osmosis between our physical and digital interactions. 

Our approach to 10 Corso Como is not based on fixed categories – a retail space, a gallery, etc. – but rather on the underlying idea of a framework able to support a virtually infinite repertoire of curatorial configurations and experiences through a finite set of devices. In this sense, both the Gallery and the Project Room are vague spaces, ready to unlock any potential.      

Beyond their functional purpose, what narrative motivations led to the introduction of micro-architectures like the large pantograph tables in this specific space?

The pantograph tables respond to various needs and sets of inspirations: they refer to the subtle industrial character of the building and they give shape to the idea of machine or “flexible theater” that we had in mind for these spaces. These elements are adaptable, moveable, they can change height and configuration, or they can simply be stored away leaving an empty space behind. They are silent actors on stage, moving according to different choreographies. Like the moveable walls-units for the Gallery, they are tools at the service of our imagination.  

More in general, the entire project was premised on the idea to give a spatial translation to the interdisciplinary character of Corso Como 10, a place where fashion, art, photography, design, urban nature come together into an unicum. To do so we have operated following a principle of “selective archeology”, removing all the unnecessary layers and materials accumulated through time and bringing back the architecture to its original, gentle industrial character. This approach has allowed us to reconnect spaces which were once disconnected and to facilitate the osmotic flows of visitors across all its programs and experiences. In line with this attitude we have inserted a number of “micro architectures” – new stairs, service spaces, accesses, etc. This results in a system of new volumes marked with a different materiality (i.e. steel) that rationalizes the organization of each floor and connects all levels of the early XX building from ground floor to the newly renovated green terrace, through a continuous loop.    

Under the new leadership of entrepreneur Tiziana Fausti, 10 Corso Como appears poised to take a swift step into the future. If we were in 2050, how do you envision the gallery’s transformation?

I’d rather not say. The present is dense enough of challenges. Let’s focus on our time; maybe this the best way to address our future.

In order of appearance

  1. Nebula, 2050+
    Photography by Lorenzo Palmieri
  2. Synthetic Cultures, 2050+
    Photography Gaia Cambiaggi
  3. Henraux Foundation, 2050+
    Photography by Querceta
  4. Il Diluvio Universale, 2050+
    Photography by 2050+
  5. Il Diluvio Universale, 2050+
    Photography by G. Rota
  6. 10 Corso Como Project Room, 2050+
    Photography by Alessandro Saletta, DSL Studio
  7. 10 Corso Como Project Room, 2050+
    Photography by Alessandro Saletta, DSL Studio
  8. 10 Corso Como Gallery, 2050+
    Photography by Alessandro Saletta, DSL Studio
  9. 10 Corso Como Gallery, 2050+
    Photography by Alessandro Saletta, DSL Studio

All images courtesy of 2050+

Frankie Pappas

House Of The Pink Spot, Non-Negotiables and Banishing Egotism

Frankie Pappas is the collective pseudonym for an international architecture and design firm based in South Africa. They describe themselves as “a collection of brilliant young minds that do away with personal egotisms to find remarkable solutions.” NR Magazine joined Ant (I’d rather you didn’t use my surname please) in conversation. Ant is a storyteller, each question revealing more about the work of Frankie Pappas and the ideals and motivations behind the firm, each more interesting and radical than the last. 

Nicola Barrett: What was the process behind the creation of House of the Pink Spot and what were some of the challenges you faced on this project? 

That building came about because a friend of mine, Alicia, heads up this thing called Digital Disruptors. It’s one of her many projects. She wanted something to do in this area, Orange Farm, Drieziek in Johannesburg. She’d gotten some money and she didn’t know what to do with it. I said, well, I would approach it from an architectural perspective. I’m fascinated by how you can make small interventions in parts of the city and see what impact they have.

There are two stories that I told Alicia. One was of Guatemala. They were having these huge drug wars. I went there maybe ten years ago, just after these drug wars had kind of been quelled a bit in the urban areas. They were trying to reinitiate the use of these public spaces. So they just put massive amounts of really fast WiFi into these public places and a lot of light. When I went there these places were so full, everyone was working in their laptops. It was quite amazing. This idea that once you initiate people into a space, it inherently becomes a little bit safer. 

Another story like this that I like, is in Kenya, there is a main road to the airport that is incredibly well-lit. The reason is that the government wanted its dignitaries to have safe passage to the airport and back. I saw this one photograph, and it just stuck in my mind. It’s of these school kids sitting along this road, miles and miles of them because this is the only light they have access to. Doing their homework.  And it was just amazing. 

These two things stuck in my mind. I said, Alicia, this is probably what I would try to do. Bring light to the space and a hell of a lot of WiFi. Let’s find a spot where this could work. When we were there with GBV survivors and activists, they chose this one spot which was a dumping ground. We got that cleaned up and in essence, built this public park. I mean, it’s very small, but that’s what we had available in terms of the fund. We worked for free on this project because the budget was so small.

The construction of it is really interesting. It’s got to be the tallest building in Drieziek. We ordered the longest telephone poles we could get our hands on, painted them pink on the ground and then hoisted them up with solar lights on top of them. The seating is all just brickwork. It’s very simple stuff. All signage is hand painted by everyone. 

The challenges are numerous. The reason why it’s the Pink Spot is because we didn’t want it to be affiliated with a political party. The ANC, which is the ruling party, their colours are green, yellow and black. We went through all the colours of the parties and we were left with purple and pink. 

Nicola Barrett: Was it built on private land or public land?

Oh, my word. You’re going to get me into trouble here. I have absolutely no idea.

Nicola Barrett: Did you not come up against opposition when you start building in unclaimed places?

Well, it’s obviously someone’s land. And by someone, I mean, it’s some state enterprise. So it’s definitely not private property. Let’s call it municipal land for the sake of this conversation. It’s municipal land that is not only being under-utilised, it’s not being maintained. It’s a dumping ground.

Surely the city’s land belongs to citizens. I would expect that to not be a controversial statement. But it is. It’s on the bottom of a street that these activists live on. It is like an inherently unsafe space because it’s not being maintained. They said we’re going to try and make it safer for ourselves. We want a way to activate it, to maintain it. All we ask is leave us alone so that we can. Because our governments are so ineffectual, it has to be done by people who care, the citizens. It is like a type of guerrilla architecture.

Nicola Barrett: There are many unused spaces, particularly in urban areas, what’s your opinion of more radical ways of reclaiming these spaces?

I can only speak to it in a South African context. But I’m always surprised at the amount of legislation in the way between what exists and what I would like the city to be like. The offices that I’m in at the moment, this is our first development, because exactly this problem that you’ve spoken about.  What we are doing is not by the book. We’ve taken an Apartheid-era house that was not being utilised and we converted it into these six tiny little offices. It goes against every single regulation. 

But there’s a market for small office spaces. The smallest office space we can get is 45 square meters. Do we need 45 square meters? No, not really. Then we still have to pay for heating, for lights, for WiFi. Why don’t we do one ourselves where we make a seven square meter spaces and we make five other office spaces for other people with a shared boardroom and we get this thing off the grid so it’s on solar? We don’t need the municipality at all. 

If you don’t have the capacity as a citizen to change the city, I mean, what are we doing? I use the word citizen very deliberately because you choose to live in a city, so truly you should be able to change it in some way. It’s liberating, I suppose, in a weird way, to live in South Africa, where the protection of the law is so bad that you can implement this thing that you want to do.

Nicola Barrett: In what ways do you think people with fewer resources could potentially reclaim under-utilised spaces? 

This is one of the problems we’re trying to solve at the moment. Providing better accommodation and still making it economically interesting. Think £250 for two-bed apartment. That must sound insane to you. But is that achievable? Can we do it? Yeah, I think we can. It means finding spaces that are under-utilised in the suburbs, that’s easy enough to do because you have garages that are not being used. You’ve got people who are 65 years old who have a four-bedroom house whose kids have all left. Utilising those unused spaces could be done very well.

But the Gherkin can never be done well. In no world is that floor plan divisional.  All it supports is big companies.  It’s revered as this great piece of architecture by Norman Foster, but it’s a piece of nonsense. But it’s one of the things that’s so frustrating about the architectural world because it’s all about houses for really wealthy people, or big office buildings or the Line. But something like the Pink Spot, I think is a far more interesting project. If you build the Line, you will never be able to change it if you have a normal salary. The way to do it is to parcel land into small enough quantities that normal human beings can create change.  

And for architects to get involved in the curation of the city. You cannot be the servant of the rich and you cannot be the barefoot philanthropist, that’s the world. The role of the architect, I think, is looking after the health of the city. And so therefore, as an architect, you should be in the role of apportioning capital to projects that you think are valuable to the future city. The city you’d like to live in, as doctors, should be responsible for looking after the health of humans. Right. But we should afford architects this opportunity or this role. But of course, it’s not done that way. The people who are producing the city are developers who are, in essence working for provident funds or some sort of big capital-allocating entity, and that’s chaos.

Nicola Barrett: House of the Big Arch was designed with not only humans but local wildlife in mind. What were some of the challenges you faced doing this? 

I learned to say what is the non-negotiable. And a non-negotiable can be so philosophical and unattainable and unachievable in the beginning and then as long as you don’t move that line, it’s achievable. Can we build this building in a forest without disturbing a tree?

When you produce this very strict problem set, which is; we can’t disturb a tree, we have to get the materials from the closest town, it has to be all be carried by humans. How do we manage these extreme temperatures of 40 degrees? All of these are these very strict parameters that you can’t ignore. And once you are clear about them, it’s almost like linear programming, except not two-dimensional. Like a multidimensional linear programming problem where the problem space is so small that the form produces itself.

This architecture is not a function of invention, it is a function of discovery. Deciding on what those parameters are, that’s the real work. The rest, it just solves itself. Be real about what the problem set is and solve for that. And then you won’t get something boring. Not possible. I’m glad to say that’s the one thing I think all our projects, whether furniture or buildings or artwork, have that in common. Wonderfully similar but beautifully different. Because nothing looks the same. You wouldn’t think House of the Big Arch and House of the Pink Spot and House of the Flying Bowtie are designed by remotely the same people. 

Nicola Barrett: So you state that your collective pseudonym challenges the status quo. How so?

This was a joke. That statement is not a joke. But this was kind of poking fun at architecture firms named after the person who owns them. There is this inherent ego in it all. And I find that laughable. For multiple reasons. First of all, like, you have an infinite choice of names and you resort to your own, which you didn’t even choose for yourself. So you are both arrogant and stupid. Obviously, I’m being a little bit facetious, but I’m also not. 

I’d read a book by Willard Manus called Mott the Hoople, which is quite a funny book. The titular character’s friend was called Frankie Pappas. And I thought, Jeez, that’s my mother’s maiden name, and I’d never seen Pappas in a book. So I was like, oh, this is funny. And Frankie is gender-neutral. And I thought, that’s interesting, maybe there’s something there. Anyone can be Frankie. But I always laugh when there’s a man that comes through asking for Mr Pappas, and then I’m like, well, that person definitely hasn’t read what we’re about.

And the reason we were in search for this collective pseudonym is that there was a mathematician called Nicolas Bourbaki who was releasing all these amazing papers on math, but it turned out like he was ten twenty-year-olds who had decided to collaborate under this collective pseudonym and they just changed mathematics. I think he is still, to this day, the most published mathematician. He’s multi-generational and we liked the idea of a multi-generational architectural firm in South Africa, because there aren’t that many of them. That’s why Frankie is Frankie. 

Nicola Barrett: You state on your website that almost the entire tradition of Western formal architecture has produced sculpture rather than architecture. How so? 

I think for a long time it has been the case. Formal architecture has always been something that you have to sell to someone. So whoever is the client, you have to give them drawings and models. It’s very difficult to make a drawing and make someone focus on the stuff that is inside the drawing. Like how the space solves these issues. Or you discuss the sculpture of the model and someone says, I don’t know how that looks. How do you discuss the space inside a model? It’s impossible. Informal architecture has been one of, what do I need? I need to solve this issue. I have another child. Therefore, there needs to be another bedroom. It’s a very practical thing. 

I was in a competition and one of the guys was discussing the school he had made. This thing was clad in rock from the area and then one of these rock tiles had been removed, and then they put a stainless steel tile there. And he said, because we wanted the stainless steel to reflect the sky, and so, therefore, the sky would be bursting out from between the rocks. Why clad it in rocks in the fucking first place? There’s this obsession with what the thing looks like. 

The most amazing photographs of the Pink Spot are the ones taken by Tshepiso Seleke. He does not give a shit about the architecture. He doesn’t care. He’s just like, there’s a beautiful person. There’s another beautiful person doing something. Doesn’t even look at the building. That shot that he took of those kids with those go-karts is just my favourite thing ever. That’s what I mean. There’s this obsession with what this thing looks like. That’s not the important stuff.

Nicola Barrett: What advice would you give to young creatives working in our architecture and design?

My only advice is that in the contemporary world, I think we are solving a lot of problems that are not actually problems. It’s like this artificial intelligence. This is a problem that is being solved that isn’t a necessary problem to solve. What is the actual improvement? 

I suppose the thing is to see what are real problems and identify those as real problems and then solve those real problems. To actually be honest with oneself what real problems are. That’s not easy. We all get caught up in our own world. Taking a step back and thinking, where should I spend my time… Because you’ve got finite breath, right? 

Many of us are incredibly doubtful in ourselves, stressed and worried. We think we are not big enough to contribute or to change everything, and we see these problems. But I think there are these small little things that we can get right and we can just try. The Pink Spot, just for the photos of those kids enjoying themselves, that makes it worth it. I always tear up when I see them. It’s so beautiful. 

7132 Vals

A haven of sojourn

The mountainous village of Vals is blessed by the grace of natural wonders. Rising above sea level in the Canton of Grisons, the Swiss idyllic refuge is home to thermal waters dubbed healing hot springs, their history dating back to the 17th century. Here once lay a sanatorium transformed into a spa hotel in 1964, brought about by the physicians marveling at the curing properties of the springs in the 19th century.

The entrance of the spa hotel ushered in a shift from medical tourism to leisure travel within the neighborhood, all the while retaining the suggestion of a place for alternative healing methods. In 1983, the municipality of Vals reigned over the hotel compound and tapped architect Peter Zumthor, a Grisons native, to architect a new structure to house the thermal baths. The mineralized water of the St. Peter spring had been luring in bathers for more than a century, but Zumthor’s architectural masterpiece for the thermal water’s new home further ushered the territory as a sought-after getaway.

He built a monolithic building made of raw concrete and 60,000 slabs of Vals quartzite, a nod to the archaic beauty of the Vals Valley, and divided the baths into six pools, spanning between 14°C and 42°C pools. Here, the stone architecture and the lush natural land enclosing it form a visual and spiritual harmony. From then on, the architectural community of Vals grew, forming an ensemble of sought-after hospitality and structures backed by the minds and craftsmanship of some of the most revered architects today.

Two years after the opening of Zumthor’s thermal baths in 1996, his masterpiece and the hot springs were honored a status of protected heritage. Yet as years went by, the surging demands of more sophisticated travel and tourism urged the community of Vals to burst forth from its cocoon. Avant-garde buildings began to appear, crafted under the hands of celebrated architects, namely Tadao Ando, Kengo Kuma, and Thom Mayne. Their presence has pronounced Vals as a haven of sojourn that welcomes guests to dip their toes in its remedial mineral springs and luxuriate in one of the world-class accommodations surrounded by the meandering hills, fragrant fields, lengthy hiking trails, and snow-capped ski slopes.

7132 House of Architects suits the name it was given. Tadao Ando and Kengo Kuma bring in the influences of their Japanese roots as they both steep the rooms they designed in the design ethos and lifestyle of their homeland. Ando pays homage to the subtle aesthetics of Japan’s tea houses when designing his 18 rooms and bathes each space with a transition between wooden panels and slabs. His balcony windows offer unobstructed views of the alpine scenery from the mountainside across the room, and his minimal use of furniture, other than a bed taking up most of the space and a wooden bedside table, distills any kind of clutter and distraction.

Similar to his compatriot, Kuma employs the tranquil aura of wood to envelope his 23 rooms in a sensation of cozy oakwood cocoons. He layers the modern Swiss oak panels, one slightly on top of the other, until it forms what may resemble dragon scales that make up the walls and ceilings. Continuity threads Kuma’s design. He places a lengthy slab of wood beside the bed which extends to the bathroom and where the basin and faucet are set upon. Here, openness follows as Kuma veers off from closing up the space and opts for an open floor-level shower with clear glass casing and a base of local granite. Showering means the guest affords a view of the bed and the abundant grove peering through generous windows.

When Thom Mayne’s design emerges, a sudden shift takes place. The architect, who designed 22 rooms, turns to wood for some of the spaces and black stone for the rest. He plays with the two materials, often letting the other win while ensuring they complement each other. In his wood-winning rooms, a sculptural free-standing shower stall stands at the center of the space, an attempt by Mayne to immerse the guests in a three-dimensional experience of space. Its lifesize, stone-like architecture is corralled with a luminous, milky film to enable the guest to see the outside from the inside. Stepping into Mayne’s Stone rooms, Vals quartzite creates a cinematic ambiance, occasionally interfered with by the warm glow of light concealed behind the walls and the lemon-yellow enclosure of the shower stall.

From thermal baths to hotel rooms, Peter Zumthor exhibits a sensuous journey physically and emotionally. His ten rooms are distinctive from his collaborators as he infused each space in stucco lustro, a plastering technique from the Italian Renaissance that produces light-reflective gloss and likens to the surface of marble. He selects a spectrum of zesty and introspective hues, swinging from lush red and vibrant yellow to illusory black, and melds everything with handpainted curtains made of Habotai silk. Luxury at work effortlessly infiltrates the rooms, coupled with the chandelier wrapped in what may be globe-carved stones. 

7132 House of Architects is an idle passageway to the entire 7132 dreamscapes. Before reaching 7132 Thermal Baths, guests may pad through  7132 Hotel 5S whose three penthouse suits on its top floor were also designed by Kengo Kuma. Inside the hotel, rare natural materials like wood dominate the landscape, forming a harmonious balance with the scenic grassland sitting outside the property. In another path, guests are led to the chalet of 7132 Glenner, an adjoining accommodation, which sits at the center of the village. Its traditional Swiss design blends well with the modern interior and rooms, an understated guest house brushing against architectural giants within the complex.

It is no longer a myth how Vals gradually received its namesake as a coveted destination and a welcoming respite in the cradle of Swiss nature, from the hotel rooms designed by revered architects to the believed curing property of the hot springs. Even if the guests move away, the lasting impressions 7132 has left them pulls them back in, inviting them to once again return and soak in the wonders of nature and luxury.

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