The controversial and much anticipated Elbphilharmonie concert hall in Hamburg opened its doors this January to the praise of critics and design buffs across the globe. The project, which cost the city of Hamburg an astronomical 789-million euros ($1.13-billion Canadian)—about 10 times the original budget—and took over a decade to build, has been at the centre of major public protest and political debate in Germany, and has left many wondering whether it was all worth the wait, and the price tag.
Designed by Swiss architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron, the ambitious new building has reportedly received more than one million visitors since it opened. Located in Hamburg’s ultra-modern HafenCity waterfront district (known also as Harbour City), the concert hall has brought a surge of tourists and design enthusiasts to the city’s otherwise tranquil shores. The day I visit in mid-March, there are scores of people crowding the entrance, patiently waiting to get in. I’m told that tickets for the Elbphilharmonie’s first musical season have been sold out for weeks, totalling 500,000 tickets in all. The inauguration concerts held on January 11 and 12 welcomed more than 4,500 guests to its halls. Among those in attendance were Joachim Gauck, the former president of Germany, Hamburg’s mayor Olaf Scholz, and Chancellor Angela Merkel, who, due to heavy traffic, arrived 30 minutes late, delaying the festivities.
Set atop a historic brick warehouse facing the Elbe River, Hamburg’s Elphilharmonie has become something of a design destination overnight. Some have gone so far as to compare it to the likes of Sydney’s Opera House and Frank Ghery’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao—modern-day icons that, like the Eiffel Tower in Paris, have come to symbolize the cities in which they inhabit.
Measuring 110 meters in height, the Elbphilharmonie, with its striking scintillating glass façade, stands out against a backdrop of modern and industrial low-rise buildings. The concert hall’s dazzling crested rooftop catches the sunlight like a rippled wave, sending shimmering rays across the river, and beyond. Inside, a set of escalators enclosed in a sequenced white tube lead guests to the main lobby and observation deck. The slow-moving escalators are slightly curved, so as to hide the end from sight. Designed to feel like the inside of a grotto, the lobby area features low, curved ceilings and dramatic beams set at gravity-defying angles. A wavy glass wall separates the interior and exterior areas, and gives the impression of a fluid curtain of flowing water. The plaza, an open public space set in between where the original brick warehouse walls and the shining new glass structure meet, offers spectacular views of the city and the docks below.
A series of curved staircases and criss-crossing passageways leads to a recital hall and the show-stopping grand hall. Clad in a thick layer of undulating oak wood panels, the recital hall is intimate and somewhat understated. The main hall by contrast is as grand as it gets. Designed in collaboration with Japanese acoustics specialist Yasuhisa Toyota, the intricate, coral-like interior recalls the strangeness and splendour of Antoni Gaudí’s Sagrada Família in Barcelona. Cratered acoustic tiles CNC-milled from gypsum fibreboard cover nearly every inch of the room, doubling as a decorative, tactile skin. Sculpted balconies circle the stage, providing clear views to the orchestra below. An enormous mushroom-shaped acoustic reflector and chandelier plunges from the ceiling, adding a theatrical punch to the ethereal landscape.
The building’s striking aesthetics are the consummation of a conceptual mélange, a mishmash of complementing, and at times contradicting, visual themes. Inspired by the vision of a wave, a sail at sea, a tent, and a cave, the Elbphilharmonie exhibits traces of each. It’s almost as if the architects couldn’t settle on a single idea. Despite being long overdue and tremendously over budget, the new concert hall did get one thing right at least: whether for or against, visitors to the Elbphilharmonie can’t help but feel the slightest bit impressed.
Photos by Iwan Baan and Maxim Schulz
Digital Gateway Displays Social Media
When the gadget at your fingertips has the ability to send you around the world in nothing more than a nanosecond, it’s easy to lose track of the virtual distances it took to get you there. But have you ever wondered what digital terrain actually looks like? Syncing online algorithms to the physical landscape of Rome, the latest installation by German artist Andreas Nicolas Fischer invites visitors to the Italian capital’s Diesel flagship to enter an exotic realm that’s a cross between the virtual and the real.
Conceived as a ‘living’ interactive gateway, the digital creation wraps shoppers in a glowing network of organic 3D constellations influenced by site-specific data collected via Twitter tweets and hashtags. Unlike the ‘dream world’ in The Matrix, this is no simulated reality. Instead, the constant flow of physical and digital traffic allows visitors and virtual followers alike to enter a mixed universe of perspectives, transporting them to a place above and beyond material boundaries.
Overlooking a busy intersection and railway crossing in Amsterdam’s vibrant Oost district, the recently opened Bar Botanique Cafe Tropique stands in stark contrast to its urban surroundings. Designed by Dutch collective Studio Modijefsky, the charming corner café, which opened in June of last year, brings a jolt of jungle to the Dutch capital.
Bar Botanique flaunts a fresh, leafy aesthetic. Inspired by Mother Nature, the refurbished two-storey restaurant has been filled with ferns and philodendrons, snake plants and birds of paradise, some dangling from ceiling-mounted pots and others clustering between tables and rimming the building’s floor-to-ceiling windows (which offer clear views of cyclists breezing through the cobbled streets beyond). Coral-pink flooring and wallpaper add a splash of colour to an otherwise all-green interior; tables with slender steel legs and contrasting marble tops sprout from the floor like blossoming tulips; the bar is bedecked in petal-patterned tile. The atmospheric effect is that of walking into a lush greenhouse. Above all this foliage, custom-designed mirrored mobiles reflect and refract the bar’s signature leafy brightness, creating a layering of perspectives and a sense of dizzying depth in which patrons may find their niches, ordering appropriately tropical frozen strawberry margaritas or any of Bar Botanique’s eight signature gin and tonics.
In addition to supplying the venue’s striking design, Studio Modijefsky developed an eye-catching typography for custom menus and signage. Characters in the whimsical font wrap across the building’s glazed façade to spell out “Bar Botanique” in large capital letters. At night, the letter “I” doubles as a slender neon sign, welcoming passersby to the jungle.
Photo by Maarten Willemstein
The Gym, Reimagined.
Located in a revamped Victorian townhouse and former antique shop on Melbourne’s High Street, Sum of Us health and wellness studio is not your average, starkly functional gym. Tucked away in the city’s vibrant Prahran district, the charming two-storey complex could easily be confused for a trendy bistro or boutique hotel—a place visitors are keen to come by rather than feeling like an obligatory stop.
The brainchild of husband and wife team Chris and Brigid Jellis, the stylish wellness facility takes the practice of holistic health to a whole new frontier. According to its founders, wellness is about more than getting a good sweat on; it’s about feeling stimulated by your surroundings. Scientists and designers alike will agree that our environments have a tremendous impact on our state of mind and on how we perceive the world around us. Paradoxically, the spaces in most need of a strong aesthetic narrative are often the ones most neglected. Struck by similar observations, the creators of the Sum of Us studio felt the need to design a space where people could practice a holistic approach to health, from the inside out, and vice versa.
Equipped with a café serving healthy meals and a cozy outdoor courtyard, the studio provides a wide range of fitness and wellness services, from consultations in physiotherapy and podiatry to classes in meditation, pilates, and yoga. With interior design by local firm We Are Huntly, the Sum of Us studio takes a refreshing approach to the art of healthy living, offering members far more than a place to get fit, but an aesthetic experience. Circles, a motif representing purity and wholeness, is represented in furniture, lighting, and even acoustic panels. In the café, an assortment of minimalist furnishings in a soft palette of pink and blue pastels invites guests to sit back and relax. Elsewhere, mosaic accents and gold trimmings add a level of luxury to an otherwise understated grey and white backdrop.
The result? A sophisticated urban retreat both atmospheric and functional.
Photos courtesy of We Are Huntly
Transforming New Zealander Nigel Stanford’s track from the album Solar Echoes into a visual experience, Shahir Daud’s mesmerizing video for ‘Cymatics’ is not the only creative project in the collaboration centred on giving sound a visual form: the aptly titled single was itself inspired by the effects of sound frequencies moving through matter. Stanford based the musical notes for the track on patterns generated by instruments in the video and, in so doing, placed form before sound. Blending science with art, the project blurs the lines that separate space, music and matter to reveal that the most rudimentary of elements possesses a life and an aesthetic of its own.
Designed by Cino Zucchi, Pedrali’s new automated warehouse marries nature with the machine.
Italian furniture brand Pedrali has opened the doors to a revamped automated warehouse and production facility in Mornico al Serio, a commune of Bergamo, Italy. The facility, which spans across an area of 7,000 sq. meters and houses over 16,500 pallets of high-end contract products stacked along a 29-meter high storage infrastructure, was designed by Milanese architect and academic, Cino Zucchi.
Dubbed Fili d’Erba – which in English translates to ‘blades of grass’ – the exterior façade of the new facility features striking aluminium profiles painted in varying shades of green. Extruding from the building’s smooth oyster grey skin, the ‘blades’ cast graphic shadows along the structure’s otherwise harmonious surface.
Depending on the angle, the extrusions appear either to blend in with the achromatic cladding or jut out in a burst of vivid colour. In the words of the architect: ‘The dull and uniform volume of the new warehouse is thus transformed into a visual phenomenon rich in variations, a kind of natural "amplifier" of the time of the day and the seasons. In certain moments it dissolves into the misty sky, reflecting its grey-blue tones, and in others it becomes imbued with the bright green of the agricultural fields in spring.’
Mirroring the aesthetics of the neighbouring agriculture, the design has received favourable recognition from Mornico al Serio’s Commissione per la Qualità Urbana (Committee for Urban Quality) for its modern interpretation of the surrounding landscape. Despite its pastoral references, Fili d’Erba does not disguise itself in nature or shy away from its industrial vocation. Rather than trying to conceal the machine, Zucchi exposes it, giving it an architectural identity that at once contrasts and compliments its rural context.
The building’s smart looks are equalled by a state-of-the-art interior architecture – the ‘brains’ of the operation, as it were. A dramatic lime green staircase and walkway leads visitors to the core of the facility, offering a birds-eye view of the mechanisms involved, which include a ‘skytrain’ and eight self-steering shuttles that run day in and day out at maximum speeds of 18 km/hour, transporting volumes of up to 2,000 kg to and from production and packaging departments.
‘With this important investment we gain more space for stock products and also achieve a higher efficiency in the manufacturing times of job orders’, explains Pedrali CEO Giuseppe Pedrali. ‘The new warehouse will furthermore open up new spaces within the production site where we are going to install new machines and consequently create new jobs’, he adds. The facility, which was officially inaugurated on the 22nd of September, is the first phase of the company’s plans for a future-proof design and manufacturing operation, one that proudly remains 100% ‘Made in Italy’.
Photos courtesy of Pedrali
Business and Pleasure.
In some respects, Singapore has a reputation for being more about business than play (it is a place where chewing gum in public is illegal, and narcotic offence will net you the death penalty, after all). Enter The Lo & Behold Group, a hospitality company participating in the transformation of Singapore from an entrepreneurial hub into a welcoming tourist destination. The company’s latest accommodation, the Warehouse Hotel, opened in January in the city’s Robertson Quay district. Situated on the banks of the Singapore River in a former godown (warehouse), the 37-room boutique hotel is a far cry from the sterile and stuffy stopovers most business travellers know all too well.
Built in 1895 as part of the Straits of Malacca Trade route, the complex—once used for stockpiling spices—is well-known by Singaporeans for its storied past. Marked by a long history of underground activity, secret societies, illegal distilleries, and prostitution, the venue has been born-again, and is attracting a new kind of clientele to what was once known as Singapore’s seediest district.
Designed by local outfit Asylum, the warehouse-turned-luxury hotel looks to the future while paying homage to a colourful past. Save for a few layers of paint, the warehouse exterior looks untouched. Inside, vaulted ceilings supported by contrasting steel beams set the scene for a welcoming, industrial-chic reception, bar, and lobby. Spanning the length of the open-plan entrance way and lounge, an eye-catching pulley-and-wheel light installation harkens back to the days when similar machinery occupied the space, carrying loads of spices to and fro. Plush, leather seats scattered throughout the lobby invite guests to relax while a bartender prepares a bespoke cocktail, or one from a clever list concocted by celebrated bartender Andrew Zeng, designed to send guests on a voyage through the hotel’s flavourful history, from its role in the 19th-century spice trade to its phase housing a popular 90s discotheque. Marble and brass coffee tables add an extra dose of contemporary sophistication.
A tour of the upper suites reveals cozy, understated luxury. Here too, brass and marble details set the mood. Intimate yet spacious, the rooms feel at once homey and refined. Graphic bed linens designed by Asylum and produced by Singapore’s Matter Prints bring the outside in—an abstract pattern mimics the hotel’s distinctive triple-gabled architecture. Overhead, exposed beams make every suite unique. Equipped with high-end tea and ceramic mugs from local brands A. Muse Projects and Mud Rock Ceramics, the rooms simultaneously serve as an outlet for promoting a few of Singapore’s homegrown entrepreneurs.
One of the highlights of the Warehouse Hotel is the stunning restaurant, Pó. With a menu devised by chef Willin Low, Pó serves up modern interpretations of traditional regional dishes, popiah (a type of spring roll) being its speciality. Mixing local history and heritage with contemporary flavours and aesthetics, the Warehouse Hotel is authenticity and audacity tastefully rolled into one.
Photos courtesy of The Warehouse Hotel
Designed in 2016 for the Serpentine Galleries’ annual Serpentine Pavilion exhibition in London, the extremely photogenic “unzipped wall” pavilion by international architectural firm Bjarke Ingels Group is on its way to Vancouver. Before arriving to its permanent new seaside home near Vancouver’s 2010 Olympic Cauldron in 2019, the unzipped pavilion—which was arguably one of the Serpentine’s most successful installations to date—will travel across North America (with stops projected for Toronto and New York).
Some background: each year, the Serpentine Galleries commission a temporary summer pavilion in Kensington Gardens, crafted by an international architect who has yet to build on British soil. Announced annually in February, the winning architect has a mere six months to fully finance and deliver their design in time for the annual June opening.
The inaugural 2000 Serpentine Pavilion was designed by the late Zaha Hadid as a favour to the Serpentine Galleries, which at the time, had only one location (the second Serpentine Sackler Gallery, also designed by Hadid, opened a few years later in 2013). The visionary Iraqi-British architect created an all-white marquee tent-inspired structure. Marked by a dramatic triangulated roof, folds in the pavilion’s angular architecture dipped down to the ground, organically dividing up the spaces inside.
Commissioned as a provisional space in which to hold the original Serpentine Galleries’s 30th anniversary festivities, the first Serpentine Pavilion was designed to stand for one day only. On the night of the event, however, the pavilion was deemed impressive enough to remain throughout the summer. And thus, somewhat by chance, a new design exhibition was born.
For the 2016 pavilion, Bjarke Ingels took the most basic architectural structure—the humble brick wall—and aesthetically “unzipped” it, turning it into a tent-like structure shaped almost fluidly, like a blob of whipped cream rendered in 8-bit animation. Compiled of a stack of fibreglass bricks, the 541-square-metre structure is a testament to the power of simplicity. Unfurling from the bottom up, the semitransparent wall pulls apart, creating an atmospheric passageway. Totaling 1,802 bricks in all, the pavilion’s modular structure was in fact designed by BIG to ultimately be sold and transported. Vancouver-based developer Westbank, a major sponsor of Ingels’s Serpentine Pavilion and BIG’s development partner for the upcoming Vancouver House residential tower, jumped on the opportunity. The BIG pavilion will be located at the foot of Westbank’s Shaw Tower headquarters in Vancouver’s Coal Harbour neighbourhood, where it will become another example of the corporation’s dedication to diversifying Vancouver’s contemporary architectural features.
This year, Berlin-based Diébédo Francis Kéré of Burkina Faso will take the stage in London with a contemplative, tree-like pavilion design. Whether or not it will stack up to BIG’s unzipped pavilion, time can only tell.
Tea Time at the Rosewood Hotel London
Situated on the fringes of the British capital’s Covent Garden district in a historic Edwardian structure dating back to 1914, the five-star Rosewood Hotel London opened in the fall of 2013 following a lengthy $141-million renovation and the refurbishment of the original building’s belle époque charm. Today, the venue flaunts a polished pizzazz, a sort of contemporary coolness that floats between the timeless and trendy, serving old-school English sophistication with a modern-day twist. But it’s not just a deft fusion of past and present that sets it apart. It is the Rosewood’s restaurant and cocktail lounge that really have people talking—especially since the addition of two creative new menus.
The Rosewood London’s dazzling Mirror Room restaurant has recently introduced an art-inspired afternoon tea featuring an exclusive selection of edible artworks inspired by famous London-based artists such as Banksy, Alexander Calder, Damien Hirst, Mark Rothko, and Yayoi Kusama that are nearly too charming to eat. Developed by executive pastry chef Mark Perkins, these delightful desserts bridge the gap between British tradition and contemporary culture. Among the culinary masterpieces on offer is a Kusama-inspired milk chocolate mousse and passion fruit crémeux encased in a polka dotted yellow glaze, and vanilla-filled, salted caramel chocolate cubes garnished with a miniature imprint of graffiti artist Banksy’s iconic Balloon Girl.
If drinks are more your speed, the Rosewood’s Scarfes Bar (named after British caricaturist Gerard Scarfe) also pays tribute to the arts with its new Caricature cocktail list. The menu, developed over eight months, transposes the spirit of Scarfe’s iconic sketches into liquid form, with drinks inspired by the celebrities he captured—expect the likes of Alfred Hitchcock, Charlie Chaplin, and even Shakespeare’s Macbeth, in your glass. For example, the David Beckham cocktail tastes like Spanish herbs and roses, while the Margaret Thatcher is a whiskey-based drink marked by an intense infusion of porcini mushroom, with a hint of Malbec reduction and fiery galangal chili. In short, power and poise in a cup.
Dutch Artist Talks Colour and Tulips
Born and raised in the Netherlands – a country famous for its flower-clad canal houses and mosaic tulip fields – artist and designer Hilde Koenders works with colour on an almost instinctive level. Exploring the visual effects of dyed tulip petals on light, Koenders honours and gives new life to one of nature’s most colourful expressions. With a rich creative background ranging from fashion to interior design, Design Academy Eindhoven graduate and Frame #103 cover artist speaks to us about colour and the many faces of her most recent work, Tulip Mania.
The decision to use the tulip as the flower of choice in your work is not surprising given the context of the Dutch Design Week. Beyond stereotypical 'Dutch-ness', what does the tulip flower symbolize for you? Hilde Koenders: I started working with tulips as a colour experiment where I tested the colour absorption of various flowers. The tulip was the best tested. Because of its colour absorption, the veins of the tulip petal are made visible, producing a fine and very sharp structure on the petal. After my experiment, I started reading about the origin of the tulip. The rich symbolism and history inspired me to keep working with the tulip as both a material and muse. I also really like the archetypical shape of the tulip - any kid can draw one!
The faces in your work have very distinct expressions – some are happy and serene, others are jeering or even a little angry looking – were the emotions portrayed premeditated, or the result of a spontaneous process? It’s difficult for me to create a premeditated expression. What I do is I form different shapes and compositions by placing the petals on a light box and take pictures of each step. I'm getting better at recognizing the various expressions while I work, but most of the time I see what happens when I watch the images appear on the screen and I react on that. I choose to work with human expressions to show the embittered era of tulip mania; I like the contrast between euphoria and happiness, darkness and madness. These juxtapositions excite me.
What was your greatest source of inspiration – beside the flower – for Tulip Mania? I'm inspired by the viewer’s emotional reaction and interaction with my work. I try to create an experience with each of my installations. For this series I printed the images on large pieces of silk and carefully hung them together so that when people passed through the installation, the material gently moved along with them.
How does the use of colour influence your work? Does it take a primary or secondary role? It all started with my graduation project where I designed an installation in which I lay nineteen white tulips on little hospital beds and infused them with colour. The flower carcasses were treated and nursed back to life with pigmented drops. The transformation from white to colour was a way to show and reinterpret the process of a dying flower: instead of fading away, the flower becomes even more colourful and beautiful. The use of colour was a method to visualize this idea. Tulip Mania works in a similar way. I use colour as an instrument to showcase the veins of the petal and to highlight the beauty of the flower. The transparency and texture of the dried petals and the colours that are formed by overlapping them allow me to zoom in on nature while giving the colour of each petal more depth.
What would make an ideal Ninety Minutes of Frame experience for you? Being able to look through the eyes of other artists for ninety minutes and being surprised and energized by their work.
Images courtesy of Hilde Koenders
Frame's glass cube pavilion by i29 reflects wall and floor trends
Together with Frame, i29 breaks the mould with its experiential IMM LivingInteriors pavilion. The installation plays with concepts of immateriality and illusion, while showcasing the latest from leading manufacturers of flooring and wallcoverings.
Confusion flips flooring on its head. Together with Amsterdam-based architects i29, styling company Kamer 465’s whimsical installation features Zurich-based Studio Hannes Wettstein’s Formpark for Bauwek Parkett. Illustrating the trend ‘Anything, Anywhere’, the Formpark system features easy installation and countless customizable patterns. Two formats, both 260 mm wide yet varying in length, connect to form more than 26 compositions. Roused by the subtle play of texture and light, configurations can be mixed and matched to suit any space or style. Inside i29’s glazed interior, a herringbone pattern transforms the system’s seemingly simple components into a compelling landscape. Above, foliage curiously suspended from the ceiling drips with Sikkens K5.61.45, a leafy tint of AkzoNobel’s acrylic paint. The woody fragrance of @aroma’s Message Aroma heightens the space’s overall allure.
Hi-Macs and TheSize’s Neolith step into the limelight with Luminous, Kamer 465’s vision for the brands’ innovative product lines. Inspired by a starry night sky, the installation features Neolith’s Basalt Black from the Fusion range and Hi-Macs’ speckled Black Sand from the Classic collection. Inside i29’s delicate glass cube, a juxtaposition of darkness and light sets the scene for the ‘Smart Materials’ trend. Developed using Neolith’s Full Body pigmentation process, the colour of each Fusion slab runs through the material, making the line exceptionally resilient to scratches and daily wear-and-tear. Suitable for both commercial and residential applications, Hi-Macs has got interiors covered. Emerging from the shadows, an assortment of objects by Dutch designers – Diederik Schneemann’s 3D Printing vs Copyright chair and Dirk van der Kooij’s Chubby chair, Flow dining chair and Changing vase – glow under a colourful light installation envisioned by visual artist Heleen Blanken.
Florim’s Casa Dolce Casa and Casalis join forces in Hiding, an installation realized by i29 and Kamer 465. Casalis’s textured Cello, an acoustic 3D fabric from the Architextiles series, meets Casa Dolce Casa’s sleek nature-inspired porcelain Stones & More range. Modelling the ‘Smart Materials’ trend, the collections marry technology with aesthetics. Available in nine hues, Stones & More uses the latest in digital printing to imitate the look and feel of natural stone. The brainchild of Aleksandra Gaca, Casalis’s woven Architextiles subtly absorbs sound with effortless style. Glimpses of iconic pieces including Menu’s Afteroom chair, Vitra’s Panton chair and House Bird – provided by Smow – as well as &Tradition’s In Between chair and Palette table slip in and out of view between fluttering state-of-the-art fabrics by Swiss textile manufacturer Jakob Schlaepfer and international textile producers Creation Baumann.
A lively landscape of 15 x 15-cm wall tiles from Mosa’s vibrant Colors series adorn Kamer 465’s surreal Perspective installation to underline the trend ‘Anything, Anywhere’. With a collection of 50 contrasting hues on offer, Mosa’s modular ceramic range encourages creative freedom through the exploration of colour. A made-to-order option lets users customize each tile for the perfect tint. Projected in partnership with i29, Kamer 465’s dreamy display showcases a curious constellation of iconic furnishings from brands including Linteloo’s Mark and Tulipani chairs, Spectrum’s Steltman chair, Vitra’s Standard chair and Occasional table – provided by Smow – and Menu’s WM string lounge and FUWL cage table.
Inside i29’s glass compound, Kamer 465 exhibits Ege’s Fields of Flow carpet collection in Lost, an ethereal installation that pays tribute to the timeless yet forever refreshing ‘Inspired by Nature’ trend. Featuring the line’s Watercolour Grey, a mirrored partition reflects and multiplies the moss-like surface into infinity, expanding the viewer’s horizons. Influenced by Asian culture and Feng Shui tradition, patterns mimicking bamboo, clouds and the lotus flower echo the natural world. An intricate web of yarn composed by visual artist and interior architect Robbert de Goede adds an additional layer of perspective.
Unveiled at Cersaie, the Numi collection marks Konstantin Grcic's first collaboration with Italian brand Mutina as well as the ancient material of ceramic. The German designer expounds upon the process to realize this seemingly simple series of square tiles:
How do you approach the first project with a new client?
KONSTANTIN GRCIC: Our approach was to be extremely open. I think this is the only advantage you have when working with a new client. Experience always helps, but not knowing anything means you can be free to explore new possibilities. This is what we tried to do. We learned everything we could about every aspect of the work that was involved, from the business and history of the tile industry, to the tradition and techniques involved in producing them.
In my experience, working with a new client can go either way. It can be extremely difficult to do the first project with a new client because you simply don’t know each other. There is a lot of interpretation involved. You have to interpret what is right for the client and the situation. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes you’re extremely lucky and you hit the nail on its head.
What was the starting point and concept for Numi?
Numi came out of one of our first proposals. We started the project by putting a lot of ideas on the table. We wanted to open a discussion with Mutina and see how they would react to our ideas. I think it was the right strategy because it led to a short list of five to six projects. Mutina then took those projects and came to us with their own thoughts about what each one meant to them in terms of material potential, technology, technique, application and so forth.
And so, why Numi?
Mutina had an interest in this particular one because they wanted to work with glazing, which is a very old technique. This surprised me at first. People have been glazing for a long time. Mutina was very excited about it though, they saw it as an opportunity to try something new with glaze. They wanted to find a new angle.
What was your process?
From that moment on, the process became clearer because we started talking about real things, not just concepts. It all became more pragmatic; we went to the manufacturer and learned about glaze and saw how they do it. From there we made trial samples. The process took about four months in total. It was a very simple and yet also a very complex project. The simplicity was the object itself, the tile. As I soon discovered, coming up with this kind of tile can be very complicated, in terms of production and industrialization.
What was the most challenging aspect of the project?
The part of firing the ceramic and the glaze in one go. Normally you'd fire the clay and then have a second firing for the glaze. Mutina wanted to come up with a way of doing one firing, therefore doing both at once. This would make the production much more economical. It was a complicated process, but in the end we achieved it. The other challenge was size. At one point we wanted to try a 120cm x 120cm format. We'd even made some samples but the quality and consistency weren't possible. Even coming up with the smaller format, 60cm x 60cm, was a challenge but we managed to make that work too.
How would you describe the series?
It's a decoration; a very geometric and graphic decoration. Each individual tile has a strip of glazing which becomes part of the larger pattern; the tile, which is square, allows you to make different compositions. It might all sound very banal, but it was actually very difficult to keep things this simple. It's a typical design problem; it's easy to get carried away and go in too many directions when designing. Flexibility is always attractive, but the temptation to create more from one thing does not necessarily lead to something good. In the end it's better to stick to one version, to be decisive and clear about what it is you are trying to do.
As you mention, Numi allows the user to create different compositions and aesthetics. How did you strike a balance between creating a series that is both customizable yet controlled?
We had to find something in the middle. We had to give it an image and be strict without being limiting. It was a strange experience for us in the studio because we were making important decisions based on seemingly small gestures such as whether to rotate the square 90 degrees, 180 degrees and so on. It was an extremely effective processing and the result is what you see. I think we kept things quite rigid, which I like. The digital tools we have today allow us to create endless possibilities of randomness. Computer generated algorithms make the process very easy. Today, the more difficult decisions are those where you force yourself to reduce the options, be very selective, even decisive, and decide 'this is what it is'. It's a process that the client might never know about, but for us it was a very powerful experience.
What came first when approaching your design for Numi, materiality or aesthetics?
In a way both, even though it's true that the material was a given. Ceramic is not something I'm used to working with much, but I am fascinated by it and the process. It has an amazing quality; you can create a superb thing with it, a piece of stone. This concept was very interesting to me. I'd say that the glazing is a kind of subtle aesthetic intervention. It was an aesthetic choice to use glaze and not colour for example. It's a simple gesture; the glaze completely changes the look and feel without the addition of extra graphic elements or pigment.
Can you elaborate on the glazed finish?
The glaze was the real achievement of the project. So it's not just a film; it has thickness and depth. In a way it even becomes structural. The real challenge and revelation for me was understanding how this simple object, once multiplied and applied, becomes something larger and architectural, such as a floor or a wall. I'm an industrial designer and so I rarely do interior design projects. I don't work on that scale. We typically work with an existing space, so it's already there to begin with. By designing a tile, you're also creating a space, not by decorating it with things or adding things, but through a material. The material – in this case ceramic – creates a surface. With Numi, the reflective and non-reflective surfaces create patterns and rhythm. This was a surprising and interesting discovery for us.
What does Numi mean?
There's always this difficult moment when you finish a project of having to decide upon a name. Sometimes you give it a name during the process of making it, just to give it a life. We didn't have a name at all. When it comes to furniture, a chair for example, you can use the shape or structure to come up with a name. A chair has a character, almost like an animal. I was looking for a name that was more abstract. Numi is not a name that has any specific significance. ‘Numen’ means a god-like or divine creature; it's maybe a bit pretentious for a name, but part of naming things is finding a word that sounds good and writes well. I think it works but I don't want to stress the significance of the word too much.
Akatre depicts the future of the workplace for Frame #108
Frame called upon Akatre’s Valentin Abad, Julien Dhivert and Sébastien Riveron to transcribe Frame Lab’s research on the future of the workplace into a series of spatial images. The Parisian trio offers a glimpse of what went into making the visuals.
What was your approach for the offices theme? We started off by delving into the research itself. We focussed on the various ideas concerning the workplace and the different measures being taken by designers and businesses to make these spaces more efficient and inspiring for employees.
You chose to focus your design on the following key terms: ‘space’, ‘transparency’,‘anamorphing’ and ‘movement’. What do these concepts say about the future of office design? We believe that these concepts are in tune with the future of the workplace. There are those who have understood the necessity of creating working environments that are more pleasant and attractive for their employees. This is fundamental, as we spend so much of our time at work. We need more space, freedom and flexibility. Technology has allowed us to work on the move, and the workplace should engage with and accommodate this model.
Can you walk us through how you made the images? Our process is typically one of purification, of extracting and highlighting the fundamental message. We treated the images in the same way one might design a poster. For this articular project, we maximized the elements of the material and spatial signifiers (form, glass, and concrete) and revolved our design around them. Once the foundations were laid, we built each image independently so that the concepts could stand alone.
What materials were involved? Concrete/cement, glass, and coloured felt.
Were the images influenced by any particular space or object? We weren’t so much influenced by an object, but rather by artistic installations. We were especially influenced by the works of Georges Rousse and Victor Vasarely for this series.
What is the significance behind the shapes and materials you chose? The materials were there to give shape to a rigid structure. We then rearranged the so-called order through the intrusion of yellow felt.
What was the most challenging aspect of the assignment? The pressure of being featured on the cover of such a well-established international magazine.
Images courtesy of Akatre
Barber & Osgerby's Puzzle tiles for Mutina let buyers play while they lay
During the launch of Mutina's latest ceramic collections at Salone del Mobile, designers Jay Osgerby and Edward Barber took a break from the trade-fair flurry for a chat about the pattern playing pieces of the Puzzle series.
Tell me a bit about Puzzle. What was the starting point for the series?
JAY OSGERBY: We started off with the concept of flexibility. It’s a pattern that’s not really a pattern; it allows you to make your own design, meaning that every wall or floor will be different. It’s nearly impossible to do exactly the same thing twice with Puzzle. The idea was to encourage customers to get creative and play.
You did a range for Mutina a little while back called Muse. What makes Puzzle different?
JO: Muse was about colour. Every box of tiles comes with 15 shades of a single colour. The idea for that project was to give an overall, tonal variation. Otherwise you’d have a flat, single-hued tile, which for us is a little bit boring. Muse was a colour thing, whereas Puzzle is more of a pattern thing. There’s still variation, but it comes from a pattern.
Puzzle gives a lot of creative freedom to the user. The customer becomes the designer in a way. This seems to be a popular approach to product design these days. What do you think that says about the design industry and what people value today?
EDWARD BARBER: I think people are looking for something which is unique, or that gives them the opportunity to create something that is theirs rather than something that’s just from the shelf. I think that applies to furniture too. Most people don’t just buy new furniture from a single place, they find a mixture of different things because they want their individuality to come across.
Where do you think this desire for more bespoke design comes from?
JO: I think it comes from a desire for uniqueness. Things today are so mass produced. In the past people would buy locally, so they’d buy tiles from the nearest place that made tiles, and their wooden dining table from the nearest woodworker. On a national scale, each local area had its particular producers and their specialties. Today you can get the same tiles in New York, Sydney, London, or wherever. Somehow you need to create some differentiation. These tiles are a really good example of how you can achieve that.
How did you come up with the different patterns for Puzzle?
JO: We started with drawings and then quickly went into cutting out shapes. We printed one tile and cut it out and started playing around with it. We just threw some designs together. Within the catalogue we’ve described a few scenarios, but we don’t honestly know what all the options are. We’re looking forward to seeing what people do with it.
Were there any particular challenges you faced during the design process?
EB: Many. Mutina had to completely re-engineer the way they make the colours because the current technology didn’t enable the colours that we’d chosen to be used in this way, to be flat colours. Normally when they print tiles, it’s to produce patterns or textures, or a variation of them. But we were working with flat colour, like a screen print on a texture, which had never been done before so the machines had to be completely redesigned. We weren’t sure if it was going to be possible.
How did you arrive at the final colour palette?
EB: We made a long list of our preferences and Mutina made many hundreds of samples and we chose the colours together from there. Some colours worked better than others, some colours got quite close to others we were trying to achieve. Other times the chemicals and the process didn’t allow that to happen. It was a huge experiment.
JO: And it’s not over yet. We’ve seen all the colours at the Mutina showroom, which has lots of natural light. But after seeing it in artificial light at the Salone del Mobile, there are some colours we’d like to adjust slightly.
Will you introduce the line in a gloss finish?
JO: No, it’s really about the pattern and not having a glossy surface finish. We were trying to find a really durable and matte finish, something that works both inside and out. You can use the tile in so many ways, and put it almost anywhere. Actually, we’re hoping that someone will do a whole building with it. That would be really amazing.
Photos courtesy of Mutina
Alberto Meda's Origami is a foldable, functional and fanciful heating solution for Tubes
Italian designer Alberto Meda explains the process behind the conception of Origami, a foldable heating solution for Tubes Radiatori which is not only functional, energy efficient and technologically advanced but extremely easy on the eyes.
What sparked the Origami collection?
ALBERTO MEDA: Origami arose from the idea of creating a folding screen that had the capacity to perform various functions. We wanted to design something that would work well in open plans, where there is a need for barrier-free private space. The goal was to offer heating and privacy – both factors of physical and psychological wellbeing – in a single object.
Origami could almost be mistaken for a piece of furniture.
I think the legs have a lot to do with that. The final design is the result of an investigative approach; the design process itself drove many aesthetic decisions, such as the legs. Due to issues of safety and problems of support and stability, I came up with the idea of giving the free-standing model limbs. This leg, which was added quite late in the design process, gives Origami its character and identity. It suddenly becomes domestic. It’s not just a screen, but a decorative piece, one that is highly functional and also very technologically advanced.
Did any other surprises emerge from the design process?
The design of an object is rarely a linear process. As a designer you are constantly reassessing what you’ve done. Every once in a while you encounter an obstacle, which forces you to reconsider your design or come up with a new approach. The leg is one example of how the process can trigger an unexpected element or aesthetic result. Another thing that came up during the design stage was the idea of taking the free-standing model and making a wall-mounted module. In this case the partition serves a completely different function.
How does Origami work exactly? Apart from an electrical cord, there is nothing to suggest that it is, in fact, a radiator.
Origami’s inner workings are very complex. Despite its complexity, we wanted to completely hide this technology from view. It’s an approach that I think is important. Technology should be used, not exhibited. In addition to a pleasing aesthetic, technology should provide an intuitive and comprehensive solution to our problems.
Did Origami take long to develop?
The whole process took very little time. I made a prototype using a small 3D printer we have in the studio. It was made of lots of tiny elements. The hinges, which we also designed, connected the individual pieces to make the wavy profile. I sent Tubes the prototype and they were very quick to respond with positive feedback. Physical models have a stronger impact than 2D sketches. I think the fact that we were able to provide this physicality early on played a big role in accelerating the whole process.
Speaking of physicality, what are your thoughts on Salone del Mobile or the traditional trade fair in general? In this digital age, is the show-and-tell model still relevant?
Physical presentation is still important. Sure, you could technically view all the novelties at Salone from a screen, but objects need to be touched! The desire and necessity for a physical experience will always be there.
Photos courtesy of Tubes
Mathias Hahn's Kin collection for Zeitraum stacks to adapt to life's needs
During Zeitraum's launch of the Kin collection at IMM Cologne, Germany-born, London-based designer Mathias Hahn discusses the details that he believes add a magical touch to the modular timber elements.
What was the initial concept for the Kin collection?
MATHIAS HAHN: The idea was to create a flexible system and range of storage furniture in wood. We wanted to make a solid timber cabinet collection that could meet the demands of and be relevant to modern life. Our environments and domestic circumstances are constantly changing, and our furniture needs to be able to accommodate these changes.The pieces in this collection are not defined by typology, but instead allow for multiple configurations and living scenarios. The volumes can either stand alone or be combined, depending on the user’s needs. You can be playful and stack them on top of each other, or use them as individual pieces. I think this is the beauty of it. It’s a collection that can adapt to your environment. It’s not a modular system in the classic sense, where you have one unit that multiplies, but rather it’s a family of distinct proportions and sizes that are designed to fit and work together. They are each individual, with their own presence, but together they create a larger whole.
Why was wood a good choice for this line?
Technically speaking, we could have gone with any material, but we decided to go with solid wood because that’s Zeitraum’s speciality. It’s what the brand stands for and what it does very well. It just made sense.
It looks like wood is making a comeback. Why do you think that is?
What I like about Kin is that it is intelligible long term, and I think the material plays a big role in that. I don’t think wood will ever lose its appeal. Fashions in finishes and colour will come and go, but wood will always be relevant. Wood is an elementary material. It has longevity.
Are there any elements or details in the series that stand out to you?
I am a very detailed person, and so I love focussing on detailed elements and solutions. The main feature of this collection is the Tip On function. It’s a simple gesture that adds character to the cabinets and makes them more than just a series of wooden boxes. The Tip On mechanism is typically used for kitchen cabinets to create a seamless aesthetic. It’s nice to touch and feel, so I thought ‘why not use it for the Kin cabinets?’ If you look closely you’ll see that the button is on a different plain, and that the door gently curves into it. I think it’s important to have these semantic signs. The button is almost asking to be touched! I really enjoy seeing how people react to it. There is some magic to it.
How do you strike a balance between craft and functionality?
Making modular furniture can be tricky because once you make a decision on a detail, it impacts all the other elements. You might only have a handful of details, but getting them right can take a lot of work. The key is to think in systems. It sounds simple but it involves a lot of investigation and understanding. You need to be knowledgeable about the manufacturing and technical processes involved in each step. You also need to be clear about what is achievable. It can be easy to get caught up on a single detail, so getting some distance is very important. Each time you look into a technical detail you need to step back again and ask yourself: ‘is it still doing what I want it to do overall?’
Photos courtesy of Zeitraum