For the third time in six years, FRAME magazine takes stock of what’s happening in the discipline we call ‘interior architecture’. For the third time, FRAME surveys the situation in collaboration with two Maastricht-based institutions: Marres, Centre for Contemporary Culture and NAiM/Bureau Europa. And for the third time, an international jury goes into seclusion for a day and a half to study hundreds of entries from across the globe, to nominate 20 projects in four categories and, finally, to choose this year’s winners. Members of the 2011 jury have no fewer than 260 entries from 37 countries to consider. Again, as in previous years, the main reaction is surprise. So many participants, so international, such exceptional quality. Work begins early in the morning; breaks are brief. The room is a silent sea of serious expressions. Little talk. It’s all about looking. Pondering. Deliberating. Jurors have it easy? Here in Maastricht in late September, it’s tough going.
Those stepping into the fray are Jan Boelen (director of Z33, House for Contemporary Art, Hasselt), Jurgen Bey (designer, Studio Makkink & Bey, Rotterdam), Kozo Fujimoto (general manager of communications, Hermès Japon, Tokyo), Ilya Oskolkov-Tsentsiper (president of Strelka Institute for Media, Architecture and Design, Moscow) and Timo de Rijk (professor of Design Cultures, VU University, Amsterdam). Guus Beumer, director of Marres and NAiM/Bureau Europa, supervises, clarifies, facilitates and serves, enabling the decision-making process to proceed fairly, cordially and flawlessly.
Following tradition – a tradition still in its infancy, of course – the latest edition of The Great Indoors Award has a theme: IN BETWEEN. In a time of economic stagnation and rising vacancy rates, competition organi-zers choose a theme that focuses on the temporary use of interiors. They see temporary (re)use as a cost-effective way to combat the problem of unoccupied space. What’s more, temporary solutions can generate interest in the sites involved and can lead to a greater degree of social cohesion. Jury members have not been asked to use such criteria in judging the entries, however. The purpose of the competition theme is to stimulate discussion and to shed a certain light on the designs. This should also help the jury to defi ne common ground on which to evaluate the projects.
Remarkably, the jury’s nominations show an unspoken preference for reuse and imper- manence. Prominent examples of reuse are exemplifi ed in commercial projects such as the Hermès Rive Gauche store in Paris (*) and The Waterhouse at South Bund Hotel in Shanghai. The former revives an obsolete swimming pool in a pleasant urban neighbourhood; and the latter, which occupies an old building in rapidly advancing China, features contemporary interiors that interpret luxury in a new way. Rather than promising plush comfort and mad materials, these projects concentrate on giving new opportunities to nearly forgotten places. They heighten the potential of the city.
Less glamorous but just as impressive are interventions made to upgrade Nakamura Station, in Japan’s Kochi Prefecture, and Ahoy, a concert hall and event venue in Rotterdam. In each case, the designers stripped the building but left existing functions and structures largely intact. Additions – modest to a fault – have a mainly infrastructural character. In both projects, reuse led to the recreation of a wholly architectural experience and to an increase in the quality of public space.
The transient condition is most obvious in the nominated pop-up stores for Aēsop and OHWOW, and in Tatzu Nishi’s hotel room-cum-art installation. Temporary interiors play by their own set of rules. The functional aspect takes a back seat to the creation of an indelible experience. These projects provide exactly that: all three are simply fizzling with fun. They are proof positive that temporary interiors can inject a sense of energy into existing environments. Not only transience and reuse reach out to touch the members of the jury. They are also looking for authenticity, integrity and sense of place: projects unmistakably tied to a specifi c location. Or better still: projects that enhance the quality of public space. Some of the winning projects had it all.
AND THE GREAT WINNERS ARE
Winner in the Show & Sell category is no stranger to The Great Indoors Award, having been nominated in an earlier competition for Interior Design Firm of the Year. The work of March Studio stands out for its consistently high level of excellence. The three retail de- signs that the Australian practice submitted to this year’s competition are no exception. March Studio realized permanent stores for skincare brand Aēsop in Melbourne and Paris, and a pop-up store in the French capital for the same client. Although submitted to the competition as separate designs, all three projects take first prize in the well-represented Show & Sell category, which received 132 entries. The jury sees the three stores almost as a logical consequence of one powerful concept: the creation of a graphically developed space involving one natural material, one technique and the seamless incorporation of the product line. This design strategy has deep roots within the Aesop brand, with its reputation for natural skincare products in plain, simple, graphically designed packaging. In Melbourne, March Studio clad walls and ceiling with a layered matrix of plywood. Boards of hand- cut ash dominate the permanent outlet in Paris, and the pop-up store throws a party with 4500 cardboard shipping boxes. One brand, one concept, and three distinctive retail interiors with a strong family resemblance that can’t be ignored. A strategy bursting with potential.
First prize in the Serve & Facilitate category goes to the makers of Power Toilets, a functional work of art on the Dutch coast, in the province of North Holland. Together with artists’ collective Superflex, Nezu Aymo Architects developed a project that adds a touch of quality and surprise to public space and a new significance to an otherwise anonymous facility. Based on mobile-phone photos, their public toilets are first-rate copies of those in one of the most heavily secured buildings in the world: the United Nations Headquarters in New York City. These designers make one of the most compelling statements available to those in the profession: their work transports the user to a place that is normally off limits to the general public. Power Toilets are a contemporary art installation that doubles as a functional toilet.
The jury sees more variation in the Relax & Consume category than in any other classification. Hospitality concepts seem to be the way to make an explicit appeal to the public. One project clearly stands apart from the rest of the luxurious, theatrical, conceptual and architectural interiors: a site-specific art installation by Tatzu Nishi. Since the ‘90s, this Japanese artist has been transforming public objects – church steeples, monuments, even street lights – into extraordinary meeting places. A hotel room built around a national monument in Singapore in the spring of 2011 captures first prize in the Relax & Consume category for the Japanese artist, who’s known for changing not only public spaces but also his name. Occupying the space in an equally aliena- ting and natural way, the hotel room embraces the head of the Merlion, a monument in the form of a mythical creature. The tiny hotel accepted reser- vations for the few weeks of its existence, proving its worth as a commercial asset as well as an art installation. According to the jury, Nishi prompts viewers to look at the landmark and its urban environment in a new way and gives all observers, of every rank and station, the opportunity to ‘own’ a piece of art for a brief moment in time. Merlion Hotel is a consistent and playful project that addresses temporary ownership and looks at how people relate to public landmarks.
Winner in the Concentrate & Collaborate category is a workplace in the vicinity of Amsterdam for creative agency Tribal DDB. At first glance, this office looks quite simple. What makes i29’s design so special is the use of a single material: felt. The woolfelting craft has a long history. In this digital-marketing office, i29 has applied the mate- rial both sophisticatedly and functionally, thus introducing a traditional handicraft into the 21st century. Felt covering walls, ceilings, furniture and lamps provides the office and its 80 employees with good acoustics. The fabric also generates a warm and rather feminine atmosphere that is, however, anything but frumpish. Combined with a clever arrangement of areas for work and relaxation, felt has been used to establish privacy without sacrificing the desired sense of openness. In other words, the choice of material for this project could not be better. And this is the essence of good interior design.
Notable conclusions drawn from the winning projects: the artist is back, and nothing is stronger than a consistently executed idea. In the case of art, two of the four winning projects are the work of artists. Both Tatzu Nishi and Superflex, the latter in collaboration with Nezu Aymo Architects, appropriated a fragment of public space and bent it to their will. Seen as such, either of the two projects can be evaluated as any other piece of art occupying a public site. But these artists go a step further. They create works of art that, first and foremost, cater to a basic human need – people can answer nature’s call in Superflex’s toilets and get a good night’s sleep in Tatzu Nishi’s hotel – and subsequently address fundamental issues such as access, use, the relationship between private and public, and the desire for surprise and alienation. These are art projects that operate on multiple levels. In the eyes of the jury, they are confirmation that designers can still learn from artists, particularly when it comes to the way in which a project is reinterpreted and is given new layers of meaning that far transcend established notions of identity, luxury and functionality.
The jury’s selection of the other two winners is based on the recognition of a strong idea and the consistency of its execution. In the office designed for Tribal DDB, i29 makes optimum use of the myriad properties of a single material: felt. March Studio does something similar in its shops for Aesop by prioritizing each retail design’s reflec- tion of the core values of the skincare brand. Both winners couple a lucid idea with uncompromising execution and unite artistry with functionality – with no appreciable budget. And that makes them both shining examples of their profession.
*) Mr. Kozo Fujimoto is working for Hermès Japon. Therefore as member of the jury he was asked to step out of the discussion on the Hermès Rive Gauche store in Paris and refrained from voting.