Design houses

SANAA Lausanne, Switzerland - Image © Alain Herzog


Lausanne, Switzerland

Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa are carrying out a quiet revolution. Through their firm SANAA the Japanese architects have been constructing buildings that appear diaphanous and weightless, as if levitating amidst their surroundings. Sejima and Nishizawa resist building what they describe as ‘mountains in the landscape’, believing that architecture should never dominate its environment. For their inspired designs they have been awarded the 2010 Pritzker Architecture Prize, the profession’s most prestigious honour, and only the third time in the prize’s history that two architects have been named laureates in the same year.

SANAA (an abbreviation for Sejima and Nishizawa Associated Architects) was founded in 1995, and the two architects have been collaborating on projects for over fifteen years. Many of their major commissions for cultural centres in Japan and abroad have received critical accolades including the recent Rolex Learning Center in Lausanne, Switzerland. The structure is deceptively simple, designed to house a library, a language centre, offices, restaurants and lobby. The undulating concrete roof and floor is a continuous surface perforated to allow light into seven courtyards of varying sizes and shapes.

The Rolex Learning Center demonstrates Sejima and Nishizawa’s uncanny ability to design large-scale and functional architecture that still achieves a light and ethereal effect. “The architects hold a vision of a building as a seamless whole, where the physical presence retreats and forms a sensuous background for people, objects, activities, and landscapes,” the Pritzker’s jury citation observes. “They explore like few others the phenomenal properties of continuous space, lightness, transparency, and materiality to create a subtle synthesis.”

Pascal and Laurent Grasso Paris, France - Photography by Kleinefenn, commissioned by Electrolux

Pascal and Laurent Grasso

Paris, France

To give a new twist to restaurant design, French brothers Pascal and Laurent Grasso have installed a “mobile” eatery on the roof of the Palais de Tokyo Museum in Paris. This ultramodern restaurant, Nomiya, named after the small ‘drinking shops’ popular in Japan, has a kitchen and white Corian table that sits twelve (on white Eames chairs). Constructed with glass and perforated metal, and lit with coloured LED lights, this makeshift space was assembled in a Cherbourg boatyard and transported in two sections to Paris. The concept is a pop-up restaurant lasting until July 2010. Gilles Stassart, culinary director of the Art Home programme at the museum, has also designed an innovative cuisine to match the ethereal setting.

From afar the restaurant looks like a three-dimensional billboard sitting atop a building. In designing this (literally) moveable feast, Pascal and Laurent have given new meaning to the concept of ‘eating out’, and liberated the traditional idea of a restaurant from its interior claustrophobia. Pascal, a young Parisian architect, often fuses architecture and art in his work, experimenting with existing constructs to give them new functions. Laurent, an emerging artist, and winner of the Marcel Duchamp Prize in 2008, frequently collaborates with his brother to subvert or re-interpret familiar forms. Their collaborative projects are cinematic in quality, employing light effects and stunning visuals to conjure compelling works of art. But in creating Nomiya, the Grasso brothers have merged art and functionality to create a restaurant in the sky that enjoys more stars than Michelin could ever bestow.

Toyo Ito Tokyo, Japan - Photography courtesy of Toyo Ito & Associates, Architects

Toyo Ito

Tokyo, Japan

When architects first began using computers to digitally render buildings that were curved and contorted as if they were made of rubber, most people considered their designs as self-indulgent conceptual art. Japanese architect Toyo Ito was one of the early proponents of this freeing of traditional architecture from its rigid functionalism – and angularity – through the use of new software technology. Born in 1941, Ito grew up amidst Japan’s frenetic post-war reconstruction period. The miniaturisation of homes (a result of the scarcity of buildable land in mountainous Japan) is still evident today in cities throughout Japan. Ito aligned himself with anti- Metabolist Kazuo Shinohara, believing that private homes can also be flamboyant, inventive, and even utopian. In his celebrated early architecture experiment White U (1976), Ito enclosed the core of his sister’s house with impenetrable walls; and then for his own house, Silver Hut (1984), he drew inspiration from the Mongolian pao tent. For the monumental Tower of Winds (1986) he wrapped a concrete tower with reflective plates and lights. By the time Ito built the Za-Koenji Public Theatre he had already earned recognition as an architect’s architect. Based on complex computer-generated geometric forms, the exterior of Za-Koenji is completely black, and covered with a thin steel skin that cloaks a six-storey structure – three below ground – perforated with small holes to allow natural light to penetrate the interiors. Rising to the challenge of creating a setting for performance art that both wows and welcomes the public, Ito has transcended conventional dictates of theatre architecture to express his own distinctive creative vision.

Maison Martin Margiela Bordeaux, France - Photography by Xavier Béjot

Maison Martin Margiela

Bordeaux, France

The reclusive fashion designer Martin Margiela has refurbished the L’Ile aux Oiseaux suite at Les Sources de Caudalie, a five-star resort in Bordeaux, and imprinted it with his own edgy brand of faux-Classicism. Catering to tourists visiting the Château Smith Haut Lafitte vineyards, the hotel has earned a reputation as one of the most exclusive in French wine country. The L’Ile aux Oiseaux is an open-plan suite in a rustic cabin elevated on stilts and named after its location on the scenic Bird Island. To celebrate its tenth anniversary Alice and Jérôme Tourbier, the co-owners of Les Sources de Caudalie, approacheMargiela to create an avant-garde interior space amid the lush landscape. The Belgian couturier is an unlikely designer for the suite as his minimalist style contravenes the hotel’s rather oldfashioned and sometimes cloying decorative sensibilities.

But the Tourbiers wanted something new and gave Margiela free reign over the suite’s redesign. The result is a monochromatic décor suffused with postmodern suggestiveness and embellished with neoclassical trompe l’oeil mirrored surfaces and ‘white objects’ from his furniture collections. To add a colourful flourish, he installed a Bocca Red Lips sofa in the whitewashed suite. There is insider speculation about whether or not Margiela is still at the helm of Maison Martin Margiela. Yet he has always asserted that the company bearing his name is a collaborative effort between designers. Whether Margiela single-handedly conceptualised the L’Ile aux Oiseaux suite or not, its exquisite décor nevertheless bears his trademark of bold but tasteful experiments in interior design.

by Peter Yeoh

From the Glass archive – issue two – Rapture