Singapore Supertrees

Singapore Supertrees

The 18 new “supertrees” in Singapore’s Bay South garden are gigantic trellises for exotic plants, but they also double as exhaust tubes and supports for sustainable infrastructure.

The brightly colored concrete and steel structures rise at varying heights up to 164 feet, and support some 200 plant species including orchids, neoregelias, and bougainvilleas. Eleven of the towers will support photovoltaic cells and rainwater harvesting technology, while also venting warm air from the underground cooling system of adjacent conservatories. A 420-foot-long aerial walkway will link two 138-foot-high supertrees to give visitors a bird’s-eye view of the gardens, and the tallest will house a restaurant in its “canopy.”

The $831 million Bay South garden is the largest of three gardens wrapped around a freshwater reservoir in a mixed-use business and residential development called Marina Bay (perhaps best recognized for the architect Moshe Safdie’s three high-rise buildings connected by a gigantic floating deck in the air). The community is pa1t of the Gardens by the Bay development, which stands on about 250 acres of reclaimed land on Singapore’s south coast. Master planned by Grant Associates and Gustafson Porter, both British landscape architecture firms, it features two conservatory domes, 12 themed gardens, and a two-mile-long waterfront promenade.

The garden layout for Bay South is based on the shape of the national flower of Singapore, an orchid hybrid called Vanda Miss Joaquim var. ‘Agnes.’ Andrew Grant, of Grant Associates, says the giant karri trees (Eucalyptus diversicolor) in Australia’s Walpole-Nomalup National Park were another source of inspiration. The karri trees “loom over the surrounding forest to create an extraordinary sense of scale and drama,” he explains, and he set out to design something similarly impressive.

The gardens will open for an advance viewing as part of the 20th World Orchid Conference in November [2011] and are scheduled to open to the public next summer.

Emotion in Lights

Emotion in Lights

Growing up in Africa, the emotional effect of light left a strong impression on Barbara Hediger. “My brother and I grew up in Africa, and as you well know, the light in Africa is very special, at all times of the day,” says the Belgian lighting designer.

Also helping to nurture the young Hediger’s interest in light were her parents, both teachers, and keen photographers. The Hediger family travelled widely, and through photography her mother and father gave her, she recounts, a “very good schooling,” in visual framing and the role of light in photography.

In her mid-teens, Hediger returned to Belgium to attend high school, but also returned with strong memories of the African light and landscape.

Now a long way from Rwanda, she works out of an office in Tamines, some fifty kilometres south of Brussels, the Belgian capital.

Over the past thirteen years, Hediger has lit a lengthy list of buildings, both historic and contemporary, along with interiors and landscape design works.

Notable career highlights include the lighting of the Dexia Tower in Brussels, Saint Aubin’s Cathedral in Namur and the KBL European Private Bankers building in Luxembourg.

As far as getting into lighting design, it hadn’t been part of some long-term plan. The ambition developed over a number of years. What Hediger is sure about, however, is that she had acquired a sensitivity to light and its impact on people from her life in Africa.

Back on Belgian soil and fresh out of arts school, where she had studied interior design at the École Supérieure des Arts Saint-Luc de Liège in the late Eighties, Hediger took up a position as a sales rep for a lighting equipment supply company. The job regularly brought her into contact with architects and designers, which kindled her desire to set up as a lighting designer on her own.

Eight years later, she did just that.

An “objective artist,” is how Hediger describes herself, “always trying to make light work for the place it’s installed in and for the many different objectives—marketing, well-being, architectural, temporary or permanent displays,” she says.

She also has some golden rules when it comes to developing and installing a lighting system. It has to respect people in a lit environment and to take into account energy usage, maintenance and cost.

It should also blend in harmoniously with the architecture, an example of which was completed in September—the lighting of the Brussels head office of the UCM, a trade union for small and medium businesses in Belgium.

Hediger installed colour-changing LEDs on the horizontal aluminium fins that wrap around the glass and metal box-like building. As with her other works, the aim is to “create lighting with light sources well concealed on the architectural elements, so the architectural elements ‘become light’,” she says.

When it comes to lighting an office building, “an emotion is created like that for a logo,” she says. “The lighting of a facade is closely linked to the company’s activities and its brand image. The control of the lighting provides an unquestionable plus for the firm.” Hediger also points out that it affects employee performance in a positive way, too.

Concealing light sources—like any good lighting designer—and using light to enable the viewer to read the architecture clearly are key parts of Hediger’s lighting plans.

Hediger’s adopted working method on a project starts with looking at the materials, the architect’s vision and the reasons behind the architectural concept. It’s then a matter of taking into account the firm’s marketing goals and the local authorities’ broader intentions regarding its architectural heritage. After that it’s a matter of “combining into a coherent whole the spaces, the forms, the volumes, the observation points of the passerby or visitor,” says Hediger.

To light the Baroque style interior of St Aubin’s Cathedral in Brussels, Hediger used mostly 20, 35 and 70W metal iodide lamps (3200 K), positioned high up to uplight the architectural features of the building while remaining hidden from view. Metal iodides (4200 K) lit the black and white marble floor.

On this project and others, at the end of the day there should be a smooth transition between daylight and artificial lighting believes Hediger.

Using building components as lighting reflectors is another noticeable aspect of her work, as seen in the lighting of the Dexia Tower and the KBL European Private Bankers building in Luxembourg.

In 2003, Hediger put forward a plan to light a new glass office tower in Brussels with LEDs. At that time, they had yet to be “taken up and used like today. Nevertheless I knew this lighting technique was the most sensible, the best adapted for this type of architecture,” she says. “It was a novel and innovative idea—lighting a facade from the inside.”

The main idea was to bounce LED light from 220,000 RGB LEDs, housed inside 4,184 LED bars, off the closed window blinds. The LED bars were built into roughly three quarters of the building’s window panes, totalling 6,000, which turned each window into a giant rectangular pixel on an enormous thirty-eight storey high screen, controlled by computer and a DMX cable system.

On another office lighting project, this time in Luxembourg, Hediger used the building’s granite facade as a reflector. For the KBL European Private Bankers building “the artistic concept,” she says, “utilises the 75-by-150-centimetre vertical granite plates as reverberating pixels as LCD screens would do. Eight hundred and fifty independent granite plates allowing for unlimited lighting possibilities. A huge multi-colour patchwork of colours spreading over the various dimensions, sculpting the building’s forms.”

Hediger’s current workload includes lighting several Brussels landmark sites, such as the 15-16th century gothic church the Eglise du Sablon, the eighteenth century listed Quartier du Béguinage, and the Brussels Stock Exchange.

But large or small, the lighting projects Hediger works on always have an element of emotion introduced into them. “My job is to create emotion,” she says. “The work of a lighting designer is to bring emotion to built works, whatever they are.”

Q&A with Barbara Hediger

Projects you would like to change:

Although I’m rather proud of the simplicity and the soft lighting in Saint Aubin’s Cathedral in Namur, I would develop a new lighting concept. Through new technologies, I would fine tune the colour and lighting, controlled and measured intelligently, for a subtler reading of the architecture.

Lighting hero

Yann Kersalé, for his artistic vision and his aim of not conforming to traditional rules in lighting, and bending the rules to suit his own vision.

Notable projects (completion date):

Dexia Tower, Brussels (2006 and 2010)

Saint Aubin’s Cathedral, Namur (2009)

KBL European Private Bankers building, Luxembourg (2008)

Current projects (current status or provisional completion date):

Lighting scheme for several sites in Brussels (ongoing project): Porte de Hal; Eglise du Sablon; Pavillons de la Porte d’Anderlecht; Cathédrale St Michel et Gudule; Eglise Sainte Catherine; La bourse; Eglise de la Chapelle; le Quartier du Béguinage; la Place des Martyr; and le Petit Château

Dinant Palais de Justice, Belgium (2014)

Palais de Justice, Namur, Belgium (2014)

Grand Place and train station, Péruwelz, Belgium (ongoing projects)

Electrloux HQ, Zaventem, Belgium (mid-September 2011)

Dolce Hotel La Hulpe, Brussels (one day clinic and parking areas) (ongoing project)

Brassaï art exhibition

Brassaï Art Exhibition

Entitled Brassaï: The Soul of Paris, a major retrospective of Hungarian photographer, sculptor and painter, Brassaï (1899-1984), at the Hayward Gallery represented a large chunk of the one previously held at the Pompidou Centre.

Since Brassaï really came into his own when he turned to photography, the Hayward Gallery presented over 280 photographs of his Paris by Night and Paris by Day collection as well as works from the surrealist review Minotaure and his suite of graffiti series.

Small fetish and portrait sculptures from the early 40s through to the late 70s demonstrate Brassaï’s search for ‘latent forms’ in seashore pebbles—the resulting shapes sculpted as much by the tools he employed as by his dreams and obsessions.

It was in the mid-30s that Picasso commented that photography could not be wholly satisfying, which prompted Brassaï’s engravings that are gathered under the title ‘Transmutations’. The female form is pared down to a musical instrument, a breast or pelvic curve being all that remains. This use of visual ellipsis places him within the cubist wave, and it was cubism’s leading exponent, Picasso, who requested Brassaï to document pictorially his sculptures in 1932 and then later in 1943.

Examples of “unintentional sculptures”—close-ups of brain coral, a mangled bus ticket, a fragment of soap, a thimble or a needle—, his brush with the surrealists and the publication of his work in the review Minotaure constitute a significant period in his artistic development. Nevertheless, he stated that his association with this other ism was “a misunderstanding”. In fact “the surrealism of my images was nothing more than the real rendered fantastic by the imagination. I sought only to express reality, as nothing is more surreal,” he once said.

Born in Brasso, Transylvania, Hungary, at the end of the 19th century, Gyula Halász first visited Paris with his father, a French literary professor at the Sorbonne, in 1903-4. Not until two decades later did he eventually step once again onto French soil. Never to return home. Between these two dates, Halász served in the Austro-Hungarian cavalry during WWI, then studied at the beaux-arts in both Budapest and Berlin. He took his first photographs in the spring of 1930 and adopted the pseudonym, Brassaï, in 1932.

From 1933, he took to recording graffiti that he found on cavern and factory walls. Whether comic or macabre, grotesque or sentimental, he described these scratchings and carvings as “nothing less than the origin of writing and nothing less than elements of mythology.” Out of the total number of nine series, four are on view: love, death, magic and primitive images.

But it is for his framing of the daytime world and the darker flipside of the day that he has become best known. A Man Dies in the Street, Boulevard de la Glacière (1932) exemplifies his cold, photojournalistic eye. Time and time again, Brassaï snapped the capital’s hard edge, as in The Fight, rue Saint-Denis, (1931), In a Brothel, Rue Quincampoix (1932) and prostitutes on the once seedy, gangster-infested, but now trendy, with all its tapas bars, rue de Lappe at Bastille. On other occasions, he captured the romance of Paris, as in Lovers in a Small Parisian Café (1932), whereas Walkers in the rain (1935), Steps of the Butte Montmartre with a white dog (1932-1933) and The Prison de la Santé, Boulevard Arago (1930) give instances of Brassaï’s marvellous grasp of composition, light, reflections and atmosphere.

Screen dreams

Screen Dreams

I pressed my nose up to the small, round window and peered into the darkened room beyond. Something peculiar seemed to be happening. The jaded kiosk attendant standing by my side managed only a thin smile. She had seen it all before.

Looking closer I realised that an animated version of a Jules Verne story was playing on a screen. Naive, black and white images danced across it, painting the meagre audience with a flickering, silvery sheen.

Leaning on Montmartre’s southern slope, Studio 28 is one of hundreds of cinemas that will throw open its doors as part of France’s three-day cinema festival a week from now. Known mainly to locals and dedicated cinema buffs, its strange, plant-like decor is, in fact, the whimsical work of Jean Cocteau, artist and film-maker. He designed the wild and colourful lamps in 1948, and today they still wrap around its columns and sprout from its walls.

Studio 28 has always been a showcase for the avant-garde. Jean-Pierre Mauclaire bought its previous incarnation, cabaret club La Petaudiere, early in the last century and, in 1928 opened it as a cinema. Keeping to an innovative programme, the cinema showed films such as Abel Gance’s three-hour epic, Napoleon, to great success. Luis Bunuel’s surrealist, anticlerical and antibourgeois L’Age d’Or didn’t go down so well. Outraged Catholics destroyed the screen along with paintings by Dali, Ernst, and Miro that had been on display.

By that time Paris’ cinematic settings had come a long way from the minimal surroundings in which the Lumiÿre brothers’ showed their first projections; the wooden benches of the Salon Indien at the Grand Cafe on boulevard des Capucines.

In contrast, many of today’s cinemas are disturbingly similar to bland shopping centres and jaded leisure complexes. The truth is that giant multiplexes and US budgets draw big crowds. Although more enlightening works might be chewed over as intellectual fare, the French public, like us it seems, still fall for Hollywood blockbusters. Especially if those films include the homegrown stars, such as Gerard Depardieu, Sophie Marceau and Juliette Binoche.

The architect Kenzo Tange has given Paris its biggest (240 square metres) permanent flat screen, the Gaumont Grand Ecran. Bordering the enormous roundabout at Place d’Italie, south of the river, Tange’s post-modern offices, shopping centre, restaurant and hotel surround an atrium which is capped by a glass, sawtooth roof.

What most people miss by descending directly to the cinema is the arrangement of triangles, rectangles, squares and cubes that form an architectural extravaganza of interlocking steps and terraces up above. The overall impression is of displacement, of the elements having slipped past each other.

Back inside, despite its size, the Grand Ecran manages to invoke intimate cinematic memories. The shiny metal strip in the floor design, the enormous, inflatable Jupiter above and saucer-shaped porch at the rear work together to produce a vivid cinematic flashback to Star Wars.

Fast forward to the real-life search for curious Parisian cinemas and you’ll probably come to a stop by the three-metre high letters which announce the Rex on boulevard Poissonniere. Otherwise known as Le Grand Rex, because of its large screen, this building, with its art deco tower, represents one of Paris’ few remaining “atmospheric” cinemas.

Beyond the plush foyer, filled with deep red furnishings and Romanesque statues, is the auditorium. In 1932, when the complex was constructed, cinema owners scoured the globe for arresting architecture, many turning to South America and the Mediterranean for inspiration. This explains why the Grand Rex of today is a heady mix of Spanish haciendas, minarets and colonnades, complete with a fake night sky.

Foreign films shown here are dubbed, however, so if you don’t want to practise your French, continue on to Les Coulisses du Rex next door. The Coulisses presents guided “Stars of the Rex” tours in English, a happy ending to a flick through Paris’ cinemas.

The French version of the article, entitled, En balade dans les salles obscures, appeared in the Courrier international:

Remember Paris?

Remember Paris?

Paris is many things: chic, sophisticated, stylish. But one thing it isn’t is mould-breaking. Modern Parisians are conservative in their tastes, and never more so than when they go clothes-shopping. While the garments themselves may not be that old-fashioned, the stores are another matter. The traditional Paris boutique is a sombre place, with dark granite floors, plain white walls and heavy, dressing-room drapes. Even in 2002, Flaubert’s Emma Bovary would not feel out of place.

At least, it used to be like that. In a spirit of ‘evolve or die’, some enlightened retailers have been challenging the French capital’s fustiness. Two boutiques in particular have caused a stir. One is by the French design duo the Bouroullec brothers; the other by Dutch group Droog Design.

On the stylish rue Saint-Honoré, Droog’s interior for Mandarina Duck is hard to miss. It assaults passing shoppers with floor-to-ceiling windows that give a clear view of the playground inside, full of vibrant colours and intriguing shapes. The Italian leatherwear manufacturer initially approached Droog about revamping its chain of stores in provincial cities, commissioning them to present their ideas for the Bologna branch. Briefed to design “the same but different,” says Renny Ramakers, the Dutch came up with something completely new. “When we tabled our proposals,” Droog’s Renny Ramakers says, “Mandarina Duck ‘upgraded’ us to Paris.”

Visiting the Paris shop is like playing a game of hide-and-seek. A big steel, doughnut-shaped container tempts the shopper to see what lies within. This is the “Inverse Clothes Rack”.

Push an item against The Pinwall standing over by the window and aluminium rods are pushed through to replicate its form on the other side. Elsewhere in the shop, rubber bands in green, red and yellow — like the bungees found on bicycle racks — keep handbags in place on the walls. Nylon jackets are inventively displayed, hung vacuum-packed between sheets of plastic.

Moving around the store is fun. A spiral staircase connects the ground floor to the second. Here, nickel-plated copper pellets make up a wavy curtain, which partitions off the luggage section. Pieter Bannenberg of NL Architects, who worked on the project, explains that this allows “freedom to move in and out. It avoids dead ends. It’s typically Dutch.”

Best of all are the “Grasslands” changing rooms. Based on photographs of crop circles, these two areas are cut off from the rest of the store by 6ft-high fibreglass quills. A giant mirror lets you check out the rather odd rubberised-paper anoraks.

This is the first shop interior for both Droog and NL Architects, which may go some way to explaining their unique approach. Likewise, the Bouroullec brothers were complete newcomers to shop design. In fact, they were so surprised to be asked to do Issey Miyake’s A-POC in the Marais district of Paris that they wondered “if it was not a casting error” says Ronan Bouroullec. Once they’d recovered from the shock, they based their quirky design on “the imagined expansion of a fruit basket”.

A-POC stands for A Piece of Cloth. The “piece of cloth” in question is a nylon, cotton, polyurethane mix fabric, which comes in a tubular roll. “A-POC is less about clothes and more about a technical solution,” Ronan explains. Anything from gloves to skirts can be chopped from the stretchy material to the buyer’s size and taste.

The shop most resembles a workshop-cum-dry-cleaner’s with a series of rails that wrap around the room. The green changing-room curtain is made of foam sandwiched between wool. Painted steel panels support magnets that slip inside the garments and hold them in place. Hangers and work surfaces hook over the narrow bars. Flexibility is the keyword: it’s designed to adapt to the demands of future collections.

Miyake commissioned the boys from Brittany to fit out A-POC on the basis of their drawings alone. The next time they saw him was the day before the opening. Fortunately, he liked what he saw. Miyake’s confidence in the Bouroullecs probably owed a lot to their reputation and string of previous successes. They have already pocketed a number of international awards, and their work has made it into Pompidou Centre’s contemporary design collection.

Despite the work of these young designers, it remains to be seen whether Parisians will be quick to confront their irrational attachment to soporific shop design.

Denmark Landmark

Denmark Landmark

Looking like an outsized piece of elaborately folded paper, the new Bella Sky Hotel just outside the Danish capital Copenhagen stands out on the horizon—just what Danish architectural firm 3XN and the hotel client Comwell wanted.

Sandwiched between green open spaces and Ørestad, a new city development extending southeast from the capital, the hotel is “out in a big nowhere land,” says Kim Herforth Nielsen, 3XN founder and principal architect, “so it has to be more expressive. We had to add some character to the area with this building.”

The idea was also to shift the visual focus away from the visually unremarkable low-rise Bella Center, a trade fair and conference center built back in the 1970s, towards a more iconic-looking building. Ørestad is “a new place so it lacks energy,” says Nielsen, “yet this building is meant to add some identity to the area, and the Bella Center as well. In the middle of Copenhagen it would have looked completely different.”

Given a limited building footprint and a height restriction because of the hotel’s proximity to Copenhagen airport, 3XN came up with the idea of putting two towers side by side. Tilting and folding the two glass and aluminum structures meant that more rooms could have outward-looking views and guests’ windows could be angled away from each other. As for the triangular pattern on the facade, it “came out from the two angles of the towers,” explains Nielsen.

On the inside, the triangular motif reappears in the shape of wall-mounted lobby mirrors and ceiling lights. Other key lobby design features include a 2,000-square foot [180-square meter] planted wall and a soft-lit color-changing LED chandelier.
Inspired by its surroundings, the curved green landscaping serves as a dining backdrop for the lobby’s mezzanine-level restaurant, one of the hotel’s five restaurants.

With more than 800 guestrooms, Bella Sky also stands out for its niche accommodation offering: On the 17th floor of Tower Two (dubbed the Bella Donna floor), 20 rooms are exclusively for women—from the color scheme to room accessories.

To create a warm, informal and relaxed interior in the restaurants and the 23rd-story Sky Bar, 3XN teamed up with Swedish design firm Thomas Eriksson Arkitekter (TEA). They worked with natural wood, like ash and oak, warm and cool colors, curvy furnishings—a counterpoint to the building’s angular form—and brought in furniture by Scandinavian firms and designers such as Hay, Arne Jacobsen and Finn Juhl.

“To get customers out there they needed to have something extraordinary,” says Nielsen, “and they wanted something that called for Scandinavian cool design and state of the art Scandinavian architecture.”

Light Box

Light Box

Light box: part of a plan to revive the urban realm and create a sense of neighbourhood identity, this new mediatheque combines formal rigour with material invention.

Apparently just a gleaming metal box, Dominique Perrault’s new mediatheque contains some intriguing surprises. Located in Venissieux, a southern suburb of Lyons, the project forms a key part of the local mayor’s urban revitalization scheme. The suburb is currently dominated by the Minguettes tower-block housing estate on a hilltop to the west of the mediatheque site. To the north is Venissieux’s Hotel de Ville, which dates from the mid 1970s.

One of four designs presented to a jury in 1997, Perrault’s building makes no obvious reference to its surroundings. External walls are double-glazed, with folded and perforated aluminium panels set between the glass, facing both outwards and inwards. From a distance, the inward-turning panels resemble depressed keys on a piano keyboard. The facade is divided horizontally into three layers, each one distinguishable as a row (or three rows, in the case of the top tier) of 1 .8m wide aluminium-framed modules. On an overcast day, the bluish-green external skin reveals only the ghostly outlines of furniture and people within.

This particular use of perforated panels has its origins in another of Perrault’s buildings, a factory built for the fabric manufacturer Aplix, near Nantes. During a site inspection Perrault noticed some unusual lighting effects generated by acoustic panelling- a serendipitous observation from which the Venissieux project has benefited. The building’s massive, metallic appearance also conveys a necessary robustness, as it is near the tough Minguettes area. Windows on the north and south-facing sides of the library’s three upper floors are screened by Venetian blinds, giving librarians greater control over the amount of light entering their offices.

The entrance is marked by the word ‘mediatheque’ printed in playful outsized letters on the sliding doors. From inside, the Venissieux townscape becomes a Pointillist backdrop – Paul Signac rather than Georges Seurat. Yet when viewed from deeper inside the building, a very different impression is created, like looking through a layer of ice on a window pane. Tiny holes equipped with filters set along the base of the walls help to minimize any distortion of the glass that could result from abrupt changes in air temperature.

The internal organization emphasizes the interaction of light and materials. A 3m wide space, delimited by the facade and shelving units in oukame (Gabon mahogany), runs around the edge of the ground floor. In plan it resembles the margin around the text on a page. This internal street allows people to enter the central maze of shelves, racks and study areas from several points. It also parallels the 3.9m wide footpath that wraps around the outside of the building.

In keeping with Perrault’s rigorous rules of alignment, no piece of furniture is higher than 2.25m, which corresponds to the height of the lowest set of modules on the facade. Everything is equally aligned with the 16 slab-like concrete columns that support the 6.2m high ceiling. Furniture in shades of warm brown contrasts with the ubiquitous cool greys of the aluminium panels, computer terminals, rubber flooring, concrete columns, trusses and exposed ceiling ducts and wiring. Perforated and galvanized steel panels, confined to one part of the ceiling between east and west entrances, play a double role: the bundles of wire-and-tube spaghetti below the three-storey administration and storage block were considered so dense and unruly that Perrault had them hidden. The panelling also signposts the function of the long east-west oriented space below, which contains the loans and returns counters and lavatories.

Unlike the other shortlisted designs, which segregated the different readerships – adult, adolescent and child – by placing them on different floors, Perrault’s proposal keeps them on one level. The two older age groups share the south wing, with children’s spaces occupying the north wing. Separating these two volumes are a 50-seat auditorium (only 2.1m wide), a security surveillance office and a lift to the three floors above and basement loading bay below.

Offset from the centre of the building is a three-storey structure that deliberately breaks the formal symmetry to give the mediatheque its distinctive inverted-T shape. The angled north frontage further increases the asymmetry. Behind this skewed facade is a triangular space for children’s activities–playing with toys, chatting with friends and taking part in group storytelling, all conducted under the watchful gaze of their parents. Cars flash past outside, pedestrians walk by, oblivious to the animation inside. At dusk, as the setting sun strikes the north end, the aluminium panels assume yet another unexpected appearance.

Inside, they gleam, as if a thousand spiders had spun their threads into a radiant golden fabric. After dark, the one-way mirror effect is reversed, and the mediatheque becomes a glowing lantern in the spring night.

Rule Breakers

Rule Breakers

The name UnSangDong embraces several meanings—life, energy, movement and substance over surface. Headed by principals Jang and Chang Hoon Shin, the firm has spent the past few years designing buildings that have gained the architects international recognition and awards.

In a country where clients and construction companies regularly take over the execution and subsequent modification of buildings—much to the annoyance of the architects—USD has managed in most cases to complete work that closely resembles the original design.

Notable works include Kring (KumHo Culture Complex) in Seoul and the glass, wood and steel office building of publishers Life & Power Press in Paju Book City, a complex of publishing-related companies some 30 kilometres northwest of the capital.

Whereas the Life & Power Press building’s floor and ceiling topography is clearly expressed externally, both Kring’s design concept and its name are closely linked to promoting the client’s brand identity.

Completed in 2008, Kring still houses the show apartments – as well as the exhibition, meeting, performance and theatre spaces – built for the KumHo construction firm.

The building’s name combines K from KumHo and ring, hence Kring. Resembling Van Gogh’s silvery starry sky, the circular pattern on Kring’s facade recalls the pattern used on an earlier unbuilt company head office. “The circles on the facade of the Hyunjin Evervill building do not exist by themselves,” says Shin. “We believed that it was more than patterns. We coordinated inner space and outer surface to connect them closely. Our aim was to form a link between urban icon and brand identity of the company,” he says.

Buildings next up for completion are the Seongdong Culture & Art Centre and a new multifaceted envelope for an existing gallery in a residential neighbourhood. The gallery’s new skin exemplifies an interest in making “urban sculpture”, says Jang, “and exploring new structures, materials and the use of space”. On the outside, it brings to mind USD’s Gallery 303. The Seongdong centre, on the other hand, is just one of a number of green projects the firm has worked on over the years, such as the competitionwinning design for the Youngsan- House at Hansei University.

USD is, however, “more interested in ecoarchitecture, not just landscape”, says Shin. It’s clear that “modern architecture tended to consume lots of energy and destroy nature”, he says, adding that in his view “the analysis of environment and energy would appear to play a key role when it comes to design in the future”.

Along with their interest in eco-architecture, Jang and Shin also work to “translate and mirror the current trend of culture”, says Shin. Contemporary trends investigated include the use of public and private space in the city, explored through group studies and exhibitions carried out at Jang’s own Jung Mi So art gallery. Out of this and other research, USD continues to design structurally lightweight buildings, based on abstract geometry, to mesh landscaped and multipurpose areas, and to design buildings that reflect social trends in a country undergoing rapid change.

Hi Hotel

Hi Hotel

The 38-room Hi Hotel in Nice may occupy a narrow spatial footprint, but its cultural reach is far wider, thanks to two hotel entrepreneurs, a young French designer and staff who are knowledgeable about the contemporary arts, architecture, design and music. It is also a place where notions of four-star luxury and comfort are given a contemporary twist.

Painted a pearly white, the shutterless building has undergone a radical change since its days as a boarding house. The fun begins as soon as you walk through the purple-tinted glass door on avenue des Fleurs. Purple, which signifies something “quite spiritual and high class,” says the designer Matali Crasset, is the dominant colour of the hotel. Flanking the ramp that leads up to the front desk are two low concrete walls, which have the shapes of speakers moulded into their surfaces. This is the first indication that music has a central role in the day-to-day life of the hotel. Music, provided by F Communications, the French electronic music label, plays all day and all night, and the bar area is a venue for DJ nights. Caressing the concrete is like stroking silky smooth chocolate, and it leaves a trace of dust on your fingertips. Visitors turn right into the lobby, passing through a cylindrical arrangement of colourful screen prints on unwoven fabric. Further inside, the colours include raspberry red, pistachio green, vanilla white and yellow chartreuse. A mezzanine, stacked with books donated by museums, galleries and publishers, overlooks the double-height bar and dining area. At the far end is the so-called nacelle (hot-air balloon basket). Made of birch plywood, it surrounds you in a light, protective embrace. The furniture is also in birch, with upholstery in skai artificial leather.

For the owners, Philippe Chapelet and Patrick Elouarghi, the Hi Hotel is quite different from their first joint business venture, a three-star hotel and restaurant in Brittany. They won top-notch guide-book acclaim for that, but when the weather and the clientele began to get them down, they decided to head for the French Riviera. “We worked in a château,” says Chapelet, “where it’s ‘Bonjour Madame’, and we made small talk at the table…you play a role…Life’s too short for false relationships that are a pain in the arse.” They considered places like Cannes and Monaco, but Nice seemed like the right choice. It was both working class and bourgeois (it also has a tacky and seedy side), it had a famous name and it had great weather. Travelling in other countries made them rethink what a businessman or a lone traveller required. So, they rejected the need for an enormous wardrobe and a chest of drawers and instead decided to include a goldfish (or red fish in French), as a room companion. The name Hi Hotel evolved from that idea of having a poisson rouge. On the Internet, they read that the red mark on the Japanese Koi Carp was called the Hi. As well as being the widely known one-syllable greeting, Chapelet points out that they want the hotel to attract international clients – thus, hôtel international (international hotel). It also represents hôtel interactive: Windows XP- and broadband-equipped laptops are available 24/7.

Once they had acquired the building and some firm ideas about its contents and service, Chapelet and Elouarghi scouted around for a designer at the Paris, Milan and New York design fairs. “They all proposed what we see everywhere in the design world – a little 1970s. We didn’t want fashion,” says Chapelet. So when the world-class French chef Alain Ducasse suggested looking at designers who had worked under Philippe Starck – they liked Starck – they checked out the petits enfants de Starck (Starck’s little children). Matali Crasset struck them as “very different,” says the Paris-born Chapelet.

Crasset graduated from the Ecole nationale supérieure de création industrielle in 1991, which was followed by a one-year stint under the Italian designer Denis Santachiara and five years under Starck. While working with the latter she was the art director for Thomson Multimedia, before becoming the head of the Tim Thom design centre. Since then she has worked in many areas, such as graphics, exhibitions and furniture design. Her interiors include the refurbishment of the offices of Paris-based advertising agency Red Cell and a house near Lake Annecy, France, in 2001.

When Chapelet and Elouarghi saw Crasset’s work, they telephoned to arrange a meeting at her Paris office.

“The brief,” says Crasset, “was very, very flexible… We had a good understanding…From the start, it was looked at from this point of view: change things and throw out hotel typology.” Nine room types were developed. This wide range underlines the fact that “there is not one way to live; there are lots of possibilities,” says Crasset.

Monospace was the first room to take shape. It is divided into three areas, each one using different colours and materials: an invigorating red-coloured sleeping area; a cool white, lounge area with a light wood finish; and a refreshing blue-coloured bathroom with resin floor. The room is not large, but that is not important, says Crasset. ”When you think about comfort, most of the time it’s the [depth] of the foam. In fact, for me, it’s the opposite. Comfort is the structure which allows you to move and to have much more liberty…It’s more about mobility. It’s more about freedom to move…this is contemporary comfort.” As regards her thoughts on ‘luxury’, Crasset’s thinking runs along the same lines. “Luxury is not a matter of materials or cost, it’s more about the idea of space.”

Not every rooms’ spatial layout has been reorganised so radically. White & White, which to look at could be a massage parlour or clinic, has a bed that resembles a table and bath that looks like a bed. Digital has a pixilated decor and Technocorner is dedicated to video and music. Up-until-three-O’clock-in-the-morning brainstorming sessions between Crasset, Chapelet and Elouarghi gradually squeezed out the idea for the ninth room, Strate. Another concept, which was based on a giant wave made of resin, called In/Out, would have been the last one, but it was abandoned. “It was a good idea,” says Chapelet, “[but] it wasn’t strong enough. We wanted to go further.” Going further got them a room in which the glass shower and toilet cubicles each stand on a metal-framed platform, which if considered as a stage, makes a daily activity into a small performance. The stratified colour scheme on the walls signposts different activities and uses of space at various levels – white at the base points to storage, so there is a safe on the floor, and blue at the top stands for dreaming.

The crossover between private and public space in a hotel already exists; Strate breaks down the barriers even further. If there are two of you in the room, there is little privacy. It also makes entering the shower a pleasurable experience for the observer and the subject.

Objects in Matali Crasset’s world are multi-purpose. A poof can be a table. A small padded table can be a footstool. A table top can be a shelf that slots into the wall. Crasset’s work also contains elements of playfulness, or in French ludique. “Ludique means to play, to experiment,” says Crasset. She hopes that Hi Hotel visitors will use the objects they find there as children do with objects everywhere – using them not for one specific purpose but as something to stimulate the imagination and action.