In the final part of our series on Felix Burrichter's Swiss Institute show, we chat with a featured group of designers whose approach to design is more conceptual- centered at the crossroads where the metaphysical meets shape and structure. Soft Baroque, for example, even treads down the digital avenue to present a downloadable desktop credenza which is sure to up the game of any computer screen. Below we speak to the selected group of designers about their stylistic themes and design philosophy.

Shawn Maximo

“Shawn is nothing short of a 21st-century renaissance man: He’s an architect and an artist, a brilliant programmer, and he is part of the art collective Yemenwed — and he’s a father! Shawn was also responsible for the exhibition design of the Swiss Institute show for which he’s creating all the virtual environments. And he also designed two beautiful shelves for it, which will be exhibited in the study-slash-fitness room of the exhibition.” — Felix Burrichter

How would you define the focus of your work?

I’ve been working a lot on a series of images called “Neighboring Interests,” which I started with DIS magazine a few years ago. Each image combines a normative spatial idea (eg food court) with another function (eg hospital care) to suggest a new type of experience that already seems logical, but doesn’t yet exist in a common way. The resulting images look familiar, but uncanny and possibly futuristic, since the scene doesn’t match up with the architectural cues. For instance, it’s a bit disturbing to see a hospital bed inside of a food court, but it makes complete sense if a sick person felt free to bring their own furniture out with them to do normal things like shop and eat fast food in a mall. It’s also possible that in the future, people won’t want to get out of bed for several reasons, and may take their bed everywhere with them, so that hospital beds stop signifying hospitals and sickness, and start to represent a new lifestyle. I’m interested to see what types of behavioral assumptions break down when you are confronted by unexpected juxtapositions like this. In addition to these images, I’ve been testing ways to translate some of my ideas into a more literal spatial context.

Even though most of what I make is architectural, or dealing with elements of architecture and design, it’s rare that I actually get to build anything. Architecture is basically the most expensive art form that exists, and it’s hard to convince someone to give you $100,000 to “experiment.” The work I’m doing now is mostly digital, and I’m trying different ways to bring it into a physical space to see if that can feel meaningful. During Art Basel Hong Kong this year I was asked to make a room into one of my images using only projections. The result was interesting, in that you could almost believe that you had been transported to these strange apartments overlooking the city, but you had to stretch your imagination a fair amount. In the Swiss Institute show, we’re going a step further and enabling real-time interaction by the public with furniture pieces that are also visible in the virtual spaces that I’m creating.

Will your work at the Swiss Institute be influenced by the style of your art collab, Yemenwed, or will it be separate?

The work for SI will be an extension of my personal work, which I’ve been focusing on for the last few years. My work with Yemenwed is very specific to the projects that we work on together as a group. Those projects each have their own aesthetic sensibility that arises from many meetings and discussions with everyone involved.

My CGI scenes for the SI show will consider different ways to inhabit a new house of the future, based on where we seem to be heading at this point in history. It’s been great to collaborate with Felix on this show, and to look at Le Corbusier’s legacy in a more playful and tangential way, as we focus more on what it means to live in a prototypical house in the 21st century.

Can you explain your involvement in the Swiss Institute show, as both the show’s architect and a contributing designer?

Felix asked me to help realize his concept for the show, which plays on the idea that the “green screen” is the new and ubiquitous white box. We currently live so much of our lives inside one screen or another, it seems logical that our domestic spaces will also be lived increasingly outside of physical space, and will become more cerebral. In essence, we have designed the 21st century home as a parallel entity accessed through many digital windows. For the show, this idea translated into a fully immersive chroma-keyed environment, which disappears in each of the monitors installed throughout the gallery, yet remains exuberantly present. We chose a shade of green that Le Corbusier invented in 1931 called “vert foncé” for a Swiss wallpaper company. To me, the result feels like walking into a magical yet eerie world of potential. Interestingly, Goethe believed that green was the color most suitable for domestic living.

For the furniture component of the show, Felix liked one of the new shelving units that I designed last year and wanted to include it. I’ve been designing and making furniture for many years, but most of it lives in storage or in my apartment. This will be the first time that I show this piece publicly, which is exciting. The shelves are a little bit coffin, a little bit fridge, and touch on all the architectural basics: wood, stone, metal, and glass.

Alessandro Bava

“Alessandro Bava is a trained architect who wears many hats. He has his own architecture firm, Bava & Sons, but he also frequently collaborates with artists, does exhibition design, and he publishes a zine called ECOCORE, which raises questions about architecture and ecology. He is also a co-founder of Airbnb Pavilion, the art and curatorial collective which now calls itself AYR. Alessandro is making two stools for the show’s study-slash-fitness room. They’re CNC-cut but their design is based on that of an ancient Roman curule chair.” — Felix Burrichter

How would you define the focus of your work?

The work I do with my architecture practice, Bava and Sons, focuses on the relationship between new technologies and architectural form.

You also run an ecology zine called ECOCORE, and are a co-founder of the art collective Airbnb Pavilion, which was recently renamed ÅYR. Can you describe both projects and how they interact with your design work?

I try and keep these different ventures very separate, defining their scope, their interest and even their aesthetic independently and complementary. ÅYR is an art collective which makes art in the form of installations, performance and writing focusing on post-internet forms of domesticity. ECOCORE is “the last surviving Ecology Zine” or as Hans Ulrich Obrist said “the new hardcore.”

Can you tell us about the piece that will be on view at the Swiss Institute show?

The “LES Chair” (or Lower East Side Chair) is a prototype I developed for the exhibition “Nativity” at Grad Century, an artist run gallery in Chinatown, and it was inspired by its artist community. The design is a resolved modulation of the ancestral and the digital. It is intended as a 21st century version of a “sella curulis,” an ancient roman stool symbolising imperial power.

Soft Baroque

“Soft Baroque consists of Nicholas Gardner and Saša Stucin. They are based in London and run the design studio together. For the shelf design they’re showing in the Swiss Institute show they’re blurring the lines between computer screen and IRL furniture. Their Desktop Furniture is meant to be used first and foremost on your computer screen, to help you organize your desktop. It’ll be downloadable through the Swiss Institute website.” — Felix Burrichter

How would you define the focus of your work?

Function. Thinking about what objects could be if we forget what we know about them. We would like people to rethink their function, appearance, value or even gravity. Forgetting about preconceptions without ignoring them.

Stories. We are always thinking about scenarios for the objects we create. The context is sometimes as important as the object.

Magic. It’s important to think about impossible things. We often play around the idea of merging things that are in conflict with each other. “Lenticularis” for example is an oval mirror that emits a water particle cloud. The whole idea of merging natural phenomenas with everyday objects is something that has become present in our work.

Soft. It seems like almost everything we touch, we turn into soft—soft to touch or appearing soft for the eye. Our lives are becoming fully upholstered. On another note we are conscious that software has become a central part of our lives, and we are continuously questioning how this relates to physical objects.

How did you choose to work as a team? What different things does each of you bring to the proverbial table?

It started with a coffee table. Saša was obsessed with a famous Italian villa Malaparte, located on island of Capri, and she wanted to turn it into furniture. We ended up miniaturising a piece of modern architecture and making it into a coffee table.

We spoke about architecture, waterfall house, infinity stairs from the movie “A Matter of Life and Death,” Gaetano Pesce, desert, rocks, Sottsass’s diaries from Japan, lobsters, waterfall tables, pet fountains on the wheels, ghost chairs, cloud mirrors and fireworks. It went very naturally from there on.

We come from different backgrounds: Nic from traditional furniture making and I [Saša] from visual art, which works really well for us. Nic is the hands and I am the eyes, but we share the same body that thinks alike. We bring different skills to the table, yet we are interested in the same ideas.

Can you tell us about the piece that will be on view at the Swiss Institute show?

For the “Pavillon de l'Esprit Nouveau: A 21st-Century Show Home” we produced a shelf piece from new series called “Desktop Furniture.” Physically it can be used as a credenza. Digitally one can download the image of the same credenza and use it as a desktop background.

Much has been said about skeuomorphism in relation to the interface of programs. They are ornamental references to functional items in the real world. Designers are standing up to it proclaiming dishonesty and a functional disconnection. Indefinite ability to refresh emails, news, updates, tweets etc. on the screen made the distinct line, between the on and off-screen, blurry.

The real/physical object we produced is made from two material elements. The first part is an aluminium that is visible to the camera’s perspective, it is very thin and it only represents the vital information required for the digital representation of the piece. Almost like a set piece for the production of the image. The second part is a a super black, matte, light absorbent material. It is applied onto the reverse, invisible faces of the piece and creates the illusion of a hollow object: black hole, magician’s hat, void. Something that doesn’t exist for the camera and digital image and is only there for a structural support in real life.

The piece at the Swiss Institute exhibition is viewed IRL, but is also available through a downloadable file to furnish your desktop background/virtual life.

Nanu Al-Hamad

“Nanu Al-Hamad is the principal of Al-Hamad Design in Brooklyn. His work is fascinating because he grew between Newport Beach in California and Kuwait, both of which are strong influences in his work, in some way. For the show he created a special piece called the MedBar. It’s a classic wet bar put together using elements from medical furniture used in hospitals or daycare centers. For the research he and I went to a special fair for medial furniture at the Javits Center  in New York. It was very impressive — some of those pieces are far more technologically advanced than what is being shown in more conventional furniture fairs or showrooms.” — Felix Burrichter

How would you define the focus of your work?

The focus of my work is quite broad as it spans between Al-Hamad Design’s retail and gallery work, and collectives GCC and Powerhouse. As an object designer, I would define my work as conceptual functionalism. The pieces, from furniture to accessories, must contain a philosophy or a story, and an element of surprise. The surprises are usually hidden in the functionality. 

Who do you think is the perfect customer for Al Hamad Design?

The perfect customer is one who trusts me. The new collection of 3D Printed objects and accessories,“Things,” aims to reach out to a larger clientele and allow Al-Hamad Design to fit into your pocket. Whether its buying a $15 accessory or commissioning a new office interior, appreciation is always appreciated.

Can you tell us about the piece that you created for the Swiss Institute show?

I‘ve fallen in love with objects and furniture in the medical world. These objects' extreme functionality and necessity for the materials they use cause their design to almost accidentally turn into conceptual sculpture, aesthetically. The piece I am showing at the Swiss Institute, “Med-Bar,” is the most recent in a series of prototypes and research concentrating on conceptual medical furniture. “Med-Bar” poses cocktail as medicine with a medical grade bar cart. Medical carts generally utilize a variable height mounting solution which creates a versatile foundation for medical workstations and patient monitoring systems. Like a surgeon who needs immediate and unbounded access to his tools, so does one parched with an empty glass. Made from the highest medical grade technology and materials, “Med-Bar” is the most innovative wet-bar on the market.