Can we start by exploring your process of developing an initial idea for a project? You all have very different backgrounds, specialising in metalwork, industrial design and architecture. How do these backgrounds integrate? Can this culmination of different abilities become challenging?
It is extremely challenging integrating our different perspectives – based on our specialties, you can encounter all phases and scales of project development simultaneously (concept to construction to installation). But by embracing the complexities of any project as early as possible, we extend the period of development. Instead of dividing the timeline of a project into discrete phases, you look at it as a series of nonlinear connections: this has proven to wield very successful and unexpected results. Most exciting is that it starts to erase the notion of authorship in a project, something we’re very interested in. In our designs, authorship serves mainly as a crutch. It never really contributes positively to the success of a project. Our process muddles provenance to the degree that determining authorship is not only not possible, but evidently pointless. From this, we can allow a project to develop free from irrelevant constraints, or entirely submerge them in only irrelevant constraints. Michael Rock from the graphic design firm 2×4, most famous for their projects with OMA, writes about this quite a bit in his new book. We sort of take it to its extreme.
Some designs – such as “BotoxLamp” and “Cosmic Quilt” – redefine the dialogue between object and human presence. Is there an intended reaction for these highly expressive pieces, or is it a matter of subjective exploration and interaction?
The short answer is that both should and do occur. There is scripted and subjective or unique interaction. On each project, we struggle with how explicit we should be in defining the relation between visitors and the art piece. Make it too direct, and the interaction will become rote and not lead to new experiences (how many people realise the complexity of technology that is at work operating the door that opens as they enter a supermarket?). Make it so complex by leaving too much for visitors to figure out, and you create roadblocks to people exploring the installation; it becomes intimidating.
This is also dependent on the crowd; you’ll focus more on phenomenologically scripted procession at a music festival where peoples’ senses are inhibited by drugs or adrenaline than you might in a gallery setting where people come expecting an experience and will focus more directly on the installation and space. We spend quite a bit of time studying footage of people interacting with our installations to determine what people understand and what they don’t, how long it takes them to start to understand what is happening (and to what degree they are interested in not just sensing the spatial interactions but understanding the technical aspects as well).
Your work illustrates you are actively engaged in ever-evolving technologies, but they appear to be approached from a very physical perspective – balancing modern technologies and a sense of tradition. How do these two ideas meet? Does our growing digital landscape make this combination more challenging?
There seem to be two camps that evolved out of the hot mess of technological and design innovation of the past 40 years: those who chose to isolate design and architecture in an endless self-referential loop (Peter Eisenman for instance), and those that chose to equate design and architecture with its disturbingly frenetic, consumerist context (Rem Koolhaas). The evolution of the self-referential camp can be seen today, by a group of full-on Futurists who embrace technology in every guise – from fabrication to aesthetics. This means, for instance, if it was 3D-printed, they posit that you should be able to see that in the design. It should look sleek or grotesque, but not like things we already know. We understand this desire, but feel uneasy with the prerequisite that you need to either ignore or erase the past.
The other camp evolving – somewhat Koolhaas-ian – which we are part of (maybe very far on the futurist end) is embracing new technologies, but finding new and interesting ways to integrate them into typologies we already know. Why ignore the fact that despite centuries of philosophical and real exploration in design, a table still needs to be a large flat surface, and a chair still needs to be comfortable to be used? What will be interesting will be how we equate those expectations to our current context. People still prefer old buildings to new ones (even Eisenman lives in a 19th century farmhouse). If we accept predominate value systems and work with them, we can get much further than if we tear them out and try and force people to start from the beginning, or become enraptured by a never-ending journey of omphaloskepsis. It just seems extremely hubristic and egotistical to ignore what people say they want, especially if it’s not hurting anyone.
Thinking of aspects of social media and today’s technological currency, projects such as “Cosmic Quilt” and the “Botox” series seem to be able to embed themselves in this digital, yet social landscape. How do you feel the movement of technology and our interaction with it will influence your practice in the future? Does the primary function always come to suiting a social environment?
These projects are all stages in a larger, indeterminate dialogue between humans and the objects and spaces they create. We justify only a very small part of this dialogue, but if we knew already where it would take us, we wouldn’t be interested in the journey. The important part is always reflecting on projects, and re-centering yourself as a result. As we said before, either you look at design as a self-referential object, or something that must respond to a context. The relationship between the social and technological environments is too great for us to ignore.
So, certainly we think these types of projects should be more highly integrated into the fabric of our cities and communities (both real and virtual). We proselytize constantly about the difference we have seen and felt in the spaces we create and the standard world – differences that go way beyond the shock of the new or a feeling of novelty. As technology develops, our job as designers is to find ways of integrating these forces into our current context and realising their potential. Exploring this potential is what will comprise the coming years of our studio.
Interview by Alex Bennett.
Images and video courtesy of The Principals.