ARCH+ 240

ARCH+ Design: The Poetry of Material Logics

Von Arbel, Omer /  ARCH+

Architecture and design gain social, cultural, ecological, and economic relevance through material interventions. Architecture and design therefore have to be thought of not as inert objects but as performative material systems. Many of the problems the design disciplines are facing today are the result of the conventional distinction between design, understood as an intellectual anticipation of reality, and the production of this reality itself. In order to overcome this gap, designers have to know more about the conditions under which forms are generated. Only by truly understanding material properties can we understand the generative principles of form. Or as Manuel DeLanda put it in his essay Material Complexity: “We may now be in a position to think about the origin of form and structure, not as something imposed from the outside on an inert matter … but as something that may come from within the materials, a form that we tease out of those materials as we allow them to have their say in the structures we create.”1

Omer Arbel is one of those few figures in architecture and design who is actually “in a position to think about the origin of form and structure.” His material-based design practice is a unique resource that only a few have at their disposal. This privilege allows him to depart from conventional design approaches in each new project, regardless of scale and scope. We met Omer in Vancouver to experience some of his current projects and spoke with him afterwards at our Berlin office to reflect on his structural approach to design and architecture.

ANH-LINH NGO: Omer Arbel, you are internationally known as the co-founder of Bocci, a Vancouver-based manufacturer specializing in lights and light installations. What most people don’t know is that you are also an architect. In fact, the figure of the architect-designer is one that we encounter quite often in the history of design. In many cases, famous architects eventually extend their practice into design. In your case, it was the other way around. Your recognition as a designer happened almost instantly, whereas your architectural practice took more time to develop. In order to understand how your training as an architect informs your approach to design and how this experience in industrial design, on the other hand, informs your architectural practice, let’s start our conversation with your background in architecture.

OMER ARBEL: I went to architecture school when I was very young, at the age of 17. I always dreamt of being an architect, but when I started architecture school I was not doing very well. I was not able to abstract space into two dimensions. I had a very hard time seeing plans and sections as descriptive of space. In the beginning, it was a real obstacle. In my third year of architecture school, I discovered that reversing the relationship between model building and drawing helped me to think architecturally. Usually we would do the drawing first and then the model, which we only used as a presentation tool. The model is typically used to represent the design, not to generate it. As soon as I reversed the relationship by making the model first, architecture opened up to me in a way that I could understand. It has something to do with the tactility of model building. As soon as I touched the materials, or even made them myself, I was able to access and understand space in an architectural way, and so the drawings became just a communication tool. There was always this very fundamental commitment to materials, to the act of making, and to using the act of making as a way of generating ideas. That’s how I started, and then, after I graduated from architecture school, I had this strange time in the middle of my education when I worked for Enric Miralles in Barcelona.

ALN: How old were you? And why did you choose to go to Barcelona?

OA: I was 21, and this was 1998 – 1999. I loved Enric Miralles’s work and I liked the idea of living in Barcelona; so I went. When you are very young, you can do these audacious things.

SSS Siedle Dornbracht Euroboden
Feedback erwünscht!