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Ever since its conception, MANIERA has aimed to show the practices of architects who share common interests, even if the aesthetic outcomes differ. The creators invited do not form a duo and have the freedom to approach the furniture design as part of their own explorations. The choice of architecten de vylder vinck taillieu (aDVVT) and Bijoy Jain’s Studio Mumbai is based upon their shared interests as well as on the differences in approach between these two prominent players on the contemporary architecture scene.
Both aDVVT and Studio Mumbai regard excellent craftsmanship as an indispensable part of their architecture. They look for contemporary ways of using traditional, local materials in their projects without being trapped in nostalgia. Both offices continuously investigate materials and typologies, often with an idiosyncratic curiosity rather than in a pre-determined context. Their fascination for daily life and building traditions in their respective local contexts binds the two practices. This results in fruitful reflections on the vernacular in their oeuvre.
In the process of execution, however, Studio Mumbai and aDVVT apply almost directly opposite methods. aDVVT refine their research predominantly in drawings and the construction aspect follows on from their precision. Studio Mumbai controls the process of furniture design differently: they do not provide drawings to the craftsmen, but give them the references they collect in their observations and dialogues. This attitude results in the immediate, aesthetic testing of ideas in one-to-one objects.
architecten de vylder vinck taillieu
aDVVT is fascinated by craftsmanship as well as by industrial materials. In ODE TIXIT the architects made use of the TIXIT industrial storage system, which they often use in their own projects too. aDVVT composed four pieces using these storage units. In contrast with the industrial look of the structure, each shelf is hand-painted with visible brush strokes. The colours of the shelves come from all the colours which the practice has used in its projects up to now. The pieces also refer to the Cathedral Painting by Gerhard Richter, who gave various colours to the south transept of Cologne Cathedral. They were defined partly by means of a coincidence principle using a computer programme developed on the basis of 4096 Colours, a 1974 painting by the artist. ODE TIXIT responds to the partly arbitrary application of Richter’s colours by means of the highly defined choice of colours that refer directly to each of the firm’s projects.
Another tribute to a master is to be found in the polished steel side-tables that form part of ENSEMBLE. aDVVT designed four low pieces with a circular plate supported by three thin legs. Two of them are finished with perfectly mirroring surfaces, whereas the other two are covered with metal tape. The latter refer to a fascination for a poorly repaired steel balustrade that Mies van der Rohe designed for the Tugendhat Villa in Brno. The anonymous attempt to repair this element with metal tape changed the initially perfect surface to one with numerous cracks. In a similar way, aDVVT’s polished steel pieces are subject to time and usage and are expected to rust.
ENSEMBLE also includes a series of columns. aDVVT is fascinated by columns and their capacity to create space. The architects often use columns to transform interiors even if they are not load-bearing or necessary to the structure. Here, the artificial ensemble of columns includes a simple white column – fake since it does not touch the ceiling – and a low polished steel column which becomes more of a pedestal and makes reference to the series of side-tables. In the same configuration, aDVVT also displays a large column with a drawing of a hand in crayon. This piece is a one-on-one reproduction of the columns aDVVT created in their ‘Carousel’ show at the ETH School of Architecture in Zurich last year. The metal columns in the exhibition space are covered for purposes of fire protection. As this covering hides the beauty of a clear structure, the perspective view of the hidden columns was drawn on the cladding. The drawings on the columns also show aDVVT’s fascination with the work of Sol LeWitt
The third group, entitled KAMER RENEE, was created differently. Without referring to any context, the architects have developed a furniture series in a series of delightful drawings. The challenge was to make a structure in which the shortest vertical wooden plate would carry the longest horizontal one. They examined different tectonic arrangements suggesting shelves, tables, chaise-longues, chairs, lamps and, again, columns. To refine the ideas on paper and to determine the dimensions of the pieces, aDVVT looked for a real context and found it in a conductor’s Parisian flat. The pieces were tested as if to furnish the study in the flat. While doing so, the architects adapted their designs. This mental exercise was taken as far as the execution stage of the pieces and resulted in an ensemble of domestic furniture. The vivid pink given to the elements is taken from an old carpet on the floor of the conductor’s study.
Studio Mumbai / Bijoy Jain
Skilled craftsmen are part of Bijoy Jain’s Studio Mumbai. They work in the same environment as the trained architects. The ideas are developed together and translated almost immediately into objects, mock-ups, material studies and drawings. This unusual way of making architecture was fully displayed at the 12th Venice Architectural Biennale in 2010 and received international praise. In their installation, Studio Mumbai showed an abundance of material produced by the firm, thus bringing the refinement of their designs to the European viewer. At MANIERA 06, their approach results in elegant, hand-made pieces of furniture from the Mumbai workshop. They are grouped under four series of studies that run in parallel with the studio’s architectural production.
In ‘Brick Studies’, the designs explore the possibilities of adapting this universal, and by now industrial, material to the intimate scale of furniture. The inspiration for these seats was drawn from the analysis of frame constructions in the Indian building tradition. This involved scaling down the bricks used in buildings. It is exactly this kind of adaptation that triggers Bijoy Jain and his team. Mini-bricks, true to scale, were baked in the workshop. They are glued to each other and form the backrest of the seats, using the methods examined in the building frames. These brick constructions are fixed to simple, unpretentious stools and benches made out of robust rosewood and, in a few cases, out of marble, both of which are often encountered in Indian interiors. These brick chairs and benches are enigmatic, suspended somewhere between models and functional objects. They have an intriguing sense of fragility, even though the materials used are very solid.?
While the ‘Brick Studies’ use this universal material, in the ‘Illumination Studies’ the reference comes from a ceremonial object called a Tazia. These are models of monuments that are carried on men’s shoulders in processions during Muharram month in India, in remembrance of the martyred son of the prophet Mohammed. The structures are made by local communities using only natural materials which will disintegrate when the Tazias are thrown into the river after the procession. These models of monumental buildings are made using bamboo sticks tied together with cotton string, glued with river mud and clad in ‘carved’ paper, and reach several metres in height. In the Illumination Studies, a Tazia is turned into a light fixture without a bulb. About a metre high, the object is built using thin bamboo sticks tied together with pink silk threads. The sticks are covered in gold leaf to reflect the light when a bulb is hung inside the structure. Without the paper cladding applied to the framework, the object liberates itself from its frame of reference. It also becomes a model of a model, acquiring its own character as a piece of furniture.
In the third series, called ‘Charpai Studies’, the relation to the reference object is almost literal. A charpai is a daybed to be found in half of all Indian homes: a construction of light wood held together by tenon joints and cotton cords. It predates the British era, which changed the way people lived their daily lives in India. As a piece of furniture it accompanies an individual from birth through marriage to death, and is easy to transport since the lightness of its construction means even a child can carry it. Here the traditional charpai is re-introduced with some minor changes and the addition of shellac wood treatment. The idea here is not to create a replica, but rather to examine an existing object and continue working on it.
Another two pieces are ‘Landscape Studies’, which derive from observations made in the Indian agrarian landscape. Farmers use kaolin powder to define zones in the rural landscape for different activities, from resting under a tree to emphasising the steps to climb a small hill. They respond to the existing landscape with these definitions, but when they are in use these white lines remain very abstract. In the Landscape Studies, these definitions resulted in cast landscape pieces, organic and abstract in their appearance. Two low elements built of papier maché, bitumen and cow dung are treated with body wax and rubbed with coal. One of them bears the white kaolin powder lines and becomes kind of a scale model of the zonal demarcations in the rural landscape. The process of making these elements followed the instincts of the craftsmen rather than instructions given by the architect. As a result, two sculpted pieces with no clear geometry are added to the space. With the addition of water, the surface of the pieces can be changed in the course of time, both in colour and texture. They act like the landscapes they refer to.
Text by Asli Ciçek