BE OPEN Installation:
House of the Senses designed by Cristophe Pillet
Universita Statale Milan, Italy April 2013
More here beopenfuture.com/exhibitions/milan-2013
The “Hybrid Design and Architecture” exhibition at Milan Design Week 2013, co-produced by the BE OPEN Creative Think Tank in association with Interni magazine, featured the work of internationally-renowned designer, Cristophe Pillet who presented his “House of the Senses” at the Universita Statale in Milan on April 8, 2013.
The construction was his realization of the “Hybrid Design” brief —incorporating the juxtaposing elements of indoor/outdoor, natural and technological, real and virtual, historical with modern and the concrete and intangible elements of creation. House of the Senses also illustrates the extended mission of BE OPEN to explore Sensory Design as a precept, encouraging designers to use their capabilities to create through the five senses en route to discovering more about the existence of and the uses for the sixth sense, or intuition. As it so happens, the role of intuition amongst the senses also reflects a hybrid process all its own. If intuition is the “in between” sixth sense, dwelling amongst and connecting the other five senses, it also produces a more cohesive, “guided” effect in all creative activity.
Pillet’s design was set aside in an adjunct courtyard at the university, the Cortile della Farmacia, but was part of larger installation of work by other designers, artists and architects. Also presented by the BE OPEN Foundation was the creative partnership, Sfelab, winner of the BE OPEN Competition for Young Talents in Interactive Design. Their project, Zang Tumb Tumb, included an interactive touch screen which produced color designs when activated by physical contact as well as a spring board, that when pounced upon, produced a sound wave through the arcades—and also triggered lights which raced around the walkways surrounding Pillet’s elegant, serene pavilion. The combined effect of the two projects provided the full compliment of sensory stimuli which also delivered on the Hybridisation theme.
Nearby in the University’s main courtyard, other mostly European designers (Daniel Libeskind, Sefar Caglar, Mario Cucinella, Dean Skira, et al), an American (Steven Holl), and one Japanese (Akihisa Hirata) presented their disparate and concise treatments of the Hybrid Architecture and Design, many of them addressing the irony of sophisticated and sustainable constructions within a context of environmental collapse.
At the BE OPEN/Interni press conference for the event, commentator Phillipe Daverio likened their creative approach to a contamination process: “Hybridisation, like a virus, produces a response, or antibodies, which better prepares us for the next catastrophe.” Among the architects there was mention of the “contagion” of cross-cultural influences, of the “collision” of technological and back-to-nature impulses, and the “collusion” of material and ephemeral design elements, all of it seen as necessary and evolutionary, and quite the opposite of the homogenizing effects of globalisation. These ideas bear direct correlation to the interplay between the five senses, and the sixth, or intuition, which in itself activates a kind of hybridization process within each creative impulse. While all of the architects at the press conference were mindful of and vocal about the perils of sustainable construction and sensory comforts in a changing climate, their concerns were expressed abstractly by details within the pavilions themselves, some of which were referred to as “aria pura”, live walls, projected clouds, storm nesting and humanity labs.
Cristophe Pillet’s structure, while revealing many of these ideas, took their effects one step further with the addition of art and imagery. House of the Senses appears as a simple shelter, with exterior surfaces a play of anthracite wood, sod and vines, while inside, a spectacle loop by the video artists, Studio Azzurro, inhabited the walls with an epiphany of moving pictures and designs that would suggest early surrealist cinema, and the stream of consciousness rhythms that are so prevalent in our daily co-existence with electronic devices. With reflective floors and ceilings providing a mirrored ad infinitum, commingling trees and lawn with the moving images, the moving inhabitants, the ancient archways, and there you have it, sensory hybrid in a neat, chic package. “Accommodating the paradox of our contradictions”, Pillet explains.
He further states about the House of the Senses: I wanted to give a pared down almost simplistic vision of architecture. The outside is rather “quaint”—a simple wood box covered in vegetation. Inside, an eclectic, impressionistic collage of random video images loops in no particular order. The visitor can only have a visceral response to these very different experiences—a sensory overload.”
Cristophe Pillet is a French designer who has won international acclaim for the range and quality of his creations, winning distinction in art direction, furniture, interiors and branding. His projects for Lancel and Hotel Sezz are well known. In fashion he has also directed projects for Lacoste, John Richmond and Catherine Malandrino. His design collaborations include work with Driade, Cappellini and Emu. It has been said, “if a Pillet style exists, it is that of efficiency, service and humanity; the ability to crystallize the excitement of the proposition.”.
Studio Azzuro was founded in 1982, the pioneer days of video, by Fabio Cirifino with Leonardo Sangiorgi and Paulo Rosa. Their image edit for House of the Senses results in a whirlwind of spectacular and luminous visuals which lead the viewer on an emotional and sensorial journey, even while standing still. The effect of the screened images, set at asymmetrical angles and reflected also from the floor and ceiling, is a sensational recollection without detail. In other words, you are moved.
Sfelab focuses mostly on communication arts with expertise in interactive art, web, photography, video, graphics and illustration. The studio was founded in 2011 by Marco Brienza, Giorgio Pagani and Tommasso Nava. In 2012 Pietro Porro joined the group as director. Their diverse talents lead to multidisciplinary projects that address both aesthetic and practical needs and especially that involve the active participation of the user.
Sfelab’s project, Zang Tumb Tumb consists of a series of surfaces that are sensitive to sound and touch. The installation can be experienced both individually and in a group with the aim of encouraging users to interact and collaborate. The installation reflects the shapes and colors of the site within the Cortile arcades; it blends with the walls and the portico columns and reveals its real identity only through sensory stimulus. It can look, hear, speak and interpret senses exactly as we do.
To add to the impact of each of these extraordinary constructions presented by BE OPEN at Design Week, the Milan spring weather provided an opportunity for an added array of sensations while viewing the works. Within the span of a few short weeks, from bone-chilling drizzle to sunshine and blossoms, what better way to observe installation art and architecture as a sensory experience?
BE OPEN Talk: Senses and Tastes
Universita Statale Milan, Italy April 9, 2013
On the second day of Milan Design Week, BE OPEN presented a talk and panel discussion featuring artists, designers, a chef and a philosopher, to address how our relationship with design has evolved over the years and the ways in which it will continue to evolve given the pressing climate and sustainability issues of this century.
The moderator, Phillipe Daverio, set a course for the discussion by contrasting the ancient philosophical tenets of Plato–who described a priori knowledge as the instinctive intelligence and understanding with which we are born–with that of Aristotle, who focused on the study of empirical knowledge that is gleaned through daily experience and the senses.
English philosopher, John Thakera, kicked off the panel by appreciating BE OPEN’s core principle of “not really searching for the answers, but for the questions”. Ever aware that most discussions are restrained too narrowly, his travels and research have enabled him, he said, to embrace new ways of thinking, assimilating data through new eyes and ears, and subsequently altering his tastes and sensibilities.
He was recently struck by the efficiency of the Brazilian jequitiba tree–which inconspicuously transports water up the equivalent of ten storeys to its crown– compared to the resources it takes for humans to operate their essential systems. Thackera went on to describe the endless ways in which we have become dependent on overcoming vast distances for our nutritive essentials, which has added to the predicament of our disenfranchisement from nature. The farther and longer we exist away from nature—its rhythms and impulses as well as its resources—the greater the “metabolic rift”, which is a term he uses to describe what he considers to be the chief issue of the Ecozoic Era.
The metabolic rift derives from our complete lack of acknowledgement of nature’s key components, Thackera added, which is about to change with the building furies of climate change, and will come to define our current period, the Ecozoic Era. He pointed out that on the one hand, we look to nature as palliative, and when we allow ourselves to enter its “scenery”, our senses are sharpened. But we have also become de-sensitized by our immersion in technology and therefore have lost the ability to tune into our sixth sense, which by doing so, we could possibly avert further catastrophe. The call is for our societies to be reorganized as a social, technological and natural order. This powerful mandate will occur not through intellectual discourse or government decree, but by manned experiments and grass-roots resolutions from the four corners of the world based on our experience of the six senses, and which will coordinate through cyber-connectivity. That is, as long as we have a electrical current, of course! And when the oil runs out, this will eventually be provided by wind, water, sun and lightening.
“Not thinking about nature—or at least trying to marginalize it—goes as far back as the industrial revolution”, Thackera reminds us. By recovering our sixth sense, we will move beyond the word-based and visual-based existence. “We are no longer the sole authors of our creation. Our ecosystem has many actors. Active, creative integration is the order of the day.”
Fabrizio Plessi, artist, designer, thinker, next screened his contemplative Project of the World video, which includes impressionistic passages from Mumbai, the Bronx, Dutch Haarlem, Venice, Pompeii and Fez. Starting with a sketch of key structures from each place—a shelter, a market, a ruin—the narrative proceeds to highlight the differences and the similarities of these far-flung locales, how specialized and yet how connected and familiarized we have all become through our senses and technology. The concluding notion re-iterated John Thackera’s call for creative integration, which Plessi and others noted has already very much begun.
Michelin star-awarded chef, and self-described cook at the D’O restaurant, Davide Oldani, a talented and prominent figure on the global culinary scene, is described as both an innovator and a defender of simplicity and tradition. From his base in Cornaredo outside of Milan, he has operated as an entrepreneur, designer, author and developer of the “Cucina POP” philosophy, which espouses cuisine that is simple but not trivial; local and seasonal, and yet unexpected.
H2D’O is a water-tasting project initiated by Oldani to enhance our appreciation of this precious element in specially designed glasses (not crystal). And Dish by D’O is a line of tableware that emphasizes suitability over appearance. These and other ingenious contributions reflect a core belief at D’O: ethics and compliance in the kitchen.
David Oldani’s body of work and his daily existence is steeped in sensory experience. His exploration of the five pillars of taste—acid, bitter, sweet, sour and crunchy—results in a masterful balance of many contrasts, indeed what was fast developing as a thematic thread amongst the participants of the BE OPEN Talk. That is, that differences and similarities, like the five senses, co-exist in a balance and are elevated by the synthesis of the many parts. The sixth sense exists within this collaboration, and will be the guiding factor in human progress.
Cristophe Pillet, who designed the BE OPEN House of the Senses in the Cortile Farmacia, began by stating his reverence for the long lasting value of objects. He believes that every good and new idea is connected to something old, though we are living in an era of disbelief of this concept because we are genetically programmed that evolution is a strictly positive proposition. Is new really better than old? Or has this idea been driven overboard by a manipulated hunger to consume at all costs?
A Pillet project in Pennsylvania, USA, exposed him to Quakers and Shakers, religious sects whose members have high regard for simple, immutable objects and therefore are not interested in change only for change sake. It struck Pillet that this actually modern, not to be striving for a hectic evolution but rather to engage in considered and consistent progress, based on an intuition rather than a compulsion.
Here Phillipe Daverio interjected that bicycles and computers are new designs, that grand pianos and spoons are not. And if you try to change them they will take revenge.
Aldo Cibic, Memphis designer and professor agreed that we need to develop the idea of “de-growing”, to fine tune our senses so that we can salvage our ability to deliberate and develop. With 80 per cent of world populations heading for the cities, then we must pay more attention to the countryside to learn. If we are offered strawberries at Christmas, then we must learn to eat in season to begin to remember life’s cycle. Otherwise we are in a car without a driver.
As an expert on the relationship between design and society Cibic concedes that design will always provide ideas but now we need multidisciplinary participation to achieve the optimal results. Again he introduced the idea of synthesis resulting in progress and resolution, reflecting the interactivities of the five senses bound together by the sixth sense, which guides things forward.
At the conclusion of the BE OPEN Talk, each speaker re-visitied the idea of multidisciplinary interaction—the need and the desire to learn from people “out of field”. Davide Oldani illustrated the cooperation of the master, the supplier, the farmer, the maker and the eater together creating an end result. For Pillet, it was the Quaker and the Shaker. Fabrizio Plessi suggested in this group study of eschatology (the study of where we are going, heaven or hell?) that we all remain islands and that we need to mix it up, to end specialization. John Thackera then added that he sees us all as islands in an archipelago, close enough together to be bridged. The tide will go up and the tide goes down. But water always finds its own level.
BE OPEN Food Theatre
Moroso Showroom Milan, Italy April 8/9, 2013
The scientific study of nutrition and the aesthetics of the culinary arts are a source of interest for more people in more cultures than ever before. Whether eating merely for sustenance or for the delectable tasting of flavorful ingredients, dining can stimulate the entire sensory system in a way that also promotes joy, memories, social interaction, cultural traditions and celebrations of every sort. For these reasons, BE OPEN included Food Theatre in its exploration of the senses at Fuorisalone 2013, to see just how this quintessential human experience figures in life’s creative process through interactive sensory response.
At the third and final event in Milan related to the BE OPEN Foundation’s sensory program for 2013, Food Theatre at the Moroso showroom in via Pontaccio, focused on taste and eating by assembling innovative chef/designer collaborations meant to spotlight and also to engage the senses of sight, sound, scent and touch. The sixth sense, or intuition, was also subsequently activated by the various ideas introduced by the creative teamwork. As a special treat an evocative scent, called “Childhood”, was developed for the evening dinner on April 8th.
The gourmet meal was prepared for a limited number of guests to test their “gut” reactions to the tastes and artistic touches created by the youngest ever three Michelin star-awarded chef, Massimiliano Alajmo. Beginning dinner with black rice and parmesan clouds, salt cod puffs and green burgers, Ajalmo prepared the palate for the following courses that would also include props like ear plugs, shaded eyeglasses and edible color tints.
The table, chairs and vegetation centerpieces were stylish additions by the award-winning Spanish designer, Patricia Urquiola, who also devised a kinetic and atmospheric surround she called “Revolving Room.” Encompassing the diners at table, three-sided fabric panels revolved slowly to reveal changing patterns of the latest fabrics of the new Urquiola and Kvadrat collaboration. The subtle, peripheral motion in the room, together with the extraordinary menu items and social interplay were meant to create a dynamism to enhance not only the social but also a lasting sensory memory of the event.
Next Massimiliano Ajalmo proceeded to ply the senses with more extraordinary gustatory preparations. Earplugs were provided to better focus the scent and taste on his creations like beetroot bread with clam puree and caviar or dentex carpaccio with candied lemon in a hemp and mango curry sauce. For the risotto entree, which included infusions of cardamom, rose, raw red shrimp and purple cabbage juice, guests were encouraged to squeeze from a tube additional botanical pigments to slowly tint the recipe to a light pink. The carrot and orange soup with curry almond gelato was viewed through orange shaded glasses, to enhance the citrus gusto.
During the dessert course of vanilla and lemon gelato pasta, the fragrance of “Childhood” permeated the atmosphere. And to finish, liquid cocoa lip balm! And rum spray! Guests were adulatory in the praise for Ajalmo, and exhilarated by the sensory juxtapositions and prompts. Some reported their experience as “eating colors” and “tasting through intuition”, and describing their experience as a kind of “synaesthesia.”
On the following day at the showroom, Food Theatre had its public debut, this time with the young Danish chefs and social activists, I’m a KOMBO, staging a buffet meant as a sensorial intervention within Patricia Urquoia’s Revolving Room. Principals, Bo Lindegaard and Lasse Askov, describe I’m a KOMBO as a conceptual food bureau specializing in food design, personal dining and all out innovative dining experience. KOMBO refers to the combination of skill (Askov is Michelin awarded) and a limitless imagination that turn traditional dining on its head. “During the last twenty years”, they have written, “modern cooking has introduced scientific and highly complex preparation processes into the space of mealing. As a consequence, the guest has become a spectator, rather than a participant. We believe an important social space has been lost. The Social Act is our way of challenging and interpreting the tradition of modern cooking and mealing. By looking at and collaborating with other creative industries, it is our ambition to reintroduce the guest as a participant of the meal and consequently restore the social space of mealing.
They add, “Over time, we have developed the principle of controlled coincidence as a means to break modern format of mealing. Control is about preparation and skill. Without control the kitchen collapses. Coincidence is introduced by action, reaction and interaction. By inviting guests to participate, we work with unpredictability and create a new space of possibilities. We retain control but let coincidences appear. The meal we eat is the result of accurate crafts, cooperation and participation – this is what we call The Social Act. The Social Act allows us to leave the office and be playful. It is our tool and set of deadlines to ensure that we evolve and keep moving forward. It’s an ongoing documentation of our work and thoughts on future cooking and mealing. It’s our showroom – a space of promises and ideas, where no rules apply, as long as you, when around our table, feel great and think the food we bring to you is tasty.”
For the Moroso showroom public event on April 9, 2013, I’m a KOMBO took a visual cue from the Urquiola/Kvadrat panels. Arranging their food presentation in color quadrants, they picked up on the tonal range of alternating colors from the fabric walls: fawn, russet, ochre, olive, puce and cherry pink.
What they called “snacks” were displayed in actual Kvadrat textile containers and they ranged from pop-corned parmesan and red beet and blackberry crumble, to crispy potato spaghetti with parsley and lovage. Three drinks were devised to also color coordinate and fuel the social interaction: a Neo-Nordic Negroni, which is a Campari cocktail with blood orange and butterfly gin; a Vecchia Limone, that is a Limoncello and vanilla concoction; and Pesto di Mele, an acacia honey and basil leaf soft drink. In another room where people could congregate and engage in the Social Act, soft and crispy sandwiches were served.
The BE OPEN Food Theatre, staged in the Moroso showroom long renowned for its edgy creativity and artisanal approach to product manufacturing, was the final collaborative event for the foundation at Milan Design Week 2013. This was a culmination, of sorts, of the extended BE OPEN program to investigate sensory experiences and sense provocations in the creative process of designers and non-designers alike.
As well as being a part of BE OPEN’s research into the senses, this event is the precursor to BE OPEN’s
Paris-Dakar project, a series of concept spaces designed in collaboration with designers and architects, a journey where taste is brought into dialogue with the other senses and where diverse food cultures meet to create a unique experience. Paris-Dakar is one of the business development projects BE OPEN
is undertaking, working with young and established creatives to develop innovative concepts and projects that aim to improve our future. This process of connecting creativity with business will be developed via a dedicated section on the BE OPEN website where creatives from different fields can find a reliable partner to discuss their ideas. A way to interconnect creativity with the economic aspects, which will be further developed through a dedicated section on BE OPEN’s website where creatives from all different fields and from all over the world can find a reliable partner to discuss their ideas.
2012 saw the arrival of a BE OPEN Sound Portal, launched September. The matt black cylindrical listening booth stood for a week in one of London’s most noisy locations and transported visitors in Trafalgar Square to a number of imaginary places with soundscapes designed by the likes of Squarepusher, Jana Winderen and Ivan Pavlov. His contribution, for example, sounded like folk music for aliens. Never mind Italian futurism; this was pure futurology.
The rubberised structure, engineered by design firm Arup, can fit about a dozen people at a time and offer a sound-proofed, surround-sound, listening experience without equal in terms of acoustic quality. Crowds were drawn by its mysterious dark form and the din of city centre traffic could not have seemed further away. By making their presence heard as well as seen at the London Design Festival event, BE OPEN set out their multi-sensory agenda.
The creative think tank behind the Sound Portal are keen to explore what they call sixth sense design. If sound design was so new in the 1920s, perhaps design for human intuition may just characterise the 2020s. And as if to ensure the take up of this forward looking philosophy, the Portal has been enjoying an afterlife in the realms of academia. It will now be found in use by Chelsea College of Art and Design, Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design and London College of Communication
Chelsea tutor Dr Ken Wilder is interested in the relation of sound to space. The architect and installation designer explains how the host college is exploring sound as a measure of all four dimensions. “Sound is often neglected by architects designing buildings,“ he says, “yet it is such an important aspect of how we bodily experience space”. Meanwhile the Portal “can alter, enhance and disrupt our reading of a space, giving us the possibility to test ideas in a ‘real’ situation”.
In this way, Wilder hopes to connect conceptual and poetic ideas for defining space through sound. Spectacular light shows will compliment the soundscapes within the Portal during its time at Chelsea. The work comes under the banner Sound as Measure and should prove to be sixth sense design writ large.
Meanwhile at Saint Martin’s they are taking a different tack and looking at the Portal as a rootless space for different disciplines. Central School tutor Matt Lewis explains: “Until recently the reception and creation of work for ambisonic systems has been largely limited to a small number of systems, often hidden away in university departments.” By contrast the Portal now sits in the highly public Rootstein Hopkins Parade Ground at Chelsea, giving “students with no previous background in multichannel sound the chance to experiment”.
Students taking part in Saint Martin’s so-called Nomad Lab will be post-grads working on “trans-disciplinary” sound works. The practical aspect of sixth sense design are explored during sessions in data-sonification, audio programming, multi-channel sound and physical computing. “There is significant and growing demand among Art and Design students for expertise in this area, I don’t see it going away,” says Christabel Harley, another tutor at the Central School. The results should include two student-based commissions and one artist commission.
Meanwhile London College of Communication is commissioning work by three students and two artists. It is a measure of the potential here that their interest in the Portal has been from the viewpoints of acoustic archaeology, sensory geography and anthropology. Those are at least three disciplines you might never think to associate with a state of the art piece of sonic engineering which looks for all the world like a UFO. The college is titling their programme Sound, Space, Memory.
The inter-college projects runs from April to June with a lecture series and a symposium with the title Sounding Space. Up to 20 speakers will address students from all three institutions, with the likes of Jacob Kirkegaard, Zoe Laughlin and Kaffe Matthews at Saint Martins, and United Visual Artists at Chelsea. Those not in higher education should be able to follow at least some of the activities during broadcasts on Resonance FM.
It is clear that London’s design students will get a lot of mileage out of the Sound Portal. And indeed BE OPEN’s Russian founder, Elena Baturina, has said: “I am pleased that BE OPEN’s conceptual project continues to evolve, furthering intellectual development. Supporting practical studies, research and sound design with these three world-renowned art colleges underlines BE OPEN’s commitment to exploring the possibilities of sound and the sensory journey.”
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The BE OPEN Food Theatre at the Moroso showroom is a brand new element of the foundation’s sensory programme. Using Kvadrat’s textiles and Moroso’s furniture, celebrated designer Patricia Urquiola had create a revolving ‘stage’ for a unique food performance by the avant-garde Danish chef duo “I’m a Kombo”.
Maison Martin Margiela
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BE OPEN celebrates its first birthday and sheds light on sensory design in the future at MILAN DESIGN WEEK 2013
BE OPEN, the social and cultural initiative committed to creativity and innovation, took sensory design as its theme for this year’s Fuorisalone. Working with artists, designers, architects and thinkers at the forefront of their fields, the Foundation explored the interface between sensory and technological design through a series of fascinating events and installations that offered visitors the ultimate in multi-sensory experiences.
Having launched at the 2012 Fuorisalone, and so now celebrating its first birthday, BE OPEN returned this year as co-producer of INTERNI’s Hybrid Architecture & Design exhibition at the Università Statale. An international jury selected architect and designer Christophe Pillet to create House of the Senses, an installation that would engage visitors in a multi-sensory journey and would complement and yet contrast with Sfelab’s interactive installation Zang Tumb Tumb in the adjacent portico. The latter won the BE OPEN Competition for Young Talents in Interactive Design, a platform for young talent.