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Who doesn’t like a little French kiss? This issue offers you one after the other. Discover projects, fairs and stories from around France: the Paris 2.0: a City within a City project, The City of Tomorrow exhibition in Lyon, the Design Parade at Villa Noailles and Stories: Marseilles by Rudy Ricciotti, our first episode in a series of city stories told by architects.
Take a ride with us to London, São Paulo and San Francisco.
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Concrete. For some, the sound of it conjures up words like “heavy, tough, gray.” For others, like the Brazilians, it has been a consistent go-to material for architecture projects. While it’s widely used for foundation work, architects and designers have been putting the material to the test in furniture design and...
In Prague, off a busy main road in one of the city’s outer districts, a quiet side street is dotted with industrial warehouses that sit behind fences fashioned from chain link and sheets of corrugated metal.
Inside one of them, Gravelli—a local brand with global reach—makes everything from furniture to washbasins to jewelry, all from concrete.
It was six years ago in Prague when co-founders Ladislav Eberl and Jiří Peters met. At the time, they were both students. Eberl was studying dental hygiene; Peters was studying building structure in the Czech Technical University’s civil engineering program. Eberl didn’t want to be confined to one room for the rest of his life. Peters also had bigger dreams. He had an idea to develop a very thin, strong concrete and a great surface treatment—easier to clean than typical concrete with a more appealing finish. He wanted the concrete to be used to make washbasins and furniture. So he developed his own formula. Incorporating glass fibers, FixCrete is now Gravelli’s signature blend.
“Thanks to these fibers, FixCrete allows us to create pieces that have a thickness of just 15 mm and great surface treatment,” says Eberl. “[[However]], it is not only about the mixture, but every individual step during the 5-week production process of each product.”
Tech&Design Combo: One of a Kind
Not visible from the small entry room/showroom, the production hall’s impressive size comes as a surprise in comparison. To the right are the company’s enclosed offices, which you can see into through a glass opening. To the left, where high windows frame the upper edges of the long, open hall, finished products—like the curvaceous Zephyr chaise—sit in one area. In another, shelves are lined with products in the curing process. Just beside it, two tables with tiny tools that Eberl compares to dental equipment are where jewelry, including rings, bracelets, necklaces and earrings are made.
Zephyr chaise. Courtesy of Gravelli
“Worldwide we can find maybe five companies similar to Gravelli, but none have the range of products we have, “ say Eberl. “Our vision is to create the most technologically advanced products where we are combining our mixtures—our technology—with craftsmanship and good design.”
Today, Gravelli’s three key product categories include the bathroom, focusing on concrete washbasins. The second consists of objects that are challenging to produce, including special or limited-edition products such as handmade knives with concrete handles, a shoehorn with carbon layers, speakers and a concrete piano. The lifestyle category comprises jewelry and fashion accessories. Made exclusively from materials used in architecture—concrete, steel, glass and wood—they are popular among architects and designers who appreciate the simple, minimalistic aesthetic, which emphasize the materials.
Courtesy of Gravelli
Talk About Resistance!
In a workshop to the right of the main hall, Eberl points out the tall, curving mold used to make the Zephyr and a large bag full of the glass fibers incorporated into their proprietary mix. Opposite the offices, employees work in a back room used for the company’s special impregnation process.
“The final stage of all of our products is a surface treatment,” explains Eberl. “It’s a special impregnation which penetrates 1 mm into the surface. It’s waterproof and resists food and drink stains, as well as chemicals. And it is very easy to clean.”
Although initially focused on the Czech market, today Gravelli is expanding into key cities in Europe, with partners and projects in China, Switzerland and elsewhere. This includes custom products for companies like Porsche, Bang & Olufsen and Kuhn Rickon.
Bang & Olufsen (left), Porsche (bottom right), Panamera (top right). Courtesy of Gravelli
“Currently our production is 100-250 pieces a month. In the near future we will increase our production capacity three times thanks to the addition of our new production hall and new colleagues on our team, “ says Eberl.
On the Inside with LiCrete
There are a number of interior projects around Prague furnished by Gravelli. Among them is Forum Karlin, a mixed-use complex including a 3,000-seat auditorium. This is the first project employing the company’s proprietary translucent panels.
“Five years ago we developed our system of light-transmitting concrete. Called LiCrete, a portmanteau of light and concrete, it is a worldwide patented technology of light-transmitting concrete in the form of panels, stairs and building blocks which can be used for partition walls in a wide range of interior projects,” Eberl says.
With the concrete cast around a transparent grid made from UV-resistant Plexiglas, LiCrete can be used in the same way as glass blocks. The product should be on the market next year, once the company completes its first production line.
Gravelli is currently attracting the attention of Michelin-star restaurants.
“Restaurants like this are very interested in our products because they are very similar to their business: good materials, a good concept, craftsmanship and good design.”
What began as a simple idea with their first products produced in their apartment, Gravelli is growing and expanding through its innovative use of concrete.
“Our idea was very simple: to try to offer architects and designers the new possibilities of concrete.”
Outdoor furniture brand Dedon has one of the most beautiful and inspiring stories. Bobby Dekeyser was on his way to becoming a famous German soccer player, but decided to launch a furniture manufacturing company instead. He turned it into a huge success and then sold his share to focus on his Compostela Project in the...
Marseille represents the first city in France to be founded by the Greeks in 600 BC, during the pivotal age when new ways of thinking appeared in parallel incidents. Many revere this time, from which came Buddha and Mahavira in India, Zoroaster in Persia, Confucius in China and Pythagoras in Greece, among others. As inventive thoughts are the seeds of innovation, one could say that France’s second largest city has encompassed innovation from birth.
Absorbed in its heart and soul, the city portrays innovation through time in engineering and architecture, while maintaining an expressive relationship with the Mediterranean Sea. La Cité Radieuse by Le Corbusier marks a major point for the city. This housing structure from the the mid-20th century offered a new way to consider residential design, which traveled worldwide. Le Corbusier and La Cité Radieuse remain references for many international architecture professionals.
Today, the city welcomes Europe’s largest urban renovation project, called the Euromediterranée, which aims to transform sectors into entirely eco-friendly districts. Watch the video of the most recent add-on to the project: Smartseille.
The Vieux Port and the Notre Dame de Garde in Marseilles, France
In light of this issue’s focus on concrete, we spoke to renowned French architect Rudy Ricciotti, who designed the celebrated museum, the MuCem, officially opened in 2013. He worked with a team of engineers to develop a new type of concrete for construction, and the result is phenomenal. The architect invited ArchiExpo e-Magazine to his seaside home in Cassis to discuss the city and his work on the MuCem.
Listen to him recount tales of the city, and learn more about the MuCem in the video interview below.
San Francisco Design Week is billed as the largest design festival on the West Coast: This year’s 10th anniversary edition attracted around 40,000 attendees over the course of nine days, from June 14 to 22. More than 200 events covered a wide range of design-related topics, from fashion to film, furniture, bookbinding, sound, landscape, virtual reality and education.
Pixar Animation Studio’s director Mark Andrews let attendees in on his secrets of storyboarding and creating magic on the screen. At the same time, entrepreneurs from the budding cannabis industry discussed how innovative branding and design has helped eliminate the stigma attached to marijuana. And the folks from the nonprofit coffee company 1951 Coffee talked about designing for engagement and advocacy through hiring refugees and asylees.
“What’s unique about the design scene in the Bay Area is that it’s very supportive. There’s a camaraderie here, rather than people clawing their way to the top, and that encourages people to try new things,” said interior designer Gary Hutton during a conference on art and entrepreneurship.
A Flourishing Design Hub
Thirty years ago, the Bay Area wasn’t on anyone’s design radar, and was overshadowed by the likes of Milan, London, Paris, Tokyo and New York. But that has changed, according to Barry Katz. Professor of Industrial and Interaction Design at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco and author of The History of Silicon Valley Design, Katz lectured on how the Bay Area became a flourishing design hub. A big part of his explanation is Silicon Valley, where design has become an integral part of the innovation cycle.
“Silicon Valley wouldn’t have become what it is today without the contribution and role of design,” he said.
This ethos goes beyond a design-driven behemoth like Apple and traces its roots back to Hewlett-Packard. In 1951, HP became one of the first technology companies to hire an industrial designer, at a time when no one had even heard of the term. Today the role of design has expanded greatly.
Apple campus to open this year.
“I’m pretty sure there are more design firms working within 50 miles of San Francisco than anywhere else in the world. From startups to corporate design and boutique studios, we’re indisputably a global epicenter of design,” Katz said.
Art and Technology, Hand-in-Hand
San Francisco’s infatuation with technology in recent years was obvious during Design Week, where ‘Design & Technology’ was the most covered topic. Technology even seeped into the art installations at the week’s central location, the Design Hub on Pier 27. An augmented reality exhibition organized by LOCZIdesign where 3D renderings of bodies made even yoga poses look eerie.
During a panel discussion, Paige Loczi talked about the role of art and technology in her work as a founder of the award-winning interior design firm, gallery and studio collective that bears her name.
“We’ll do architectural renderings of an entire room so it has the right glare and a realistic form because it’s helpful to translate what’s in our heads very quickly and it allows us to fill out what some people can’t imagine. But technology is only as good as the people who use it,” says Loczi.
The panelists agreed that art and technology go hand in hand.
“Engineering solves problems, but art asks really good questions, so we need the two of them,” says artist Rhonda Holberton.
To many participants, Studio Crawl is a highlight of San Francisco Design Week. Over the course of two days, more than two dozen design studios—from Mission Bicycle Company to experimental digital design studio Stimulant, industrial design agency Branch and collaborative workspace Swissnex—opened their doors to informal gatherings and networking.
At Box Clever, people explored some of the product design agency’s creations, beer in hand. The agency works for companies such as Knoll, Google, Samsung and watchmaker Nixon. Their bike racks, desk lamps and 3-D printed modular room divider.
Veil were true conversation starters. Otherwise, empanadas from a food truck, the video game Street Fighter projected on an entire wall and pumping beats offered plenty of distractions.
Courtesy of Box Clever
“We always enjoy Design Week and start planning for the studio crawl months in advance,” says Vicci Baigrie, Box Clever’s Client Services Director.
“It makes us feel part of the community and we really embrace the fact that the design world in the Bay Area is so diverse.”
On June 18, 1908 the Kasato Maru arrived in the Brazilian port of Santos. On board were the 781 Japanese passengers who would become the very first immigrants from that Asian country to settle in distant Brazil. Almost 110 years later, this country hosts the biggest Japanese community outside Japan, with 1,1 million Japanese natives or descendants.
São Paulo is the first of only three cities in the world chosen by the Japanese government for the establishment of a Japan House, a cultural and business center. The Japan House facilitates public exhibitions, seminars and workshops in Japanese arts, design, technology and gastronomy.
The government’s idea is to show the best of 21st century Japan, but without neglecting her rich traditions. The other two cities chosen for the Japan House project are London (later in 2017) and Los Angeles (2018).
About the Architecture
One of Japan’s finest and most renowned architects, Kengo Kuma, in partnership with Brazilian architecture company FGMF Arquitetos, designed São Paulo’s Japan House. It opened to the public on May 6, 2017, and is located on Paulista Avenue, the busiest and most important street in this giant city.
“Paulista Avenue is actually quite green, despite the overwhelming presence of concrete. In order for our design to naturally merge into this environment, we aimed for a building that could blend seamlessly into this mixed urban environment,” Kengo Kuma told ArchiExpo e-Magazine.
The three-story building covers 2500 square meters, housing many open spaces with natural light and few conventional walls. This contrasts with the typical Japanese mobile partitions made from an artisanal type of paper called washi. This results in modular “walls” that can be moved to vary room size and ambience.
The biggest technical challenge was the wooden facade. It combines the use of wood in the style of Buddhist temples with the Brazilian cobogó, a lace patterned construction style originating in the northern city of Recife.
“We had anticipated that the wooden framing by Japanese carpenters might have been challenging if we had to do it on site from scratch. Therefore, we initially pre-constructed everything in Japan, checked the structure and its appearance, then dismantled and transported everything to Brazil. The same craftsmen from Japan subsequently reassembled it on site. It came out beautifully thanks to everyone’s efforts,” explains Kuma.
Worth Every Penny
Kuma is recognized worldwide for his ability to mix different sorts of materials and integrate nature with buildings. Chosen to design the main stadium of Tokyo’s 2020 Summer Olympic Games, he will also be the subject of an exhibition that will take place in the Japan House from July to September.
The Japan House will host at least eight art exhibitions a year and will have an annual budget of 102 million reais (31 million dollars), almost three times greater than the Museu de Arte de São Paulo, the city’s main art museum. It also contains a library, a multimedia center, an auditorium, rooms for business meetings and workshops, two shops, a restaurant and a cafe.