An Affair of Geometries
Space Popular: Lara Lesmes & Fredrik Hellberg
Who influences you graphically?
We are greatly influenced by contemporary graphic trends. We are both heavy pinterest users and constantly scan the internet for stuff we like. Of course the AA has been a significant influence intellectually and graphically for both of us. At the time we were there the school was very image-heavy and we both picked up on the narrative approach to design told through series of scenes rather than other forms of architectural representation such as orthogonal drawings. During the past few years we have found a tremendous field of graphic inspiration and experimentation at INDA, where we both teach. Here we have witnessed and being part of the raise of the axon-mania, which allows one to portray life and spatial qualities whilst keeping the advantages of parallel projection; quantitative and without boundaries. We have a strong passion for geometry, both descriptive and projective, and often find inspiration in pieces from the early days of perspective. The capriccio format is particularly interesting to us and we admire, study and try to achieve the qualities in the wonderful works of the 18th century vedutisti.
How and to what extent has the culture of Thailand influenced your work post Architectural Association?
Thailand is saturated with visual stimulation: colours, textures and, best of all, glitter and gold. You may think you are working on something rather colorful, then go out on the street and find out someone has just painted their neoclassical mansion fluorescent pink or walk past a temple cladded in mirrors and gold leaf. Even angels are represented as dressed in colorful shimmering suits.As mentioned earlier, INDA has been our main source of inspiration. Our students are very talented and we have very fruitful work relationships with them, both developing academic projects as well as competitions.
How did the Architectural association impact the way you think and draw architecture?
The AA was a fabulous environment to grow intellectually during our years as students. It is a very eclectic place where many styles are developing at the same time and with equal degrees of passion and dedication. Students get a lot of attention and this puts a lot of pressure on the development of consistent and compelling arguments. This was definitely the most valuable aspect of the AA; it makes you heavily self-critical and self-aware. What some might read as arrogance or pretentiousness we understand as love for one’s own work and ambition.
How do you use your palette of colours in relation to each project? In specific when looking at The National Pantheon of Kazakhstan where the project embraces the thematic of an unreachable supernatural architecture.
We are supportive of the argument that architecture has linguistic characteristics and symbolism plays an important role in all of our designs and representations. Colour has a fuzzier logic than most other elements of architecture. Our use of colour is mostly intuitive. For our megalomaniac project south of Astana we were initially aiming to apply a colour palette inspired by kazakh textiles but this idea was discarded in favour of formal symbolism. The brief for the Pantheon asked for an architectural Bible, Torah, Koran and Bhagavad Gita combined. A building complex symbolically speaking to followers of all the world religions. An impossible challenge of course but a challenge we were very excited to accept. The result; semiotic gibberish or child story at best given the overload of architectural narratives -despite our years of research into religious architecture through design and research studios here in Bangkok and at the AA. The most successful and perhaps most obscure level of symbolism in this project is the octet truss, which not only surrounds the entire complex but also supports the three vast domes and the elevated park. The octet truss was invented (discovered) by Bell and developed by Fuller -who wrote two books titled Synergetics (volume 1&2) where he attempted to prove that the octahedron and tetrahedron that creates the building blocks of the octet truss is the most fundamental structural element in the universe. Hence singularity through rational scientific logic supports the spiritual realms of the Pantheon and not the other way around. Structural logic and exploration is the other main concern in our work -as can be seen in our logotype: an inverted shield (a portal) where an octet module rests on a cloud at the end of a vaulted corridor. Our aim; to develop structural semiotics or what one of our colleagues called “structural pomo”.
What narratives inspired and developed the motifs for the columns in the open garden museum of The House of Fairy tales?
Hans Christian Andersen, to whom the museum is dedicated, wrote 127 stories during his long career as a writer. The entire museum is resting on slender steel columns, elevating the top heavy glazed brick arches and freeing up the ground floor to the public. In between these two layers, we created a flat point cloud in the form of ceramic column capitals, each depicting a simplified version of Andersen’s 127 stories. In a fairytale sort of way, the actual museum is resting on the narratives, which is of course the content of the museum. We developed the graphics of this project in collaboration with one of our students who is a talented watercolourist.
You explore your project through all means of representation; do you trust that only in this manner can the project be explained fully?
We are very excited and proud of our evolving ability to generate graphic content. However we find that one of our greatest problems is that we often let these representations become the project itself, resulting in greater attention being given to the drawing itself than to the design it represents. As much as we admire wonderful examples of architectural representation that concentrate and architect’s ideals (such as Zaha’s paintings, Wright’s watercolours, Mies’ collages, Rudolph’s perspectives or Piranesi’s etchings) we also observe people like Bjarke Ingels in awe. There might not be a lot to say about Ingels’ works or drawings, but his clarity and reach is admirable. We are not interested in over-simplification but we aim to achieve a formula for efficiency and clarity that allows us to continue exploring graphic styles. We find ourselves quite comfortable with video format and the times when we have used it we have been very satisfied with the results. We find that moving image is infinitely more captivating, not to mention the obvious advantages when forming and delivering a narrative (argument). As popular culture develops, so does our ability to consume information and we feel the urge to keep up. Nobody wants to sit through a slide-show anymore and few can still look at drawings pinned on a wall. We instead look forward to a future in VR, where perhaps our graphic and spatial interests will find a meeting place.
Space Popular is a multidisciplinary design and research practice operated from the House of Spop, Bangkok, Thailand and Founded/directed by architects Lara Lesmes &Fredrik Hellberg together with Top Tachapol Tanaboonchai & Grace Suthata Jiranuntarat and with the help of many others. Space Popular makes architecture, products, graphics, interfaces and research.
Lara Lesmes is the co-founder of SPoP! – Space Popular, a graduate from the Architectural Association (AA Diploma RIBA II, London 2011) and Adjunct Professor at INDA (International Program in Design and Architecture, Bangkok). She is usually quite well dressed and looks younger than she actually is.
Fredrik Hellberg is an architect on a mission to discover links between shopping malls, computer games, role playing, iconography and the universe. He is the co-founder of SPoP! – Space Popular and the studio director of Visceral Intricacy, a research based design studio exploring experience based design methods. He is also the third year coordinator and a lecturer at INDA (International Program in Design and Architecture, Bangkok.) He graduated from the Architectural Association (AA Diploma RIBA II, London 2011) with honours.