ENCLOSE - an exclusive interview with Norm architects

ENCLOSE is an exclusive exhibition curated by Norm.Architects for Nordkraft in Paris. Don't miss out if you're in Paris - you can...

ENCLOSE is an exclusive exhibition curated by Norm.Architects for Nordkraft in Paris.
Don't miss out if you're in Paris - you can still see it until Oct 11th! You'll find all details at the end of this post.

On the opening day I got the chance to sit down for a talk with Jonas Bjerre Poulsen, co-founder of Norm.Architects. He had lots of interesting things to tell me, so if you want to know more about  the thoughts behind Enclose, what Norm's next project might be, or what Jonas thinks about trends, grab a coffee and make yourself comfortable!

ENCLOSE est une exposition exclusive curatée par Norm.Architects pour Nordkraft à Paris. A ne pas rater si vous êtes à Paris - c'est jusqu'au 11 octobre! Vous trouverez tous les détails à la fin de cet article.

Le jour de l'ouverture, j'ai eu la chance de pouvoir m'entretenir avec Jonas Bjerre Poulsen, co-fondateur de Norm.Architects. Il avait plein de choses intéressantes à raconter, alors si vous voulez en savoir plus sur les idées derrière Enclose, ou quel sera le prochain projet de Norm, ou ce que Jonas pense des tendances, prenez un café et installez vous confortablement! 
(l'interview est uniquement en anglais, désolée, mais trop longue à traduire...)

AG: ENCLOSE is a retrospective exhibition showcasing Norm.Architect's design work and architectural work from the past 6-7 years. What were your thoughts behind it?

JBP: The whole idea with the title ENCLOSE is to show how structures that create space also enclose your body, and what that does to the body and the experience of architecture. We wanted to do something that was not only about showing images or drawings of our architectural work, but instead create an installation that could give the visitors a possibility to experience our architecture.

We have done four small architectural installations, somewhere in between furniture and architecture, spaces that you can actually go into or look into for the smalles ones. We have worked with both the tactility of the material, which is extremely important in our architecture, and the haptic experience of going into them.

One structure is hanging from the ceiling, only covering your head when you go into it. Even though your whole body is still exposed it feels kind of private being in there, which says something about what structures can do to your experience of being public or private. We also cut in the corners, framing different views and creating little surprises - things you wouldn't normally notice in the space but see once you look out through the corners of these structures.

Another one of these spaces may be the world's smallest tea house. It fits two people and sitting in there brings back memories of your childhood's playhouse, creating a certain intimacy.

Then there is a structure that is low, which we have used for displaying products. It tells you something about scale and the experience of scale depending on your point of view. When you stand up looking into it you see these small clocks, but there is also a small cut out close to the floor which you have to lie flat on the floor to be able to look into. Suddenly the clocks change scale as you view them from a different point.

These are all elements that we use in our architectural projects and wanted to showcase with these four installations.

AG: The structures are made with wood from Dinesen flooring, which we normally associate with the typical light floorboards used in Scandinavia. Why did you decide to give the wood a different expression?

JBP: This exhibition is partly about space, partly about showing the Scandinavian style in a different way than the light wood and white surfaces you normally see. This is a much more masculine and dark exhibition in many ways, but still with a lot of tactility and natural surfaces. The wood has been treated with a special colorless linseed oil that gives the wood a completely different character, but still seems extremely natural. It was interesting for both us and for Dinesen to show their wood in a new context.

AG: Besides the actual bespoke project, you are also showing a couple of new products designed specifically for the ENCLOSE exhibition?

Yes, we have made some lamps together with Sørensen leather, a Danish company providing high quality leather, using their aniline leathers in new ways. The special thing about those lamps is of course showcasing the leather on the wall as a piece of art, but also working with the cord. The cord is often an ugly necessity for lighting products, so inspired by leather bracelets, we tried to do something beautiful with it.

Also, in collaboration with Danish design company Paper Collective we have created graphic posters with partial lacquer technique. They are actually drawings of the little pavilions shown in the exhibition and tell you something about the spatial relations between the objects.

AG: Among all the products you have designed, out of which some are exposed here at Nordkraft, is there any product that you are particularly proud of?

JBP: That's like choosing between your children... This is a curated exhibition with a selection of products we have made for different brands and which we are extremely proud of. As a designer you make a lot of products, and some you like better than others, but I think it's easier to point out the ones you don't like than to choose the best.

AG: Kasper Rønn von Lotzbeck is the second co-founder of Norm.Architects. How do the two of you work together?

JBP: When we started out seven years ago we did almost everything together. I think the strength of being a duo is that we have the same aesthetic preferences but very different ways of working with both architecture and design. So we kept on pushing each other further than if we had been alone, and achieved some kind of refinement that we wouldn't have done on our own. Today our spectrum of work is so wide that we do much more apart. Still in every project or for every product, we work a lot together in the conceptual phase, and also with finalizing details, approvals etc. In between those two points we work very much separately.

AG: Norm is often referred to as a duo, but you are actually a trio these days?

Yes, we've gone from being a duo to a trio as we now also have a third partner on board, Linda Korndal. She is heading our architecture department while Kasper is heading our product department and I'm the bridge between those two. I also work with creative strategic design work for companies, photography, graphic design...

AG: Among all those different disciplines, which one do you prefer?

JBP:  I think all of us really like the diversity of working in different scales and with different disciplines, which is actually the whole idea with our studio. For the moment we don't do competitions for big scale projects that go on for 3-4-5 years, as we really like projects that you work intensively with for a period and then see the final result. All of us have been working in big architecture studios in Copenhagen where you sit for example with a hospital and just move the bathrooms back and forth for two years... That's just not the type of architects that we are.

As architects we work very much in detail because we are also designers. So we do bespoke handles and small tiny details for an interior that other architects would leave to other craftsmen or builders. As designers I think we all work very well structured and planned. A lot of designers are crafts people working with their hands, in clay or textile... We work much more with our minds, planning everything and then drawing it up. The craft is something we analyse and understand, but it's not something we do intuitively. I think that's also why a lot of our products have a very geometric, straight forward Bauhaus inspired look to them.

AG: Do you have a dream project?

JBP: We always try to choose clients and projects that take us a step forward, which means that we often say no to people who want us to do the same thing that we already did. So in a way, every new project is almost a dream project. There are a lot of things that we dreamt of doing which we have now done, but there are still things that we would really like to do. I think the next natural step for us would be to do a small boutique hotel... We have done a lot of restaurants and shops, but designing the whole atmosphere around living, including hotel, restaurant and shop, would be very nice.

AG: Any concrete plans at this stage?

JBP: We are looking at a small hotel in New York, but the plans are not yet finalized...

AG: From an international perspective,  Scandinavian design is very much associated with Danish mid-century design. As a Danish designer, do you feel that it's an inspiring heritage to live up to or do you feel it can also weigh you down at times?

JBP: I really feel that our heritage is something that we take with us and build on. When we chose the name Norm Architects in 2007, all the young designers from our generation were really inspired by what was going on in Holland, where Marcel Wanders and those guys were making very experimental and expensive art gallery design.

We wanted to do something different. We were brought up in a very modernist tradition, and at the studio were Kasper and I had been working for eight years our mentor had taught us everything about not only all the Danish masters but also about the Bauhaus, de Stijl, Eames' American modernism, British Arts and Crafts, traditional Japanese architecture... which are all linked in many ways historically. So we wanted to continue building on that, as we believe more in design evolution as in opposition to revolution. It was not in vouge doing that in 2007, but then the financial crisis came and suddenly everything turned our way. People wanted to invest in timeless, durable and functional objects instead of crazy experimental design (which I like by the way, but maybe it's more fitted for a museum or an art gallery than for everyday use...).

I also see that this heritage is not merely Scandinavian but just as much part of the central European modernism, where the Scandinavian version of that movement may be a little more natural and tactile.

AG: If you were to name one designer from the past that has inspired you...

JBP: It's impossible, there are so many... We look at all the classic Danish designers: Wegner,      Jacobsen, Kjaerholm, Juhl... but also Marcel Brauer, Mies van der Rohe, all the Bauhaus masters, some of the De Stijl profiles, American minimalist artists like Donald Judd and Richard Serra, or architects like Vincent van Duysen and John Pawson who are minimalists working with natural materials.

AG: And among your Danish peers today?

JBP: Cecilie Manz, GamFratesi, Søren Rose Studio, also the brand Frama, the way they curate designers... All of them are super talented.

AG: Do you look at trend forecasts when you design products?

JBP: We really try not to do it. Of course it would be naive to think that you can escape trends, since you are in the middle of it and pick up tendencies all over. We try to avoid doing something that is already trendy or in trend forecast, because it would mean that once we are on the market with our product we are two years behind. Instead we look at what we find interesting and I hope that sometimes we can set trends instead of following them.
Also, we always try to achieve timelessness in everything we do. Whenever we work within interior architecture we always tell our clients, please, I know this is really trendy, but don't paint your kitchen red because you'll hate it in two years...

AG: Do companies brief you for products or do you pitch ideas to them?  

JBP: It's in both directions. We work with a lot of companies and it's different each time. For example, when designing furniture for Design Within Reach, we received very specific briefs stating material, factory, production method, sizes etc. A lot of limitations but they really spark creativity as you need to work within those given frames.

For Menu it's different since we are also the design directors for the company so we basically brief ourselves... For Menu we put together a whole collection, working also with a lot of external designers and then filling the holes in the collection ourselves. We look at it very strategically, both in terms of what the company needs and what the market needs.

With &tradition it goes both ways, sometimes we come up with ideas and sometimes they brief us.

AG: Where do you find inspiration for your work?

JBP: That's extremely diverse: being out in nature, visiting a factory and understanding the machines and get a production idea from that, sitting with two materials and suddenly see that it can become something new, looking in magazines or seeing other design works, or being inspired by a shape or a function and transform that into something else. Sometimes it can just be a discussion about a need, something that irritates you in everyday life and that you want to find a solution for.

AG: What will you be doing in 10 years?

JBP: That's a good question... There are still a lot of things that I would like to work with much more and more intensively than what we've done so far. I think residential architecture is something we want to explore much more than we've done so far, and working with hospitalities is also really interesting. I would love to get into writing too, which is something that I really like but never really practiced that much. I have a couple of ideas, something around aesthetics, connecting different aspects of life. Everything I do in life is a lot about aesthetics.

AG: One last question, how well do you know Paris? Any favourite spots?

JBP: I have been here many times, but only for work over the past 4-5 years so unfortunately I don't know Paris well enough. I mostly see design stores and the Maison&Objet fair when I'm here, but whenever I have an hour or two to spare I walk around the neighbourhood. So I have actually seen many wonderful places, I just don't now what their names are... I do like this area though, it seems very local in many ways which is something I appreciate.

AG: Thank you very much Jonas!

All photos by Jonas Bjerre Poulsen

Until October 11th / Jusqu'au 11 octobre

NORDKRAFT, 20 rue Lucien Sampaix, Paris 10. Métro Jacques Bonsergeant.
Open Wed-Sun 11.30am-7.30pm / Ouvert mer-dim 11h30-19h30

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