by Anmol AhujaDec 24, 2020
Having been acquainted with the works of the sustainable design practice, headquartered in Phuket in Thailand and working almost exclusively with rattan, their latest comes off as a fine representation of the firm's ethos of the pursuit of sustainability from a grassroots level, and a true meeting point of the contemporary and the traditional with respect to technology and materiality. That the project is located in Belgium, unlike Enter Projects Asia's last venture Spice and Barley on home turf, lends it an interesting, additional edge of context that the spiny, wavy rattan intervention - rather sculptural in form - manages to rise above from. For founder Patrick Keane and the team at EPA, the brief they received from their client in Belgium resembled a wellness brief, one involving undertaking a completely transformative approach to the space - to enliven a mixed-use project situated in an industrial lot among several such tonally consistent structures, built to function, and to infuse it with a sense of "nature and creativity'. Armed with the fluid formations of the palm-based material, the result is a space that revels in contrasts and is activated by it.
The project, and the scale and scope of the intervention, find consonance in the same. Not only does the fluidity of the ever morphing rattan stand in contrast with the ice-making function of the factory - a reflection of the process of pure spring water crystallising - the organic formations of the rattan are also seen to act as a natural antecedent to the perceived coldness of the industrial setting, enlivening it, catalysing it, and as per the brief, infusing a space of machinic manufacture with a sense of a natural setting. The spatial intervention morphs and moves through each space in the structure, and makes its presence even the more known through immediate material consonance with the bespoke furniture on ground and lighting fixtures overhead.
The branched, bulbous mass in rattan seems to be rooted near the entrance lobby, and rises akin to an expansive tree, a comprehensive neural network; its branches snaking through meeting rooms, the cafeteria, workstations, huddle spaces, and cabins. Inadvertently, the rattan formations do become the definitive elements of the space they adorn, but even if sculptural in nature, they have been designed in accordance with a pre-existing functionality. Lighting, seating, and directional flow have all been considered in the conception and formulation of the rattan sculptures, that may be seen culminating in or rising from the eight-meter high statement piece illuminating the double-height lobby, complementing the image of the brand.
While the design and manufacture of the rattan installation pieces itself is no small feat, it is the logistics involved in their shipping and installation on-site during the peak of the pandemic that deserves a special mention. With the designers in Phuket and Sydney, a project manager from Japan, fabricators in Northern Thailand, and the project site in Belgium, the cross-continental array of coordination in design and production was managed through sharing digital files, manuscripts, and photographs. Remarkably, while shipping the sculptural forms to Belgium - not essentially brittle or fragile but sensitive due to their carefully, parametrically modelled forms - the pieces had to be digitally deconstructed for the shipping containers to be optimally filled. Like a 3D jigsaw puzzle, the segments were then assembled on-site in Belgium, with little to no room for error. Keane, Enter Projects Asia founder, additionally stated how the project emerged as a lifeline for rattan factories in Thailand during the pandemic that would have otherwise been out of work.
Projects like this one showcase that perhaps the extremely utilitarian versions of architecture, particularly industrial architecture, need not be completely overhauled in the pursuit of employee and spatial wellness, keeping with the times. Along with biophilia, the nature of this intervention warrants an enquiry into the possibility that perhaps the catalysis of such spaces by spatial interventions that aesthetically and functionally allude to an improved livability, and quite simply a more pleasant, natural environment, may imbue spaces of work, manufacture, and even entirely industrial settings with a renewed aura and sense of purpose.