i29 Architects shows how simple design can still be surprising

In an interview with STIR, the Amsterdam-based boutique design studio explains how they try think out of the box and create spaces with strong identities.

by Pallavi MehraPublished on : Feb 22, 2021

The Amsterdam-based design and architecture firm i29 Architects is renowned for creating projects that are simple yet surprising. Their portfolio comprises a diverse range of interior design and architecture projects for residents, hotels, restaurants and public buildings. Recently, this award-winning design studio conceptualised an eco-friendly floating home on a canal in the Dutch capital city, which showcased distinctive architecture and one-of-a-kind interiors. Moreover, the firm also refurbished the interiors of Felix Meritis, a heritage building in Amsterdam, which comprises event venues, meeting rooms and a restaurant.

Here, i29 Architects discusses its inspirations, design processes and the ultimate goal of its diverse interior design and architecture projects.

The Floating Home by i29 Architects on a canal in Amsterdam is a recent project| Floating Home by i29 Architects | STIRworld
The Floating Home by i29 Architects on a canal in Amsterdam is a recent project Image: Courtesy of i29 Architects

Pallavi Mehra (PM): Your interior and architecture projects have strong identities that speak loud and clear. How is the studio able to provide the projects with such a strong identity?

i29 Architects (iA): In all our work we have a strong focus on finding clear answers to complex questions. A good design should work on different levels—functional, conceptual and practical. The work we make is for people, who perform the best when the space around them is understandable and clear. In our vision, it is important to make the physical space around us clear, effective and surprising. We therefore deliver work that stands out for its simplicity.

PM: Your architecture projects showcase surprising design. What is the inspiration for these one-of-a-kind projects?

iA: We love to shape spaces with custom designed elements and furniture pieces. By linking interior components to the architecture and vice-versa, the result is a high quality project not dependent on expensive materials or technical show. In every detail, we aim for the ultimate space efficient solution. Every aspect of the design is approached to produce a pure and unified experience to leave a strong impression.

i29 Architects is renowned for creating projects that are simple yet surprising | i29 Architects | STIRworld
i29 Architects is renowned for creating projects that are simple yet surprising Image: Courtesy of i29 Architects

PM: Please talk about the studio’s process, both how you conceive or plan your projects and then how you go about executing the project?

iA: All our projects start with a good conversation. In this way, we gain insight into the building, the people who reside in it and the needs and interests that play a role. We love open communication and try to collect as much information as possible in a pleasant way until we have a clear picture of all the human, practical, technical and creative challenges involved. Thereafter, together with our clients, partners and advisors, we draw up a program of requirements. We do not tell our clients what they should do, but together we determine the best strategy. We then translate this into a clear spatial concept that clearly reflects the identity of our client. The concept must have a strong personality and tell a story to the various users and/or target groups.

We are a boutique design studio that works across all kinds of projects. The great diversity in our portfolio gives us the ability to think out of the box for all kinds of clients and users. We do not provide standard solutions, but we do apply standardised working methods to guarantee quality, efficiency and creativity. In collaboration with our clients, we are constantly changing to make our work more relevant.

Interiors of the Felix Restaurant were refurbished by i29 Architects | Felix Meritis by i29 Architects | STIRworld
Interiors of the Felix Restaurant were refurbished by i29 Architects Image: Courtesy of i29 Architects

PM: Environmental sustainability plays an important role in all your projects. What advice do you have for architects and designers who want to design and build sustainably?

iA: Making qualitative sustainable projects is, in our opinion, not always ‘the more the better’. With simple yet smart interventions a project can be of the highest standard and at the same time energy efficient, eco-friendly, and built with a small footprint.

The Floating Home by i29 Architects showcases environmentally sustainable design | Floating Home by i29 Architects | STIRworld
The Floating Home by i29 Architects showcases environmentally sustainable design Image: Courtesy of i29 Architects

PM: Please tell us about your new and upcoming projects. What do you hope to achieve with these projects?

iA: We have recently started a new architecture department within our company. Our first few architecture projects were the Tiny Holiday Home (a 75 square metre house in the middle of nature) and Floating Home (an environmentally sustainable home, part of a floating community in Amsterdam). As they have been received very well, we are looking forward to more architecture projects!

Moreover, an interior project that we recently finished was Felix Meritis in Amsterdam. This unique  heritage building on Keizersgracht was built in 1788 for a society of scientists, artists, entrepreneurs and thinkers. Five different departments were housed in one building—music, commerce, literature, physics and drawing. For Felix Meritis’ interiors, our studio made a distinct and charismatic design, inspired by the rich history of the building. The starting point was to show diversity and to give all rooms their own identity, just as in 1788, when each department was given its own personality.

Furthermore, we wanted Felix Meritis’ furniture to also reflect this vision, and match in appearance to the characteristic spaces. In particular, finding a suitable stackable chair was very important because it is used in all the event rooms. We ultimately designed a chair especially for Felix Meritis that met all the requirements—stackable, comfortable, light, and in terms of appearance, matching the monumental environment of Felix Meritis. Chair ‘Felix’ was developed in collaboration with furniture label Lensvelt.

Additionally, we are working on a large hotel renovation for Hotel CASA Amsterdam as well. Here, we are also developing furniture pieces and custom objects. To work on different scales (from architecture to furniture design) is what we would like to do more of.

Each room in the Felix Meritis building exhibits the rich history of the building | i29 Architects | STIRworld
Each room in the Felix Meritis building exhibits the rich history of the building Image: Courtesy of i29 Architects

PM: What do you want to STIR up in 2021?

iA: More radical simplicity in architecture and design!

PM: What is the most powerful lesson from the pandemic for an architectural practice as yours?

iA: How you can easily work and communicate together online, but still need physical spaces for real and surprising interactions.

PM: The biggest challenge of designing for a medium other than solid ground…

iA: In our work we often design more than just the bricks and mortar experiences, we do research and development in graphics, materials, structures, technology and more. The biggest challenge is to bring all of them together cohesively.

i29 Architects developed the ‘Felix’ chair in collaboration with furniture label Lensvelt | Felix Martis by i29 Architects | STIRworld
i29 Architects developed the ‘Felix’ chair in collaboration with furniture label Lensvelt Image: Courtesy of i29 Architects

PM: What is at the core of your building philosophy for the future?

iA: Build smart and keep it simple!

PM: Tell us about your most unusual source of inspiration for a project till date.

iA: At Felix Meritis, we developed a custom wall system for the Shaffyzaal event room. All spaces in the building refer to a special moment in history of the building. In the Shaffyzaal room, colours and materials are inspired by the illustrious 60s, when the room served as a meeting place for the Dutch avant-garde, and Dutch artist Ramses Shaffy’s works. A modern interpretation of the hallucinatory sixties is depicted by the use of intense and high-contrast colours on acoustic walls. In addition, we created matching pieces of customised furniture and a bar area cladded with rough steel sheets.

In Felix Meritis’ Shaffyzaal room, colours and materials are inspired by the illustrious sixties and Dutch artist Ramses Shaffy’s works | Felix Martis| i29 Architects | STIRworld
In Felix Meritis’ Shaffyzaal room, colours and materials are inspired by the illustrious 60s and Dutch artist Ramses Shaffy’s works Image: Courtesy of i29 Architects

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