by Jincy IypeApr 05, 2022
The groundbreaking Memphis style of design has influenced the creative and cultural industry, from graphic design, products, fashion, lighting, art, interior design, architecture, animation, and music. Fresh, colourful, bold, geometric and humorous, it has been a lasting stylistic hallmark that finds relevance and inspires design even today. Radical and provocative at the time of its genesis in Italy in the 80s, the postmodernist movement brimming with references to pop art and art deco has seen a visible reawakening in the last two decades or so, with its flat hues, contrasting colour palettes, stripes and abstract squiggles and shapes finding meaning within mirrors, album covers, bags, tiles, furniture, tapestries, flagship stores, and so much more.
The Memphis Group founded by legendary Italian designer Ettore Sottsass never thought that the objects they were creating carried a timeless, iconic quality, or would maintain the mainstream influence that it clearly has. They were simply intended as a protest—as a stand against the status quo, as statement pieces screaming loud and foul in the face of the strict, function-driven, neutral Modernist style, guided firstly by form and emotion, rather than just function.
The playfully kaleidoscopic interiors of this one-storey cabin in Montreal draw from the Memphis style, almost concealed, nestled among the Laurentian Forest in Canada, carrying its soul in employed colours and the energy of spaces. Studio Jean Verville architectes, was asked to conceive the MEV cabin by two “admirable eccentrics” passionate about art and Italian design of the ’80s, “seduced by the photographic narration illustrating the projects” of the architectural firm.
The design brief for their refuge in the forest outlined a space that would host their daily lives with a “whimsical energy, a challenge in absolute cohesion with the disruptive approach of the studio,” the private clients share.
The exterior and its contrast witnessed in the interior, of restrained black vs. honey gold, manifests the clients’ whimsical lifestyles, that contradict and complement each other. The 181 sqm residential design has been conceived as a “personalised alternative universe”, where the spaces inside remain lucid in contrast with the sturdy and dusky exterior that finds relief with a continuous wooden texture. The design approach was cogent and collaborative, and according to the Canadian architect, “developed with architectural mathematical rigour”.
A design clash made bespoke for eclectic clients
An association of hues and geometries come alive under Memphis for the Canadian architecture, “antithesis to monotony and the monochromatic architecture and design,” at its inception, as described by Jean Verville. Seemingly tessellated, the studio’s interiors evoke this wacky world of the 80s, contrasted by a chorus of expressive and muted design expressions, communicating the liberal personalities of the owners.
“Its extravagance manifests itself in interiors with graphics, where volumes and materials development in a sparkling chromatic organisation... Playing with the possibilities of visual impact, the textures, colours, and materials exploit light in a kaleidoscopic reflection,” Verville explains.
Built within a year, the form, a dark volume confining glittering insides, is born of its integration into its surroundings of verdant nature, organic, linear and raw at the same time. The façade design is articulated in black wood cladding a long cubic volume, set apart by a gently curving on two sides, light as paper.
The location of this “eclectic ensemble” is determined by the presence of a stream that crisscrosses the forested land within Montreal. On the south side, the linear layout of the rooms ensures a constant, panoramic view of the landscape and its stream. The two distinct volumes of the cabin design towards the north are connected by an entirely glazed entrance, appearing as an elongated blind façade, crowned by a solo roof.
“While an entirely mathematical logic of functionality invites the exclusion of roof surfaces in a Boolean diagram, its shape is redefined by a shift in the axis of the ridge, which thwarts the reading of the volumetry and animates the silhouette of a new complexity,” Verville continues. A structured system converges in a spatial, formal plan, while the volumes of the contextual architecture conceal both, domestic as well as storage areas.
Volumes, surfaces, furniture and décor employed to create the cabin architecture play games of “formal opposition”, decorating themselves and the MEV cabin’s simple layout across a plethora of elements, patterns and colours “vying for traces of childhood”, in a whimsical setting. The juxtaposition of the angular, geometric exterior with the rounded, playful interior design embodies the soul of Memphis, of respectful contrast, and of not taking oneself too seriously.
“Quintessence of the getaway in nature, the Laurentian forest welcomes the house-studio on a parcel of its territory that has remained out of reach, providing a place of life and work, both vibrant and free,” Studio Jean Verville architectes conclude, who observe the impacts of popular culture with amusement within their oeuvre.
The Canadian design and architecture studio invites individual appropriations by emphasising the capacities of architecture to transform relationships with space. With its deliberately imperfect digital collages celebrating the multiplicity of perceptions, they develop architectural fantasies where the veracity of images and realities of everyday life are disputed.
Location: Montreal, Canada
Area: 181 sqm
Year of completion: 2022
Architect: Studio Jean Verville architectes
Design team: Jean Verville, architect (lead architect), Tania Paula Garza Rico, architect (studio director), France Goneau (artistic advisor), Rémi St-Pierre (architect), Samuel Landry, Camille Asselin, Jacob Éthier, Bahia Burias