Ten conversations that stirred the pot in 2021

From Pulitzer recipient Alison Killing to co-designers Sebastian Behmann and Paola Antonelli speaking with STIR, 2021 was a year of compelling and captivating conversations.

by Devanshi ShahPublished on : Jan 01, 2022

An effective conversation has the advantage and ability to encourage and facilitate a deeper exploration into contextual relationships and decisions. The scope of a persuasive and well articulated conversation goes well beyond the traditional parameters of writing about design. In 2021 STIR engaged in some of the most intriguing and alluring conversations with some of the brightest and most important voices in the world of architecture, design and art. Ranging from curators and designers who presented at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2021 to the Pulitzer winner, the importance of engaging in a variety of mediums also came through. Global cross communication is not channelled through our emails alone, the advantage of using video highlighted the importance of diversifying audience engagement but also developing individual voices. As we step into 2022, we look back at 10 conversations that stirred the pot.

1. Alison Killing

  • Photo Caption | Best of 2021 | Alison Killing | STIRworld
    Alison Killing, British architect and urban designer Image: Bret Hartman
  • Dabancheng/Central Park as viewed via satellite by the Xinjiang investigation team | Best of 2021 | Alison Killing | STIRworld
    Dabancheng/Central Park as viewed via satellite by the Xinjiang investigation team Image: Courtesy of BuzzFeed News and Google Earth

Alison Killing and her team were the recipients of the prestigious Pulitzer Prize this year in the International Reporting category. Killing is the first person from the discipline of architecture to be honoured with the award in an area outside of criticism. Her firm, Killing Architects, uses architecture and urban planning skills along with tools such as geolocation, aerial photography, photogrammetry and open source analysis to investigate urgent social issues. In an interview with STIR, she said, “I work mostly with data, although writing is a key part of communicating a story to an audience. I still find that I like to communicate visually and the work that I do probably lends itself best to that – maps, diagrams, graphics, photography, which is still all very architectural.” Adding, “My work had been moving from building towards storytelling, documentary and investigative projects for a few years before I came to work on the Xinjiang project.”

2. Sebastian Behmann and Paola Antonelli

  • Paola Antonelli, Senior Curator of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art, New York | Best of 2021 | Future Assembly | STIRworld
    Paola Antonelli, Senior Curator of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art, New York Image: Courtesy of Paola Antonelli
    Sebastian Behmann and  Olafur Eliasson, Studio Other Space | Best of 2021 | Future Assembly | STIRworld
    Sebastian Behmann and Olafur Eliasson, Studio Other Space Image: David Fischer
  • Future Assembly installation at the Venice Architecture Biennale | Best of 2021 | Future Assembly | STIRworld
    Future Assembly installation at the Venice Architecture Biennale Image: Andrea Avezzù, Courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia

A special presentation at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2021, Future Assembly is an exhibition within an exhibition that explores the collaborative nature of design. STIR spoke with the architect and co-founder of Studio Other Spaces, Sebastian Behmann, along with Paola Antonelli, Senior Curator of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art, New York about what constitutes the current paradigm for a multilateral assembly. Behmann and Antonelli, along with six other co-designers, drew a very potent parallel between the ravages of the Second World War and our current climate crisis. Just as the United Nations was not a solution but rather an institution to facilitate recuperation, Future Assembly is meant to be a beginning of a discussion for a framework “structured around reciprocity, collaboration, and coexistence” that looks beyond the human condition. During the interview Antonelli said, “The United Nations, the paradigm for a multilateral assembly of the 20th century, was founded in 1945 in response to political, social, economic, and humanitarian crises. Today, an equally radical response is needed to the urgent, human-propelled climate crisis.”

3. Lina Ghotmeh

Lina Ghotmeh, Installation view of the Stone Housing at the Venice Architecture Biennale | Best of 2021 | Stone Housing | STIRworld
Lina Ghotmeh, Installation view of the Stone Housing at the Venice Architecture Biennale Image: Courtesy of Hannah Assouline, Lina Ghotmeh – Architecture

Lina Ghotmeh has had a wonderful 2021, from winning the Schelling Architecture Prize 2020 to being a Jury Member for the Aga Khan Awards. In an interview with STIR, Ghotmeh spoke on architecture as a tool of resilience, the manifestation of “togetherness” in her project the Stone Housing, and her ties with Beirut. She said, “It is for me the projection of our knowledge of the past into our future doings. It also implies a cyclical relation to time rather than a linear one. This is a concept I developed a few years ago now and that inspires my atelier’s design process. The idea was born first from my fascination with the ground of Beirut, my birth town, as it is a constantly open archaeology.” She added, “Every project becomes the occasion of a thorough research into the past, into history, and into its place in time. Architecture becomes, as a result, an “emergence” with a strong belonging to its ground.” The Stone Housing also won Dezeen Architecture Awards’ Project of the Year 2021.

4. Paula Scher

Paula Scher; A painting of the USA Interstate (2015) by Scher that traces the curves of the US highway system in red and blue markings | Best of 2021 | Pentagram | STIRworld
Paula Scher; A painting of the USA Interstate (2015) by Scher that traces the curves of the US highway system in red and blue markings Image: Courtesy of Pentagram

Graphic designer, painter and art educator Paula Scher’s work is globally recognisable. Often cited as the goddess of graphic design and a master conjurer of the instantly familiar, Scher is globally feted for a career that spans over 40 years. In a conversation with STIR she shared how she addresses noise in her creative practice, what inspires her, and how she overcomes a mental block. “Ideas come in all kinds of ways. I get my best ideas when I am stuck in traffic.” Adding “One needs to be in a state of play to design. I generally push something as far as it can be pushed. For me, that’s the fun."

5. Maria Porro

Maria Porro (4th gen) with her father Lorenzo, his cousins Giovanni, Danilo and Fabio Porro (3rd generation) and Arturo Porro (2nd generation) | Best of 2021 | Salone del Mobile.Milano | STIRworld
Maria Porro (4th gen) with her father Lorenzo, his cousins Giovanni, Danilo and Fabio Porro (3rd generation) and Arturo Porro (2nd generation) Image: Maria Porro

The year 2021 saw Maria Porro elected as the President of the Salone del Mobile.Milano, becoming the first woman to be appointed to the role. Born in 1983 in Como, Italy, Porro was the former President of Assarredo, the trade association for Italy’s furniture manufacturers. Taking on the role at a precarious time, Porro spoke to STIR about what design and Salone mean to her saying, “I visited Salone del Mobile almost every year since I was born: my whole family, my grandfather, my father, and his cousins, worked so hard for this special time, the most important moment of the year, and the kids were brought in on Sunday to see the outcome and to visit the fair. I am filled with emotion and honour, to be its President now, and the youngest ever. At the same time, I feel at ease because I naturally belong here: I am glad to represent the sector where my family has been operating for four generations, to be able to work and speak in design, advocate and advertise for it.”

6. Vinu Daniel

Vinu Daniel, The Ledge in Peerumedu, Kerala, India | Best of 2021 | Wallmakers | STIRworld
Vinu Daniel, The Ledge in Peerumedu, Kerala, India Image: Courtesy of Anand Jaju Photography, Syam Sreesylam

Kochi-based Wallmakers, headed by architect Vinu Daniel, is known for their imaginative applications of mud and waste materials as the chief components of their projects. The firm's ethos is rooted in the exploration of sustainable architectural practices through a combination of traditional techniques, eco-friendly material innovations, and immaculate detailing. In a conversation with STIR, Daniel elaborated on some of the unique building techniques his studio employs, saying, “Finding huge quantities of small loose stones during the excavation process for the foundation led to an improvisation in the SHOBRI wall (Shuttered Debris Wall). These stones were inserted into the debris mix in the shutters as alternating bands and utilised in the walls. Since the site is located in a hill station, most of the openings have been designed in glass to retain the heat and take in the splendid views of the valley. Cut pieces of salvaged wood have been assembled together to form the flooring of the house, while the grilles are a collage of scrap cable trays. All the materials for this project were sourced within a five-mile radius.”

7. Yoyo Munk

Yoyo Munk, a visualisation of Medusa | Best of 2021 | Tim Drum | STIRworld
Yoyo Munk, a visualisation of Medusa Image: Courtesy of Tin Drum

A ground-breaking installation for the London Design Festival 2021, titled Medusa, was visibly absent from the Raphael Court of the Victoria & Albert Museum. Tin Drum, a renowned mixed reality studio, in partnership with Japanese architect, Sou Fujimoto, created an enormous work that is not physically built. The installation could only be experienced via a see-through mixed reality headset. STIR spoke with Yoyo Munk, Director of Medusa and a trained biologist, on the biological architecture of organisms, and how technology can document how people interact with the built forms. Munk said, “The installation has been conceived as a piece that has a life of its own and a certain dynamism. It breathes inside the space, it grows and it changes. The long-term hope for this piece is that it will continue this process. This work will always be defined by its time inside the Raphael Court.”

8. Frida Escabedo and Arik Levy

French artist Arik Levy and Mexican architect Frida Escobedo | Best of 2021 | Frida Escobedo | STIRworld
French artist Arik Levy and Mexican architect Frida Escobedo Image: Peggy Schmidt, Courtesy of Arik Levy Studio; Courtesy of Frida Escobedo

A creative “blind date”, STIR facilitated a conversation between Mexican architect Frida Escobedo and French artist Arik Levy and by extension a conversation between architecture and art. Towards the end of the conversation Levy suggested the duo engage again, but every year, for a decade, or two. His proposal stemmed from a belief that this conversation would, in retrospect, help him see how far both he and his muse, Escobedo, would have come in 10 years or so, professionally, personally, and spiritually. He also left us with this gem, “We don’t screw anymore, we glue.”

9. Toshiki Hirano

Toshiki Hirano, Installation view of Reinventing Texture | Best of 2021 | Toshiki Hirano | STIRworld
Toshiki Hirano, Installation view of Reinventing Texture Image: Toshiki Hirano, Prudence Cuming

The Japan Pavilion at the London Design Biennale 2021 was titled 'Reinventing Texture’. It was an ode to the spirit of ‘friendship and shared innovation’ that resonates between London and Tokyo. Designed by Japanese architect, Toshiki Hirano, the installation merged sights from both cities into an eight-metre-wide textured relief in traditional washi paper - commonly used in Japanese art. While speaking with STIR, Hirano mused on how he would categorise the work as art of architecture saying, “It's something I have been wondering about myself. There was a discussion between my colleagues about whether this kind of installation can be read as an art piece or an architectural experiment. It could be more of a generational thing, but I don't see a clear boundary between art and architecture as disciplines. At the same time, I didn't design or produce this installation as a pure art piece. I see this as an experiment to come up with new design methodologies or aesthetics in architecture. I am not saying that this can be literally, let's say, scaled up to become a building, but at least this inspires me to come up with new ways of thinking. In that sense, I will say this is quasi-art/architecture.”

10. Daan Roosegaarde

  • Daan Roosegaarde | Best of 2021 | Studio Roosegaarde | STIRworld
    Daan Roosegaarde Image: Rebekka Mell
  • Daan Roosegaarde with Urban Sun’s model prototype | Best of 2021 | Studio Roosegaarde|  STIRworld
    Daan Roosegaarde with Urban Sun’s model prototype Image: Daan Roosegaarde

In a conversation rooted in Studio Roosegaarde's public installation called Urban Sun, STIR spoke with Daan Roosegaarde about what inspired this open-air installation located alongside the Erasmus Bridge, one of the most iconic landmarks in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. Roosegaarde said, “As an artist, the realm becomes much more wide-ranging and explorative. The projects are largely driven by ideas and dreams; the scale keeps growing and condensing in terms of ambition and size, and encompasses art and design at an architectural and urban level as well. The work ultimately focuses on creating better societies and solutions at different levels, always pushing boundaries and challenging the status quo.”

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