Seven Questions with architect Arthur Mamou-Mani
Sustainability, research and technology were pushed to their limits at this year’s COS installation at Milan Design Week…
Set in the courtyard of the 16th-century Palazzo Imisbardi, Conifera was inspired by the patterns and cycles of the natural world. Created from fully compostable bio-plastic and dyed with natural pigments and pulps, 700 individual bricks were digitally printed on site using open-source software, embracing the powers of technology. The mastermind behind the poetic pavilion is London-based French architect Arthur Mamou-Mani.
Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do…
I’m an architect by training, and I teach students in their final years of architecture training at the University of Westminster. I also teach design software, I develop code for 3D printing, and I own a DIY ‘fab lab’ in Hackney called the FabPub, run by a team of leading designers and experts in digital fabrication.
How do you decide on the materials you use and the processes you employ?
Material is the very first decision in any design. Whether I’m considering the physical form of the material, its efficiency, or the crafted technique we will be using – the material for me always comes before the tool. I and my team then apply a digital craft to the material. With the technique determined by the nature of the material, our computers create and simulate a suitable design. We learn from the material, track how it responds and behaves, and then inform the computer to grow and test the design. It’s a constant empirical loop between two worlds, the digital and the physical, and is always 100 per cent material driven.
Does this determine the processes you employ?
Once the material has been decided, I and my team then apply a digital craft to the material. With the technique determined by the nature of the material, our computers create and simulate a suitable design. We learn from the material and track how it responds and behaves. We test and test and test, and then inform the computer to grow the design. It’s a constant empirical loop between two worlds, the digital and the physical, and is always 100 per cent material driven.
What is the inspiration behind Conifera?
The installation takes its name from fir trees – the source of the wood pulp used to dye the bio-plastic bricks into their ochre hues. Like fir trees and the rest of the natural world, they all grow naturally, and that’s something I wanted to echo in the creation of the pavilion. The potential of renewable sources is huge, and when we combine this with the power of technology, we are creating the future. Conifera shows how, like nature, design can be circular too.
What is your space; the space you cherish and love…
It’s got to be my flat, there’s just something about the home being a place to switch off, it is a place of softness. I’m a very curious person, and in my life so many things happen at the same time – my notebooks are covered in thoughts, I’m always thinking… So it’s nice to switch off, and home is the place where I can do that. I finally have the freedom of separating my work life from the home, as for many years I lived in my office. Now I cherish even the walk between the office and home. I get home and talk to my wife. Her dad is a chef, so we love to cook, we sit down and discuss our days, and eat good food. It’s our place to unwind.
Do you listen to music while you work and design?
Continuously. I feel empty if there’s no music. I switch from Italian opera to R&B, and then to jazz. I get something from cryptic and obscure music, from the beats, textures and rhythms, the tunes are always changing.
What is the best advice you could pass on?
My grandma once told me the story once of a king who was sad. The king was given a ring with the words ‘nothing lasts’ engraved into it. He was told that when he felt happy, he should look at his ring. And also when he felt sad, he should look at his ring; because nothing lasts. The story taught me to never leave it to tomorrow to do what you have to do. Time goes so fast and we’re not here for very long. We must push ourselves to make things happen, to be happy, and to reach the blossoming point of our lives. Every single day matters.
After Milan Design Week, Conifera will be exhibited at Coal Drops Yard, London.