Text & Interview: Alec Coiro
Photo: Guillaume Gaudet
When I sat down with de Cárdenas for the first time a few years ago, he told me about his aesthetic philosophy and how it relates to his architecture practice. We also talked about his more general interpretations of our culture as a whole. And through the course of the conversation, I changed the way I thought about cultural norms. He pointed out that our built environments have a massive influence on us, but unlike with fashion or product design, we have almost no agency in choosing these built environments that are imposed upon us. This led me to believe that faced with this conundrum of powerlessness, the population – particularly in the U.S. — becomes willfully indifferent to the architecture around them.
Focusing specifically on his work as an architect, de Cárdenas explained that he favors the strategic over the thematic, by which I interpreted him to mean that the architect’s work should suit itself to the project at hand as opposed to dogmatically imposing a style upon the project. So I was very pleased to have the opportunity this time around to explore a case study of this approach put into in practice.
The project in question is the creation of an environment in which to place bath and spa fixtures by Dornbracht. De Cárdenas was kind enough to take the time to delve into how the environment was conceived and how it was suited to the project that Dornbracht presented. The level of detail he gives us about the imagined context for his structure will provide a glimpse of how deep into the DNA of a project he gets.
This Dornbracht project presents the notion of “transitional style.” How do you define such a style?
I haven’t felt too concerned with defining it, to be honest. But the general idea is that it is defined by a juxtaposition or synthesis of the traditional and the contemporary. Our designs for Dornbracht certainly play on that idea to some extent.
The project also includes the idea of “creating a new balance”? From your perspective, what are the elements being balanced and what are the challenges in balancing them?
Our designs implement a play between raw and refined (machined) materials and elements, as well as an accentuated play of light and shadow. The designs interweave a general softness–these romantic catenary curves, for example–with moments of blunter materiality.
You’ve achieved a very striking yet natural illumination by guiding the light in through openings in the structure. In taking this design approach, what time of day and weather conditions did you imagine as your ideal?
22 degrees Celsius and partly cloudy with a 30-minute shower in the afternoon, lingering clouds, and a fully blown-out sunset to cap it off.
The designs interweave a general softness--these romantic catenary curves, for example--with moments of blunter materiality.
The environment is described in press materials as “atmospheric,” and a large part of how you achieve that atmosphere is through the play of shadows. What inspired this shadow-inflected approach, and how does an architect go about designing shadows?
I think this approach is a well-established element of our studio’s bag of tricks: creating devices that filter light and give it a more intricate, diffuse quality. But the particular quality of alternating light and shadow in these designs was also in response to this idea of the transitional style as a style of juxtapositions.
How did you settle on the material you chose as compliments to Dornbracht’s Vaia fixtures?
We played extensively with various material pairings to achieve a very particular balance of the raw and the refined, as I alluded to above.
If the bathroom you’ve designed were to be part of a house or an apartment, where do you imagine that house (or apartment) would be located?
I think we liked the idea that this bathroom would be its own building or pavilion–nestled on a breezy hillside, perhaps, at an elevation high enough for clouds to pass through the fin walls.