Describe your booth concept for this year’s Salone del Mobile
We have designed a system for Arper that is defined by a set of simple elements that can be composed and reorganized depending on the site. These elements serve as the structure itself, so it's a self-supported system—simple to build up and efficient. The system will be deployed for the first time at Salone del Mobile, creating two very different expressions. At Arper’s main booth, the system defines a piazza, surrounded by rooms wherein the furniture is shown, all covered in an opaque material. You can enter the rooms from the piazza, or via the connections between them. The idea is that we build an experience of visiting the pavilion, defining areas you have to approach and enter to experience. Each is a unique space that can be understood both as a room and a “building” within an urban landscape. Rooms are modulated through the simple compression or expansion of space in order to tell the story of the furniture. It's not only the floor and walls but the ceiling that changes to affect the character of each room. The spaces become domestic while adapted to the big scale of the fair — a city within a city. On the other hand, at Workplace 3.0, we show that the system can work in really different ways, in form and also in materiality. There, we’ve composed a simple box, and are playing with a translucent material in order to work with shadows and transparency. So totally, totally the opposite.
MAIO and Arper share a distinct formal sensibility. In what ways do you think your studio complements the Arper approach or connects to your broader design philosophies?
It's true that we are fond of simple forms and colors that can generate an infinity of possibilities, and that's one of the reasons we feel so comfortable with Arper. They are courageous enough to work in systems and develop the final proposal together with us. When we had the opportunity to propose something to Arper, we were really happy because our company philosophies are really similar. We work as they work with the concept of variation and of personalization. Our designs are always open to change, customization, and appropriation through time. We never proposed something that was closed, but instead worked a lot together, iterating and building prototypes to create the system. We have worked very closely with the team from Arper, with Jeannette Altherr, the stylists and lighting designers, so all these connections and the whole story can materialize. It's not just us defining the space.
Can you describe your architecture practice? Your working process and interest in systems?
We have four partners, and we design together. The first phase of every project is the most important for developing the central ideas. And very soon in the process we invite other collaborators to work with us, so we end up spending more time talking to people than sitting in front of the computer. We always collaborate with other disciplines, and feel really comfortable with that. From minute zero our architecture is malleable and transformable depending on the rest of the team. We work a lot with collage initially—cutting by hand, actually—to produce conceptual collages that help us articulate our ideas.
What is your philosophy as a studio?
One important thing is that we face each project the same way. It could be an article, a small ephemeral project, an exhibition design, or a building—the way we approach the proposal is very similar. We work in many scales, but what is consistent across every project is that we always work with rules and systems. We decided to open the office five years ago, but have been working together already five years before that. So it's something that we felt that could work. And all of us teach and write and do other things apart from building, which is why our works are so conceptual; we like theory, and applying theoretical positions into architecture itself.
How is your approach informed by practicing in Barcelona? By your teaching and editorial work?
We were born in the big crisis of Spain, so we're trying to define new ways of producing architecture. We don't know if we're right or wrong, but we’ve paid close attention to the discipline itself, to its mistakes, and we’re trying not to make them again. It doesn’t work to just look at one foot and not look at the other—that's why we're always trying to keep this complexity in the office, teaching and writing. You have to be very flexible in your daily practice, so we try to create systems and structures in our office as well, that allow us to become a big team when it is needed but can also reduce to the four of us. And it’s super important to always be awake, and to avoid the division between practice and theory. Because there are many architectural offices that just value the practice but not the theory, or the opposite. If you can see the theory and the practice at the same time, it allows you to be alert to and critical of whatever is happening. Not to produce for producing, but to produce attentively.