The designer-duo Katerina Dionysopoulou and Billy Mavropoulos, founders of London-based Bureau de Change, add a sense of theatre, playfulness and innovation to their design of spaces, products and environments. In conversation with Anurag Yadav, the designers discussed the prototypes/concepts of spatial designing
How different is the design approach while working on commercial spaces versus more intimate interiors as in residences?
The way that spatial and design elements are used in residential and commercial projects vary a lot because of the needs of the client and the premise of the brief. In private residential projects, the spatial diagram and use of materials need to work with the client’s lifestyle and aesthetic tastes. The design for commercial projects needs to work on more levels because it’s to do with the brand presentation as well as functionality.
For instance, for the central London showroom of online furniture brand made.com, the design had to represent the brand in a way that would reach new audiences, whilst fulfilling the expectations of existing customers. There is a fleeting opportunity to grasp the imagination of the customer and so the space has to captivate them in an instant, and also present the product range in a vivid way, suited to the values of the brand. This was a particularly challenging because the brand showcases thousands of products online.
The design solution, in this case, was to blend physical product with full-scale projections in a series of room sets. Customers are guided through a network of white-washed walls – curved like the pages of a book (referencing the literary history of Charing Cross Road). These walls provide a clean backdrop for the furniture and a canvas upon which products can be projected. The use of large format projections mean a single room can show multiple combinations of product, changeable on demand. This opens up the possibility for customers to experience the full product catalogue without requiring a hangar-like showroom or costly central storage facilities
What spatial elements directly impact the viewers’ experience of spaces?
For us, it’s the combination of spatial and design elements that creates an impact. We look at space as a whole and consider how materials, textures and colour can be distributed to create transitions in atmosphere throughout the building circulation. Visual or auditory contrasts emboss the atmospheric qualities of individual spaces, creating a kind of drama that leaves an impression on the user.
As the workspace goes more fluid, how can designers blend informality in regimented or structured requirements of commercial spaces?
The design language of workspaces is becoming much more varied, creating spaces that are more ‘human’ in quality and scale. With more remote working and communications, we seem to be moving away from the corporate open plan office space into a work environment that’s more fragmented and intimate. Splitting the office space up in this way provides the opportunity to use materials, colours and textures in an unexpected way, creating spaces which feel more appropriate for their intended use. E.g. for meetings which are purposefully informal, it makes sense to create an intimate environment specifically for that, rather than go against the grain with a sleek board room.
Sustainability is such an often repeated word. How do you look at it in the context of the designs you create? How have the terms “affordability” and “efficiency” and “ecologically-aware” found a balance in your creativity?
Rather than shoehorn sustainable elements into buildings or spaces, we think they should be integral to the concept and design from the beginning. As opposed to planting solar panels onto the building, it’s about utilising or integrating sustainable elements into order to manifest design elements, in an often unexpected way.
In terms of efficiency, it’s also about longevity and usability. The spatial diagram is a natural starting point for us and we consider in depth the lifespan of the project in terms of its materiality and the fabrication methods we use.
You have worked in overseas markets like US, China and Greece. Is there really any solid compartment for local design sensitivity or do you think, commercial space is actually a globally uniform concept, beyond cultural limitations?
Local design sensitivities, materials, fabrication methods and history are what we find exciting and broadening about working in overseas markets. Research forms a large part of our design process and we often make connections with the history of a site. We are interested in how the previous users have left their mark on a building or place and how this residue can be embossed within the texture of the design. Whilst change and progress is important, buildings should also have a sensitivity to their surrounding cultural landscape.
|About the Firm|
|London based design company Bureau de Change was founded by architects Katerina Dionysopoulou and Billy Mavropoulos, combining the pragmatism and formality of their architectural training with their individual creative energy. Their recent projects have used bespoke cast brickwork, woven furniture and rapid prototyping to form sculptural surfaces.
Bartlett graduate Katerina Dionysopoulou was trained at Foster+Partners before joining Heatherwick Studio. During this time, she led the team designing the UK Pavilion at the Shanghai Expo, winning the coveted Lubetkin Prize. She later worked alongside Danny Boyle as the project leader for the iconic Olympic Cauldron for London 2012. She is a visiting lecturer at Harvard University.
Billy Mavropoulos studied at the Royal College of Art and trained at Foster+Partners. Prior to founding Bureau de Change, Billy worked as an independent design consultant on projects for the Tate Modern, Tate Britain and Selfridges. In 2010, he was featured in Wallpaper* magazine’s next generation issue as a designer who will change the face of design within the next 30 years.