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A professor once told me Eileen Gray (1878-1976) was a furniture designer. Of course she was, but she was also an architect. I am not sure why my professor failed to mention this. Perhaps he ‘forgot’. Although she was rarely mentioned in our history and theory books, I never forgot her name; a female name amidst a sea of male names.

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Gray deserves to be singled out as an architect, as an independent practitioner, and for her contribution to a (still) male-dominated profession. Her work seems to have been slow to find its way out of obscurity. Thankfully, the 2014 documentary Gray Matters and a new biopic released in March of this year entitled The Price of Desire, bring her name, her work and her life into the spotlight.

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Stills from the set of The Price of Desire with Eileen Gray (played by Orla Brady) and her lover Marisa Damia (played by Alanis Morissette). Photography by Julian Lennon.

In her lifetime Gray’s uniqueness was also the reason for her isolation. She did not fit. She hadn’t studied at the same schools as her contemporaries and, as a woman, did not have access to the same opportunities. However, family support enabled her to build a career. Following her studies in London and Paris, she trained with Japanese craftsman Sugawara in lacquer work.

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Gray’s lacquer ‘Brick Screen’ and ‘Folding Screen’

Gray opened her furniture store, Jean Desert in 1922 and carried out interior design work before trying her hand at architecture. She was encouraged by her lover, architecture critic Jean Badovici, with whom she worked on E1027 at Roquebrune near Monaco where they eventually lived.

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Gray’s ‘Boudoir bedroom de Monte Carlo’ designed for the Salon des Artistes Decorateurs

A true gesamtkunstwerke (though she did not belong to the Bauhaus school), the house and furniture were all designed by Gray with some technical input from Badovici. E1027 was in disrepair by the beginnig of this century and a large amount of restoration work has been carried out over the last decade. Gray Matters and The Price of Desire played a role in completing some of this work as both films shot inside E1027. The film The Price of Desire reveals much about Gray’s interpersonal relationships including the theory that Le Corbusier defaced the house with his murals.

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Gray’s E1027 on the cliff face

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Gray’s E1027 Interior

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Gray’s ‘Black Board’ rug, one of the rugs found inside E1027
There is much to be learned from Gray and E1027 and I hope to see the two aforementioned films soon. Perhaps they can fill the gap left by my history and theory books.

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As architects we are involved in the process of cladding buildings, but many of us also take the process of cladding ourselves quite seriously. The word ‘architectural’ is somewhat overused in fashion, but there are a number of designers who do produce clothing, accessories and shoes that have a very strong relationship with architecture due to their geometry and detailing. As well, there are architects who design clothing, accessories and shoes.

One of the better known architects designing shoes is Rem D. Koolhaas, nephew of the Rem Koolhaas and also an architect. He founded United Nude some years ago and Zaha Hadid recently designed 3D-printed shoes for United Nude which are now available. They are ‘slightly’ beyond my budget. (We’re talking about a  ‘new laptop vs Zaha shoes’ dilemma.) The mainline includes the amazing Eamz shoes that I have written about previously, based on the Eames‘ chair.

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United Nude x Zaha Hadid shoes

I haven’t been able to determine if the designers behind the label Building Block are also architects but the influence is pretty clear in both the name and the construction of their handbags. Focusing on pure geometry, the bags even have geometric names like cylinder and square. The branding is also very architectural; bags are photographed against white walls with different textures or taped to a black background with coloured and metallic tape.

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Building Block cylinder and square bags

Miansai‘s cuffs and rings use screws and hinges and they look like they could be used for construction. They kind of make me want to reconsider always using silver-coloured screws for construction. Rose gold screws anyone? Interestingly, not everything they produce is as architectural.
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Miansai Squared Ring, Modern Screw Cuff Ring and Modern Flat Ring

Reed Krakoff‘s jewellery also involves screws but its architectural quality is also evident in the use of grids. The ‘machined cuff’ is like a rolled up architectural facade.

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Reed Krakoff Machined Two-Tone Cuff and T-Bar Drop Earrings

Like Miansai, In God We Trust have a range of items and they’re not all particularly architectural, albeit very cool. I did get pretty excited seeing a pair of earrings simply called Bauhaus Earrings. I recently entered a competition for the design of the new Bauhaus Museum in Dessau so I have Bauhaus on the brain.

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IGWT Bauhaus Earrings

Halston Heritage has been around for a lot longer than some of the other brands mentioned above and have a very wide range of products, but their shimmering rectangular minaudieres fit the architectural profile.

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Halston Heritage Lucite Minaudieres

Maryam Nassir Zadeh has been getting noticed a lot lately and her collaboration with MAKE cosmetics is exciting both for its architectural appearance and its source of inspiration. It was inspired by Antonioni‘s film Il Deserto Rosso. Though it may not be obvious, Antonioni did form part of my architectural education. It’s the branding that first caught my eye as the packages are presented as if they were a model of a city.

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MAKE Cosmetics x Mariam Nassir Zadeh Celeste e Verde collection

Like Rem D. Koolhaas, I have also applied my architectural training to design products. My own design store, Scaffold & Lace also focuses on pure geometry like Building Block. Our new collection is on its way but in the meantime, here are our geometric bamboo, walnut and felt brooches.

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Scaffold & Lace geometric brooches

In order to design buildings with a sensuous connection to life, one must think in a way that goes far beyond form and construction.” – Peter Zumthor Ever since I visited Peter Zumthor’s Serpentine Pavilion in London in 2011, my view of what architecture can achieve has changed. A humble structure, Zumthor’s pavilion was transformative. It is not so much that it was capable of transforming place, but rather it was capable of something far more difficult and risky; transforming people. It is hard to put into words what it felt like to walk through the space. It was all about experience. Walking through the a dark corridor into an open air space filled with light and colorful flowers and then out through a dark corridor again, I felt like I understood birth, life and death better. Zumthor must be experienced. It is not enough to just look at his work in a book or online. ZumthorSerp

Serpentine Pavilion (temporary, London), Peter Zumthor

I can’t wait to experience Zumthor’s Bruder Klaus Field Chapel. The result of an incredible experiment with materials, the inner space was packed with trees, and concrete was poured around these. The trees were then set on fire, leaving a bare space with incredible charred concrete on the inside. Zumthor is known for his large and detailed models. I wonder if he modeled the process of the burning of the trees inside the concrete. ZumthorChurch Bruce Klaus Field Chapel (Mechernich, Germany), Peter ZumthorBruceKlausFieldChapel Sketch for Bruce Klaus Field Chapel Zumthor’s proposal for the LACMA is just one example of an amazing model produced in his studio. LACMA1 LACMA Proposal (Los Angeles), Peter Zumthor I hope that my studio looks like this one day. His models are so large that they need their own tables. PeterZumthor_Models Zumthor combines the desire to build with the desire to transform. He is an artist and an innovator. There is a humility to his work. It takes time to experience and understand it. Now I’ll go back to dreaming of architecture.

It has been a long time since I made an architectural pilgrimage. Last month I had the privilege of visiting the Kilden Theatre in Kristiansand, Norway by ALA Architects. The train journey from Oslo itself was full of magic and wonder. As we went through the wintry Norwegian woods, I felt like I was seeing Christmas imagery in real life for the first time. My inner child half-expected to see Santa and his reindeer flying past the train.

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Photograph taken en route from Kristiansand to Oslo, Shaumyika Sharma

The photographer in me found so many great scenes to capture from the moving train. At one point, the landscape seemed to turn black and white. The combination of the grey sky, the Nordic winter light, the snow and the dark green forests resulted in images that seem to be bereft of colour.

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Photograph taken en route from Oslo to Kristiansand, Shaumyika Sharma

The architect in me thought about all the wonderful sustainable forest that Scandinavian countries have to offer. As someone who recently entered the Guggenheim Helsinki competition, which asked that we consider Finnish timber seriously as one of the major materials in our proposal, it was a delight to be able to see the Scandinavian forest first hand. (The competition results are out, but it is still anonymous).

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Photograph of Kilden Theatre by ALA Architects, Shaumyika Sharma

When we reached Kilden, I was strangely relieved to find that it was not as perfect as it was in the pictures I had seen and at once excited to be able to breathe in the cold, salty air and feel the mythical quality of the place, accurately depicted in ALA’s rendering.

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Rendering of Kilden Theatre, ALA Architects

The theatre belongs to its seaside context; next to a ship, surrounded by seagulls and lit up by the low winter sun when I saw it. The scene belongs at once to the zeitgeist and somehow also in Norse mythology. I spent some time looking up Norse myths, and depictions of Kraken seemed to have some of the same qualities. Kraken is a sea monster in Norse mythology, resembling a giant octopus or squid, and is believed to swallow humans, ships and even whales. Kilden’s wave-like structure swallows humans too, but not in a gruesome way. Its scale is overwhelming, yet ‘human’ and it welcomes visitors under its huge ‘canopy’.

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Depiction of the Norse myth of Kraken, Unknown

Kilden Theatre, like the Opera House in Norway by Snohetta, seems to have received rave reviews from the end users, both the performers and the audience. Both performing arts venues have challenged the notion of a ‘back-of-house’. The workshops where where sets and costumes are constructed, are visible to passersby and become secondary performance spaces. It works very well as a theatre, inside and out, and puts sustainability at the forefront of design.

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Photographs of the workshop of Kilden Theatre by ALA Architects, Shaumyika Sharma

Pregnant with new ideas about architecture, the theatre’s wavy timber eaves/ceiling structure has a kind of ‘inner glow’, touched by the golden Nordic light and feels like it is part of a new wave of architecture.

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Photographs of Kilden Theatre by ALA Architects, Shaumyika Sharma

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Electric Pet Shop Boys Poster in Hong Kong

On a recent trip to Hong Kong, I had the pleasure of seeing the Pet Shop Boys live. I had never seen them live. Now that I have I feel that it is only when one sees them live that one can appreciate the full spectrum of the experience that is the Pet Shop Boys. For to listen to their music without the visuals that accompany it is akin to watching an opera with one’s eyes closed. Of course it is possible to enjoy it, but the full story only unfolds when one’s eyes are open.

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Zaha Hadid’s Design for the Pet Shop Boys, 1999

I was told by my trusty companion (my husband) that this particular concert had a lower budget than past concerts, so I can only imagine how visually spectacular those were. Of course, I was always curious about Zaha’s work for the Pet Shop Boys. And it has always been obvious to me that graphics are important to the PSB. Any album cover shows that. But what really intrigued me most about this concert were the extremely high quality motion graphics and the way they were all perfectly synchronised and choreographed with all other aspects of the performance. The show revealed the intense ambition of the PSB, not to be ‘popular’ necessarily, but to be true to their aesthetic in everything they do. (Any hardcore Pet Shop Boys fan would know more about this than I do.) Their aesthetic was everywhere; in the lighting, the dancers, the voices, the keyboards, and the aforementioned motion graphics. Never before had I seen such a commitment to an aesthetic and it was truly inspiring.

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Pet Shop Boys – Electric Concert

I have seen motion graphics accompany theatre and dance in recent times and I have never been convinced by them. But these graphics were different. They revealed more about the music and the makers of the music. They weren’t there to make the PSB ‘seem current’ for they have been doing this for a very long time. And it all makes me want to be truer to my aesthetic as well as revisit experiments with motion graphics.

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It’s always great to see great collaborations between creative people and the creative minds of Es Devlin, Rob Sinclair and Treatment Studios working with the Pet Shop Boys and their dancers achieved creative perfection or at least something very close to it.

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Electric – Pet Shop Boys Album Cover

My new circle brooches-abstract representations of ballet, swimming and tennis-are now available online!

 

This month, I am producing a new set of circle brooches. The brooches are abstract representations of three of my favourite physical activities; swimming, tennis and dance. They will be available soon on my online store, Scaffold and Lace. Here are the preliminary sketches:

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A while back, I took some fisheye photos in in Lucknow. I have written a few posts about Lucknow, but this one is all about the snaps. The titles of the photographs come from real memories of my ancestral home but I also think they sound like they could be names of perfumes. (Smell and memory are, of course, closely linked, and recently I have been reading a lot about fragrance.) For example, ‘Happy in the Annexe’ refers to tenants who lived in the annexe whose son’s name is ‘Happy’ and ‘Home For Morris’ refers to my grandparents’ vintage Morris that sat in the garage.

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH   Where Once Was A Fiat Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH Mali’s Garden (Mali = Gardener in Hindi) Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH   Happy in the Annexe Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH Guarding the Garden Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH Bananas on the Side Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH Tricycles in the Drive Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH Door Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH Guava Tree Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH Home for Morris Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH   Taar (Taar = Wire in Hindi) Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH   Shadows in the Aangan (Aangan = Courtyard in Hindi)

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My latest newsletter takes you on a visual tour through natural photography, architecture and fashion. Stops on the tour include London, Singapore and Montego Bay.

 

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My solo exhibition entitled Laksa in the Summer of My Childhood opened last week at SPR MRKT. The opening night was fantastic thanks to a great team of sponsors and collaborators and of course all the people who turned up. There was also a write up about it in The Business Times Singapore and a couple of pieces are featured in the ‘gallery’ section of Catalog Magazine’s April issue.

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Seasons IV; Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter

Architecture can seem permanent and static, yet the seasons impact it visually, transforming its appearance over time, and technically, affecting materials and inhabitation. The seasons represent change and are a reminder that architecture can’t be conceived of as purely static.

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Childhood Dreams; Rose 2013, Rose ca. 1988, Bush 2013, Bush ca. 1988, Flowers 2013, Flowers ca. 1988, Tree 2013, Tree ca. 1988

In the timeline of a design project, photos are more or less the first and last step. As a child I took these B &W photos at a school and developed the film in a dark room, soon after which I decided to study architecture. Revisiting the site last year, I captured the same locations in full colour with a digital camera. Recalling pre-digital photographic processes, both sets of photos are presented as enlarged negatives.

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Blue Topoi; Laksa, Biryani

Cyanotype, the photographic process used to make blueprints, intrigues me as a way of studying light and shadow. In this series, the raw ingredients from two dishes-laksa and biryani-are composed to form imagined landscapes, using skills similar to those used in model-making. The pieces are intended to explore the disconnect between agricultural processes and city-dwellers in relation to food.