Poetic Punctuations of Public Spaces by Atelier blam
Atelier blam works on the confluence of design, fabrication, and technology, and their latest collaboration on the art installation Belvédère designed by Studio Bouroullec is a coming together of innovation, experimentation, and madness that merges the technicality of an artwork with a conceptual vision. We talk to Aurelien Meyer to understand more about the works of this multi-disciplinary firm. By Sindhu Nair
Atelier blam is a studio that specialises in fabrication and technology using the bareness and the kinetics of mechanics as the design element, celebrating its engineering without hiding the structural mechanics from bare eyes.
Anchored 5.7 meters away from the shore, the installation is composed of eight hand-polished stainless-steel masts, each connected to the other by a set of horizontal ties. An essential characteristic of the installation is concurrent technical know-how.
This new kiosque interacts with its environment and creates rhythm and variation – a symphony in space that evolves with its surroundings. Anchored in the Vilaine river, the kinetic pavilion on the water invites by-passers to contemplate and experience for themselves the changing conditions of the physical and natural surroundings.
We talk to Atelier blam’s director Aurélien Meyer to understand more about the works of this multi-disciplinary firm and the production of art for public space. Over the years, he has worked on hands-on projects with renowned architects and designers such as Kengo Kuma, Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, and Dominique Perrault, and has been exploring the relationship between conceptual arts and the geometrically and technically complex realisations in the design of several culturally significant international projects, for which he played a key role.
SCALE talks to Aurélien to find out more about the particular premise of the design he follows.
SCALE: Atelier Blam is said to work on the confluence of technology, design, and fabrication. What is the role each one of these areas plays in Belvédère? How relevant is the artwork in our present circumstances? Do you think people will spend more time outdoors now as opposed to before the pandemic?
Aurélien: I perceive the atelier as a practice that combines a subtle vision for the essence of design with a continual capacity to innovate. I choose my collaborators for their creativity and their open-mindedness. This way of working opens a door that never really closes and allows you to arrive at a solution and create something unexpected and enchanting. We invent the tool when it doesn’t exist, the color when we want to provoke a certain feeling or express and evoke an idea.
I like to think of the example of the artist Mircea Cantor (Double Heads Matches, 2002), who asked a factory to produce matches with two heads. For Belvedere, like for most of the projects we work on, we had to recreate and adapt tools to challenge the possibility of innovation.
My work attitude and my relationship to an object, a drawing, or a realization are one of an artist. And, the installation Belvédère is a perfect illustration of this stance on innovation, experimentation, and madness that merges the technicality of an artwork with a conceptual vision.
I choose my work partners in the same way they choose me. A key part of the creative process is the intimate collaboration between the people involved in a project. I think the technical complexity and finesse of the design in this project as a result of the close, creative relationship I’ve built up with Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec over the years.
SCALE: What informs the location of the artwork? How do you decide on a particular location, is it specified by the client or do you arrive at it based on its locality?
Aurélien: It’s a journey, very much like walking in the forest on a Sunday. We are captivated by a chestnut tree and develop a sentimental relationship with it. We imagine it brought to light; we see it cohabiting with its immediate environment and with the imagined concept. All elements become abstracted and it is immediately beautiful. The leaves become windmills; the branches become shrouds. We should never ignore the environment; we should rather be humbled by it.
SCALE: Looking at the complexity of the artwork, it feels as if it is more of a technical piece of work than a work of art. How would you classify it?
Aurélien: We’ve spent years testing concepts and ideas, and we are very much aware of the incredible complexity of this piece. It catalyzed a lot of research on aerodynamics, lighting, structural capacity. Each individual component carries a great deal of complexity and technical expertise. But it’s never only about functional requirements because an artwork involves the imagination, the process of design, the human touch, and in this particular project, a community-driven purpose. This is what makes a design beautiful. The technicality of an art piece, inspired by and ‘living’ with nature, is always about finding the right balance.
Of course, this project presented a lot of challenges and feats, but I think what Ronan and I really like doing is not to impose it but rather to reveal finesse instead of disorder, prowess instead of the rough blueprint. Our friendship and collaboration go way back, and everything is refined and staged to the smallest detail.
SCALE: How will your installations engage with the public?
Aurélien: We come back again to the subject of nature, one can find a great amount of complexity in natural systems, but everything works together in unison and creates harmony. The installation immediately creates this sort of harmonic relationship with its context and is incredibly poetic. It invites the viewer to contemplate, it’s built to provoke and inspire, but it’s also a sort of homage to its setting. It’s a pedestrian artwork, a new public space anchored in the river that will interact with humans and the surrounding environment at the same time.
SCALE: How has the project Champs-Élysées fountains by Studio Bouroullec been perceived by the public? Tell us about its complexities and the various design features it incorporates.
Aurélien: The fountains have found their place through mimicry. The process of the concept and realization of a functional, programmatic, sculptural architecture is very refined, and it involved so many skilled people. If you look at the blueprints, it’s very much like an enormous machine, but they look so fragile.
There is something really interesting about working on projects that are not static, they interact with the surroundings and become almost immediately part of the context.
SCALE: Tell us more about your work, especially ones that have been instrumental in focusing your direction towards fabrication and the techniques involved?
Aurélien: Since my early childhood, I’ve always been surrounded by artists and my father has an immense fascination for the beauty of the world and a curiosity that is inspired by it. I ended up studying fine arts and I worked with many different artists and designers over the years. I have a dear memory of meeting with François de La Rozière some time ago, who opened my mind to the “yes, it is possible”.
SCALE: Tell us about the project with Kengo Kuma. How did this architect infuse you with his creativity?
Aurélien: Kengo Kuma is a free-spirited person. I like this freedom. The project for the birds’ nests involved a Japanese technique called yakisugi used to naturally treat wood by charring it with fire.
In contemporary society, we’ve become very much oriented towards readymade, mass-produced materials and objects, especially when it comes to public space, but there are so many different approaches to treating and using materials that will enable us to create designs that are architecturally, socially, and environmentally coherent, as well as innovative and aesthetically beautiful at the same time. I’ve recently started a collection of pieces and materials in the office, a sort of documentation dedicated to this subject. It’s important to preserve the know-how and learn from traditions and craftsmen in order to enhance our surroundings, to bring them in tune with the environment, and to foster cultural and aesthetic awareness.