Projects we love

When Flooring Comes To Life

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Projects We Love 2016

Vi har samlat några av våra mest älskvärda projekt i magasinet Projects We Love. Magasinet innehåller intressanta intervjuer, vackra projekt och djupdykningar i Bolons värld.

Doshi Levien
Bolon flooring in Vetenskapens hus, Luleå

Doshi Levien

26. Thinking Beautiful

Nipa Doshi and Jonathan Levien share how their pursuit of beauty guided them to provide the art direction for Bolon’s bespoke Bolon By You collection.

Nipa Doshi is clear about her role as a designer. “For me, beauty is very important,” she says. “ The feeling that a person has towards a material can go beyond the rational. But even if it ’s sometimes easier not to talk about beauty, because it ’s not something concrete and quantifiable, I think it ’s something that we as designers unashamedly pursue. ”

Doshi and her partner Jonathan Levien are the founders of Doshi Levien, an east London-based design practice. Doshi and Levien have created furniture, furnishings, installations and accessories for design brands and institutions such as Moroso, Kvadrat, Cappellini and Galerie kreo. Now, they have collaborated with Bolon, providing art direction for Bolon By You, a new flooring collection that can be tailored to suit different architectural projects. “How can we get people to love Bolon’s material?” asks Doshi. “ That’s the most important thing for us.”

It is an area in which Doshi Levien has enviable form; the practice’s work is preoccupied with the way that people connect with objects. Scottish-born Levien has a gift for form-making and materiality, sculpting designs such as the enveloping Almora lounge chair for B&B Italia. The Almora’s structure is built up from three separate elements that delicately wrap around one another to cocoon the user. Meanwhile, Doshi, who was raised in India, imbues projects with both a narrative flair and a keen understanding of the ways in which colour, decoration and ornamentation enrich objects. The studio’s Principessa daybed for Moroso stacks multiple mattresses on top of one another, each mattress upholstered in jacquard weaves that bear floral or geometric patterns, or else iconography of hairdryers, sunglasses, shoes and cocktail glasses – rich and sumptuous, but also a witty veneration of the everyday. It is difficult not to like.

Doshi Levien’s studio, a sunlit space above Columbia Road Flower Market, is crammed with prototypes. There is a chair with a curved back that gently encompasses the sitter, and a vast Chandigarh-inspired textile that hangs from the wall. The studio’s surfaces are cluttered with art materials, as well as a display of vernacular Indian objects. Newly arrived in the studio is a curling metal lamp diffuser, created in concert with a vintage car restorer. Such ephemera suggests the practice’s diverse portfolio, but everything that Doshi Levien creates is united by an overarching sensibility. “It boils down to trying to create beauty,” says Levien. “That’s what drives us.”

It is certainly what drove Doshi Levien to provide the art direction for Bolon By You, a bespoke flooring collection that offers six patterns, with further customisation possible through four different warp colours and 12 weft colours. It is a sprawling project, and one that represents a new direction for Doshi Levien, taking the studio beyond its traditional heartlands of furniture and objects. “We have never art directed a campaign before and the most obvious thing would’ve been for Bolon to ask us to design a floor instead,” says Doshi. Yet both she and Levien relished the challenge. “I believe that as a designer you are using your mind,” adds Doshi. “You can apply design thinking to anything. Being a designer is about understanding what the needs of a project are"

The Bolon project has been a major undertaking. Doshi Levien has designed the company’s concept art, as well as display pieces for Bolon’s showrooms, sample books for the company to send to clients, and online tools to help architects specify flooring for buildings. What links these strands is a theme of presentation. “We were looking for a more intuitive, direct way of engaging with the products,” says Levien. “We wanted people to be excited about getting this material in their hands.”

Levien’s mention of material is vital. Central to Doshi Levien’s work for Bolon is a desire to emphasise the physical traits of the company’s vinyl flooring. By placing the vinyl in dialogue with other architectural materials, the studio hopes to accentuate its tactile and aesthetic qualities. “What is important is that people appreciate this material,” says Doshi. “These floors are essentially textiles; they’re jacquard floors w
hen I went to see them being woven at Bolon, I fell in love with them.”

“It was a case of what the material wanted when we had it in our hands,” adds Levien. “This flooring wants to be with other materials. That guided us during the design process and Bolon totally trusts the process of design.”

Materiality is front and centre in the images that Doshi Levien developed for Bolon. The studio designed a series of interior settings, and built them in a warehouse using standardised screens and blocks. Each image takes a different Bolon flooring as a basis, surrounding it with glimpses of wood and brass, terrazzo and concrete. The settings are dusky and tantalising, replete with nods to the architecture of Le Corbusier, John Pawson and Peter Zumthor, as well as glimpses of furniture pieces designed by Doshi Levien: a Paper Planes chair peeping from behind a screen; a Chandlo dressing table Demerging from a darkened aperture.

Doshi Levien’s settings straddle the border between real-world spaces and abstract set designs. They are substantial enough to create a sense of place, yet nebulous enough to let the viewer’s imagination fill in the detail, an important quality for architects considering how Bolon’s flooring might fit in a space. “It’s a balance between suggesting abstract space, but not something too abstract,” says Levien. “We want these spaces to feel real, so we’ve put furniture in to give them a sense of scale. That’s a matter of design sensibility: how Fabstract can you go without losing meaning?”

Finding meaning is a recurrent theme within Doshi Levien’s work. The practice’s designs are essentially celebratory; Doshi Levien creates objects that luxuriate in their materiality and form, embracing the beauty of the world that surrounds them. One of the practice’s most impressive projects to date was Living Objects, an exhibition of vernacular Indian items that the studio displayed at Belgium’s Grand-Hornu institute in 2013. Here, Doshi Levien elevated everyday things – steel tiffin boxes, plastic bottles for calcium pills, low stools for bathing – into museum artefacts. Behind this exhibition, as with all of Doshi Levien’s work, was an understanding that objects are not merely consumables: they can be things to treasure, things to which we form attachments. It is this same ethos that is visible in the studio’s work with Bolon.

“We prize love and materiality, but also plurality,” says Doshi. “It is possible to love all types of objects and materials; you can love something handmade and rough, and you can also love something very industrial.”

“We have to love whatever we create,” adds Levien. “The nature of beauty is unquantifiable and yet such a durable quality. The criteria for us is that we have to be able to return to something. We have to enjoy it and we have to love it.”

Bolon flooring in Vetenskapens hus, Luleå
Post Present & Future

40. Vetenskapens Hus

As a former post office in the city of Luleå is transformed into a scientific meeting place for the 21st century, we take a look at the history and future of this very public building.

When Sweden's postal service lost its monopoly in the early 1990s, the future looked bleak for its network of sorting offices and public buildings. What to do with a collection of buildings which, on the face of it, had suddenly become obsolete? It is the same question being faced by many sectors worldwide. Just as libraries are being distilled into depots and service points, so too are banking services now offered through mobile applications. Meanwhile, urban transport networks have done away with ticket cashiers and conductors almost altogether . The reassuring reliability of the pos tal service – and its centrality to city life – no longer requires the spaces it once did..

Nevertheless, the buildings that once housed these services often remain. In the city of Luleå, Sweden, a monument to the postal service of old has recently found a new lease of life. The city’s former central post office, designed by architect Lars-Erik Lallerstedt in the 1950s, has been transformed into the Vetenskapens hus (literally, “the House of Science”), a contemporary meeting place dedicated to the public understanding of science. The interior was designed with the help of Wingårdhs, the practice of Swedish architect Gert Wingårdh, and the project’s success is testament to the quality of the original structure. The Vetenskapens hus showcases a true Swedish modernist at his best. 

Lars-Erik Lallerstedt spent the majority of his career as the senior architect of the Swedish Postal Service, for which he designed public buildings. The mid-20th century was a period of intense investment in public projects in Sweden, and between 1942 and 1962 Lallerstedt designed and realised a total of 15 sorting offices across the country. Lallerstedt approached the dominant design language of Nordic Functionalism with a modest confidence, treating the modernist dogma of “form follows function” less doctrinally than many of his contemporaries. The results of this attitude to design are particularly clear in the sub-arctic city of Luleå in Norrbotten, Sweden’s northernmost län. 

Throughout the 1950s, Luleå benefited from a booming local steel industry. Off the back of this, the city built the world’s first indoor shopping centre (designed by Ralph Erskine) and an ostentatious set of public baths. The city hall, a building typology often seen as a benchmark of a conurbation’s prosperity, was designed by architect Bo Cederlöf and, in its extravagance, became known locally as The Marble Palace. Amid this intensity of post-war public building, Lallerstedt drew up plans for a post office in the heart of the city. He envisioned a light, bright collection of rooms surrounding a central hall, spanned by a single vaulted ceiling. Within this tall room, which was lit from above, the daily activity of the post office occurred at desks arranged around a central horseshoe-shaped space, providing an inventive means for preventing queues from intersecting during busy periods. 

Following the building’s completion in 1953, Erik Swartling, director general of the Swedish Postal Service, declared Luleå’s new post office to be “one of Sweden’s most beautiful”. This was no exaggeration. Although simple, lean and modest, Lallerstedt’s building had warmth. The whitewashed walls were complemented by wood panelling; the rigidity of the plan was offset by its sinuously curved ceiling; and the lace-like staircase and balcony banister suggested ornamental playfulness without compromising overall clarity.

When the post office left Lallerstedt’s building at the turn of the 21st century, the space’s design and central location didn’t go unnoticed. In 2011, Luleå University of Technology, alongside The Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences and the Kiruna-based mining company LKAB, began searching for a venue that could house its plans for the Vetenskapens hus. The former post office was quickly identified as an ideal space. Soon afterwards, Wingårdhs was commissioned to transform the building’s interior, making it fit for its new purpose. 

“The architectural qualities of the existing building were obvious to us, and it was in very good condition,” says project architect Helena Toresson. The architects were clear that “the interior of the main hall would be tampered with as little as possible” and their first move was to study the building’s original material palette in order to tease out an appropriate contemporary response. Aside from bringing more natural light into the central hall, their work centred on non-structural interventions. New elements have been limited to a reduced vocabulary of details and patterns, all inspired by the existing building. It was decided, for instance, that the latticed ironwork on the staircase and balcony would be etched on the mirror wall of the first-floor restaurant and the radiator grates in the dining room.


The central hall’s horseshoe shape – now without its radial enclosure – has been abstracted into a simple circular chandelier that is suspended from the vault. For an installation that appears almost weightless, the chandelier tips the scales at a little over one-and-a-half tonnes. For Toresson, this “halo of light” was an important design move because it allowed for a level of flexibility in the lighting and integrated sound system that caters to the space’s new functional variety – it houses everything from lectures and debates, to intimate musical performances and film screenings. Rather than dotting cables and little plastic boxes around the walls and ceiling, the entire PA system is housed in this single bespoke appliance. “It was an early conceptual idea that embodied our intentions to realise the renovation in a way that was both bold and careful at the same time,” says Toresson.

The floor, often overlooked in projects of this kind, was given equally careful consideration. The horseshoe’s original mosaic floor of Swedish green marble and black terrazzo, flecked with white and arranged in a scale-like pattern of geometrical triangles, was preserved. A solution for the remaining floor area came from Bolon. “In a city such as Luleå, where it snows a great deal, you have to expect considerable wear and tear,” says Toresson. “So we looked to Bolon.” The architects needed a material tough enough to absorb heavy use that, at the same time, complemented the existing marble and its geometric theme. Wingårdhs selected a Bolon triangle tile with a rough grain – the deep-grey colour of which fluctuates dependent on light conditions – to complete the new surface. These triangles, which form a decorative pattern to fill any gaps, gave the architects complete freedom to decide how, and where, it would be laid.

High-quality furnishings form part of the interior’s updated material palette of leather, ash wood, and marble. Seats are stackable and easy to store, while the tables are slightly curved to follow the contour of the floor. Storage cabinets have been integrated into the wall space and the rich, Swedish green marble has been cleverly deployed to create accents of colour on wall surfaces, in the bathrooms, and on furniture. 

The architects have engaged in what they describe as a “liberating dialogue” between Lars-Erik Lallerstedt and the demands of a 21st-century university space. The interventions that they have grafted into the existing spaces pay homage to the building’s original playfulness, as well as its purity. Importantly, they have recognised Lallerstedt’s subtle departure from the typical mode of Functionalism, sensitively transforming its use from a place of commerce to a city-central, contemporary meeting space. Above all, Luleå’s new Vetenskapens hus intelligently demonstrates how successful the adaptive reuse of disused spaces can really be. “We recognised that in the case of this building there would be no need for a stylistic restoration,” says Toresson. “The goal was to preserve its heart and soul.” 

Swedish designer and artist Martin Bergström
Fade to Grey

48. A Strange Kind of Dance

Swedish designer and artist Martin Bergström finds inspiration in materials that are not normally used for garments. In the midst of working on a project for Milan fashion week, he talks about his strikingly dynamic creations and a special project commissioned by Bolon. 

The seasonal fashion shows are in full swing, but you mostly work on a project basis. Do you prefer it this way?

I’m a bit against that seasonal system. I think it ’s a pity that it ’s so often about trends and not about fashion, because those are two different things for me. Fashion and style are amazing and it ’s interesting to see the cycle of trends but when you see the new is not really new… I have no problem with showing clothes twice a year, but to say, “next spring this is what you are going to wear,” is a bit too authoritative. We have to focus on more important things.

How did the collaboration with Bolon come about?

It all happened really nicely. I met Annica Eklund [owner and CEO of Bolon] through a friend at a Christmas party last year. We saw each other again afterwards, it clicked and we decided to do something together. Annica came up with the idea of creating something for the magazine. I visited the factory in Ulricehamn and it opened my eyes to all the possibilities. I didn’t know much about Bolon before – I only knew they created flooring. I like the way that they produce everything in Sweden, how they care for the environment. That is really very rare today. 

Den här intervjun är ett utdrag ur Projects We Love 2016. Läs hela intervjun med Martin Bergström genom att ladda ned magasinet nedan.

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