umberto napolitano and benoit jallon of LAN architecture portrait © designboom
designboom met with umberto napolitano and benoit jallon of LAN architecture in paris, france, january 24, 2011.
(u umberto / b benoit)
what is the best moment of the day? u: it’s probably in the morning when I wake up. I come into the studio on my scooter and I listen to a different song every day. I really like this moment. It becomes the ‘soundtrack’ of the day. b: for me, it’s after 8 pm in the evening, when we head home.
what kind of music do you listen to at the moment? u: I really like to listen to different kinds of music. I recently discovered an electronic band called, ‘the emperor machine’ that I like very much. I listen to a mix of everything. I really like classic rock, too, like ‘the stooges’ or ‘pink floyd’. b: and for me, I discovered ‘the black keys’. that’s it.
‘children’s toy library’ by LAN architecture in ville de bonneull-sur-marne, france (2005) image courtesy LAN architecture
click here for more images and information on the project images courtesy LAN architecture
do you listen to the radio? in the office? b: no, I don’t listen to the radio. u: me neither, I don’t listen to the radio except to follow the ‘rubygate’ and when I’m driving a car. b: yeah, I don’t drive.
what books do you have on your bedside table? u: I am used to reading three or four books at the same time. depends on the day. currently, I am reading the history of punk music. the name of the book is, ‘please kill me’. the last book was by an italian writer, alessandro baricco, and the title was ’emmaus’. b: I prefer to read french writers or american writers.
‘jardin des plantes greenhouses’ by LAN architecture in paris, france (2010) image courtesy LAN architecture
pathway and interior views images courtesy LAN architecture
do you read design and architecture magazines? u: yes. it’s a way to keep yourself updated with what’s going on. so we read everything; subscribe to a lot of magazines. we do like to see what’s happening in architecture, and to be informed. there’s not much actual reading, though. b: yeah. u: but, I don’t know–things are changing. there’s this new magazine. ‘architecture d’aujourd’hui’. they try a different approach. there’s more critique and text… but at the moment, everything is on the web. I really believe this is the way. it’s really easy and fast–I love it.
where do you get news from? u: from benoit. (laughs) b: the internet. the internet and, in the morning when I commute (because I don’t drive), I read the newspaper.
first prize winning entry for an office building in lille, france (2010) image courtesy LAN architecture
approach to read more about the project, click here image courtesy LAN architecture
I assume you notice how women dress. do you have any preferences? u: I have a little problem: I like all women. I can’t really choose, but… this is complicated. I like casual or elegant or sexy or naked. I really like everything. b: (laughs) u: (to benoit) and you? b: ah, me, I prefer feminine articles, like skirts. shoes with heels.
what kind of clothes do you avoid wearing? b: good question. for me, it’s shirts with short sleeves. I don’t like them so much. u: large pants, probably. I look really ridiculous in them.
company headquarters in saint mesmes, france (2006) image courtesy LAN architecture
entrance image courtesy LAN architecture
interior view for more images, click here image courtesy LAN architecture
do you have any pets? u: no. b: no. u: I’m scared of dogs.
when you were a child, did you want to become an architect? u: I wanted to be a– b: –a singer! u: no, before that. I wanted to be a painter. and afterwards, a musician. then I discovered architecture when I was 18, probably. b: for me, as well–it was a bit late. around 22? I decided to pursue architecture after studying medicine for two years.
‘loft xx’ by LAN architecture in paris, france (2005) image courtesy LAN architecture
images courtesy LAN architecture
where do you work on your design projects? u: everywhere. I mean, there isn’t this ‘precious space’… I like to think that a part of my brain works in a hidden space in my head and this enables me to discover things no matter where I am. in a bar with friends, at dinner, or in my bed. everywhere. b: everywhere, everywhere.
do you discuss your work with other architects and designers? u: if you mean deeply: no. if yo mean, just walk about architecture: we try to. that was the reason why we started a monthly conference at the studio, just among friends. we started it five, six years ago. we show each other projects… but it’s not a really deep conversaiton. it’s just, ‘ah, I made that.’ and someone else will say, ‘I made that, too’. we try to get their opinions, though. for example, we invited some time ago odile decq and philippe rahm. many people come to our studio to critic our work but people are so diplomatic so we never fight. it’s just a normal conference in the end. currently, we are working on a project called, ’27 a journey through contemporary architecture’ in search of our counterparts and their architecture throughout europe.
‘117 housing units’ by LAN architecture in mouvaux, france (2010) fly-by render image courtesy LAN architecture
view from a unit’s outdoor terrace to read about the concept behind the design, click here image courtesy LAN architecture
describe your style, like a good friend of yours would describe it. u: which good friends? b: (laughs) u: I don’t know. they will just use my words because I always speak to friends who are not in architecture about what we are working on… I think they will say that we research the whole entity of the project. we believe that the project has an identity and we try to find it every time. we work a little bit like archaeologists. digging through social, economic, geographic and historical context to find the project. that’s the idea of our work. the rest, like the form and the vocabulary of the project, are just a consequence of these discoveries. do you agree with me? b: I agree with you.
Q: what project has given you the most satisfaction?
what project has given you the most satisfaction? u: every one of them. well no, not every project… the last one was horrible. b: the last one was horrible. u: the last one was horrible! and why is that? u: it was a competition that we finished yesterday. we moved to our new studio so we just had two weeks to complete the competition. and when you move, there’s lots of problems, like your computer stops working… but the most satisfying project was probably the ‘mina el hosn’ tower. it was an incredible experience because we researched the lebanese culture, which we didn’t know about before. so we tried to meet the people, to get inside, to get involved in the culture, on the differnet perspective of the culture from different people of the city. it was amazing. we were completely scared–we didn’t try to design for three, four, five months. but in the end, we found the solution. and it was an amazing experience.
‘486 mina el hosn’ by LAN architecture in beirut, lebanon (2009) images courtesy LAN architecture
street conditions at base click here for more images of the design image courtesy LAN architecture please describe an evolution in your work, from your first project to the present day. u: I feel really humble about this because we only have eight, nine years of experience. I thik the best is still to come… I know that we are more organized than before, and the studio is more efficient and we have a technical culture that gets better and better. we are ready for big-sized projects, or new programs. but the designing and thinking process–I think that we are still under construction.
Q: who would you like to design something for?
who would you like to design something for? b: good question. u: for me, what I like about our work is the fact that we don’t really know the people that use our buildings. that’s why we work on public buildings. I really like to imagine the people that will use our architecture. and when you imagine these people, it’s like giving your vision of society. but if I had to choose, I don’t know. b: perhaps it’s not a person. perhaps it’s a building. I think about big, huge buildings, like the white house in the united states. u: (laughs) b: so a new white house? why not. u: but that’s funny. I want to say something. I would really like to design something for the military. you know, underground; things that nobody has a clue of what’s going on in the inside. that would be a funny project.
‘120 residential apartments’ by LAN architecture in paris, france click here to see more images of the residential building image courtesy LAN architecture
‘ZAC saussure pont cardinet’ by LAN architecture in paris, france (2010) for more iages on the competition-winning design, click here image courtesy LAN architecture are there any architects from the past who you appreciate a lot? u: so many. the list goes on. leon batista alberti. mies van der rohe. palladio. le corbusier.
and contemporary architects? u: peter zumthor and… b: and some japanese architects, perhaps. u: (laughing) yeah. not in my case. I was completely a fan until about three, four years ago. the aesthetics, the perfect light, the perfect materials, details. but now I feel, I guess, bored because it’s the same formula repeated every time. I like people who try new things, like koolhaas or jean nouvel.
inside the LAN architecture studio in paris, france to see more pictures from our exclusive visit to their office, click here image © designboom
what advice would you give to the young? u: I don’t know. no advice. I really don’t like the idea of giving advice. just buy our book and read about how you can be young and an architect. just be yourself.
what are you afraid of regarding the future? u: we are really optimistic. we think that man can survive everything.
LAN architecture created in 2002 by benoit jallon and umberto napolitano, the french firm has quickly grown to one of today’s most prolific practice based in paris. deeply embedded into the context of each project, their roster of work range in scale from residential lofts to office towers. LAN architecture, which stands for ‘local architecture network’, often walks through their design which often consists of strategic analysis and mapping of the site conditions, whether that be social, environmental or urban. coherent in form and honest in development, the young studio, who has been selected as one of the 40 most promising european architects under 40, currently has a number of projects in development internationally.
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