Having witnessed a wealth of projects mixing art, technology and design, we knew at a glance that United Nude's Lo Res was different.
Based on a very simple idea, the project explores the principle that every physical object is essentially a composition of numerous tiny two-dimensional surfaces, which can be blown up into a larger and playfully 'pixelated' low-resolution version of themselves. 'Take any item and tell the computer to generate different versions, by changing a very high resolution file to a lower resolution,' explains the company's Creative Director, Rem D Koolhaas.
Founded by Koolhaas (an experienced Dutch architect and the nephew of renowned OMA architect Rem Koolhaas) along with UK-born Galahad Clark (of British shoe dynasty Clarks) in 2003, United Nude kicked off with several series of characteristically architectural footwear designs.
Now the company is expanding far and beyond, into accessories, product and conceptual high-end design, and Lo Res takes it a big step furthur. 'Lo Res is a design method that will become software-enabled for designers to use as a tool to create a specific kind of design. The method is extremely efficient and allows you to generate design much quicker than ever before. The fact that the principle is very simple doesn't take away from the quality of what can be produced,' adds Koolhaas.
And watch this space; not only has the company just launched its brand new New York flagship store but it also partnered with leading 3D software company Rapidform to develop the Lo Res software. Here, we catch up with Koolhaas to find out more.
Your new Lo Res project is very impressive. What future applications do you see for it?
Thank you. We are very excited about the potential of the Lo Res project. We feel that the methodology of Lo Res, as it is currently applied, can become a tool that can quickly generate new versions of existing or new objects. As part of the design process, this can be very useful.
What inspired you to create it?
United Nude is not the first company to create a low-resolution object. In fact, it was the pre-existing objects that inspired us towards this direction. However, what is exciting about our approach is that we use it as a semi-automated design technique where, with the help of a computer, we can generate many different versions of the same object at once. By letting the computer do a lot of the work for you, it speeds up the process and presents more ideas and possibilities. We became so inspired by working with the 3D software that in the next phase we are developing a Lo Res software application with the world's leading reverse engineering software company called Rapidform. Rapidform makes professional software for the automotive and aerospace industries but the application we are creating with them is more directed towards designers.
Could you please explain in a few words how it works?
Lo Res is quite simple. You take an object (either a 3D scan or an existing 3D computer file), then you tell the computer to generate different versions for you - by changing a very high resolution file to a lower resolution - and by looking at the different versions from the smoothest to the lowest abstract resolution you can then choose the option you prefer most and this becomes the starting point for your design. Changes are of course made for practical or aesthetical purposes, as the designer sees fit.
United Nude is launching Lo Res, as well as a new accessories line. Does this mean that the company - which most people know for its unique shoe designs - is evolving? Are you moving forward to a more multi-faceted design identity?
United Nude was never meant to be just a shoe brand. So the natural evolution is to become more of a lifestyle brand and this means United Nude will design any kind of products we have ideas for or that our customer would like for us to make and opening stores allows us the possibility to sell these types of products. Recently we've released some small accessories that go well with our shoes but we've become interested in designing furniture and a concept car.
What other plans do you have for United Nude's future?
Principally the plan is to open more United Nude flagship and concept stores around the world. These stores allow us to represent the brand to the fullest extent and the entire environment enables a complete brand experience.
You also have the next footwear collection coming up - what is new there, what is being introduced for the first time and what has evolved?
For Spring/Summer 2010 we launched our widest range of products to date. I'll mention two new products that represent the diversity of the brand. On the more affordable side is a product called the 'Coral' - a 3D shoe made from lightweight EVA with a rubber sole and leather lining that is perfectly suitable for everyday wear and the beach. On the higher-end we've added to our 'Ultra' collection with a shoe called 'The Frame'. This is made with hand-moulded carbon fibre and has a very high heel. Our intention is to create products for every type of customer in terms of style but also in terms of affordability. This is why you'll also be seeing a men's shoe line from United Nude next spring.
To what extent does your background and experience as an architect affect your designs? Once an architect, always an architect?
At heart I am very much an architect. Whenever I visit a building site or look at a new work I am naturally excited and look at the building from an architect's point of view. However, building a brand also deals with a larger scale-level than the products that form the product-line. As United Nude continues to grow, it allows us to perhaps explore more and more categories and opportunities that could eventually lead us back to more traditional architecture.
Do you always design the store interiors yourself and is it your intention to continue to do so? How important is it for you to get involved in the UN design aspect in all levels, from the product to the showrooms?
I do design the stores and the reason why is because, as Creative Director, it creates a uniform identity for the stores that is also in line with the brand's identity and the products we offer. At the same time, when a brand becomes bigger, it is foolish to not get more people involved. Doing so allows you to become less predictable and gives you a higher diversity of design and experience.
Could you please summarise in a few words United Nude's identity?
What started out as a purely architectural design brand has become a brand known for conceptual products and high-level design with a versatility of materials. Even though the brand is becoming more and more accessible, while it grows, it is important that all the products be both elegant and recognisable as they sit side-by-side within the brand.