Snarkitecture creates amphitheatrical installation for Caesarstone at Salone del Mobile
Subversion is to be expected from Snarkitecture. The New York design studio has consistently based its multi-disciplinary works – which range from furniture and product designs to art installations, experiential environments and architectural interventions – around notions of the unexpected and the uncanny. Surfaces and objects are often ruptured and excavated to create a visual language based on natural topography, while a palette of white and grey coolly emphasises form, materiality and manmade artifice. A Snarkitecture piece is an easy spot.
‘We often look to existing materials, objects and architecture, finding ways to reimagine it or create new and unexpected uses from it,’ says designer Alex Mustonen, who co-founded Snarkitecture in 2008 with artist Daniel Arsham (they met while students at the Cooper Union in New York). Architect Benjamin Porto joined as a third partner in 2014.
Visitors are guided through an immersive experience that consists of a large circular kitchen island, made of Caesarstone White Attica, and 250 Caesarstone metal mesh pedestals. Render: courtesy Caesarstone
It’s a distinctive approach that has made the Snarkitecture team a regular fixture at Salone del Mobile in recent years, producing collaborations with brands such as COS, Valextra, Gufram and Calico Wallpaper. This year it will present an immersive pop-up installation for quartz surface company Caesarstone, whose annual commission has brought serious cultural cachet and creative calibre to a rather static product line most readily associated with kitchen countertops. Previous collaborations – with the likes of Nendo, Raw-Edges, Philippe Malouin, Tom Dixon and Jaime Hayon – have resulted in a series of wildly inventive material explorations centring on the brand’s signature engineered-stone slabs.
Asked to interpret the kitchen space for this year’s edition – which coincides with the biennial EuroCucina show at Salone del Mobile – Snarkitecture explores the notion of a kitchen island as a social hub and a context within which to explore the changing states of water, the most elemental ‘ingredient’ used in cooking. In an early preview, titled Altered States and shared in January at the International Design Show (IDS) in Toronto, the designers presented a series of sculptural vignettes that formally reference glaciers, geysers and waterfalls: a range of ‘structures that connect altered states of water to the natural world’, says Mustonen. Each topographic study suggests a scale of geologic time in miniature, evoking natural rock formations and contours that have been eroded and sculpted by the passage of water in various states – ice, liquid, steam – and which are equally put to use in cooking techniques.
‘I knew Caesarstone, as I think most people do, as a kitchen countertop material, and we were interested in thinking of using it in ways that it wasn’t meant to be used,’ says Mustonen. ‘In this case, there was an opportunity for us to take this material that people understand in a very specific, narrow context, and open it up a little bit to create a somewhat abstract, experiential environment.’ Arsham adds, half-jokingly, ‘We also just wanted to build something that would involve a giant ball of ice.’
A sketch book used by Snarkitecture to explore a number of options for its immersive experience
In Milan, these topographical and elemental explorations – made with layers of Caesarstone’s engineered-quartz slabs, precision-cut into sinuous contours and stacked in a terraced mass in a display of the material’s solidity – will combine to form a single ‘island’ with various stations showcasing ice, water and steam. Offering a physical metaphor of the kitchen island as an island landscape, it will form the centrepiece of an amphitheatre-style setting, which will be surrounded by more than 250 pedestals, made using three different Caesarstone colours from its new industrial collection Metropolitan: ‘Cloudburst Concrete’, ‘Airy Concrete’ and ‘Rugged Concrete’. The monochromatic pedestals gradually rise to emulate the appearance of a natural landscape.
The installation itself will take place at the long-shuttered Palazzo dell’Ufficio Elettorale di Porta Romana, a former university building that will open to the public for the first time in 20 years, for the duration of Salone. ‘It’s sort of a secret space in the city, a building that you might walk by all the time without noticing what’s inside it,’ says Porto. Altered States will give visitors a rare opportunity to take in the aged grandeur of the storied, timeworn space before it’s closed down and redesigned by Piero Lissoni for the forthcoming Milan Edition Hotel.
‘Whether it’s in the context of IDS in Toronto, or Salone, we’re interested in creating an experience for people who are seeing dozens of installations or hundreds of objects a day,’ says Mustonen. ‘We wanted to create something that will ideally stand a little bit apart from that setting – something a bit meditative and reflective on the one hand, but also sort of strange and theatrical on the other.’
As originally featured in the May 2018 issue of Wallpaper* (W*230)