As part of the activities that took place during the 16th MUTEK Mexico festival from November 16 to 24 in Mexico City, Adidas Originals presented 'Aether', an inverted installation by Max Cooper & Architecture Social Club. This installation represents an audiovisual mapping of abstract forms that works as an emotional instrument, and was presented in 'La Fábrica', a renovated 18,000-meter space serving as a reference for the electronic culture of the Eighties and Nineties.
The Architecture Social Club collective, founded by Satyajit Das, is made up of a design team that combines disciplines such as architecture, art, engineering and digital design to create installations that erase the boundaries between them. In this exclusive interview for ArchDaily, we talked with the design team to take a deeper look at their interest in creating ephemeral spaces collaboratively to generate experiences.
Mónica Arellano: First I would like you to tell us how did the Architecture Social Club project comes about?
Architecture Social Club: We started off as a collection of the best creatives I had met throughout different parts of my career. Over time, I realised that this was a subconscious response to when I was working in architecture. Much of the job lacked enough expression and experimentation and involved working under sophisticated but large and hierarchical systems, which didn’t really feel right for me. Working within this particular kind of architecture was a great learning experience, but I felt that it was just a temporary part of my journey. I wanted to create a flatter creative structure and a sense of belonging, while also experimenting and working with a wide range of skill sets, talents, and projects. I find that having an ongoing and open dialogue with makers, engineers, artists and more, is where the magic happens for us, and the world of installations has allowed for this kind of expression.
MA: How did you manage to create this approach that combines different disciplines with architecture?
ASC: Although our projects are varied, the process is always the same. We start with research and develop a concept or narrative. We let the narrative guide us in the direction we should be going and then we plug in thoughts from the diverse pool of knowledge we have within our team. This allows us to develop the project in such a way where we are not concerned about the skill sets required for delivery right at the beginning. Because we are surrounded by collaborators with varying skill sets, we get them involved as we go along and allow the project to take us where it takes us. The key for us is to have confidence in each other that we have the skills to deliver any concept we can think of. This approach often pushes us beyond our normal expectations or comfort zones, although sometimes it does get us into trouble, which is part of the fun.
MA: What is the creative process when making an immersive piece such as Aether?
ASC: For us, it’s about research and finding the right narrative, the thread that holds everything together. An immersive experience tries to tell a story or makes people feel a very specific way. Architecture isn’t really any different – you spend a lot of time crafting spaces that make people feel a certain way throughout their lifetime. I view immersive installations as a kind of concentrated architectural experience, and we usually deliver that by trying to make a point or evoke an emotion.
Aether, in particular, was born from a collaborative thought process between us and Max Cooper. Conceptually, we knew from the beginning that it had to be emotive – a visual instrument that conveys the emotion that ties in with Max’s music. And technically, the project was born out of a series of iterative experiments and prototypes with light and different material configurations by our team. The best experiments take us on a journey of unexpected twists and turns that ultimately deliver us to the final outcome.
MA: What are the most relevant discoveries in your career that have resulted from these ways of seeing and experiencing spaces?
ASC: I think every experience in my life has shaped my way of thinking – from living in Kolkatta to growing up in a typical small house in Yorkshire, to going to university and putting on electronic music events. Being a music promoter had a big influence on me because I was constantly working out how to create and curate engaging experiences for people. Over eleven years, we ran small events, as well as events of up to 10,000 people. Even though these events were usually just for one night, they really got me engaged with thinking about space, which was then followed by architecture school. Another great influence for me was Nigel Coates’ architecture department at the Royal College of Art. He didn’t just talk about how to craft a beautiful space, but how to deliver narratives in spaces, as well as how to bring joy and emotion out of architecture, making it more than functional but emotive, inspirational, and thought-provoking. This went very much away from the typical shadow gap, concrete face, “perfect” kind of discussions about architectural spaces. From that point on, my brain was searching for opportunities to create fun and immersive spaces and experiences, and when taken to the extreme, there was probably only one logical conclusion, which was found in the world of experimental installations.
MA: Why do you think it is relevant to generate this type of multisensory exercise in different parts of the world with festivals like MUTEK?
ASC: It's kind of the other half of the equation. There's the creation and there's the delivery of the creation – it's the interface to the public. Festivals like MUTEK have successfully created an experimental bed, which allows for the existence of creatives such as myself and Architecture Social Club. It means that we have a direct connection to the public, which helps us express our ideas, in a space surrounded by our peers. Without this outlet, the richness of where we could actually display what we're trying to achieve which would be much thinner.