Clearly, graphic designers are not architects, but collaborative projects between these two fields of knowledge, which intersect in their details, can work well.
Creative industry as a sector has evolved, and many people are now in new fields. If you're collaborating, you can move quickly and we've covered that here. The trend is to be collaborative, and very different from 25 years ago, when you should be a graphic designer alone doing layout and paper weights or an architect isolated in an office running autocad.
“It's a big step from graphic design to architecture, but it's only one step,” says Thomas Widdershoven, co-founder of Dutch studio Thonik, which has just moved into a self-designed studio in Amsterdam.
The building in question – which is entirely draped in black and white stripes – took 12 years to build and presented several legislative and design challenges along the way. According to Widdershoven, it is rare for design studios in Amsterdam to own their studio buildings, which means it was difficult for them to find a suitable space to buy. Instead, they got a piece of land owned by the city government, which had been rejected by the usual real estate developers.
First, Widdershoven says the studio had to convince authorities to let them build an extra foot on the sidewalk, to assert some extra space for the building. Fortunately, as the road is located on an old railroad track, many of the other nearby buildings aren't fully aligned either, so they made a compelling case.
Then they started the design process, working closely with MMX Architects so they had an experienced partner to share ideas and to ensure their design was possible.
As graphic designers, Widdershoven and his partner, Gonnissen, based the entire building on a grid, discarding the idea of internal columns, which would disturb the rhythm of the glass and walls. They moved the fire escape to the outside of the building to add interior space, creating a diagonal line. Floor-to-ceiling corner windows were another essential part of the design. Would the building be so iconic if it wasn't for that design look?
The duo also took the existing architecture as a reference for their own project. Gonnissen says they thought a lot about the buildings they saw during their trips to Tokyo, where unusually shaped office blocks are often fitted into tiny spaces. “We had a very small plot of land and we wanted to do something special with it”, she says. “We wanted to create something that could really stand out in some way as an icon, but also blend in with its surroundings. We wanted to reach both sides, and those little Japanese buildings really inspired us. We were hoping to build something like this out of our own creative vision.”
And while this was the first and most important architectural project, Thonik's distinctive approach to graphic design is evident in the building – especially in its striped façade and patterned staircases.
“We had experience with supergraphics in the past, so this was a way to go from 2D to 3D,” says Gonnissen about the mental shift from graphic design to architecture. “We've just moved through time, from print to motion design and from supergraphics to architecture. They are more or less the same steps. We knew what stripes could do on a grand scale,” said Widdershoven. “Putting on the stripes is something that architects would never think of. It is a typical graphic design tool to bring liveliness and balance to different elements.”
For Gonnissen, this entire speech is part of a larger conversation that needs to happen. She believes that all kinds of designers need to be brought into conversations about social issues and other bigger challenges, much sooner.
More than just the appearance of the building, Thonik was determined to create a “fully flexible” space. They have ensured that there is a minimum of supporting walls in the building, which means areas can be rearranged for residential, retail, restaurant or event spaces.
The walls that are not sustainable are made of shelving that can be moved around easily and the interiors themselves are minimal – although Thonik has added some of their self-designed graphic patterned rugs, as well as other pieces created in collaboration with product designers.
It is interesting that post-pandemic, we all collaborate together, whether it is architects and designers or engineers and environmentalists. It takes all of us living together in a certain way and starting to talk and think about it. The World Economic Forum cites that collaboration between different areas will be one of the powerful tools of creativity in the 21st century.
Setting up and managing these vast collaboration networks and taking advantage of its potential is still an unknown territory for most companies and professionals. But those who are forward thinking can capitalize on the potential power of ecosystems and reap huge benefits, securing a better position in a world of change and transition.