AMANDA LEVETE

Acclaimed UK architect Amanda Levete – head of AL_A studio, and formerly of Future Systems – has created this year's MPavilion for Melbourne. A futuristic take on a forest canopy, the temporary pavilion forms a welcoming glade for all-comers, hosting a programme of 300 spring/summer events. Inspired by 2015's theme 'Architecture of Wellbeing', it's the second in a series of four pavilions bringing cutting-edge architecture to the city, a dreamy space for a sun-kissed season. 

BY SOPHIE DAVIES

What inspired your MPavilion?
One of the things about the Melbourne climate is ‘four seasons in one day’, and we responded to that with our MPavilion. For me the very nature of a pavilion is that of a bandstand. I took this literally, forgetting all about walls and designing something that creates a magical quality of life. We wanted to create a sensation of a tree canopy and play with sunlight, wind and rain. We used the canopy to filter out the harshest summer sun and aimed to add the noise of wind as it passes through.

How do you hope people will use and enjoy it?
Rooting the pavilion in its parkland setting, I want to create the sensation of a forest canopy in the heart of the city that gives shelter to a programme of events. Wouldn’t it be lovely if, as dusk is falling, there are kids lounging on beanbags while an actor reads them a bedtime story? Then they'll be taken home, falling asleep, in their buggies. That sort of communal storytelling is very powerful. It’s a slightly dreamy experience.

What can temporary pavilions bring to a city, and to an architect?
The brief for MPavilion 2015 is a great opportunity to design a structure that responds to its climate and landscape. I’m interested in exploiting the temporary nature of the pavilion form to produce a design that speaks in response to the weather. What really drew me to the pavilion commission is the opportunity to do things that you could never do with a building.

What were the material or technical challenges involved?
I wanted to use a material that is translucent, incredibly lightweight and seemingly very fragile. The construction industry is a fairly slow-moving beast, but Australia has some of the finest boat builders in the world. We worked with a yacht fabricator to employ their boundary-pushing technology, to create something that looks fragile but is actually really strong. The 43 translucent resin petals are reinforced with carbon fibre strands that span up to five metres and are only three millimetres thick. Supported on slender, four-metre-high carbon fibre columns, the structure is designed to sway in the wind, with lighting and a soundscape that activates at sunset.

What are your next projects?
There’s a new Southampton centre I’m creating for UK cancer care charity Maggie’s and our expansion of the Victoria & Albert Museum, the world’s largest museum of decorative arts and design, is due to open in 2017. The Exhibition Road Building (above) will have a new entrance, a 1,500-square-metre gallery for temporary exhibitions and a courtyard all made out of porcelain.

What’s your design philosophy?
Architecture shouldn’t be about playing by the rules. It should be about challenging the brief you’re given, about breaking boundaries. Here is an artistic discipline that involves things like functionality, building codes and planning logistics; it combines everything I love. AL_A is more driven by conceptual thinking than formalism, so it’s less easy to identify an architectural style in what we do now. What binds all our projects together is a very rigorous, but intuitive, way of thinking.

Where do you get inspiration?
I love the fact that architecture is an artistic discipline with very real constraints. Size has never mattered to me. You could do something incredible in a piece of furniture. A temporary experience is almost more difficult than a permanent one. I’ve always functioned best when there’s something to push against. Whatever project I’m working on, I immerse myself in each new world. That might mean researching the culture or reading up on relevant literature. You come out of every project changed. You just learn so much.

What’s currently exciting you in design, architecture or style?
Australia is an exciting place for architecture because of the expansive landscape and what that allows for private houses. That genre has really exploded. I love the varying characteristics of different areas – for example in Melbourne, inner-north Fitzroy (first three images, above) as compared to St Kilda (above) with its proximity to the sea.

Which design era, building or interior has influenced you the most?
The Centre Pompidou in Paris (above, by Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano) is one of my favourite buildings because conceptually it’s so groundbreaking. The Pompidou changed forever the way we look at museums by being fabulous and yet taking away the pomp. It also totally regenerated the area. Like the Sydney Opera House, it became a national icon recognised around the world. The value of it is incalculable. 
mpavilion.org

MPavilion is at Queen Victoria Gardens, Melbourne, opposite NGV International, from 5 October 2015 to 7 February 2016. Entry is free with a café kiosk run by Three Thousand Thieves. For more on Amanda Levete's 25XDesign project check back with the Fizz this Wednesday 7 October.

Photo credits: Amanda Levete portrait copyright Peter Guenzel; MPavilion by John Gollings; V&A copyright AL_A; Sydney Opera House at Dawn courtesy of Sydney Opera House Trust; Centre Pompidou, Fitzroy and St Kilda by Sophie Davies.

POLLY DICKENS Habitat

Polly Dickens is a well-known figure on the London design scene. Famous for her brilliant eye, she has travelled the world as a buyer for retailers including Anthropologie, Liberty and The Conran Shop. Now Creative Director at Habitat, she has gone full circle back to her Conran roots charting the unexpected colour combos, textures and patterns that embody Habitat's genre-hopping, global mix.

BY CLAIRE BINGHAM

Tell us about your new collection for Habitat.
We’ve looked at a range of ideas for AW15 from the 1980s Memphis design movement to mid-century America, 1950s Scandinavia and modern-day Africa. Our designers have translated these ideas into a collection that ticks lots of boxes with interesting use of materials, strong shapes and bright colours. My favourite is the new 'Astrid' light designed by Matthew Long, which was inspired by DNA molecules for a simple but elegant, graphic lighting concept. His 'Hawkins' armchair is also a real statement combining an angular shape with chrome frames and mixed fabric textures (see our picks from the Habitat AW15 collection here).

ABOVE RIGHT: 'Hawkins' armchair by Matthew Long in green wool and grey velvet, £995, Habitat
BELOW: 'Astrid' lights by Matthew Long, from £70, Habitat

What aspect of the range do you love the most?
That it’s brave and makes a statement. I always admired Habitat for creating designs that have a distinct personality – designs that aren’t afraid to challenge conventions and push people into looking at home furnishings in a different way. With this collection I really feel that we’ve done that again, creating statement designs that some will love and some will hate but that encourage people to be passionate and engage with design. Nobody else is doing that on the high street but it’s where Habitat will always be.

How would you sum up your style as a designer?
I’m not a designer as such but more of an editor – putting together designs and products for the Habitat collection and building the creative identity of the brand. For me, the provenance of a product is paramount and I’ve worked to champion ‘the hand of the maker’ at Habitat. You’ll notice, especially with our ceramics, textiles and accessories, that we’ve made sure you can see where a person has worked on a product – from brush strokes to imperfect shapes.

What are your influences?
I find that experience is my biggest influence – experiences from travels, exhibitions, trade fairs, theatre – the list goes on. I am continually inspired by people, places and things around me. These are constantly changing and translate into the collection in some shape or form. This year, the incredible Jackson Pollock exhibition at the Venice Guggenheim was the inspiration point for our Christmas 2016 collection, which we are really excited to launch.

BELOW: 'Mural' (1943) by Jackson Pollock is on show at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, until 16 November 2015

Who or what is exciting you in design right now?
UK designer Aaron Probyn (left). We worked with him on a retrospective project for Habitat’s 50th birthday back in 2014 and I’m working with him again on a new collection for SS16. The way he adapts across product categories using different mediums is fascinating.

ABOVE: 'Poise', 'Pendry' and 'Marlowe' table lamps for Habitat by Aaron Probyn, 2014
BELOW RIGHT: Jean Prouvé's 'Fauteuil Direction Pivotant' office chair by G–Star RAW for Vitra

What’s next for you?
We’ve just finished putting together our SS16 collection so it’s on to AW16. I’m off on a big buying trip to the Far East taking in Hong Kong, China and Thailand. We’ve worked with suppliers out there for a number of years and on this trip we’ll be looking at accessories from new ceramicists' studios, working on Christmas decoration designs and also new porcelain lighting in China.   

Who are your design heroes?
Jean Prouvé is one. I love his work and am fortunate enough to have collected several of his pieces for Vitra over the years.

Where’s on your travel wish list?
I’m a bit of a travel junkie. My job has meant I’ve been lucky enough to cover most corners of the globe but the one place I want to spend more time is Japan. It is such a diverse country that I have only been able to glimpse it on business trips so would love to have more time to explore. I’m also a passionate cook, so anywhere that has a good food market is on the list too. 

Is there anything you wish you had designed?
Anything from Korean-born, Brooklyn-based Jennie Jieun Lee’s ceramics collection.

ABOVE: The colourful painterly ceramic world of Jennie Jieun Lee

If you weren't a creative director, what might you have been?
At university I was heavily involved with student theatre, designing and making costumes for lots of different productions. I loved it and was thinking of extending my degree into theatre design.

What’s your social media of choice?
I’m quite an ‘unsocial’ media type, however I love photography and my iPhone’s memory is always full of all the pictures I take, so I’d have to be on Instagram.
habitat.co.uk 

Habitat's Autumn/Winter collection is available from September 2015