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July 28, 2014

In Residence: Alexandre de Betak

Winding Down for the Holidays at the Visionary Show Producer’s Balearic Hideaway

Fashion show producer, art director and designer Alexandre de Betak lounges in the sitting room of his remote island home in the northern Tramuntana hills above Deia, Majorca, in this month’s episode of In Residence. Like almost every other room at Son Muntaner, the house has a devastating view of the Mediterranean sea, and during summer evenings when the sun finally sinks into the water, each of its undulating walls turn neon pink. The subtle light show evokes the spirit De Betak brings to his work––whether it’s a multi-sensory Dior Couture set or a Star Wars-themed Rodarte installation, the transient spectacles he creates are meticulously designed under Bureau Betak, the company he has helmed for two decades. “The house I did for myself, my family and my friends,” he says. “There’s no ‘work-for-hire’ there, it’s incredibly personal.” Outside, the façade of the classical Majorquian finca nestling among an expanse of olive groves belies its playful interior: curvaceous, white plastered walls are punctuated with quirky design details such as Darth Vader candles, R2-D2 lamps, rock-encased computer screens, 1970s pin-ups (“they’re my mascots––I don’t move without them”), and a Flinstones-inspired tub. “I love that kind of binary, communitarian, organic white architecture of the 1960s and 1970s,” the producer explains of the interior. Despite his refusal to conform to classic architecture conventions, De Betak’s home appears to have very few ticks on the standard mid-century design checklist––but on closer inspection, one sees collectible Joe Colombo Elda chairs, a Sergio Asti profiterole lamp, British custom-made plumbing (to ensure that a shower chez De Betak lasts no less than 30 minutes), and, naturally, a wall tap that produces endless red wine.  

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Hadid Revisited

Zaha's First Building is Brought Back into View by Hélène Binet

Photographer Hélène Binet captures the razor-fine lines, geometric illusions and striking angles of Zaha Hadid’s iconoclastic fire station on the Vitra Campus in Germany. Binet first documented the building when it was unveiled as Hadid’s stunning debut in 1994, ten years before the Iraq-born architect became the first female to win the Pritzker Prize. Recently revisiting the structure, Binet’s recontextualized vistas include a new sculpted piece commissioned by Swarovski, aptly titled “Prima,” a nod to the building’s status as Hadid’s first. “Hadid is a unique architect with a definite sense of freedom,” explains Binet, who has also worked closely with Daniel Libeskind and Peter Zumthor. “Her freedom is expressed by the feeling of continuity in the lines of her buildings and how everything is born out of something, and evolves into something else.” Since 1981, German design company Vitra has invited the most distinguished architects to create buildings on its Weil am Rhein campus, from the Herzog & de Meuron designed Vitrahaus; the company’s flagship store, to a bus stop completed by Jasper Morrison in 2006 and a Frank Gehry designed museum completed in 1989. NOWNESS spoke to Binet about her engagement with architecture and why she thinks Hadid’s buildings are so photogenic.

How was it seeing the fire station 20 years on? Is it how you remembered?
Hélène Binet:
I was there right from the start and it was very different—mainly in that it was Zaha’s first construction, so it was a totally new way of building; there was nothing to compare it to. Going back now, I see it more as a tiny jewel from which many things have grown and evolved. Of course, now the building is also no longer used as a fire station, but it’s in good state and is the start of Zaha’s history. 

Do Hadid’s buildings lend themselves to the lens?
 Her style gives you freedom as a photographer; you feel you don’t have to depict certain classical elements as you do with other buildings such as the windows or doors. You can forget about normal rules and play with lines and curves; you can go back and see her sketches. Of course, her buildings might just be photogenic but this is perhaps too simple!

Is it possible to represent architecture accurately with photography?
It is, but it’s tricky. There is that sense of impossibility that has been my challenge for past 20 years. It’s difficult to capture that three-dimensional quality with photography. For example, sometimes it’s the tinier details that make certain photographs good, not the perspective. Sometimes pictures of buildings can be silent, and what I try to do is evoke some sort of a dream in the photo that can take you back to the reality.

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Master Glass

A Shanghai Museum Illuminates Its Own Breed of Design Innovation

Photographer Ben Stockley plays optical tricks with objects by design world big guns like Tadao Ando, the Campana Brothers and Droog, whose diaphanous forms are debuting at the Shanghai Museum of Glass’ latest exhibition, Keep it Glassy. Opened in 2011 and housed in a former glass-blowing factory, the one-of-a-kind institution celebrates the history and culture of the versatile and captivating material in both the East and West, while providing functioning studios where artists and craftsmen can hone their technique. Highlights from the current show include luminescent creations like Swiss duo Loris & Livia’s impish Tipsy glasses, Chiara Onida’s polychrome Incalmi decanters and the crisp lines and voluptuous curves of Sebastian Bergne’s Corked series. “My designs tend to have an element of innovation, not to mention being influenced by the purity of the material and the way they are made,” explains Bergne. “Beyond the magical nature of the material, there is an immediacy in developing objects in glass. I like that very much.”

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