Q&A: Snarkitecture partners Alex Mustonen and Ben Porto

by Hannah Grogan on Nov 6, 2018 in Lifestyle
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New York-based design studio Snarkitecture launched its first Hong Kong interactive art installation, BOUNCE, at Harbour City in September. Hannah Grogan from Perspective met partners Alex Mustonen and Ben Porto to discuss architecture, art – and bouncy spheres

How did the collaboration with Harbour City come about?
Ben Porto: We had an exhibition that toured the world called The Beach and originally we were talking to Harbour City about that, but they didn't have the space indoors for it. So it became about how do we do something outside – it was like, great, we'll do something new. And that's when we came up with BOUNCE. It's a big, playful space that you can go in, relax, connect.Snarkitecture

How long did the project take?
Alex Mustonen: About half a year from start to finish. The good thing about working here is that this was made incredibly quickly. Things move at a different pace in Asia in general, but especially fabrication and resources from China. What was special about the material used for the balls? AM: The main thing about the balls is their lightness. When you're bouncing them, throwing them, they appear to be almost weightless.

What was the inspiration behind BOUNCE?
BP: There were some specific parameters with the location. We're at the front of the mall, right where you get off the ferry. It's really a gateway. You can come and interact [with the 1m-diameter white balls in a 'stadium' created from white metal poles], and then continue through this passage. There's this scale shift – you're not used to spheres this size; maybe it feels like you've shrunk, you've entered this different kind of familiar yet unfamiliar space – on your way to the rest of the mall. 

Is there anything important about the use of spheres?
AM: It's something we turn to often. It's such an unfamiliar form in architecture. It's not something we usually associate with architectural space, [but it's] something we know; it's familiar from our childhood, the unpredictably of a sphere, and how it moves. A lot of spheres, especially here, are very soft, tactile and engaging in a way that a lot of architecture is not. Most of our work is to create architecture that is engaging for a wide audience.

A lot of spheres, especially here, are very soft, tactile and engaging in a way that a lot of architecture is not

White is part of your aesthetic at Snarkitecture. Is that a style choice?
BP: The aesthetic is more about reduction – removing colour to make it more basic – and about material, and tactility. It's a little less familiar. I like to think it becomes more engaging, you want to touch it and see what it is. And the other side of that is it creates a canvas. When [the installation] is full of people, they are the activity; the people are the colour.

AM: It's also transformative. Often we see white walls, but it's not often we see a space that's entirely one colour. So that idea of removing colour, removing texture, removing objects to create this thing that's made from one material, one colour, one approach, it's something outside of the everyday experience. For us, that sort of uncanny, unexpected feeling and environment is memorable.

Where is the boundary between art and architecture in your work?
AM: Snarkitecture was founded between art and architecture. My background is in architecture, and my co-founder, Daniel [Arsham], has a background in visual art. We had a vision to create a sustained collaboration between those two disciplines. At the time we were discussing it, we didn't think anyone else was doing it on a sustained collaborative basis. We saw a scenario where things didn't have to be so clearly defined; there could be an installation within a space and it could all be the same thing. The practice tends to be architecture-driven, meaning that we approach things from an architectural angle. But at the same time we have the art side, which is a little bit of a wild card. It gives us the freedom to operate in areas where many architects don't, or won't.

What project has been the biggest challenge so far?
BP: It's not really a specific project, but more like a genre or area of the practice. The installation and architectural side of the practice has found its footing. It's the smallerscale work… We never thought we'd make objects or furniture when we started, but we've worked in so many different areas in creating objects. It's been a challenge but also quite exciting.





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