unliked – the UNLIKE DESIGN CO. blog

a design workshop at boisbuchet

Posted in 1, Been by unliked on August 9, 2014

SB_Workshop

Four wednesdays ago, I jumped at the opportunity to attend Sebastian Bergne’s summer workshop ‘Gravity’ at the Domaine de Boisbuchet in France. Sebastian has been a favourite ever since we came across his work some years ago and the chance to attend his workshop and interact closely with him was too good to let go off. To add to that, Boisbuchet has existed on that hazy big list in the mind since 1998 when I first saw the poster at design school.

 

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So here I am. The location of the workshop, Domaine de Boisbuchet, is a sprawling estate in the French countryside with mentions of its existence in documents from as early as the 16th century. Alexander von Vegesack, founding director of the Vitra Design Museum, purchased the site in 1986. For the past two decades, the estate has been host to summer workshop programmes attended by design students & professionals from across the world and tutored by acclaimed designers and architects. The chateau in the picture above is it’s visual ambassador, the symbolic heart of the Domaine de Boisbuchet.

 

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Day 1 at the workshop begins with a tour of the estate. It’s called an architectural tour because the enormous landscape is dotted with structures, installations and buildings that have been designed and built by renowned architects, either on invitation, or as part of the workshops.

 

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Shigeru Ban, this year’s Pritzker Prize winner, built his first permanent paper building in Europe on the gardens of the Domaine. This is the structure – the Paper Pavilion, made primarily of recycled paper tubes and constructed together with 24 students in 2001.

 

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The Japanese Guesthouse cannot escape the eye, standing on the large sloping grounds leading to the river Vienne which runs through the campus. A gift from the Japanese people, the guesthouse dating back to 1860 was dismantled and brought to Boisbuchet to be reassembled on site by Japanese craftspeople.

 

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I particularly like the joints and details of this domed structure by the architect and engineer Jörg Schlaich, who co-developed the Munich Olympic stadium back in the day. It does not take long to realise that we are witnessing some really great pieces of work by passionate and dedicated architects.

 

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The tour ends with viewing an exhibition about the Domaine at the Chinese Pavilion, a bamboo structure by the German architect Markus Heinsdorff. We learn more of the estate’s history and of the thought and making process behind the various projects that we have seen across the site.

 

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And then it’s down to business – meeting and discussing the workshop theme with the other participants and of course Sebastian, who has chosen ‘Gravity’ as the theme for the work that we shall do. We are five people in the Gravity workshop – Chris, Sam and Kenting from Taiwan, Nico from Italy and me, from India. There is another workshop being held simultaneously and the mentor is Andrea Trimarchi from the Netherlands studio Formafantasma. As the week begins, it’s exciting to anticipate the numerous upcoming interactions within and across groups. Work, people, ideas and a place to match.

 

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Over the next few days, as a group and as individuals, we explore the workshop theme through models, experiments, trials and numerous errors. The process is fun and Sebastian is an equal and encouraging participant in the successes and failures. It is exciting – especially not knowing what shall happen when it is finally time for everyone to present their work at the end of the week.

 

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At our disposal is a massive workshop space, equipped with raw material and basic machinery for metal and woodworking. It is managed by three very skilled and energetic guys who have probably never said no to making or trying out anything new. Coupled with the vast natural resources and found materials on location, the combination is magic.

 

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The woods, the river and lake, the rolling grasslands, the rocks and the earth, the plants and trees, mosses and mushrooms – all offer as much a calming sanctuary for ideas as for the material they present, urging to be transformed into objects and experiments by eager minds and hands.

 

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As much as the members of my group are exploring gravity, the other group participants are discovering and creating new natural materials and processes. By the time it is Thursday, the workshop area and surroundings are busy with activity. There is a mess of material and chaos of kinds, but the design process is very much like that, and to those that immerse themselves into it, it is a beautiful experience.

 

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Despite the quantum of work, it’s nice to take some time off to count the clouds, canoe in the lake or sit by the bonfire.

 

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On Friday, after the usual coffee break at half past four, the presentations begin. As the entire group moves from project to project, the participants speak about and present what they have been doing through the week. It is an enjoyable privilege for a designer to be introduced to the methods and processes of another designer. Consumers and end users do not often get to hear of the stories and design process behind the objects they desire to purchase, possess and use.

 

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Sebastian speaks about our first group exercise together where we played with a can of paint left to the pendulous freedom of gravity. The artistic results of the process have been spectacular and surprising. Simple thoughts when pursued and coaxed often reciprocate with astonishing outcomes.

 

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For my own project, the idea was to explore the otherwise usual effect of gravity and interrupt it with a secondary force, in this case the circular motion experienced by the rock due to its relationship with the pole and the cord connecting the two. The user/participant swings the rock freely into the air, setting forth a circular motion that makes the connector cord wind and unwind around the pole several times before coming to rest. The process usually lasts between two to three minutes, offering a kind of slow and calming form of entertainment for the participant. I call it ‘Two Masters’. Here is a video clip of it at work.

 

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At dinner that evening, conversations turn into email exchanges and promises of staying in touch. Amidst it all, somebody turns on the music and a party begins. Tomorrow, it’s back to Paris and the flight back home. But that’s tomorrow.

A full calendar of workshops for the year can be seen at the Boisbuchet website. You can also register and pay online for a workshop. Domaine de Boisbuchet is easily accessible via train from Paris (to Poitiers station, where a paid bus picks up participants every Sunday evening). Accommodation and dining is included in the workshop fee. For any details not found on the website, feel free to write to me at harpreet (at) unlike (dot) in

All photographs © Unlike Design Co. and © Lucia Peluffo / Domaine de Boisbuchet

 

 

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