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Raf Simons speaks inside Glenn Sestig: Architecture Diary
Words by Alexandra Castle
The Belgian architect Glenn Sestig’s monograph features his close collaborations with designer Raf Simons, artist Luc Tuymans and installations designed for Olivier Theyskens’ retrospective exhibition, with photography by Jean Pierre Gabriel and art direction by Diederik Serlet. Glenn Sestig: Architecture Diary chronicles two decades of practice through 40 projects, demonstrating remarkable cohesion: meticulous games of light and a distinctly Belgian Brutalism co-existing in a harmonious contrast.
Born in 1968 in Ghent, Belgium, Sestig graduated from the Henri Van De Velde Institute in Antwerp and later established his practice in 1999. From the outset, his work focused on the construction of architectural lines with extreme precision, drawing parallels to the craft of Raf Simons. Playing on shadows and light using different materials, Sestig has become synonymous with contemporary elegance. As seen in his design of Tuyman’s Antwerp apartment using wooden panelling against concrete, Sestig’s exploration of materials in cohesion, or even confrontation, is central to his artistic identity.
The cover of the publication consists of soft fabric and cold panelling juxtaposed with one another, encased in a shelf-like box – reminiscent of the Donald Judd minimalist-inspired drawers Sestig created for Raf Simons in 2014 to showcase Simons’ upholstery collection with Danish textile manufacturer Kvadrat. A common theme throughout the work of Raf Simons is his relationship with architecture, often facilitated by Sestig himself. Their collaboration evolved further in 2016, when Simons commissioned Sestig to design a new architectural identity for his brand at Dover Street Market London, which was then globally introduced to Dover Street Market LA, Beijing, New York and Tokyo.
Emphasising Sestig’s practice of harmonious contrasts, old war bunkers dotting the Belgian coast serve as key sources of inspiration, namely their remnants of raw concrete and dilapidated crevasses. Juxtaposed with oversized red and green structural glass boxes produced by Germans Ermičs, the setting interweaves with the clothing and accessories to carve out shelves, hanging units and partitions between the materials. Bunkered together in harsh surroundings and diverging materials, the clothes take on a new meaning reflected through Simon’s minimalist approach and Sestig’s use of contrasting mediums, which is further explored as an interview inside the book. In Glenn Sestig: Architecture Diary, we are invited on a journey through his extensive body of work, creating distinct spaces according to each subject. In the case of Raf Simons, the two unite in scale when Sestig’s encompassing, vast surfaces intertwine with Simons’ creations without one overpowering the other.
Continue reading for an exclusive extract of Raf Simons’ interview inside Glenn Sestig: Architecture Diary.
How would you describe the project you and Glenn Sestig collaborated on?
What Glenn and I did together are the retail areas at Dover Street Market in London, LA and Tokyo for my eponymous brand, Raf Simons.
What was your goal when you started working with Glenn?
First of all, not that I would choose to collaborate with somebody just because they are a friend, but Glenn and Bernard, as I really see them as a creative duo, and I, have been friends for many years. I knew that we could have a close and meaningful collaboration. It would be an easy relationship, which was important for what I had in mind, because my ideas for the project were quite extreme and to some extent even contradictory to what Glenn’s architectural language stands for. But I knew they are very open people. They do love and understand other creatives’ visions, and they’ve always been very supportive of my own work. In a sense it was also very challenging to push them outside of their comfort zone. This is interesting to me, to create this ‘electricity’, because you can end up with a very unexpected result. And we did; we created a bunker, partly referencing youth culture and clubs like the Berghain in Berlin, and it felt very disruptive in a retail store.
What do you most appreciate in Glenn’s work?
His sense of precision. I always hear awful stories about projects that went wrong and led to misery. Our project turned out 100% as I imagined it, as I dreamed about it, it’s a very timeless space. For me, a great architect should be able to find solutions. For example, for our London space they created very interesting things with ombre glass. Glenn and Bernard have an incredible knowledge of materials. It was important to make a very strong statement in the retail landscape.
Who is your favourite dead architect?
For a domestic space, it would be Juliaan Lampens and John Lautner, but if you ask for my favourite building, then it wouldn’t actually be a building, it would be a city: Le Corbusier’s work in Chandigarh. To my mind, it’s an incredible experiment in the contemporary history of urban planning and architecture, every building there is mind-blowing.
What is the most important element in a building or space?
The ideal is to be able to make a timeless, extreme and liveable space. It’s the combination of those three features: the extreme – a sense that boundaries are being pushed – timelessness and liveability.
What makes you unhappy in a building or space?
Things that don’t last. I know people always deplore the lack of light, but I’m not like that. I love the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, even if some of his houses are very dark and heavy, because they are boundary-pushing extreme, timeless and liveable. Bad functionality is also something I deplore.
What spells architectural misery for you?
Post modernism. Bad urban planning. That’s why I find Chandigarh so amazing.
What is your favourite project by Glenn?
His redesign of the apartment of my very close friend Pieter Mulier, and Glenn and Bernard’s own house. Both places were designed by another architect, but only a great architect can take the work of others and transform it. It’s a process that is as fragile and sensitive as creating something new; it’s maybe even more difficult to work with an existing space than it is to build a new one from scratch.
What is your favourite building in the world?
I answered this question before, Chandigarh, for sure.
What is your favourite object?
Art. I could not live without art.
What is your favourite flower?
What is your favourite material?
Concrete, but I’m not someone who could live in a bunker, so if this were about liveability, my answer would probably be wood.
What is your favourite kind of light?
It’s the moment when the light shines in a magical way. Sometimes it’s just a glimpse, the way light enters a space and creates a dialogue with the architecture of a space, its features. Light is constantly changing, but when those very specific moments happen naturally, it’s beautiful. When light is not constructed or manipulated, it’s magnificent to me.
“The ideal is to be able to make a timeless, extreme and liveable space. It’s the combination of those three features: the extreme – a sense that boundaries are being pushed – timelessness and liveability.” — Raf Simons
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