Many designers pride themselves on their experimentation. But often the results impress design aficionados and leave everyone else cold. The work of the Paul Cocksedge studio – founded by Paul, and Joana Pinho in 2004 – is different. While the pair are known for their use of unconventional materials and techniques, what sets their work apart is its sense of place. Whether that’s creating an LED canopy for the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan or making a ‘living staircase’ in London, each piece is imbued with the spirit of its location. Here, we talk to Paul about their projects, their way of working, and why instinct is a powerful tool.
Hi guys. Tell us about the botanical garden project you’re working on in Oman?
We’re designing a 33m-long sunshade for the Oman Botanic Garden based on the path of the sun in that part of the world. The canopy is a physical representation of an ‘analemma’ – a scientific diagram that tracks where the sun is in the sky at each part of the day. Our piece is rooted in science and engineering but looks organic and even sculptural.
How does the creative process work?
It depends on the client and type of project, but people usually approach the studio with something in mind. Recently, Manhattan Lofts came to us because they wanted an iteration of one of the studio’s statement pieces, so we created a site-specific installation. Meanwhile, Broadgate commissioned us to do a piece for the London Design Festival in September, which is based around innovation and creating a place for people to socialise. Often, it’s about doing research but not taking it so far that it clouds spontaneity. Instinct is essential.
Quintessentially: You work with your partner Joana Pinho. Is there a division of labour?
Paul and Joana Pinho: We complement each other well, and there’s a lot of crossover. Joana’s creative input is essential to my work and, vice versa. I’m a sounding board for her when it comes to the direction of the studio. For us it’s more than just running a business together – it’s a friendship.
You’re known for your use of innovative materials. Tell us about the ‘Freeze’ project.
Freeze was based on the scientific principle that when metals are chilled, they shrink. It’s a simple idea, but we looked closer and started experimenting with burying metals in the snow and then putting them into holes where they’d expand and lock.
That sounds fantastic!
It creates incredible joins that would be impossible otherwise. These pieces are as intricate as jewellery – and just as precise and considered – but on the scale of furniture. In the end, you have textures, colours, and materials fused together you haven’t seen before, and there’s a delight in the simplicity of that.
Finally, describe the Swire Properties VIP lounge you designed for Art Basel in Hong Kong.
We’ve exhibited at the fair before, but this was our first time designing something for the visitors. We wanted to create a comfortable space where people can go and relax, and do that with a minimum amount of materials. We used the architecture of the building as the framework, working with nothing more than a suitcase of fabric and its underlying tension to create a space that enfolds people in colour. It’s like being inside a technical drawing!
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