Same same but different

Unique Youniverse at Domotex 2018

Architonic talks to Peter Ippolito about the international flooring fair's new thematic focus on individualisation and what it means for architects and other specifiers.

What makes the theme of individualisation or Unique Youniverse of interest to architects?

PI: In order for Domotex to become more relevant for architects as a target group, it’s important to have a conversation about relevant themes. I believe individualisation to be a very relevant theme because it has the genuine potential to be a real game-changer in the way we look at space, the way we perceive space.

We’re coming from a traditional, static way of looking at space, but this is quickly transforming into something that we don’t know how is going to look. There’s a level of dynamic change in how we consider space and how spaces will be created around us, and this is only the beginning of a longer discussion that we’re going to have – not only as a trend, but also as part of our reality as architects and designers for many decades to come.


But why specifically at Domotex?

PI: The floor is a very important part of our built environment. It always has been. But it now has the potential to be an even bigger player in creating a space’s identity. And not only in terms of its functional purpose. This is where it becomes interesting, I believe. To rethink what the floor could be.

Technology is changing the way we, in the future or even now, manufacture floors, because we don’t have to think only in big series anymore. Now that materials and especially surfaces are starting to begin to become more intelligent or adaptive, I think everything that is related to surface becomes a very interesting theme.


The more possibilities you have, the more discipline you need to have in order to make the right move.

Historically, at what point in a project, in the conceiving of a space, have you thought about surfaces? Is this technology-driven opportunity to individualise surfaces bringing them as a space-defining element forward within the project timeline?

PI: It’s difficult to generalise. Our projects are so diverse. Who they come via, who they are aimed at. What kind of timeframe, what kind of budget. But, in the end, one thing is always a given. There’s a concept first. A strong idea that drives everything. Sometimes of course you have projects that are quite materials-driven because there’s a context and a broader sense that forces a material idea. And the atmospheric concept might be even stronger than the conceptual concept. In a case like that, surfaces will be thought about very early on.


In terms of praxis, how often do you specify surface materials in a customised way?

PI: For almost every project. It’s always been our approach. We try to make highly individualised, bespoke places, which target or reflect the identity of our client or their own client. What’s changing is that this is getting easier as technology makes it easier to do things, whether it’s digital printing or working in small quantities so it becomes more affordable. The world becomes more accessible. I think that’s the transformation we’re having right now in the industry. It’s not just a speciality thing or a premium-market situation. It becomes accessible for every designer.

And of course, as usual, it opens up a door for misuse. The more possibilities you have, the more discipline you need to have in order to make the right move.


How individualised is your life, materially speaking? I mean, you’re an architect and you’re wearing black.

PI (Laughs.): A very sophisticated black. Look, we’re obviously, on the one hand, always looking for a social peer group. But, on the other hand, we’re looking to be individual. In my position, I have the privilege to travel a lot, to meet so many people, to be influenced by so much, which I think opens up my world of choices so dramatically. It gives me a broad overview of options. But this can also be overwhelming sometimes.

In a more concrete way, yes, wearing black. (Laughs.) Collecting a lot of things from all over the world, be it art, be it little things you find on the beach. That’s one part of our world, our personal Wunderkammer, which makes our own little world unique.


If I’m bombarded with images and stories, I lose values.

As the world become becomes more digitised, with its proliferation of images and constant information flow, it can be slightly unnerving. Do you think this increasing desire, or even this need, to mark one’s own position, to create one’s own identity via material expression is a response to this?

PI: Yes, this is a big discussion at the moment. One part of life is where we get lost in the overwhelming possibility of options and images that we all consume on a daily basis. We look at our smartphones over 100 times a day. The average American spends over 6 hours on his smartphone a day. This is already changing profoundly our way of how we put ourselves in the physical world and how we perceive our relationship to things and to other people.

It has a huge implication in terms of how we design things. So, we’ve got two big directions. On the one hand we love virtual reality. There’s a celebration of opportunities and we profit from that, too. It’s wonderful to be in a world where you literally feel there is no limit to what you can feel and what you can express because it becomes more accessible and not just for the privileged few.

But again there comes a responsibility with that: How do I choose? It’s about the curating and limitation of choice. How do I search for things? We feel that quite a bit with our clients. There’s a search for values. If I’m bombarded with images and stories, I lose values. Image has no value anymore because it’s one of many thousands I’m seeing every day. Which one is relevant? How can anything be relevant? So, we try, through our work, to make spaces relevant, to make them meaningful.