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Nov 12 2018

Three questions for Werner Aisslinger

Berlin’s Aisslinger design studio has been a successful pioneer and trendsetter in the fields of storytelling, narrative architecture and interior design for many years. We spoke to Werner Aisslinger about his concept for the 25hours Hotel “The Circle” in Cologne and about the use of sustainable materials in his designs.

The 25hours Hotel “The Circle” opened in Cologne’s Gerling Quarter this summer. You designed the hotel – how do you approach such a large-scale project?

Our objective in hotel projects of this kind is to create places that interconnect with the city and the surroundings to the maximum possible extent. In the social media age, hotels with co-working areas, a bar and a restaurant are real, analogue social locations where, if they’re "cool" enough, the locals are also happy to spend some time, meet and arrange dates. This mix of locals and hotel guests is the best thing that can happen to a hotel project – and accordingly, we as designers have to familiarise ourselves with the city beforehand.

You could make a more general statement about this. In our postmodern period, characterised by the end of a great historical narrative, the little stories about specific spaces or even individual products have an ever-greater role to play. It’s about a need for more information – what country does an object come from? What is its carbon footprint? And so on and so forth. But it’s also about emotional points of reference with respect to the object.

Designers and architects are uncovering an exciting field of activity that addresses historical references, materials, traditions, generations, nature and all of people’s needs for sensory stimulation, without ending up as Disneyfication, i.e. a staged, decorative background.

In Cologne, the storytelling picks up on the architectural form and the time when this contrary circular building was built and served as the administrative headquarters of the Gerling insurance group. The new 25hours Hotel “The Circle” has been transformed into what appears to be the rotational body of a space station floating out in space. The design allows us to relive the futuristic ideal of a time when the evolution of mankind was imagined as a progression towards a fully mechanised future.

We took up this optimistic phase of the fifties and sixties, with its faith in the future, and used its ideas, materials and colour palettes to create our design on the basis of a retrofuturistic leitmotif. The name “The Circle” not only picks up on the circular shape of the building, it’s also a play on the novel of the same name by Dave Eggers, in which he describes a futuristic dystopia where the freedoms of social media turn into total surveillance.

A few years ago, you designed the “Hemp Chair”, which was entirely made of hemp. How important is the sustainability of materials to you as a product designer? What makes working with natural materials so exciting?

Sustainability is integral to the work of Studio Aisslinger. The 1973 oil crisis and the Club of Rome’s report on the limits to growth – that is, the awareness that the planet’s resources are finite, that the ecological balance is becoming unstable and that options for terrestrial existence are limited – brought an end to the naive, visionary dreams and utopias of the sixties and seventies.

But it’s only in recent years that ecological materials and resource-efficient methods of production and use have really been defined as essential constituents of good design. Studio Aisslinger engages in speculative projects in which sustainable design solutions for the home (like kitchen farming) are explored. The findings are woven into our day-to-day work to ensure that environmental and sustainability issues are not confined to specific research projects.

We carry out upcycling and materials research projects as well as projects in which we examine carbon footprints in terms of supply chains and local sourcing. Not least because of digitalisation, authentic, traditional and tactile natural materials such as wood are regaining importance.

One of your most well-known design objects is the “LoftCube”– a transportable, cube-shaped room that can be lived or worked in. To what extent is the “LoftCube” also an answer to people’s changing worlds of work in the future?

Conceived as an innovative and attractive option for making unused rooftops in large cities habitable, in its own way, the LoftCube was a kind of early adopter of the tiny house movement. After all, the project was presented back in 2003. Issues of sustainability and mobility then became even more important when it was further developed into the FinCube in 2009.

In fact, the LoftCube was ahead of its time in many respects, and the fact that it still attracts so much attention today is surely also connected with the fact that the idea of a flexible, mobile and yet attractively designed living and working space continues to gain in appeal. If you look at the places where the LoftCubes have been located, such as on the roof of Hotel Daniel in Graz, in the park at Château de la Poste in Belgium or on the beach outside Beirut in Lebanon, the opportunities offered by a nomadic lifestyle of this kind quickly become clear: attractive places to work.

Co-working areas on far-away Caribbean beaches are also part of the reality of today’s work, and in this respect, the LoftCube as the modern working nomad’s “snail shell” is part of this evolution of decentralised working environments.

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