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    Ben van Berkel

    If you don’t work with light, you don’t know the effects you can produce…”

    Interviewed by Ruth Slavid

    Ben van Berkel
    Ben van Berkel © Inga Powilleit


    Ben van Berkel’s UNStudio has a presence in the Netherlands, China and Hong Kong. Its founder’s UK education at London’s famous Architectural Association means that he is renowned for the same kind of flexibility and versatility associated with practitioners such as Norman Foster, Richard Rogers and Nick Grimshaw.

    “We are beyond architecture,” says Ben van Berkel. “We are fascinated by everything that inspires us – by design, architecture, how we use infrastructure”.

     

    UNStudio has a distinctive style, with many of its buildings being rather sinuous, organic and complex. While projects need to be suited to place and client, how is it possible to keep a coherent approach?

     

    “I always try to control the knowledge from Amsterdam,” van Berkel says, describing his central office, which employs 140 people. At the same time, he has systems in place to ensure that knowledge acquired in one part of the world to be used in another.

     

    Light is one of this architect’s most important tools when he is designing a building, in particular daylight.

     

    “If you don’t work with light you don’t know the effects you can produce,” he says. “You can create a sense of warmth and welcome or guide people and help to orientate them in the right direction. It is one of the most essential qualities in architecture.”

     

    It is not surprising, when you consider Van Berkel’s love of technology, that he designed one of the first media facades, on a galleria in Seoul, South Korea in 2003, working with Rogier van der Heide. In a second galleria for the same client in Cheonan, South Korea the emphasis was also on the interior. In a pioneering use of LED, Van Berkel used light lines in a suspended ceiling that echoed the forms of the structure below. The effect, he says, was that “as you looked up in the blackness, the entire ceiling became a chandelier”.

    Kutaisi International Airport, Georgia, RCA - Architects UNStudio - Lighting designer Primo exposure © Nakanimamasakhlisi
    Kutaisi International Airport, Georgia, RCA - Architects UNStudio - Lighting designer Primo exposure © Nakanimamasakhlisi
    Canaletto Tower, London (UK) - Architects UNStudio © UNStudio
    Canaletto Tower, London (UK) - Architects UNStudio © UNStudio
    This is an excerpt from our exclusive interview with Andrea Hartranft to Luminous Spec Newsletter

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