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Off the shelf - and out of the ordinary
February 29, 2008 | John Bentley Mays | Globe and Mail

The Globe and Mail's John Bentley Mays reports on this years IDS08 "Collaborations" participants, including the KPMB, Taproot and Tron-X team:

"Toronto's annual Interior Design Show, which ran throughout last weekend, delivered a festive mix of what's classic and contemporary, venerable and fresh in furnishings for home and office. But in addition to being all about stuff, this year's fair also featured an engaging centrepiece exhibition, called Collaborations, about ideas — specifically, new (and surprising) ideas about the things that can be done with off-the-shelf building products.

Here's how it worked. Event organizers assigned each of four Toronto architectural firms the job of working with suppliers and fabricators to create an installation mainly composed of a single material, but with a twist: Every structure had to explore the material's flexibility as a tool of innovative design. What follows are some notes on the interesting things these offices did with their commissions.

TEEPLE ARCHITECTS INC.

If I ever thought DuPont Corian was just for hardy kitchen counter-tops, Teeple's Mark Baechler made me think again. Mr. Baechler took some 30 flat sheets of the silky, milk-white acrylic material, then softened and bent them into a svelte, fluid abstract sculpture. The result was more than art. It revealed the ways Corian, a design stand-by since 1960, can be shaped into organic forms that can shift easily between practical applications — shelving, desk tops and so on — and purely dramatic, aesthetic décor.

Liberated from its conventional uses, Corian here became something unexpectedly romantic and lustrous, a free-form substance that could serve as an effective counterpoint to the squared-off layout of office or loft.

KUWABARA PAYNE McKENNA BLUMBERG ARCHITECTS

KPMB's Paulo Rocha, Kevin Bridgman and Omar Gandhi had the task of working with Plyboo — bamboo manufactured in a plywood format by the company Smith+Wong — which is among the new materials pitched specifically to a green-conscious clientele. Bamboo supplies the most renewable wood on earth, quick-growing and very abundant; and PlybooPure (also made by Smith+Wong) is completely formaldehyde-free.

It is also a lovely material to touch and look at. KPMB'S refined woodland hut or gazebo, with a large back-lit photograph of a luxuriant stand of bamboo, displayed to good effect what is attractive about this wood: the natural café-au-lait colour and warmth of it, the variety of its uses on floors and walls and on furniture.

JOHNSON CHOU INC.

Alone among the structures in Collaborations, Johnson Chou's pavilion took the form of a complete little steel-framed building, roofed, floored and clad entirely in an extruded concrete product known as fibre C. Apart from a screen made of canted upright panels (meant to showcase fibre C's range of colours and textures), the building had the appearance of a minimal stone sculpture, rigid, blockish and grounded.

But it did not look like concrete at all, at least not the thing familiar to us in bridges and roadways. Fibre C is one of those new, tough building materials that can be rolled out at the thickness of drywall, yet without the dumb, inert appearance of drywall: the principal form of this stuff Mr. Chou used in his installation was a resonant dark grey, with the texture of suede.

The modernist idea in architecture, with its celebration of wide, flat planes of glass and cladding, emerged in the early 20th century, long before manufacturers were actually able to supply building materials light and strong enough to fulfill the vision of radically simple, elegant wall systems. As Mr. Chou's small house demonstrated, engineering has caught up. Fibre C is an answer to an old modernist prayer.

GIANNONE ASSOCIATES

The project created by a team led by Pina Petricone and Ralph Giannone was the most fantastic contribution to the Collaborations exhibit. It offered a charming lesson on the possibilities of stone in design — old stone, including sumptuous green Connemara marble from Ireland, and something new, a compound called Caesarstone, developed in Israel from crushed quartz, resin and pigments.

On the rear surface of a five-metre-high scaffold, Ms. Petricone arrayed slices of the richly veined Irish marble in a jaunty, kaleidoscopic pattern — a playful switch from the more common, staid application of the stone in public buildings and monuments.

But the drama in this installation happened at the front of the tall plinth, where Ms. Petricone pushed Caesarstone to the max to show off its great versatility.

It billowed like an awning on a windy day. It fell gracefully from a flat surface in folds and pleats, like a linen table cloth. It was even formed into a bench that resembled an overstuffed ottoman.

Is there anything Caesarstone can't do? I doubt it. Like every other material used in Collaborations, this fabric-like stone showed an unusual side, opening the way to new plays of contemporary design imagination."