Studio KO: Architecture with Attitude
Visionary Parisian architects Olivier Marty and Karl Fournier, co-founders of Studio KO, are very dear friends and collaborators of ours. Known for their unique approach to minimalist excess and purposeful integration of place, they've created sublime retreats from London to Morocco, from Asia to California. We interviewed the duo recently as they are finishing our Flamingo Estate, to learn about their creative process, taste, and vision.
What's your creative process when you're asked to do a house or a museum?
Usually we try to not to give a shape to things too quickly. We focus on an idea, some words, an impression, and keep the doors open as much as possible. It starts very abstractly, then it just gradually becomes a shape. We try to stay away from any reference. Of course in our job, we're nourished, we're fed, there's so much happening before us and we try to stay away from that as much as possible, especially the contemporary architecture of today, and even beautiful examples from the past. We try to note them, but release their weight, to be able to give in to our own observations, rather than give in to anyone else.
Could you walk us through an example of this creative process, for example, in the house you did in the Moroccan desert, Villa K?
Because the land was the last land at the end of the village before the countryside, we wanted the house to be the last layer of the village, the link between the end of the village and the beginning of the emptiness. It's an idea prior to a shape. When you arrive from the village, you feel it's another edition of little mud houses, but gradually, as you enter the house you discover, "Oh my god, it's a contemporary house." You always have this idea in mind which is words, but you try betray it until the very end of the project.
How do you complement each other in the creative process? Is there a visionary and a catalyst?
We're extremely different from each other. We're both creators, but Karl is much more into words and thoughts. He's more literary and intellectual. I [Olivier] am much more into shapes of feelings and sensations. I draw. So it's two very different approaches to the same idea we share. He'll read me a text and then I'll sketch things to express sensations or materials and textures. We're two halves of a good person! It's been so long working like this: one starting a sentence and the other finishing it. When we have quality time to discuss something, it's extremely fluid. We just need a few words and then the other one says, "Okay." Dum, dum, dum. We have a very accurate understanding of each other.
What do you think architecture allows you to achieve?
So much! It's a whole world. It's huge. It's global. It's making culture. It's a real art, but at the same time, it's about understanding people, making them happy. Imagining houses for people to live in, understanding who they are, changing their lives, being part of their intimacy. It's very fulfilling.
You connect on a human level with your clients.
And we make an inscription into the landscape for a very, very, very long time, hopefully, if it's not destroyed. We don't do temporary architecture. Some great architects do but the architecture we do is really meant even to become ruins at some point, should become beautiful ruins. So there's a trace in the landscape. That's why it's so important for us what relationship, your building has with the landscape and the context. It should be something you build, but builds you up at the same time. It's very rewarding when people are happy, actually. When the place where you've been asked to design a building has embraced it, has welcomed it, and in a way become even more beautiful with the building than without. It's not always this way, but it can be really rewarding when it is.
What would be a good definition of Studio KO's style?
We don't like the word style, actually. We prefer attitude. It's more an approach that's full of what others have called "déférence."
There's a landscape, a history that's existed for thousands of years before you came, so we try to listen first, understand, and try to do just what's needed. Observation, understanding, listening, feeling... and then mixing all those things that don't come after the first idea. Otherwise, it's just a manifesto of our ego. So first, we try to be embraced by the context, and then we have our idea, rather than the opposite. Understanding and listening, before doing. It requires respect, of the cultures and geographical sites we're given. It's like saying, okay, let's show respect to the white page. We're going to write something on it. Let's look at this page, let's touch it. What is it? What are others expecting from us? And then let's do it. It's more an attitude than a style.
What spaces do you have the most fun creating?
Bathrooms or wet rooms are always very interesting. Any room that's useless, like a vestibule. A chapel: somewhere you can have complete freedom. Empty spaces. A kitchen could be amazing to make. Old rooms. I would say everything is an interesting exercise, actually.
What about Flamingo Estate? How did that happen?
That was like a UFO for us. It was so fun to do. We tried to illustrate someone's personality, which is hard to do unless you are a Cubist and designing every dimension in 2D. We tried to design a place that resembles Richard, and I think we did that. This house couldn't exist for anyone other than him, and we wanted to express the quintessence of L.A., the fantasy of it.
The Lights. The glamour. The causality, as well. All of that. We were very keen on the little contemporary buildings spread throughout the property, the Bathing Tower and the Office Pavilion. To us, they give a sense to the whole property. It's not just an old, funny house restored in a crazy way. It's also some daring abstract objects, and the conversation between all of them.
Did you have any overarching idea for the property?
Our initial idea was that we wanted this property to be an architectural park, like a Garden of Follies. You know, the way they used to do it in the 19th century, where there'd be the Hawkeye, and then an Egyptian temple, a Pyramid, a fake river. The composition of all those objects makes it interesting. This is what we were dreaming of for Flamingo Estate.
How do you see architecture in 100 years from now? Everything 3D-printed?
Hmm. No. I see it being the opposite of what we're expecting: things coming back to us with subtle craftsmanship in a different way. Changes that aren't the obvious vision of modernity. I might be wrong there, but I hope I'm not.
Words by The Editors and Studio KO. Photos courtesy of Studio KO. Top photo YSL museum in Marrakesh.