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5 Questions for: Snarkitecture’s Alex Mustonen and Ben Porto

HEADING INTO IDS VANCOUVER THIS YEAR, WE KNEW WE HAD TO TAKE THE OPPORTUNITY ON THE SHOW FLOOR TO CHAT WITH ARCHITECTS ALEX MUSTONEN AND BEN PORTO, CO-FOUNDER AND PARTNER, RESPECTIVELY, OF NYC’S SNARKITECTURE DESIGN PRACTICE. Snarkitecture has designed everything from objects, to interiors, to immersive experiences for an eclectic mix of clients such as Calvin Klein, the New Museum, Kartell, and Beats by Dr. Dre  As part of one of the largest installations at IDS, the Snarkitecture team partnered with Caesarstone to reimagine the kitchen artistically.

Their sculptures, called Ice Island, Water Island, and Steam Island, are meant to reflect the kitchen islands’ defining characteristics—technology, performance, and hosting. The exhibit went from being shown at IDS Toronto in January, to Milan in May, and finally to Vancouver at the end of September. The background of the exhibit consists of 45 mesh pedestals topped with muted colors from Caesarstone’s new industrial collection; Their appearance is meant to evoke an amphitheater, signifying the central role the kitchen plays in the home.

Tell us about Altered States; Why take on a kitchen island for your latest project?

AM: We started working with Caesarstone a year and a half ago because the first version of this showed at IDS Toronto in January. The kitchen island really came directly from them— they focus on something different each year and for them, this was the year of the kitchen and looking at the island as a place of gathering and the hub of the home, and they asked us to take on that challenge. I think that’s interesting because Snarkitecture isn’t necessarily known for anything related to kitchens, so it was a unique opportunity that we saw to focus on the experiential aspects of the island, things that were about gathering people, creating interaction, and creating memory around a specific place. That’s really where we started from in thinking about these more emotional tactile things with the water, ice, and steam—these elements you can interact with and actually touch and engage with and see and how they relate to the primal idea of cooking and being in the kitchen. You’ve got ice, the oldest way of preserving food, water being integral to our lives, and steam having this relationship to fire an water. So Altered States looks at the changing states of water and its relationship to cooking, and specifically the kitchen island.

Throughout the process of designing this, did anything emerge that you weren’t expecting since you’ve said you’re not known for kitchen design?

BP: I think generally in looking at the kitchen island, the idea of this multipurpose thing in the home, but actually breaking that down and focusing on one thing. It almost becomes this hearth, operates like a fireplace, and there’s just one thing to do: gather around it. Maybe you don’t always have to be doing everything at once. Rethink the format, the piece, everything, and its position the home and what gathering is really about.

If you could inhabit a space by any architect or designer, present or past, whose would it be and why?

AM: I was just reading today that Metropolitan Museum of Art is going to leave Met Breuer and give it the Frick, and that’s my favorite building in new york so I think I would live there— the former Whitney building by Marcel Breuer.

BP:  I stayed at La Tourette when I was in college, the monastery Le Corbusier, and that was pretty incredible. You get your own little cell and some monks have a vow of silence so you can’t talk while you’re there. That’s a pretty amazing building in a rural area of France.

What have you seen at IDS already, or that you are planning to see, that you’re most excited about?

BP: The Finnish installation, What the Hel, is really amazing and nicely put together—excellent name. That’s the one thing we’ve really spent time in so far, so hoping to get to walk around more today.

What do you have coming up the rest of the year or early next year

AM: We have a number of projects that I think are starting at the beginning of next year that are not announced, but excited about. There will be a new permanent Snarkitecture space that will be affiliated with our practice, so we’re very excited to see what that’s going to turn into. This was a big year actually, with this project of course, and notably that this is our tenth year. I wouldn’t say because of that, but it happened to coincide, our book came out with Phaidon, which was the first book about the practice so it was nice to see all that work together. We also had an exhibition in Washington D.C. called Funhouse, which was also the first museum exhibition of our work. That’s another project we’re excited to see move on to other venues.

BP: And you should see the first Snarkitecture house coming up! We’re starting that next year for a private client.


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