MEET CLAESSON KOIVISTO RUNE
“Design has to work. Art does not,” says Eero Koivisto, quoting American sculptor Donald Judd between sips of coffee. These words are aptly chosen as part of a conversation between Eero and his two partners, Mårten Claesson and Ola Rune, co-founders of the Swedish architecture and design firm, Claesson Koivisto Rune.
Founded by Mårten Claesson, Eero Koivisto and Ola Rune
Focus mainly on architecture and design
“I think our aesthetic is very rational, but we always add a layer of depth and emotion that other minimal architects don’t have. That layer is influenced by our Swedish background and also by Japanese architecture.”
There is no such thing as mere coincidence at the trio’s Stockholm-based studio. Every detail is the result of a thoughtful creative process in which function plays a central role. Take the large glass windows at the studio’s entrance, for instance. Not only do they lend character to the space, they’re also a major source of sunlight in a city that spends half the year in gloom.
Bearing this utilitarian principle in mind, Claesson Koivisto Rune have created countless pieces, large and small: from tiles to toothbrushes, furniture to full-blown buildings. What ties each piece to the next is the passion that’s poured into all of it. Assembling at the studio on a Sunday, the trio reflect on Scandinavian style, sustainability, and the future of design.
Your studio covers both architecture and design—how did that happen?
Eero: The studio was born from an interest in both objects and buildings. There are many architects that do one design or two, and many designers that do one house or two. We have done over a hundred architectural projects, and we are equally interested in design.
Mårten: We take design seriously, but we never forget that we are architects. We approach design from an architectural mindset and not the other way around. Most of our design products fit very well into the architecture. They don’t overtake it, which is a common mistake.
Would you say that architecture was your first love, and design, your second?
Mårten: We started our studio as an architecture firm. But we were never alien to design. It is part of our education. So it was always about both. In some academic circles, architecture is considered more important. And that is not true. We believe they are equally important. They are just different things. That’s something old architects and designers understood. Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright, Alvar Aalto, Arne Jacobsen—those are our role models. They all improved architecture and design without even thinking if one was inferior or not. We want to do that, too. You look around and architecture and design are still separate, maybe because of the education system. But we want to bring them back together.
How would you define your aesthetic?
Mårten: In the beginning, we were disturbed when people called what we do ‘Scandinavian.’ But style is just superficial. If it is Scandinavian, then let it be. There’s not much that we can do about it. We were born and raised here. Beneath that, though, lies the essence and the quality of the work. That’s what’s interesting to us. We try to keep it clear but with substance. It doesn’t mean reducing all the way to nothing. It’s about reducing to the point where the idea is as strong as it can get.
Eero: I think our aesthetic is very rational, but we always add a layer of depth and emotion that other minimal architects don’t have. That layer is influenced by our Swedish background and also by Japanese architecture.
Ola: In my opinion, whatever you do as an architect has to be honest. It has to be you. I believe the worst kind of architecture is the fake kind. The kind in which you are copying someone else’s style, or doing just because you were commissioned to. That is useless.
What projects would you name as your proudest?
Ola: There is a set of tea light holders that we did for Skultuna a few years back. We did it for a hotel lobby and it became so popular that now you find it everywhere. I am quite proud that things we have made became popular. On the other hand, we made a chair a couple of years ago with a Japanese company. It is called Wafer because it has dark and light wood mixed together. The perfection they reached with that chair is one of the things I am most proud of—and they sold only one.
Mårten: For me it is a gallery building in Marfa, Texas. We finished it in 2015 after nine-and-a-half years of work. After working on it for so long, it has special meaning.
Eero: My favorite project is a set of pots we did for Iittala. We worked on them for three years, and we all use them every day. After we finished the project we had a lot of cooks trying them out and we fixed them accordingly. They are the best cooking pots ever designed, in my opinion. But they sold only for a year because they said they looked too strange. Sometimes, even when design is really good, it doesn’t help if people don’t appreciate it.
What are the common influences that the three of you share?
Eero: We all went on scholarship trips to Japan while we were still at university. At that time, it wasn’t the hip country that it is now. We traveled around for months. I’m very sure that influenced us a lot. Apart from that, we are all fascinated by the work of the American sculptor Donald Judd. As a joke, I say he is the original hipster. This idea that you should know where things come from, that things should be honest—he had those 20 years before anybody else.
As such a forward-thinking studio, what excited you most about working with OTHR?
Eero: Mårten was really intrigued by the idea of starting a company that is about 3D printing everything. You don’t need to have a stock or make a huge investment. It’s the future of business. We thought, we have to support it as a studio.
What was the inspiration behind the birdhouse you created? How did 3D printing impact the concept and form?
Mårten: A birdhouse needs to be cleaned out at least every season so that the birds can make a fresh nest and they don’t get fleas. This birdhouse is almost like a drawer. You can pull it out very easily. It would have been much more difficult to make it in a mold—what is very simple with the 3D method would have been really difficult using the traditional method. This is the main advantage of technology. It changes the possibilities.
What should people know when they purchase this birdhouse?
Eero: If you buy this birdhouse, you will be supporting the future of manufacturing. You will also make a home for birds so that they can have their little families and raise kids. In exchange for that, you get bird songs which is very nice for your spirituality, and you also get rid of mosquitoes. There are many advantages. This is the way design should be, if possible.
Is sustainability a part of the future of design?
Eero: Definitely. Of course design has to be useful, and work, and be aesthetically pleasant if possible, but that’s just one part of it.
Mårten: Design has always been about improving things. However, it is not good to say design will entirely solve the problem. Every part of society has to work on it. Design is not only about ecology; it is also about the expression of human nature. To find a way to do that in a sustainable way is the work of designers nowadays.