Flying Panels – How Concrete Panels Changed the World

Note Design Studio sets the scene for the story of concrete at ArkDes, Stockholm

Till 1 March 2020

Enticing the public to an exhibition about concrete is undoubtedly a tough sell, but it didn’t use to be. There was a time when nothing exemplified the forward drive of human civilisation and optimism for a brighter future than the sight of a concrete panel swinging from a crane.

Currently open till 1 March 2020 at ArkDes, Stockholm, the exhibition is an attempt to explore how concrete went from lionised harbinger of progress to maligned material emblem of social decay, and Note Design Studio are the ones setting the scene.

Responsible for the look and feel of the six-month show, the multitalented studio has managed to develop a design that captures the excitement that concrete building systems once evoked, transforming the ArkDes exhibition site into an immersive, engaging environment that encourages visitors to consider concrete from a fresh perspective.

In the postwar era of urban reconstruction, the concrete panel represented optimism, a utopian symbol of hope for a better world, to be built from the ground up. The image of the panel, suspended from a crane and swinging across the sky above a construction site, became iconic. Today, concrete is more commonly associated with the grey monotony of the neglected cityscape, and the modular building system that once represented near-infinite possibility is often dismissed as ugly and dystopian. What happened?

Now on at ArkDes, Sweden’s national centre for architecture and design, ‘Flying Panels – How Concrete Panels Changed the World’ explores the changing fortunes of concrete building systems, and celebrates the architectural optimism they once embodied. Researched by Chilean curators Pedro Ignacio Alonso and Hugo Palmarola and in collaboration with Senior Curator at ArkDes, Carlos Mínguez Carrasco, the exhibition uses poster art, paintings, films, toys, cartoons and opera sets to examine concrete’s tremendous cultural impact across continents and decades, and showcases models of 60 modular building systems from around the world.

Behind the look, feel and physical framework of the exhibition is Note Design Studio, the award-winning multidisciplinary Stockholm studio recently responsible for the public artwork Waiting Windows in Nacka, and the installation Formations with flooring brand Tarkett – a highlight of Milan Design Week earlier this year.

Tasked with giving the exhibition a spatial identity that would appeal to the serious architecture audience while remaining accessible to the concrete-curious public, Note has developed a design concept based on the construction site. Taking inspiration from its contrast between organised structure and constant movement – materials piled on the ground and parts swinging in the sky – the studio has sought to translate the positive vision portrayed pop art and propaganda posters featured in the exhibition into its design and layout.

“We want to capture that utopian momentum where everything seems possible and the air is filled with excitement and anticipation for the future. For us, that moment in time is represented by the construction site. It’s a place where you look up, change your normal perspective, and let yourself dream for a while.”

– Daniel Heckscher, Interior Architect and Partner, Note Design Studio

This change in perspective is integral to the experience of Flying Panels. By using objects, slabs and panels at different heights on the vertical plane and in different organised patterns, Note divides the exhibition into defined areas, while also obliging visitors to engage with the space at multiple levels. The design encompasses the entire exhibition space, defining its territory like the fencing around a building site.

In terms of aesthetics, Note has compensated for the hard, cold and often rough look and texture of concrete, with warm, welcoming colours and a tactile material palette, creating a pleasing contrast between the atmosphere of the exhibition and its subject.

“Our task has been to find a balance between the context of ArkDes, the weight and importance of the 15 years of research that has been carried out by the Chilean Curators, and the overarching goal of making this an accessible, interesting and experiential exhibition for the public.”– Jesper Mellgren, Architect, Note Design Studio

Note Design Studio was founded in 2008 by Johannes Carlström and Cristiano Pigazzini, Note is a Stockholm-based design studio working across the fields of architecture, interiors, products, graphic design and design strategy. Now comprising a team of 14 designers, Note has grown to become one of the most internationally admired names in Scandinavian design, working with a wide range of international design brands and winning a steady stream of design awards.

Exquisite Online speaks with…

Note Design Studio: interior architect and partner Daniel Heckscher, and architect Jesper Mellgren about creating the design concept of the Flying Panels exhibition

What is it about concrete that excites you as architects and designers?

From our perspective, the possibilities with concrete as a prefab material, are the most exciting and of course the whole spectrum of possibilities with structure, surface, texture, colouring and pattern and repetition. Concrete is as intriguing as a structural element as it is as a tactile material.

How do you design a space at the exhibition that remains exciting from start to finish when it focuses only on concrete?

This is because the exhibition covers so much more than just the material concrete. This is a story about life and death, shown through photographs, pop-culture, toys and artwork. You’ll be able to explore the exhibition through the eyes of a kid, or the eyes of an architect, and both will find it explorative and fun.

It is a 16-year-research by Chilean curators Pedro Ignacio Alonso and Hugo Palmarola and in collaboration with Senior Curator at ArkDes, Carlos Mínguez Carrasco. How do you capture this immense work and story in your scene?

The pure size of the collection and all the objects give some reference to the depths of their work. And also all three-dimensional digital and physical models. You can really dig deep into the models from all over the world if you’re interested. Or just play with the world map and trace all building systems and how they’ve moved around globally. But we were quite convinced that we had to try to capture a moment in time when all came together and made sense. When everything looked bright and optimistic and dreams of a prosperous future lie ahead. And we condensed that moment into an abstract of the building site. When building material goes up in the sky, making people look up and change their perspective on the world, if just for a minute. When all the chaos of construction is organised in piles and structure which will soon form a house where people get to live and keep dreaming.

Are there any buildings in concrete in Sweden that a concrete lover should visit?

The most recent and contemporary building is Norra Tornen by OMA Architects, and as an old example, Svenska Filmhuset (Swedish house of movies) by architect Peter Celsing built between 1968-71.

Model of exhibition, designed by Note Design Studio. All images courtesy of Note Design Studio. All renders courtesy of Note Design Studio. Flying Panels – How Concrete Panels Changed the World is showing at ArkDes, Stockholm till 1 March 2020.

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