Ifeanyi Oganwu: Expand Design
Oganwu engages in multi-faceted and functional projects, strongly influenced by digital design, engineering and an exploration of base materials. His craftsmanship engages in the abstract form using technological processes to guide his design techniques. He creates conventional furniture design, incorporating unexpected twists derived from his sustained and scholarly engagement with architectural influences.
You trained as an architect and worked for the offices of John Ronan Architects, Chicago and Zaha Hadid Architects, London. What led you to pursue a multi-disciplinary practice in setting up a studio engaging in architecture and furniture design?
I cultivated my interest in multi-disciplinary practice while studying at London’s Architectural Association (AA) where the role of the architect is constantly being debated. At the AA, architecture took many forms, from the ephemeral to the overdetermined. After graduation I worked in the offices of AKT Structural Engineers, where I spent over five years, considerably more time than in any architecture firm. My other experiences include collaborating with fashion designer, Hussein Chalayan, so my studio allows me to synthesize my interests and experiences.
Furniture design seems to hold an intense fascination with architects beginning in the early 20th century with the likes of Gerrit Rietveld, Arne Jacobsen, Marcel Breuer and Mies van der Rohe, to present day practitioners such as Zaha Hadid, David Chipperfield and Thomas Heatherwick. Why do you think this is, and what drew you to develop this practice of design?
Your examples are absolutely spot on, in the early 20th century, architects developed manifestos that set out their scope of practice. I would say furniture then became an integral part of the process of creating continuity between interior and exterior, while indicating a break with historical forms and embracing new technologies. Mies’ Barcelona Pavilion and Rietveld’s Schroder House are great examples of this. In my practice, I use furniture as a medium to experiment with concepts that have architectural origins.
Most designers and architects choose famous furniture brands such as Cappellini, Cassina, Vitra or Knoll to showcase their pieces. You chose instead to work with two design galleries. Was this a conscious decision and how does it enhance or challenge your creative output?
Choosing a partner works both ways, I met Armel Soyer when I presented my first collection in Milan four years ago and she has been a strong supporter, giving me my first solo show last year in her Paris gallery. Two years ago, I met Miriam and Irving van Dijk of Priveekollektie through the artist, Miguel Chevalier. A few months later, we went for it and my work has been introduced to new audiences in Basel, London, Miami and their home base of Heusden. I’ve also been working with Pascale Revert of Perimeter, formerly based in Paris and now London. Galleries offer me a platform to create experimental work that isn’t necessarily suited for the production methods of the famous furniture brands, so both outlets present different challenges.
Whether, a chair, a desk or a table, what are the facets in beginning to conceive a product, from designing the form to the function?
I’m very inspired by film, I don’t get to see much these days so I rely on my recollection to kick-start a concept or particular mood that I might be aiming for with a design. By injecting the concept with materiality and functionality, I can then push things forward. I’m also inspired when outdoors or overloaded with contemporary art.
You are clearly motivated by ‘contemporary digital tools of the future’ in crafting your designs. This is also particularly evident in the works Full Circle (2010) and Splice (2012). The later design took two years of research and development before being produced. How do you undertake these technological processes and intricacies?
Both projects are closely related in the way that compound surfaces are used to suggest multiple modes of habitation. The project timeline of two years involved going back and forth with my manufacturing partners, so we could create a work that matched the ambitions of the studio on a budget that was within reach. Understanding the manufacturing process was central to achieving this goal.
Full article published in Omenka magazine Volume I issue IV
Photo credits: Gilles Pernet
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