Eastern European Architecture
“What makes good design?” is a question often bandied about in the furniture and interior design industry. Although the answer can be ambiguous, part of it lies in being curious, dissatisfied, and a good storyteller, as shared in my latest interview that I held with some selected interior designers. But my question would not only stop by answering this very broad question. My owner Gregor, CEO of Otto von Berlin has Eastern European roots; Slovenian to be precise. So I wondered; is there something like an ‘Eastern European architecture’ and interior design? And if so, what defines it? To answer this puzzling question, I asked my better half Gregor, Mariusz Malecki from ‚studio ziben’ and Petra Zupančič from ‚DUXA interier’ to help me solve this task and ask them for insights on their latest design trends.
To be able to understand Eastern European design, one has to expose oneself to a (most likely) very unknown political and historical frame. For most of the previous century, the Eastern European countries followed a different political path than its Western European counterparts – the path of Socialism. Whereas one might think that political structures are not too relevant for a designer’s creative process, it is essential in this case. Growing up in a system, where a central institution is engraving your creative possibilities, the intensity of your artistic peculiarity, will influence the way you look on design massively. Because in many cases, the adaption and incorporation of what you see, shapes your future perspective. Gregor Drobnic from Otto von Berlin and Mariusz Malecki from ‘studio ziben’ both agree to this conclusion.
“Historically speaking, I think there is a huge difference between the East and the West. I grew up in Socialism, where we had limitations in any aspect of daily life, just as simple as buying groceries, but also the design, the colors, etc. It leaves a mark, you will have the rest of your life.”, said Gregor Drobnic. When the architects were asked to describe the design vocabulary, Ziben and Drobnic both agree on the perception of linear, monumental, massive but simplistic shapes and material – a reflection of the Socialistic post-modern architecture. But Petra Zupančič had a different, more modern approach to this question.
“I wouldn’t define it nowadays, as it is just as changing as design forms in other parts of the world. We are a mixture of materials that surround us, culture and history that somehow defines us, but is yet open for everything new.” Still, the question remains on what the difference to Eastern European architecture is, compared to what we have been exposed to in recent years.
“Talking about Eastern European architecture is a very broad topic. To me, the difference is very present now, but more in the classical field of architecture, regarding houses, monuments or even infrastructure. The furniture or product design is not as developed as this field. Furniture is not as closely connected with politics, as the construction of a new building in the city center might be.”, said Mariusz Malecki.
Petra from ‘Duxa interier’ agrees to a very present perception of Eastern European design that differs to other areas of Europe. “But what is beautiful to me is that styles can be (and are) combined – and we start to see more of that eclecticism. Scandinavian design is mixed up with industrial, with some Italian and even with a hint of Boho and so on. I think a designers biggest joy, is being able to create compositions that usually have no connection to their general style and by mixing we compose something that becomes truly special, unusual and interesting.”
Isn’t that what globalization and our modern times aren’t all about?
Nevertheless, it is essential to question oneself on how impactful changes in the political and economical structure as a determinant for changes in the design sector are. The CEO of Otto von Berlin emphasizes its huge importance for a future perspective on Eastern European architecture. “Any kind of creation process benefits from an exchange of intellect – and open borders are key to this information transfer. It helped, especially us Eastern European interior designers, to think beyond of what was known to us and allows more fluidity and combinations of styles. Which ultimately results in having more room for re-invention of what we know so far.”
RE-invention is the key component. As a matter of fact, Petra from Duxa made this short prefix to her word of choice, when talking about her perception of the future. “The future lays in RE-defining current concepts. RE-design, RE-use, RE-duce, RE-cycle. In materials, in furnishing pieces, in everything that we use while furnishing or decorating.”, which she implies not only for Eastern European architecture, but interior design in general.
Whereas our two Slovenian designers share a similar view on future interior design, Mariuscz leans towards a more skeptical view on the possibilities. “Eastern European architecture has a lesser chance than on the western part of Europe. The political and social environment on the eastern side is making that field more questionable. Of course, it’s easier to realize a project under “western” circumstances. But I think Eastern European architecture needs a bit more time to develop, because of its surrounding society, which isn’t fully ready yet to develop itself.”
However, the question of the key-factors to good interior design remains fairy open, as long as Eastern European evolution maintains. To me, it has a very exciting future ahead of.
Nonetheless, the importance of not missing out on progress and its process is key to be adaptable and not fall short along the way. Besides those components, every interior designer needs to be equipped with good observation and empathy for the clients needs – with those obtained skills, anything is realizable.
To get a step closer of becoming an even better interior designer in the future, I was asking our three experts on a final conclusion of the “equipment” anybody needs to occupy oneself with, to reach his or her goals. “A designer has to come to a space and must see immediately, how the general feeling will be in this space, so the transformation for the 3D-visualisation of a rendering to commute to real life.”, said Gregor Drobnic from Otto von Berlin. ‘Studio ziben’ agrees to this view, but also emphasizes the importance of staying open minded and having a wide range of interests, while staying authentic and true to oneself. And if all of the criteria above are fulfilled, all it’s missing are a black pen, a notebook and a lifetime supply of coffee – isn’t that correct, Petra?
Gregor Drobnic, CEO of ‘Otto von Berlin’, is located with his interior design office in the heart of Berlin-Neukölln. His style combines the two essences of his passions: the simplicity of lines, shapes and construction from Eastern European influences, combined with the industrial and edgy style of his new home Berlin. His projects reach from domestic to retail and gastronomy. Thus far, he has realized projects in various other European metropolises, such as Prague, Milan and Vienna.
Mariusz Malecki, CEO of ‘studio ziben’, chose a different part of Berlin to call his home: the iconic Prenzlauer Berg. He explains his designs to have no nationality, or specific geographical character, but more to be remembered as timeless. His signature touch is simplicity and functionality that he shows in his designs. However, it is key to him for his furniture to be the ultimate storyteller of a space.
Petra Duxa Zupancic, CEO of ‚DUXA interier’, has her interior design office in the Slovenian capitol, Ljubljana. Asking her for her signature touch was answer by a memorable quote that I am very happy to share with you. “I was asked this many times before in my life, as this one time by one professor on a conference I attended. I simply answered to him: ‘If I would work for you, I would do YOUR style. Not mine. Yours. I would get to know you, study who you are, how you live and what you like. Afterwards, I would create something that is written on your skin so to say. So this is me, versatile and very empathetic – everything else will follow.”
Interviewed by: Aleksandar Kovacevic