They rotate, sometimes gently other times wildly: The fabric objects suspended from the ceiling twirl like skirts buffeted by the wind. The varying cuts of the material determine the movements that you follow, mesmerized. The entire panorama is doubled up by the reflections in the mirrors on the floor - unleashing a cavalcade of red and fuchsia. You might well think of Flamenco dancers or the trance-like dance of dervishes.
West Swiss Atelier Oï celebrated its move to new premises at the end of September with this installation "Les Danseuses" (The Dancers). It was a successful start for a new era of the designers from La Neuveville. Ultimately, this work is an attractive demonstration of how the team operates. In "Les Danseuses" the designers address the topic, movement. Whether the finished product is a ventilator, luminaire or even a dish - remains open. "This is simply the start of a story," says Aurel Aebi, co-founder of Atelier Oï. He has worked with Patrick Reymond and Armand Louis for eighteen years. Their name says it all: Oï stems from the diphthong in troika, the team of three pulling a cart. Patrick Reymond and Aurel Aebi studied together at the Athéneum Architecture and Design College in Lausanne. And the two met boat-builder Armand Louis through a competition, as they joined forced to design the bed "Lit dive" (1991) out of bent wood. Initially, the trio often produced non-commissioned pieces, but today they are one of Switzerland's most successful design teams.
At home in the in-between
Working out of La Neuveville they are conquering the world. As a map of the world impressively demonstrates, their projects span the globe - from Kiev via Toronto to Shanghai. The designers, and they have won several prizes, have never considered moving elsewhere. On the contrary: the location of the quiet wine growing town between Lake Biel and the Jura - directly on the borderline of two cultures, is ideal, explain they explain. "The essential is often somewhere in-between," says Aebi. Which is likewise true of their work. He and his colleagues skim gracefully between the various disciplines: They are architects, interior designers, scenographers and designers. They design furniture and luminaires for companies such as Röthlisberger, Wogg, B&B Italia, IKEA and Foscarini. They design exhibitions and single-family dwellings, but are equally behind the "Dress your Body" jewelry factory. And they design trade fair booths, stores and showrooms for wristwatch brands such as Swatch, Breguet and Audemars Piguet. "In the beginning people found it difficult to categorize us," says Aebi. "Sometimes we did exhibition design and then we designed furniture again." Today, their projects are conducted simultaneously - from packaging design through to factory building.
"Whatever the size of the projects, Atelier Oi is the sum of all them," explains Armand Louis. Meanwhile, the trio has expanded to become a team of 30 staff. "We are on a creative journey," says Aebi. Their employees are architects, interior designers and designers, not to mention landscape architects and structural engineering draftsmen, who all accompany the trio for a while before moving on elsewhere.
Their new domicile reflects the temporary nature of their encounter: They have exchanged a clockmaker's factory they resided in until it got too small for a onetime motel. Located on the road to Biel the elongated building from the 1960s had stood vacant since 2002. Atelier Oï bought the listed building and turned it into their new control center. Once travelers broke their journeys here, now all the studio's activities are coordinated here on the 900 square meters extending over three storeys. The "Moïtel" is studio, material collection, library, showroom, model-building workshop and laboratory all in one. One room was left unaltered - as a reminder of the motel business, and serves to put up interns or customers.
The Material as Point of Departure
The view of the lake is bewitching: The project teams work by topic in the former hotel rooms, which have been opened onto the corridor backbone. On the rear of the building is a display window of sorts. Objects, prototypes and material research work stand in the niches. It becomes evident how much effort Atelier Oï puts into experiments and conceptual work. They work increasingly for major brands and this gives them the liberty for such experiments. "We work according to the yeast principle: One project grows into the next one," says Aebi. For example, the designers explored the various creative possibilities for cord. Ropes wind their way into a coat stand and coil themselves into a seat, cord quite literally becomes the central thread in an exhibition by the Mudac in Lausanne, like on a reel of thread cord wind around the stool "Reel" (2009) for B&B Italia. They have also explored the topic of rods: For the confederate Swiss exhibition "Expo.02" the exhibition complex on the lake shores of Neuchâtel was given a glowing expanse of reeds that were actually rods. And bronze-colored rods are the trademark of the Breguet shops worldwide, metallic rods make the poetic luminaire "Allegretto" (2009) for Foscarini resound. Aurel Aebi calls this a creative chain reaction. The trio recently explored the material glass. This was prompted by a commission from Bulgari to design a flacon for the perfume "BLV II" We had to present a fragrance, a good that is as fleeting as it is precious". They experimented a long time before finding the right shade, whose gentle blue now emphasizes the linear and curved shapes of the crystalline housing.
"Our rich store of topics, structures and materials feeds our projects," says Aebi. For 2010 the focus will again be on a multidisciplinary approach. For the design collection of Swiss furniture company Pfister the versatile designers are creating furniture and luminaires with colleagues such as Alfredo Häberli, for Louis Vuitton they are also thinking up something for the home, and for the Zurich regional museum they are designing an exhibition about living. And the dancing dervishes? Who knows? "The journey continues," says Patrick Reymond.