ERIC CARL­SON

Ar­chi­tect with a Cap­i­tal A

Upscale Living Magazine - - Content - Heléne Ra­mack­ers

WHEN AND HOW DID YOUR JOUR­NEY AS AN AR­CHI­TECT BE­GIN?

I have al­ways loved to draw and ever since I can re­mem­ber, I’ve been aware about how places and spa­ces feel, but it’s when I be­gan to de­sign in univer­sity I knew that the Ar­chi­tec­ture pro­fes­sion was for me.

The story of be­com­ing a niche lux­ury Ar­chi­tect all started when I first be­gan work­ing with Louis Vuit­ton in 1997. The store de­signs were com­posed essen­tially of stan­dard­ized dis­play coun­ters and to be hon­est, I was doubt­ful that good ar­chi­tec­ture could be achieved be­cause of the com­mer­cial con­strains and the long tra­di­tion of a dec­o­ra­tive and the­matic ap­proach.

How­ever, with the LV’s timely prod­uct ex­pan­sion into Ready-to-Wear, and the need for big­ger stores and build­ings com­bined with an in­spired, open-minded Pres­i­dent at the time, Yves Car­cel, I found my­self in a fer­tile en­vi­ron­ment for mo­ti­vated in­di­vid­u­als with ideas.

Af­ter de­sign­ing the first “flag­ship store” in Osaka with a multi-level ex­te­rior façade and large in­te­rior vol­umes, the flood gates opened, and the thirst for ar­chi­tec­tural ideas al­lowed me to es­tab­lish an in­ter­nal Ar­chi­tec­ture stu­dio of 30 peo­ple and a mul­ti­tude of in­ter­est­ing pro­jects ev­ery year. I felt like a kid in a candy store. I still feel like that to­day! The other lux­ury brands took no­tice and soon fol­lowed with build­ings by Rem Kool­haas and Her­zog de Meu­ron for Prada and Renzo Pi­ano for Her­mes. Lux­ury re­tail Ar­chi­tec­ture be­gan to be con­sid­ered “Ar­chi­tec­ture” with a cap­i­tal “A”.

Af­ter seven years as Founder and Direc­tor of the Louis Vuit­ton Ar­chi­tec­ture Depart­ment in Paris, I wanted to con­tinue to grow and ex­pand my ex­per­tise in Lux­ury De­sign to other types of high-end pro­jects. I opened my of­fice CAR­BON­DALE Paris in 2004 and Sao Paulo in 2011 and since then, we’ve de­signed a rich di­ver­sity of works in­clud­ing pri­vate homes, of­fice head­quar­ters, mu­se­ums, restau­rants as well as stores.

WHAT / WHO DO YOU DRAW YOUR IN­SPI­RA­TION FROM?

The short an­swer is EV­ERY­THING. I think “per­cep­tive­ness” is the com­mon thread that weaves through all creative in­di­vid­u­als. Of course, for me the client is a fun­da­men­tal source of in­spi­ra­tion and their at­tributes and essence are cat­a­lysts to an in­ex­haustible spring of ideas. For ex­am­ple, we are cur­rently work­ing with Dolce & Gab­bana, the Ital­ian fash­ion brand. The in­flu­ences from the renowned film­mak­ers Vis­conti and Fellini have been im­por­tant in shap­ing the brand’s at­ti­tude and val­ues. And sub­se­quently the films “The Leop­ard” and “La Dolce Vita” have been im­por­tant sources of in­spi­ra­tions for us in the de­vel­op­ment of the

ar­chi­tec­tural de­signs.

YOU HAVE BEEN IN­STRU­MEN­TAL IN MANY IN­CRED­I­BLE LUX­URY RE­TAIL STORES, UR­BAN DE­VEL­OP­MENTS, RES­I­DEN­TIAL PRO­JECTS, MU­SE­UMS AND SHOW­ROOMS TO NAME BUT A FEW. WHAT DOES YOUR CREATIVE / WORK PROCESS IN­VOLVE?

The se­cret to cre­at­ing a suc­cess­ful de­sign in Lux­ury Ar­chi­tec­ture be­gins with a real and pro­found “un­der­stand­ing” of our clients and their con­texts whether in­di­vid­u­als, a fam­ily or a com­pany. Af­ter hav­ing re­al­ized lux­ury pro­jects across the globe for over 25 years, I have re­fined a very unique process that be­gins with an ex­ten­sive re­search and anal­y­sis that re­sults in a “de­sign strat­egy”. This phase as­sures the project’s suc­cess by point­ing the creative process in the ap­pro­pri­ate di­rec­tion with de­signs that are in­her­ently cus­tom­ized to the client.

WHAT ARE / HAVE BEEN YOUR BIG­GEST CHAL­LENGES IN YOUR CREATIVE PROCESS?

The big­gest chal­lenge to cre­ativ­ity is the abil­ity to sus­pend judg­ments and avoid pre­con­cep­tions so that truly in­no­va­tive ideas can be dis­cov­ered. To be­gin the de­sign process with a “vi­sion” is a sure way to end up with ar­chi­tec­tural im­i­ta­tion.

HAVE YOU EVER TURNED DOWN ANY

PRO­JECTS AND IF YES, WHY?

We are reg­u­larly asked to work on pro­jects that pur­sue the ad­e­quate or sat­is­fac­tory. For me, ev­ery project is spe­cial. Each project we ac­cept at CAR­BON­DALE, we in­vest our­selves fully to cre­ate ex­cep­tional ar­chi­tec­ture.

IM­POR­TANT LESSONS ALONG THE WAY?

For me, an im­por­tant les­son came from my first job in Ar­chi­tec­ture. It was a 6-month in­tern­ship in Wash­ing­ton D.C. for an of­fice whose work was or­di­nary and unimag­i­na­tive. Af­ter that ex­pe­ri­ence, I promised my­self that I would only work where I was in­spired. The most im­por­tant lessons seem to come from fail­ures and mis­takes.

THE FA­VORITE PART OF YOUR JOB?

Watch­ing peo­ple in­ter­act with a re­cently com­pleted project is very ful­fill­ing for me. Af­ter months, some­times years of re­flec­tions, I fi­nally get to see how ev­ery­thing comes to­gether. This is pure plea­sure.

WHAT DO YOU THINK SETS YOUR DE­SIGNS APART?

There is a fun­da­men­tal choice when de­sign­ing in Ar­chi­tec­ture; should the project ex­press the iden­tity of the client or brand or should it ex­press Ar­chi­tect’s per­sonal style? Most Ar­chi­tects choose to blan­ket their own style over all their pro­jects. At CAR­BON­DALE, we are spe­cial­ists in “Lux­ury Ar­chi­tec­ture”. This means that we cus­tom­ize each project to cor­re­spond to the unique char­ac­ter­is­tics of each of our clients and never re­peat a for­mal lan­guage or ap­ply pre­de­fined style to any pro­jects. We don’t not fol­low styles, we’re lead­ers. My goal is that peo­ple vis­it­ing one of my de­signs re­mark how it cap­tures the brand’s per­son­al­ity. If my pro­jects are rec­og­niz­able as “Eric Carl­son build­ing” or “in­te­rior”, then I have failed. Each of our works are com­pletely dif­fer­ent … and quite frankly, it would be a bor­ing to ap­ply the same “style” to each and ev­ery project.

WHAT IS THE BEST THING ABOUT BE­ING AN AR­CHI­TECT?

I dis­like be­ing boxed-in or cat­e­go­rized as it can be very lim­it­ing. I en­joy be­ing able to shift and change, to be; creative, prac­ti­cal, ex­trav­a­gant or ef­fi­cient, tech­ni­cal, un­der­stand­ing, de­ci­sive, in­tense, sub­jec­tive, ob­jec­tive, the list is vast. Ar­chi­tec­ture is one of the rare pro­fes­sions that em­braces this kind of mul­ti­plic­ity where ev­ery project is a new ex­pe­ri­ence.

WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR FA­VORITE BUILD­ING TO DE­SIGN? I KNOW, IT’S LIKE ASK­ING WHO IS YOUR FA­VORITE CHILD, BUT THERE MUST BE A SPE­CIAL ONE?

All of the pro­jects we com­plete are hugely sat­is­fy­ing, but one project which I will al­ways re­mem­ber is the Louis Vuit­ton store on the Champs Elysées. I had just opened my Ar­chi­tec­ture of­fice CAR­BON­DALE in Paris and my first Client, Louis Vuit­ton sim­ply re­quested that we de­sign “the Best Lux­ury Store in the World” with­out lim­its. This of course was a dream project. First, we com­pletely de­mol­ished the build­ing’s in­te­rior struc­ture to cre­ate a three-level spi­ral of ramp­ing ter­races that leads vis­i­tors on a 1,800 square me­ter en­chant­ing brand voy­age. The re­tail travel ex­pe­ri­ence cul­mi­nates with an 18-me­ter high cen­tral atrium space of pol­ished stain­less steel and 2000 sus­pended rods to cre­ate a mag­i­cal hov­er­ing dome sculp­ture. Our fin­ished de­sign is com­posed not only of

qual­ity ma­te­ri­als and de­tails, but also of qual­ity ideas. The project is the 7th most vis­ited tourist des­ti­na­tion in Paris and sub­se­quently be­came the in­spi­ra­tion for many fu­ture LV’s stores, as well as in­spi­ra­tion for pro­jects such as jew­elry, hand­bags and cloth­ing col­lec­tions. Al­though I am very proud of the de­sign, I am also pleased that the project is an enor­mous eco­nomic suc­cess.

TALK US THROUGH YOUR LAT­EST PRO­JECTS FOR DOLCE & GAB­BANA IN VENICE AND MONACO.

I was in­vited to Mi­lano to meet with Domenico Dolce to dis­cuss Ar­chi­tec­ture and Lux­ury. I dis­cov­ered that Dolce & Gab­bana were strate­gi­cally pur­su­ing some­thing that has never been done be­fore; that is to cre­ate com­pletely dif­fer­ent de­signs for each of their stores. This the ul­ti­mate in lux­ury and per­fectly aligns with our ex­per­tise in cus­tomiz­ing de­signs for each of our clients.

For Dolce & Gab­bana in Venice, we sought to use qual­i­ta­tive Ital­ian crafts­man­ship, con­trasts, the his­tor­i­cal & con­tem­po­rary, tra­di­tion & in­no­va­tion, ex­pres­sive emo­tions and sub­lime beauty. A good ex­am­ple is the High Jew­elry room. In Venice’s Pi­azza San Marco ad­ja­cent to the Doge’s Palace is the re­mark­able Basil­ica San Marco. Nes­tled into the façade of the cathe­dral’s ped­i­ment, stands a golden lion (the sym­bol of Venice) against a back­drop of dark blue sky with golden stars. I was in­spired by this mo­tif for the High-Jew­elry room, be­cause of its strong Vene­tian iden­tity and the sparkling, glim­mer­ing, mag­i­cal ref­er­ence of both stars and jewels. The Jew­elry room is wrapped in glass mo­saics of blue and 24 carat gold stars, hand­made by the com­pa­nies Friul and Or­soni, Venice based fam­ily ar­ti­sans dat­ing back to 1889. I love this space be­cause it rep­re­sents a rare fear­less con­tem­po­rary beauty with­out re­ly­ing on aus­ter­ity or min­i­mal­ism … it’s sump­tu­ous. For me, this could also per­fectly de­scribe Dolce & Gab­bana.

The Monte Carlo store is 750 square me­ters di­vided over 3 lev­els, sit­u­ated near the fa­mous Casino de Monte Carlo and the Café de Paris with views out to the Mediter­ranean Sea. Here, the in­spi­ra­tions de­rived from the over­lap­ping char­ac­ter­is­tic with the Dolce & Gab­bana brand were glam­our, ex­clu­siv­ity, op­u­lence and a touch of James Bond in­spired hu­mor for a jet-set clien­tele. For ex­am­ple, the long nar­row lower level space with its dis­creet VIP en­trance ar­chi­tec­turally in­ter­prets the fa­mous 007 swirling gun-bar­rel with dy­namic spi­rals of pol­ished black mar­ble and pink quartz stone wrap­ping the floor, walls and ceil­ing.

HOW DID YOU MAN­AGE TO JUX­TA­POSE BOTH HIS­TOR­I­CAL AND CON­TEM­PO­RARY EL­E­MENTS INTO THE BUILD­ING?

The Venice project in­cludes 800 square me­ters over two level pro­jects and is com­posed of two ad­join­ing struc­tures, a his­tor­i­cal build­ing fac­ing the street and a mod­ern struc­ture be­hind. Dolce & Gab­bana is not about “Bal­ance,” they are about “Con­trasts,” so I de­cided to cre­ate a strik­ing con­trast be­tween a de­cid­edly con­tem­po­rary de­sign and the 1880 Neo-Vene­tian Re­nais­sance style ar­chi­tec­ture, which was me­thod­i­cally re­stored to it’s orig­i­nal ex­trav­a­gance. Upon en­ter­ing the warm richly or­nate his­tor­i­cal ac­ces­sories room, vis­i­tors are im­me­di­ately con­fronted by a fas­ci­nat­ing time-por­tal-like door­way that leads to the con­tem­po­rary vol­umes be­yond and seems to sharply mark the sep­a­ra­tion be­tween the past and present. This sets the stage for what fol­lows.

HOW DO YOU AP­PROACH THE DE­SIGN OF A PROJECT WITH SUCH A STRONG BRAND HER­ITAGE? HOW DOES THE PROJECT SPEAK TO BOTH THE BRAND AND YOUR STYLE AS A DE­SIGNER?

For me, the ul­ti­mate lux­ury is cus­tomiza­tion, cre­at­ing some­thing orig­i­nal by cap­tur­ing the unique qual­i­ties of each of my clients whether I’m de­sign­ing a pri­vate res­i­dence, of­fice head­quar­ters, and mu­seum or flag­ship store. An “Ar­chi­tec­ture of Lux­ury” that is truly cus­tom­ized must do the hard work of con­sid­er­ing ev­ery as­pect anew. So, the short­cut ap­proach of copy­ing ex­ist­ing ar­chi­tec­tural styles or fol­low­ing de­sign trends is out of the ques­tion. This is es­sen­tial for lux­ury brands that strive to con­vey their iden­tity and the au­then­tic­ity in their prod­ucts, ser­vices, and ar­chi­tec­tural ex­pe­ri­ences. My pro­jects must speak to the client, brand and the cul­tural con­text of each place and if they are rec­og­niz­able as “Eric Carl­son Ar­chi­tec­ture” then I have failed.

DE­SCRIBE YOUR DE­SIGNS IN THREE WORDS.

Qual­ity, Qual­ity, Qual­ity … Qual­ity of ma­te­ri­als, Qual­ity of con­struc­tion, and most im­por­tantly Qual­ity of re­flec­tion.

WHAT EX­CIT­ING PRO­JECTS ARE IN THE PIPELINE FOR THE REST OF 2018 AND 2019?

We are cur­rently work­ing on a va­ri­ety of pro­jects in dif­fer­ent places in the world in­clud­ing a Villa in Mexico City, a lux­ury ho­tel suite in New York, a spe­cial events build­ing in Sao Paulo and a Dolce & Gab­bana flag­ship store in Rome.

https://www.cb­darch.com/en/

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