From Raffles to Truffles

29/12/2017 - Written by Ben van Berkel


As Walter Gropius wrote, architecture can design everything, “from the teaspoon to the city.” This could not have been more true for UNStudio this year. An uncertain year in many global respects, it was certainly a year that I will remember for its pronounced successes for UNStudio.

Global Shifts

2017 began strongly for us, with the unveiling of Four Frankfurt. This major project which is currently being designed here in Amsterdam, will be built on the former Deutsche Bank site in the very centre of Frankfurt. Our goal is to breathe new life into Frankfurt’s urban core, and with Groß & Partner we have the opportunity to reopen a part of central Frankfurt that has been inaccessible for more than 45 years to 1000 new residents and 3000 professionals. With our studio’s focus on social health, this project will ultimately be built for the people of Frankfurt, creating a ‘City for All’.

However, as Dezeen rightly suggested, Four Frankfurt forms part of a bigger global picture, as Frankfurt prepares itself for Brexit. Across the globe, the wasl Tower designs were unveiled this year as the UAE continues to grow, while in China, Lane 189 added itself to our growing portfolio of Asian retail designs. The fact that our Hong Kong and Shanghai offices are as busy as they are, and growing as quickly as they are, speaks for itself. 

Form & Function. Micro & Macro.

Sticking with China, in 2017 UNStudio completed one of our biggest architectural achievements: Raffles City, Hangzhou. This mixed-use, 9 year long project was a major step for UNStudio, not only because of its sustainable achievements, material elements or parametric complexity, but because it was the inaugural project for our first international office in Shanghai, and because it is our largest single structure built to date. It was designed, first and foremost, from the inside out, as a practical, programmatic focus gave the towers their twisting form organically. Its function came first, and its form responded to it. 

Its function came first, and its form responded to it.


Fittingly, the exact same thing could be said of another project that was completed this year of a completely different scale: the Alba truffle slicer. Chosen to be produced by Alessi from fifteen different design submissions, Alba has an ergonomic position and weight balance that reduces pressure on the wrist during use. Its parametric element enables a sculptural form with a practical function. As such, at UNStudio, good design is not only restricted to architecture: Alba is just one of many designs that our product design, urban design and interior design units have produced this year.

Health & Sensorial Design

Benefitting human health through good design is, in my opinion, one of the most important things that architecture can achieve. In our daily life, we experience an unnoticed undercurrent of design influence, affecting our physical and mental health hugely. With technological developments, these influences and affects become even more pronounced. This year, through responsive, sensorial design, we took on the root of many of the world’s health problems: work-related stress. A seemingly endless stream of statistics and data show just how detrimental and costly work-related stress can be. Our RESET Stress Reduction Pods, shown at Salone del Mobile in Milan at the 'Joyful Sense at Work' exhibition, addressed this issue through an environment that reacts to the user.


Bring on the future, bring on 2018!

As exciting as 2017 was, 2018, I feel, will be truly pivotal for UNStudio, as we dive into completely new territory. We have a whole range of cultural projects, residential designs, work and campus projects, and innovations to reveal, including some very exciting news that we will share with you all in February.

For now I say: Bring on the future, bring on 2018! 


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