The Royal Academy of Fine Arts, KADK, is currently exhibiting more than 225 thesis projects at the school, spanning from tiny designer objects to vast landscape proposals. Elizabeth Johnson is one of the newly graduated architects, with an award winning project focusing on the interdisciplinary relationship of architecture, ceramics and craftsmanship.
What is your project about?
This is a transformation proposal of the original Kähler [a Danish ceramics manufacturer and brand] factory in Næstved, with offices as well as an artists’ residency and a collaborative workshop zone. A key element in this proposal is to produce a new bespoke facade piece, with a focus on the glazing process and finish. The material at hand is an essential part of the architecture rather than an additional decorative element. This type of cohesive design allows the architecture and ceramics to challenge each other from the very beginning, which is a unique approach.
…current, reflective and looking forward
I think it was both relevant and charming to use ceramics when transforming a ceramic factory. They also help communicate the history of the building, and it was important to represent the Kähler family and brands past in a modern way; current, reflective and looking forward.
Is this an ‘arts and crafts’ project?
Mostly, ceramics is a science. Working with the chemistry, you have to learn to understand the material and patiently accept the different, slower, tempo. I’ve been interested in ceramics for some years now, but am new to glazing which is an art itself. Well, it’s science and art, as you never have an answer – you start with a formula and end with a surprise.
The factories are looking for perfection, whilst the schools, studios and artists often find the beauty in imperfection.
Ceramics have a big risk factor, and whilst ending up as a sturdy piece it is very fragile throughout the production process, and may break or even explode. I believe Royal Copenhagen [another Danish ceramics manufacturer] have a 20-40% failure rate which is quite common. The factories are looking for perfection, whilst the schools, studios and artists often find the beauty in imperfection. I like to the see the hand of the potter, which is a beautiful aspect. In many ways, we’ve lost the original hand of craftsman, the hand of the builder, which communicate both honesty and quality of materials. The idiosyncrasies in the design and the little bespoke differences that are meant to be, add a unique twist.
Model photo: Elizabeth Johnson
What is this ‘lustre’ glazing?
During a ceramic factory visit in Tommerup, I came across some of Olafur Eliasson’s hexagon facade pieces which used lustre glazing that attracted my attention. After further research I knew I wanted to explore lustre even though it is an old and complicated method. Other master students initially said it was difficult and time consuming and advised against it, but my naivety has been beneficial in that way. I worked alongside Bente Skjottgaard at Superform Lab, who was also keen to test lustres and learn something new.
Lustre is another type of glaze, which requires more firings and a strict control of temperature and deoxidation in order to let the metals form as desired. When successful, the result is a unique, colourful, reflective and luminous glaze. The process is complicated and thereby expensive and hard to [mass-] commercialise.
…my naivety has been beneficial in that way
Not much has been written on lustre due to its complex and secretive process, but this quote really sums up the emotions you can go through whilst exploring the lustre process; ‘…the rewards when you hit the right firing cycle for your glaze make you feel so good. You become an alchemist, a sorcerer, a changer of metals.’ [Lustre; by Greg Daly]
How does your project and motivation fit into current trends in commercial production and branding?
Kähler has done an amazing job to reinvigorate and reinvent the brand. Yet, I believe they could achieve even more by embracing some of the legacy the family left. I am not proposing Kähler should manufacture all their products as in my transformation scheme, but when things aren’t produced close to the designers or architects, the link is easily lost. This link can make design rich and honest and bring that honesty to the brand too. Kähler was originally a Danish pioneer in many ways, and were the first Danes to exhibit in America.
I think people are starting to appreciate the thumbprint again, the hand of the craftsman
The intervention I’m proposing is choreographed so the art and business actually meet, and can inspire one another, just as the architecture itself should provide stimuli to the ceramicists. It should provide a space where people can work together and learn from and inspire one another, and produce what they find beautiful themselves thereby relinking emotion and products as Kähler and others used to do.
Photo: Mathias Skafte Andernse
In 2015 materials and recognition of the arts and crafts in having a resurgence and I think people are starting to appreciate the thumbprint again, the hand of the craftsman. It goes as well with ‘emotional’ architecture, where you can see and feel the process of the architect and artist, which really effects the atmosphere. When thought is put into the details and feeling, you can definitely tell.
The Diploma Exhibition Summer 2015 is open July 26th to August 16th, all days 11:00-18:00
Danneskiold-Samsøes Allé 51
- Architect and designer born in the UK but currently living in Copenhagen
- 1st class MA (Part II) Architecture / KADK Royal Academy of Fine Arts / Copenhagen
- Exchange semester / Royal Academy School of Design – Ceramic department / Copenhagen
- 1st Class BA Hons Architecture / Oxford Brookes University
- Make Architects, London
- Design Brokers, Copenhagen
- 2015 : Winner of Henny and Johan Richters award / Royal Academy of Fine Arts degree show
- 2014 : Runner up for CHART art fair architecture competition / Søren K Pavillion