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‘Vaults & Totem’ by Norm Architects turns architecture into poetic stone sculptures
‘Vaults & Totem’ sculpture series by Norm Architects
Image: Jonas Bjerre Poulsen

‘Vaults & Totem’ by Norm Architects turns architecture into poetic stone sculptures

Available at the ALIUM gallery in Copenhagen, the ‘Vaults & Totem’ series by Norm Architects looks to classical architecture and prehistoric monuments to carve bespoke sculptures.

by Jincy Iype
Published on : Jan 25, 2023

From soaring vaults to intricate motifs, elements, and features the classical architecture of the ancient Greeks and Romans has left a mammoth legacy that plays both visible and unknown roles. From the design of parliaments to high-fashion jewellery and film sets from around the world, examples are rife of the core tenets and features of classical architecture being imbibed, of ‘solidness, usefulness and beauty’, with its cherished aesthetic of symmetry, rational order, and calm logic. This influence is more abundant in projects of architecture and product design, trickling down to art pieces and modern buildings than in other, more popular creative forms, owing to the ease and interest in replicating those forms and details in these disciplines.

Serving as tactile and tangible pieces of architecture, Norm Architects unveil two series of sculptural fragments called ‘Vaults & Totem’, now exclusively available at the multifaceted art gallery ALIUM in Copenhagen, Denmark. The model-sized ‘Vaults’ represent the timeless simplicity and beauty of classical architectural details, while the refined 'Totem' pieces carved cite prehistoric monolith monuments as clear inspiration, echoing the primitive arts of ancient worlds, and translating them into their pared-down outlines in carved stone sculptural designs.

In an exclusive interview with STIR, Jonas Bjerre-Poulsen, founding partner of Norm Architects relays that “the sculptures play on both materiality, light and shadow as well as narrative and symbolic elements. Spaces and objects provide the necessary matter with which to harness light—an element that plays an essential role in human well-being and that offers a profound spectrum of expression. If we work poetically with light and shadow—balancing the two poles—we can design atmospheric spaces that please both body and mind and that move us emotionally. The interconnecting play of void and matter becomes evident as daylight moves through the sculptures.”

“Inspired by classical architecture and prehistoric monuments alike, both ‘Vaults & Totem’ exude a unique character, making them monolithic on their own, while turning them into a dialogical landscape when placed amongst each other,” shares the architecture and design studio based in Copenhagen, specialising in projects of residential architecture, commercial interiors, industrial design, photography, as well as art direction.

"Both the ‘Vault’ and ‘Totem’ series are freestanding sculptures, handmade in solid marble in Portugal. Each of the two different series embodies its own story and symbolic references. They are designed and crafted as decorative pieces for the home that can add a sensorial element of nature's beauty and detail found in stone, combined with the creative force of human-made geometry and order,” Bjerre-Poulsen continues.

Thoughtful, sturdy and minimal, the two versions of the ‘Vaults’ sculptures find eloquent muses in the sharp vaulted ceilings, multiple recessed arches, and lyrical, repetitive rhythms of classical architecture. The pieces resemble vaulted ceilings, archways, Roman viaducts, and majestic entrances of cathedrals. "These sculptures hold the power of the repetitive rhythms of classical architecture," says Bjerre-Poulsen.

“With their precise carvings that interact with the veins and structure of either classic Roman Travertine or Moleanos Limestone from Portugal, they create a tension between geometric order and random geological patterns. Each with its own unique character, they still share a similarity in their carvings. Just like the letters in an alphabet,” shares Norm Architects. One of the Danish design pieces is a stand-alone one with multiple arches, while the other features three consecutive arches reminiscent of spiritual gateways.

The three versions of the 'Totem' sculptures, carved distinct as solid stone stone pieces sliced at abstract, steep angles, draw inspiration from well-known monolithic sculptures of Easter Island and Stonehenge in the UK, as well as totems found on the American continent, “echoing the primitive arts and craftsmanship of ancient worlds,” the Danish designers and architects reveal. Made from Kunis Breccia (a rock composed of large, angular, and broken fragments of minerals cemented together by a fine-grained matrix), warm honey-coloured sediments create a subtly stunning interplay with the abstract pieces’ calculated carvings.

Blurring the lines between art, design, and interiors, ALIUM is housed inside an old historic building in Copenhagen and showcases a curated selection of rotating original artworks and unique objects.

“A medium as direct and intuitive as colour—with its physiological effects, cultural and identity signifiers, and alluring beauty—is a powerful design tool to be wielded carefully. The human mind has evolved to feel calm and content at the sight of natural colours, and this palette has the added benefit of transcending design trends. By working with neutrals, the designer can create timeless work that lets the user overlay the colour of everyday life,” Bjerre-Poulsen tells STIR, elaborating on the adopted colour palette and materiality for the ‘Vaults & Totem’ series.

“Drawing inspiration from a Nordic way of life, nature and an appreciation for slow living, (we) combine (our) Scandinavian heritage, with the captivating ideas of both upcoming and established artists—creating space for innovation and craftsmanship. (We) create a fluid transition and a timeless expression that inspires visitors,” the gallery relays.

“Humans are natural storytellers. A potent yet ephemeral element to work with, the narrative interpretation of a given design impacts our whole being and can determine the work’s ultimate success or failure. Design is sensitive to story—working with a place, its history, personal narrative, and cultural associations to create works that are relevant to its unique user. In this case, we worked with strong and recognisable figures in our history of architecture and art that are filled to the brim with canonisations,” Bjerre-Poulsen tells STIR.

Seemingly continuing their clean and minimal design language that articulated their earlier stoneware sculpture series (‘Spiral and Flight’ sculptures as well as ‘Vaults’), Norm Architects, with their latest sculptures, reinterpret classical architecture as bespoke pieces of contemporary design. What makes them unique is their simplicity which chases the architectural detail as an 'individual archetype', and their tactility defined by a fascination with stone, tapping into, and celebrating its raw beauty, and made distinct by its inherent, naturally occurring geological patterns. Soothing, almost meditative, the ‘Vaults & Totem’ series, much like Norm Architects’ multifaceted oeuvre, reflects the firm’s emphasis on drawing inspiration from norms and traditions within the disciplines of architecture and design, in particular, the Scandinavian design principles of timeless aesthetics and natural materials, in tandem with focusing on modernist values of restraint and refinement.

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