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What can design learn from gelato? Molonglo Group’s Nectar Efkarpidis elaborates

Eloquent and intensely creative, Nectar Efkarpidis talks about the experience and process required to make unconventional and non-linear design projects. Ice cream included.

What can design learn from gelato? Molonglo Group’s Nectar Efkarpidis elaborates

Sophia Watson: What do you find problematic about the current design/luxury hotel model? What do you feel is missing, and why?

Nectar Efkarpidis: On my travels sometimes, I like to eat ice cream. I try and find a place that has really good handmade ice cream. Rosehip. Hibiscus. Burnt fig. Not too sweet. I like the consistency to be redolent of soft nougat with a temperature transitioning between chilled and room. A curious journey from the first lick to the last spoon. The undertones of flavour are regulated and punctuated with gentle unpredictability. When I go with friends they sometimes roll their eyes at me. But for me, those details give the ice cream space to be understood. For me to understand its composition, its story and its maker’s hand.

Some ice creams, like some design-hotels, can be overwhelming. Like being stabbed in the tongue with an ice pick. A flavour from which nothing new can emerge. There is little space and few authentic narratives. These are sometimes places, ironically, with too much design. No restraint. It can feel like stepping into a themed ride at Disney world.

Hotel Hotel bathroom. Photo by Ross Honeysett.

Hotel Hotel bathroom. Photo by Ross Honeysett.

Think about a written story. Ink is printed on a page. The words can be read because of the white space around the words. Design is the same – it needs space to be framed, felt and understood. Space is part of the composition of good design. Space can be. And space can be silence.

Good design allows people to inhabit space. And to make it their own. The space creates cracks that people can wriggle through to explore various mythologies about themselves. This doesn’t just manifest visually. It can also be found in the auditory silence of a room. A quiet room allows the occupant to digest a complex environment and to come to their own conclusions about what it means to them. To adjust and process with their other senses – smell, touch and taste. It lets you fully experience the narrative of what has been created.

“Design needs space to be framed, felt and understood.” – Nectar Efkarpidis

How would you describe your approach to design?

I am captivated by storytelling. We see buildings, hotels, publishing and programming as vessels for ongoing cultural creation, pluralism and life force. Good design ignites all our primary senses and emotions. It is visceral. It allows us to sense ourselves and connections with others. It pushes and pulls us to feel and to be felt.

We like to tell stories as a way of making places that matter. Places of work. Places of living. Places of communing.

Photo by Ross Honeysett.

Photo by Ross Honeysett.

It is the excellence of each of these endeavours that attracts participation and cultural consumption, not “run of the mill”, off-the-shelf generic renditions of the same-old, same-old. I think this process of design is actually at heart about considering social health in our communities. It’s about consciously creating diverse, welcoming places that break down perceived hierarchies, limited statements about who belongs and who doesn’t, and class distinctionism, which must be erased if we want to avoid explosive, irreversible problems in the absence of social cohesion.

For me, cultural creation is what gives meaning to life. Good design moves us. It connects our body to our brain and links us to other people.

“We see buildings, hotels, publishing and programming as vessels for ongoing cultural creation, pluralism and life force.” – Nectar Efkarpidis

And how do you accomplish this philosophy in your own work?

It’s about embracing a messy, collaborative and cross-disciplinary design approach. I don’t have a fixed idea about design or the design process. We are constant explorers in a limitless ocean. With Hotel Hotel (now owned by Ovolo) we worked closely alongside more than 75 designer-makers, artists, architects, thinkers and curators to choreograph and implement our quirks, thoughts and designs. Importantly though, it isn’t just about architecture and design. It is about the resonance of place, storytelling and narratives in all forms. The rooms at Hotel Hotel are a response to Australia’s dry bush capital – a re-imagination of the textures and layers of an Australian shack and landscape.

The Australian bush landscape narrative comes through in the entry to Hotel Hotel, designed by March Studio.

The Australian bush landscape narrative comes through in the entry to Hotel Hotel, designed by March Studio.

The Monster Salon and Dining rooms, for example, pay homage to post-war immigration to Australia and the eclectic-kitsch tastes that came with it. This chapter is about how immigration increases the textures, layers and dimensions of a place’s cultural fabric. It is a combination of old and borrowed ways that all at once salutes the past and hopes to stimulate an appetite for pluralism and diversity for the future.

What would you say your approach to commissioning and thinking about design and architecture is?

I see the process of design in a non-linear way. More like a soup of evolutionary biology than an industrial factory floor. It is a slow, iterative and layered process about people and their connections with themselves, objects, activities, and the landscape they live in. It is not about a single client brief resulting in a singular designer output.

It means that there are multiple hands that make a project; there is no clear authorship. Ideas, processes and outputs overlap in unexpected ways. This often creates conflict and disjunction as well as a beautiful natural order. Like a murmuration of starlings. At first it looks like chaos, but these birds move as one, it’s amazingly well coordinated. Just like there is often an order and hierarchy to the application of graffiti… The location and application of each work in relation to each other. It helps quash any anxieties we may have about not being overly prescriptive in our commissioning processes.

Want more design hotels? Enjoy these 5 worth visiting. And if you want even more design inspiration, join our mailing list.

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