It’s time for Best Interior Designers to present you with our interview with Joana Astolfi, a Top Portuguese Architect! Miss Astolfi is an artist, architect and designer who draws visual inspiration from a broad universe of found objects. She’s one of the Top Names of Portuguese Architecture and, now, we’ll learn why that is!
What is your main source of inspiration?
That’s a tricky question. For me, everything comes from art. Although I am an architect, everything comes from the basis of art, so I always make a very strong connection between art and architecture. My studio has two departments: architecture and art. But art is always my salvation. My Inspiration is strongly connected to Art. My travels, my curiosity… My inspiration comes from this.
So for you, art and architecture always go hand in hand …
Yes, in my language, yes. In our interior architecture projects, I can intervene in a transversal way. For example, the artisan participates a lot. Lately, and for a long time, the clients ask us to make artistic interventions in space. And for me it’s perfect. People no longer go to a restaurant or a store to buy an object or have a meal. Nowadays, they go to have the experience.
How did you get to where you are today?
I have to start from many years ago! I finished my degree 20 years ago. The path was to study at an international school in Lisbon, then to go to study architecture in England and then live for 12 years outside Portugal, in places such as London, Munich, Los Angeles, Venice … I have acquired a very important life experience. The two years I spent at the Benetton Factory was also very important. They are a sort of luxurious think tank filled with handpicked people from all over the world, and I learned a lot there. Then 13 years ago I went back to Lisbon and went step by step. I started with a very small space, which was a shop/atelier. I started doing some small projects, something very progressive, very natural. My ambition was not to have a studio with 20 people like I have today. It was ” Let’s see, let’s walk. ” It is a time consuming and laborious process that is constantly developing.
What kind of projects do you do?
Like I told you, I have two departments, architecture and art. We do interior architecture projects closely linked to shops, restaurants and hotels. I don’t do residential projects. It’s a job I’ve already done, but I do not do it anymore. As for artistic projects, we carry out artistic interventions of great dimensions for stores, restaurants, hotels and public spaces. We make shop windows, where our main client is Hermès, with whom we have worked with for 5 years. I am very selective with the windows projects. I do not consider myself a window-dresser, we do a more theatrical work.
Can you walk us through your creative process?
Research is key. It’s like you create a hard drive in your brain. Each project is a problem that you have to solve, and each has its own restrictions. And then I go to that hard drive to get the solutions, and they start to show up. The client gives us a briefing and I always do two or three brainstorms with the team. I like to do it with everyone, with the craftsmen, the sculptors, the technical drawing people … I think everyone should be part of this creative process. And then we began to filter ideas. We dream very loud, and I think that’s very important. When we already have 2-3 solutions, we call the client, the client gives us his feedback, sometimes we tune a few things, and then we start working on the project.
What are the characteristics that cannot be lacking in a work of your own?
The concept has to be very strong. I always have to tell a story, and it has to be one that is perceptible. Nowadays, for example, with José Avillez, we do everything. From space to the menu, to the presentation of the table to the way they serve. The narrative, the concept, the rigour of the project, the execution are crucial in my projects and so are consistency, risk-taking making mistakes.
Is storytelling mandatory in your works?
Storytelling is the basis of my work. For example, when we made the Claus shop, we had to go to the archives and search for old books with wrapping papers at the age of 150. The important thing for me is to tell my story. But I have to do a lot of research to understand the story well.
Do you have a project that you particularly enjoyed doing?
It is a very difficult question that I have been asked many times. Each project is a different story. In terms of challenges, I can highlight the Bairro do Avillez, which was a great challenge to recreate all that interior, that giant wall of concrete of 30m by 10 m, getting the doors, windows, tiles … All kinds of objects that you find in a typical home of the Bica Neighbourhood.
And the hardest one?
The problem is always the deadline. The Bairro do Avillez was very difficult. Another one that was difficult, especially since I never did anything of the sort, was the Food court of the Strada Shopping in Odivelas. I rejected the project three times, but the third time I sat down with the team and we did it. It was a project that lasted 2 years. It was difficult to kick off, and it was difficult because of its size, which is about 2000m2.
Which are the main challenges that you usually face?
The deadline is always a pivotal question. People always ask for the projects for yesterday. In architecture people still, understand that it is a work that takes some time. But art takes a long time. One of the most important things in the execution of a work of art is time. We are artisans and we need time. But there are a lot of people who do not understand. The budget is very important too. Sometimes we have problems with the budget.
What would be your dream project?
Doing my own home. It has always been a dream of mine and I’m working towards it. But, I’d love to work on a church. It’s a peaceful place of self-contemplation, and I’d love to do one.