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Interview with Philipp Nedomlel by Ajmal Majeed

In a captivating encounter at YACademy with visionary Philipp Nedomlel, Head of Design at Heatherwick Studio, London, we were granted a privileged glimpse into the innovative world of landscape architecture.

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Renowned for reshaping conventional landscapes, Philipp has played a pivotal role in groundbreaking projects, including the Little Island NYC and the 1000 Trees Residential project in Shanghai. Originating from the picturesque landscapes of Austria, he draws inspiration from unexpected sources – Hollywood movies, culinary delights, and soul-stirring music – which intricately weave into his design philosophies.

The conversation commenced with a thought-provoking exercise, urging the audience to imagine their ideal sanctuary. It swiftly dispelled the notion of concrete jungles, replacing it with a vision of lush greenery. This imaginative exercise served as a prelude to the studio's groundbreaking work, notably the expo pavilion in Beijing.

Inspired by the unwrapping of a gift, this project metamorphosed into an undulating landscape adorned with seeds at the tips of fiberglass sticks. Its ability to harness ambient light, eliminating the need for artificial illumination, stood testament to Heatherwick Studio's innovative prowess.

The discourse then navigated through an array of remarkable ventures, from the dynamic moving bridge to the Bombay Sapphire HQ and even a perfume bottle for Christian Louboutin inspired by the elegance of French pastries. Yet, the spotlight inevitably fell upon The Little Island NYC, an exceptional typology born from a competition project initially designed as a stage in the water, it evolved into an iconic landmark, redefining the urban landscape. The project's core was rooted in human experience, evident from the elevated structural columns that usher visitors into the space. Attention to biodiversity and accessibility was paramount, culminating in a mesmerizing wave of greenery along the Hudson River.

Transitioning seamlessly, our discussion delved into the distinctive 1000 Trees project, a groundbreaking endeavor that redefined residential landscape design. Inspired by the concept of a green mountain, the project meticulously balanced aesthetics and functionality. Philipp’s insights revealed a nuanced approach, considering pedestrian sightlines and sun exposure to create a harmonious blend of nature within the urban fabric. The plant selection process for this project went through an intricate selection process. Much like the mountain form it was inspired from, each face of the project would behave differently based on the amount of sunlights it receives as well as altitude and wind led to having 27 typologies of tree species that was then strategically placed into the ripple textured concrete column planter that varied in heights to create this beautiful mountain form further exemplified Heatherwick Studio's commitment to innovative design.

I then had the opportunity to have an interview with Philipp where we shared a few discussions.

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Q: Given your eight years of experience with the 1000 Trees project, how would you approach its redesign now? Additionally, considering the lessons learned from projects like Little Island, what modifications or enhancements would you envision for it?

A: I would try to convince the design team to make the pods bigger. Have bigger areas of green to thrive together. The original plan was to house more than one tree. The little Island is different as the client had much say about it. I would work on the target audience and how can I bring more people to enjoy. We did not anticipate such a turn over and we would have designed to allow the project to be more accessible to people.

Q: In diverse geographical contexts, where cultural nuances, contextual intricacies, and various factors steer the design process, how does the firm's distinctive design identity seamlessly integrate into these multifaceted projects?

A: I think it’s an unintentional process. There are two sides to the answer. On one side we go with an open mindset to create one idea that is really unique. Something that is simple but translates the idea. Sometimes it appears that columns and waffle structures that re-emerges in different forms. We don’t want to have a certain style as it will not survive long.

Q: Where does the role of data and AI comes into your design process?

A: The studio is pretty open to what comes along. We have a team in the studio that explore the emerging technology to stay on top of what’s out there. It’s something we all don’t know where it leads to. We have clients who come to us with mid journey images, we need to know what this technology is capable of. I like the fact that data can assist in design like ladybug with wind and data analysis.

Q: How much influence does role of emotion play in the design proces?

A: It’s a huge part in the design process. Thomas talks a lot about this that design should evoke emotions. This is the reference of movie that I spoke about, story telling is a big part of the design process. You need to evoke emotions into designing spaces.

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