Last year Peter Ippolito and Gunter Fleitz were the first German designers in the field of interior architecture to be included in the Hall of Fame of the renowned US Interior Design magazine. Why? As they’re one of the most creative studios of our time: they created brand architecture for Walter Knoll, the new shop concept for Fleiner Moebel by architare, and a representative state palace for Uzbekistan. Architare and Ippolito Fleitz are now working on a joint project in Shanghai. Barbara Benz met with Peter Ippolito for a spontaneous “under four eyes” conversation in Stuttgart.
Barbara Benz: When and with what purpose did you found the Ippolito Fleitz Group?
Peter Ippolito: The Ippolito Fleitz Group has been in existence since 2002 with the intention of looking over the side of the box of of our own discipline. Architecture is what makes our hearts beat faster. However, even during my studies I was designing concepts in collaboration with others: with social scientists, artists, musicians physicians and landscape architects. I found it exciting to work in an interdisciplinary manner. Therefore, Ippolito Fleitz is more than your classic architectural office. It is a design office that unites many disciplines.
How big is your team?
Currently we’re a team of 55 designers worldwide. They basically come from the field of architecture, product and communication design. We work together on an extremely wide portfolio that is not specialised, and in essence revolves around our customers’ identities.
Is there a secret to your partnership’s success?
Gunter and I are friends and have known each other for more than 25 years. We met each other in a WG when we were both still students and I was about to go to Chicago. You consciously choose to be known as Identity Architects.
What exactly lies behind this description?
Our projects in China look different to a comparable project in Germany.
As they were conceptualised for a different target group and market. We don’t bless every customer with the same design signature! Instead, we’ve made it our goal to find an exact, surprising and unmistakable answer, regardless of where the customer is, what he does, and to whom the work is directed. That means that
we’re extremely committed to the customer’s identity at every level
from marketing strategy or naming processes in communication, through the visual identity up to the most intimate moment in the room if I’m fitting out a private house or apartment. We talk the same way about brand architecture as about someone’s morning routine in the bathroom or when clarifying questions on how a nation presents itself in its interior architecture.
Does that also mean that your teams are put together differently?
The beauty of our concept is that we are able to experience a whole range of customers, from different walks of life, business models and cultural backgrounds every day. This diversity is also evident in our office: we have people from 14 nationalities, with the most diverse backgrounds and experience, working for us. So we’re able to compose an ideal team for every project.
Which is your favourite discipline to work in?
Developing concepts. I feel incredibly privileged, because I’m doing what I’ve always wanted to do: I can think about projects. Anything can happen on any day in the studio: graphic design, brand strategy, a high-end residential project and a store concept in China.
What makes your office different from others?
We are an extremely open, curious and passionate office. We don’t impose any dogma on how to do anything. Instead we approach each new task with almost childlike joy. For us the best project is one we’ve never done before, in a place in the world where we’ve never been. We’re also not afraid to take on things that at first glance are not part of our frame of reference. If someone comes today and says that he wants to do a classical villa with us, it certainly isn’t the design environment that we normally move in. But, if the customer and the project are interesting, an exciting dialogue can ensue and something can come of it that looks totally different to anything else we’ve done up to then. You have offices in Stuttgart, Berlin and Shanghai, and you have local representatives in Moscow, Zürich and Seoul.
Where are the most exciting projects being developed at the moment?
The Asian market is incredibly dynamic. The speed and courage with which builders there are prepared to try things are very attractive. We enjoy moving in different worlds with different dynamics. While we in Europe look at the world from a very saturated position and defend something latent, we see a situation in other parts of the world of people being hungry for achievement. That on its own generates a different kind of energy.
At the moment you are working on a big project in China – Project Schwarzwald. Can you explain the background?
Schwarzwald is a truly outstanding residential project, which is already set apart by the fact that twenty thousand trees were planted as part of it. That explains the reference to Schwarzwald. The builder has a soft spot for German quality and really wants to change the Chinese market. In this residential complex there is a very high demand for quality, for the project to be sustainable and also for the interior decoration of the individual apartments.
Is there something we can learn from the Chinese?
The joy and lack of uptightness about trying something new. The energy to make a project happen is very interesting. The conceptualisation phase is similar to how we do things here. But the execution takes place within a few weeks. Here we’d still be building mock-ups, doing studies or even market research ... over there you skip all of that and just do it.
What inspires you?
Things that I do anyway, like eating, cooking and travelling. Meaning, seeing the world and getting to know new cultures. And art. I certainly spend more time in museums than reading architectural magazines.
What role do trends play in your work?
We don’t think much of trends in this office. We are of the opinion that the impetus for our work is what we experience from the client at every level.
Which has been your most challenging project this far?
A project that for us represents a milestone in size, oddness, exoticism and circumstances was the Forum in Tashkent in Uzbekistan. It is the most important representative building of the state. It stands in the main square in Tashkent and is used for state receptions and acts of state, but also for major cultural events. A friend called me and said:
I believe they need an interior architect
Within two weeks we had won the competition, concluded the contract in one day and then had the marathon task of designing, planning and building this project of forty thousand square meters within five and a half months. We managed to execute a project that was not only completed, but became relevant. The Forum not only brought us a reputation, but also freed us from our fears.
China, Uzbekistan… and at the same time you are carrying out local projects for Fleiner Moebel by architare or Walter Knoll. Is that not a contradiction?
Quite the opposite: The projects are very related, because it’s about identity. On the one hand you have the young independent state with lots of resources that wants to rearrange itself. And on the other you have the question of Walter Knoll’s brand architecture which has recently turned 150, or the brand identity of a traditional store. The context is always the starting point for our work. And for us context doesn’t only mean the space. Context is the history, the people that are involved. It can be the culture, as in Uzbekistan. Or a brand history as with Fleiner, in which there is a new owner family, new leadership, in which there is a new space that we have to deal with that is not so simple.
What role will design play in the future?
In the next twenty years we will live in a different material world. We are already at a level of technical development that not only allows us to try things out on a small scale, but to think totally differently.
How will buildings of the future be conceived energy wise – and not only in the sense of a stuck-on photo – voltaic façade, but as an active building?
We will also include that in the interior, with intelligent textiles and finishes that are not only decorative, but fulfill a specific function.
You travel a lot. In your private life as well?
Yes, I really, really, love travelling. To places that I haven’t been before.
Do you have a “must see”?
I’ve just been to the Long Museum in Shanghai, a fantastic piece of architecture, self-contained, with wonderful space choreography and exciting exhibitions. An all-time favourite and key project in my development as an architect is the Soane House in London. Soane was the architect of the Bank of England and a passionate collector. His house is almost the fountainhead of collage and collecting. One of the most flipped-out, craziest houses I know. It is the V & A in miniature, a wonderful three-dimensionality.
Are you a city person or a country person?
Definitely a city person!
Your favourite restaurant in Stuttgart?
Bella Italia Weine in Vogelsangstraße.
And outside Stuttgart?
There are many. Hero in Paris, for example, a tiny Korean restaurant with a tiny menu story and funny as well as refined Korean cocktails. Whether it’s brand architecture, a trade show or staff canteen: if you want to make your identity felt, you have a renowned partner in Ippolito Fleitz. Clockwise: The new canteen at the Spiegel Publishing Group in Hamburg, the Walter Knoll stand at Orgatec 2014, the newly designed rooms at Fleiner Moebel by architare in Stuttgart, a sample apartment on the 24th story of CEG Schwarzwald in Shanghai, and the campus restaurant of the One Head Office Motel in Munich are only a selection of their versatile projects.
Zooey Braun / Rendering
Ippolito Fleitz Group