Interior architect Flavie Audi has been commissioned to design the interior and façade of a luxury concept store due to open in Hamburg, Germany, in 2015. Katya Foreman meets the woman who breathes life into glass. Photography by James Merrell.
For Flavie Audi, the future of architecture is set in glass. A typical day at the office involves cutting, grinding, and polishing it, and bringing works to life in the site’s furnace, which is heated to just over 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s a far cry from her vibrant social life as part of London’s cool social set, hanging out in the city’s latest addresses, such as hip Mayfair private member’s club Loulou’s. “We sweat — you look like you’ve been in a sauna,” says Audi laughing. Her student “uniform” comprises a Comme des Garçons sweater, Jil Sander jeans, and very bright Nikes, in today’s case, a searing shade of neon yellow. Her lacerated hands bear the war wounds of her trade.
A graduate of the prestigious Architectural Association School of Architecture in London, which counts Zaha Hadid and Rem Koolhaas among its alumni, Audi developed an obsession with glass during her studies, leading her current pursuit of a master’s degree in glass and ceramics at the city’s Royal College of Art. Audi, 26, who is Franco-Lebanese and grew up in Paris, also co-founded the London-based design and architecture firm FATED with her architect friend, Tarek Shamma.
Their projects include a furniture line currently in development in Italy; its table series, Bleeding Marble, features marble with inlaid metal veins. The duo has been tapped to design a coffee table book on 1970s Lebanese hairdresser Naim, and has been commissioned to design the interior and façade of a major new luxury concept store due to open in Hamburg, Germany, in 2015. “It will be like the Colette of Hamburg,” says Audi.
She recently went to train with renowned Japanese glass artist Ritsue Mishima on the Venetian island of Murano. “Mishima was drawing with glass, it was so poetic and sensual. This is where I really felt I want to do glass,” says Audi, who during her stay with Mishima would rise at around 3 a.m. each day to travel to the glass atelier in Murano by vaporetto. “Many of the historic factories are closing down, which is so sad, and I felt this urge to help revive the art of glass.”
Audi, who is halfway through the first year of her master’s course at the Royal College of Art, has also won a scholarship to study glass-making techniques this summer at the Pilchuck Glass School in Seattle. “They create this incredible painting effect with glass, it looks like a Rothko. That’s the kind of thing I can imagine incorporating in a building,” she says.
All of this work and study are in service to one lofty goal: meld glass making with architecture. Audi plans to dedicate the next few years to exploring every facet of the glass-making world in order to incorporate concepts into architectural structures.
Audi, who started making ceramic sculptures at age 10, likely inherited her artistic sensibility from her grandfather, Raymond Audi, who founded the Audi Foundation arts foundation located in Saïda, Lebanon, as well as the Audi Mosaic Museum, which is based in Beirut. He also built an art collection for Bank Audi, Lebanon’s largest bank. “He was very involved in architecture projects, and would always take me along to visit construction sites,” recalls Audi, who travels to Lebanon regularly.
The influence of her former employer, John Pawson, who in the architecture world is known as the “god of minimalism” (he designed and compiled the collector tome "Minimum," published by Phaidon in 1996), can be seen in one of her latest projects: a series of glass prototypes resembling sculptural ashtrays based on a concept of order and chaos. The rim of each piece is formed by an organic arrangement of pure geometric shapes, such as ice-cube-like blocks or spheres, all handmade by Audi. “I laid out the cubes in a grid — it looked a bit like a Manhattan landscape — then poured glass on it to make it all messed up,” says Audi, describing the process. “It’s about creating a collision of order and disorder. The timing is crucial. The more I leave it in the furnace, the more it will fuse and become a lump of glass. That's what's so exciting about glass: You can't anticipate too much, even with a hundred years of experience.”
Audi will likely develop certain prototypes into light sculptures, as she loves the way light refracts through glass. But ultimately, the idea is to one day bring her glass concepts “to the scale of architecture,” says Audi, who is a big fan of the Japanese architects SANAA, who produce structures of undulating glass. “The reason why I went back to working on a smaller scale is that for me, architecture is a giant object. But it’s too early for me now. I need to find out more about glass. I decided, OK, let’s focus on a different scale and really get immersed and gain knowledge about materials and learn how to push boundaries.”
Other experiments include a glass vase that has been deconstructed —i.e., cut into slices — and reconstructed by creating a stack of rings and blowing inside them to fix them into position. For another project, Audi created a vase by blowing glass over a bed of fresh flowers to create a negative relief of the blooms at the base. Her aim is to redefine the codes and conventions of glass by inventing new techniques. She is passionate about combining ancestral glass-making techniques with high-tech production methods. Among planned projects is a sculpture series made using rapid prototyping molds with blown glass inside.
Audi’s private glass commissions include Let It Rain, a LED glass light installation for a Lebanese client, honed from 100 glass drops suspended along an ultra fine metal cable. Crafted by hand in a glass workshop based in Bermondsey in south London, each drop is unique, ranging from 8 to 24 inches in dimension.
“I felt glass was a new territory that hadn’t been developed much in terms of artistic quality,” she says during a tea break on the college’s terrace, overlooking the majestic Royal Albert Hall. “For me, glass is such a crucial element. Not only does it bring light and clarity to people, it creates amazing effects, it feels alive. And when light comes in, in such strong, magical, and unexpected ways, people gather in the light. It creates social encounters,” she continues. “We design for humans, and I think buildings should relate to humanity.”
Flavie Audi lounges on a sofa designed by India Mahdavi at home in London; a selection of her latest work.