As associate professor at the Tulane University School of Architecture and founder of AEDS (Ammar Eloueini Digit-All Studio), Eloueini has created a platform for exploration of computer-aided design and its ability to produce space that, in his words, “engages human perception.” Projects ranging from animated stage sets to retail stores for fashion designer Issey Miyake have given him real-world experience at a scale that fits the experimental nature of his work. “There's a technology aspect I'm interested in, but most of all it's about the physical experience of the results,” he explains.
Born in Lebanon and raised in Paris by parents who, 25 years ago, fled political tensions in the Middle East, Eloueini has been writing his own rules for architectural practice from day one. While enrolled at the Ecole d'Architecture in Paris, he came to the United States as an exchange student. Before returning to Paris, he toured American graduate schools from coast to coast. Columbia, in particular, caught his attention. “They were changing into what became the paperless studio,” he recalls with enthusiasm. “I didn't see anything remotely like it at the time. And I thought: ‘This is where I really want to be.' ”
The chance to learn from Greg Lynn and Hani Rashid at Columbia was invaluable. But when Eloueini completed the graduate program in 1996, he headed straight back to Paris, where he secured his architectural registration. He went to work setting up his own shop, borrowing the cash for a silicon graphics machine and newly developed animation software. Using these new design tools, he started entering competitions, teaching workshops, and speaking at conferences on digital design.
Eloueini officially launched AEDS in 1997 and began attracting attention for his work in widely published competitions such as the one for Wall Street's Cultural Information Exchange Center. That led to invitations to lecture in Italy, then to teach in Germany. Everything snowballed in 1998 and 1999, when he was hired to run the Digital Media Program at the University of Illinois at Chicago, then invited by Massimiliano Fuksas to work on the 2000 Venice Biennial, and soon afterward informed that he had received a grant from the French Ministry of Culture to fund an exhibition of his work.
The biggest break happened by chance. When Eloueini was installing his solo exhibit in a small Parisian gallery, Miyake passed by and stopped to take a closer look. “We started talking, and he asked about the work,” says Eloueini. “Then he asked me to send more information. This is how the whole adventure with Miyake began.” That adventure has led to three commissions for Miyake showrooms, the first one in Germany and two in France.
While they differ functionally, the retail shop and the other works illustrated here share many attributes. Similar in scale, budget, materials, and fabrication techniques, they constitute a family of solutions that emerged from the focused research on polycarbonate panel construction that Eloueini has pursued since 2001, when he received the Nouveaux Albums des Jeunes Architectes, the French Institute of Architects' top award for architects under 35. Yet in spite of all the high-tech gymnastics that make these multifaceted installations possible, Eloueini's biggest stroke of genius may be the low-tech means he uses to assemble them: the humble zip-tie. Without it, his three-dimensional creations would all fall flat.
Project: Pleats Please, Issey Miyake, Berlin
Eloueini's first collaboration with fashion designer Issey Miyake was for a retail space in the Galeries Lafayette, a building by Jean Nouvel. Working within the confines of a wedge-shaped space, Eloueini envisioned an installation at the back of the store that would take its cues from Miyake's pleated designs, but consist of something other than the product line. “It's this folding surface that relates to Miyake's work,” Eloueini explains. “The polycarbonate refracts light. So the idea was to have all the clothes—many in flashy colors—reflect in the surface.” The wall's complex shape transforms light, color, and shadow into an ever-changing geometric curiosity. Some of the space behind the screen is used for storage, and some as a fitting room. Moving figures behind the translucent material lend a sense of theater to the shop, which opened in December 2004.
Project: California: Stage Set For John Jasperse
Eloueini designed the set for California, a dance production created by choreographer John Jasperse. After premiering in Cannes, France, in November 2003, the dance company began an international tour. Eloueini's task was to design a set that would pass through customs quickly and easily; it had to be small and light enough to fit into two containers the size of a suitcase. Because the set is secured by zip-ties, it can be erected in hours and easily dismantled and packed, ready to be taken to the next performance venue.