Architects considering product design have long looked to hardware as a starting point. Such was the case for Edwin Heathcote, an architect-turned-critic for The Financial Times and founder, in 2001, of London-based Izé, which partners with design firms to produce knobs, pulls, tabs, and levers. “Architects tend to start from appearance rather than function, whereas product designers tend to work from function back to appearance,” he says. “The architects seem to have more of an idea of what they want to do, and then they try to adapt that into something that will work.” The tactic has proven successful in recent years, adding a new vertical to the market for architectural hardware. A handful of such pieces are detailed below.
Lever handle, Lina Bo Bardi
Designed in 1951 by Italian-born architect Lina Bo Bardi for her home in São Paolo, these elegantly curvedlevers were first produced two years ago by Izé in collaboration with Bo Bardi’s namesake institute. “She always meant for [the handles] to go further than that one house,” Heathcote says. The horn-shaped pieces were originally cast in aluminum to keep costs low and are now fabricated in dark bronze, hearkening to the original finish while adding durability.
NDK01, NORD Architects
Created in 2010 by Glasgow, Scotland–based NORD Architects for their Shingle House in Dungeness, England, the black-stained Douglas fir NDK01 was designed to match the project’s distinctive cladding. Made by Izé since 2011, the simple cylindrical knob is discretely indented for a better grip while a brass back plate contrasts the timber handle. “There was a deliberate lack of decoration or ornament in the design of the handle and it was just seen as a functional object,” says Mark Bell, a senior architect at NORD. A microcosm of the Scandinavian-inspired home, the handle can be specified in any wood species.
H 359, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
Twisting from a cylinder into an ellipse that fits comfortably in hand, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s (SOM’s) 2008 H 359 is part of Italian hardware brand Valli&Valli’s architect-designed Fusital collection. The design team used aerodynamics technology from the auto industry to achieve the piece’s ergonomic form. The reflections and shading afforded by its materiality—polished and satin nickel and chrome—are meant to add extra dimension, SOM says.
Wedge, Adjaye Associates
The tapered cuboid form of British architect David Adjaye’s, Hon. FAIA’s, 2004 Wedge knob for Izé may be ubiquitous in modern architecture, but it was selected in this case for its additional ergonomic advantages. “The corners [had] more to do with the way the handle felt,” explains the studio, and so a series of clay models were prepared and tested before installation. Used in Adjaye’s 2004 Lost House Project in London, it is joined by matching bathroom thumb turns and cabinet knobs.
H 356, Zaha Hadid Design
The similarities between Zaha Hadid, Hon. FAIA’s H 356 lever and her practice’s serpent-like architecture are apparent. More angular than SOM's twisted form, this lever’s pronounced downward crimp allows a firm grip. First designed for Hadid’s 2005 Hotel Puerta America in Madrid, the lever was realized by Valli&Valli in 2008 in a zinc alloy. “The material, cold to the touch, commands an immediate sensorial response,” says Woody Yao, director at Zaha Hadid Design, a division within Hadid’s architecture firm. “The pure lines merge organically with the space whilst the zigzag lines ensure a strong grip.”
Peel XXL, Olson Kundig Architects
A “simmering frustration” at his inability to source novel yet affordable architectural accessories inspired Tom Kundig, FAIA, principal designer at Olson Kundig Architects in Seattle, to develop his own hardware. Launched in 2012 and produced by local metal shop 12th Avenue Iron, the series features more than 100 unique pieces that echo the firm’s graceful but industrial design sensibilities. “[T]he line naturally grew out of a career of research and development,” Kundig says. The Peel XXL, a bent 24”-long by 2.5”-wide blackened steel plate with a wax finish, looks as if it was plucked from the roof section of one of the practice’s scale models.
6AK01, 6a Architects
London-based 6a Architects’ 6AK01 cast door knob for Izé references early 19th-century English architecture yet appears resolutely modern. “It started life as a copy of a Regency door knob found at the AA [Architectural Association School of Architecture] on Bedford Square [in London], but without the classical profiles and decoration of the original,” says 6a director Tom Emerson. The knob was put into production by Izé in 2003 and has since functioned as something of a blueprint for the firm, having been reworked and updated for other projects. “Over time we have adjusted the proportions based on feeling in the hand and appearance on the door,” he says.
Long Pull Handle, Adjaye Associates
The Long Pull Handle by British architect David Adjaye, Hon. FAIA, is inspired by the humble pipework often concealed behind walls and under floors. Welded 90-degree angles form a tall C-shape with a 900mm-long grip. The pull is a legacy piece from Adjaye’s original collection for Izé in 2002 that aims to elevate familiar, yet often overlooked, industrial elements to visitors’ first point of contact with a building. Since its launch, the collection has been used, almost without exception, in all of the London firm’s projects.
Custom pulls, Marmol Radziner
Fabricated for the Isabel Trust Residence in Beverly Hills, Calif., which was completed by Los Angeles–based architectural firm Marmol Radziner in 2004, this set of imposing stainless steel door pulls came straight out of the firm’s in-house metal shop, which has fabricated custom metal components since 1995. “To ensure the handles are comfortable to use, we first have to make sure they do not rub each other, hence the concave surface,” says Todd Jerry, the firm’s chief operating officer. “Because we prefer angular over rounded elements, we have to strike a balance between beauty and comfort.”