Surface Summer School

Ferda Kolatan Champions Iconoclastic Design

The founding director of SU11 Architecture+Design finds virtue in unlikely affinities.

As part of our Surface Summer School lecture series, the Brooklyn–based architect Ferda Kolatan spoke to students of the Stuart Weitzman School of Design at the University of Pennsylvania amid their competition to design a mobile testing unit for COVID-19.

TakeawaysI’m interested in an architecture that finds its anchoring and value by breaking categories that are foundational to architectural teachings,” Kolatan told students during his presentation at Surface Summer School. Kolatan, who is also an Associate Professor of Practice at the school, opened with slides showing a traditional medical mask followed by the artistic interpretations of fashion designers and artists since the COVID-19 crisis began: Freyja Sewell’s sci-fi creations, an assortment at Paris Fashion Week, and Max Siedentopf’s ironic makeshift masks that he later apologized for after being accused of insensitivity. Kolatan encouraged the students to remember the masks during their competition to design a mobile coronavirus testing unit. “They are somewhere between design, utilitarian, and art objects,” he said. “They project different kinds of ideologies, your project will have to cope with these conditions as well.”

Kolatan's water lily necklace display for Mikimoto.
The spiraling staircase bookshelf in B Residence by SU11 Architecture+Design.

Kolatan presented some of his past work to show how he used hybrid forms to manifest ideas promoting unusual collaborations, including a necklace display for Mikimoto that reimagined the traditional neck bust as a water lily, a surrealist shelving system stocked with books on an apartment’s staircase wall, and modular prefab housing units that introduced customization to house hunting. He challenged the students to ponder conventional distinctions between useful and meaningful, and inherent functionality and cultural agency. 

See the full schedule for the lecture series.

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