SHIFTboston blog» Blog Archive » Playing with circles, curves, and SO-IL

Playing with circles, curves, and SO-IL

(The following architecture review is written and edited by Zenovia Toloudi)

When looking at the recently awarded Antwerp Province Hall proposal, by the international, NY-based, SO-IL founded by Florian Idenburg and Jing Liu, one wonders for the function of circles and curves: is it iconicity or social engagement they serve for?

Maquette for Antwerp Province Hall. Courtesy: SO-IL


Together with the local Bureau Bouwtechniek, Ney Structural Engineering, Ingenium environmental company , and West 8 landscape firm , SO-IL envisions and proposes a new typology for the hall that rethinks the ‘tower on plinth’ relationship found in the tall buildings of modernism. The design allows for  ‘autonomy and connectivity’ between its parts: The asymmetrical bell-shaped tower, which houses the provincial departments merges with the meandering plinth which accommodates the program requiring openness and freedom, like two auditoria, lobby and exhibition spaces, a restaurant, a library and logistic areas.

Plan for Antwerp Province Hall. Courtesy: SO-IL

Calling themselves an “idea-based design office,” SO-IL architects act in many levels and scales through “artifacts” that range from theory to project, from built to unbuilt, from academia to practice, from urbanity to materiality, from landscape to tectonics, from installations to buildings, from program to form, from fun to seriousness.

As Sanford Kwinter states about their practice:

“SO-IL appears to work in an idiom inherited partly from the Swiss, the Dutch and the Japanese, but the work can rightly be situated among the principle concerns of none of these […] They deliver the impression that they are releasing the rope when in fact, with steadiness and wit, they are actually drawing it ever tighter, betraying a subtlety rarely matched in their generation.”

SO-IL virtuosity, vividly described by Kwinter in this quote, is also reinforced by the ingenious Greek duo, Iannis Kandyliaris and Ilias Papageorgiou who played key role to the firm’s initial recognition and success. When they describe the Province Hall project, they say:

“Rather than as singular iconic form, the volume of the building was shaped to respond both to the scale of the city and to the scale of the street. “

Night glow view for Antwerp Province Hall. Courtesy: SO-IL

The love-hate relationship of SO-IL and the iconic is usually found in the circular and curvilinear shapes appearing in their projects, including the Province Hall proposal, sometimes in plan, sometimes in section, and sometimes in both, allowing space to be experienced and remembered in people’s minds.

Maquette for Antwerp Province Hall. Courtesy: SO-IL

The meandered plinth creates an interplay between building esoteric life, city and landscape dissolving the barriers between inside and outside. Using SO-IL’s words, it “firmly embeds the building within the urban morphology and defines specific realms—both interior and exterior.”

Maquette for Antwerp Province Hall. Courtesy: SO-IL

Circle and tangent lines meet the curves with geometrical precision and innovative freedom. In C-Museum, SO-IL uses the combination of sphere and to capture the antithetical geometries -elements of the Dutch landscape (the forested, natural dunes and the geometric, open meadows), in a single form. The circular plan of the museum is compartmentalized to the smaller galleries and other programs through multiple perpendicular “chords”. The roof is also broken into smaller curved parts of varied heights, to allow programmatic flexibility for curators and essentially develop a visual game between roofline and curve, building and landscape through their transparent and reflective materiality.


Maquette for C-Museum. Courtesy: SO-IL

An earlier exploration with circles and curves is found in the Prato Nursery school proposal where the intersecting circles (in plan), become a playfulness strategy to reverse inside – outside, learn-play, individual-community among other hierarchies. According to SO-IL “the building is composed of a series of carefully defined curvilinear spaces tied together under a large penetrable roof, a pergola.” Is this what Mohamed Sharif, the Director of LA Forum, in his curatorial statement, for Future Archaeology refers to as “ideas of ‘active socioplastics’ and ‘conglomerate ordering’ through Venn diagram-like interminglings of raum plan and plan libre”?

Maquette for Prato Nursery School. Courtesy: SO-IL

When writing about the architecture as flows of knowledge deriving from “relations” in “Learning from Japan”, Florian Idenburg reads SANAA’s work as a collection of findings from their education, experience, and culture throughout their career. One could extend this flow, from SANAA, the master, to SO-IL, the apprentice, and seek for this architecture of participation, community, and interaction. Can one assume that those circles – open, closed, dissolved, deconstructed, overlapping, or transformed, and those curves, free-formed, meandering, flower-shaped, are the “microtopias” (using Idenburg’s words) to create this social environment? Can those perhaps engage and release more social life and energy than the one captured in the squares and rectangular usual urban configurations?

About SO-IL:

Solid Objectives – Idenburg Liu (SO – IL) is an idea-based design office. With a global reach, it brings together extensive experience from the fields of architecture, academia and the arts. Founders Florian Idenburg and Jing Liu envisioned their New York-based studio in 2008 as a creative catalyst involved in all scales and stages of the architectural process. With roots in Europe, China and Japan – and sharing the optimism for architectural feasibility typical in those countries – Idenburg and Liu vehemently strive to realize their ideas in the world. Since its inception, SO – IL has worked on an array of projects ranging in scale from a series of prints for the Guggenheim Museum to the master plan of a cultural campus in Seoul. Recent projects include a wedding chapel in Nanjing, China, student housing in Athens, Greece, and a park pavilion in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. What unifies these projects is an intellectual and artistic rigor that has become SO – IL’s hallmark. Recognition for this approach is manifested through numerous prizes such as the MoMA PS1 Young Architects Program as well as the AIA NY Young Practices Award, both in 2010. SO – IL has been widely featured in international publications including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Wallpaper* and Surface Magazine. Their work has been exhibited at the Guggenheim Museum, MoMA, the LA Forum for Architecture and Urbanism, the Benaki Museum in Athens, the Center for Architecture in New York and Studio-X Beijing in China.








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One Response to “Playing with circles, curves, and SO-IL”

  1. SHIFTboston blog» Blog Archive » The participant, the experience, and the event: Experience Economies Says:

    [...] following review is written and edited by Zenovia [...]


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