Some things are just meant to be. Mårten Claesson, Eero Koivisto, and Ola Rune started an architecture and design firm while still in college and two decades down the road, they haven’t looked back. Focusing on the essentials by reducing every idea to its strongest point, their firm Claesson Koivisto Rune Architects has come to be known for its unique visual language.
DESIGN STATS: One of the most innovative of the contemporary era, the design studio has revolutionized the tastes and creativity of Northern Europe, upending the legendary Nordic design and architecture of the 1960s and renovating it from within.
NOTABLE PROJECTS & PRODUCTS: The Sfera building in Kyoto, Inde/Jacobs Gallery in Marfa, Kelly Chair for Tacchini, and Neo cookware for Iittala, among others.
QUOTE: “We always share credit because we are a true partnership. Our designs, more often than not, are tweaked between singular personalities into projects that are more us as a collective than one of us individually.”
WHAT YOU DIDN’T KNOW: Early on, the trio rented just one table in another architect’s studio, continuing a custom from university. They still work that way, even sharing a single email address for the entire firm.
HOT OFF THE PRESS: The book “Claesson Koivisto Rune Architects” by Swiss publishing house Birkhäuser released in February 2020 looks at the firm’s work from the first 25 years.
WATCH: The making of Belt Stool for Modus.
DESIGN HOTEL MEMBERS: Nobis Hotel Stockholm, Hotel Skeppsholmen, and K5.
Q: Who or what are your biggest influences?
We get a lot of our inspiration from fields that may be related to architecture and design but are really about other aspects of life such as art, music, food, or travels. One artist that has been a great source of inspiration is Donald Judd; another Ellsworth Kelly. From traveling, Japan stands out in a class of its own. The number of visits is more than 100 between the three of us over the last 25 years. We never grow tired of the sophistication, civilization, precision, abstraction, purity, and beauty. Plus, you can’t seem to get a bad meal in Japan.
Q: Have you ever changed your mind about anything aesthetics-wise?
Oh yes, all the time! To a point where we’ve more or less done away with aesthetic principles. Except perhaps the principle to not have a principle (in principle, that is!). If we have an aesthetic, it’s perhaps better for others to put it into words.
Q: Describe your dream project, real or fantasy.
The dream is to achieve perfection. But since that is an impossible catch, we’ll have to make do with the chase and not the catch. And the ’chase’ in this case is the creative process itself, rather than a specific project or function. At its most stimulating, it is when you have to solve something you have never done before.
Q: What’s the last thing you read that made you feel something?
Everything you read evokes emotions, especially good literature, just like physically experiencing architecture (should be).
Q: Without thinking too hard, which do you choose:
Wood or concrete? Wood
Beach or mountain? Beach
Modern or classic? Modern
Morning or evening? Morning
City or country? City
Jazz or classical? Jazz
Drama or comedy? Drama
Dancing or hiking? Dancing
Q: What are you currently working on?
We’re currently working the final stages before the opening of K5 hotel in Tokyo, which is a very special 20-room hotel next to the Tokyo Stock Exchange. We completely transformed a 100-year-old concrete bank building. It’s luxury, but not in the typical way with slick materials and a “padded” ambience. Instead, for instance, fine-crafted wood is next to exposed concrete. It’s about a very real experience, although somewhat unusual. The rooms are large, around 45 square meters. This is a luxury, especially in Tokyo! And because this is a part of Tokyo with very little greenery, there is a lot of it in this hotel. There is even a gardener on the staff, although there is no garden. The reception is in a flower shop. The flower shop seamlessly becomes the dining room. There is a German-style beer hall with Scandinavian design and American beer (Brooklyn Brewery) in the basement. Also, there is a library that is a cocktail bar. In addition to the interior architecture itself, we’ve custom designed circa 20 objects and furniture pieces for K5, mostly made by local Japanese mastercraftsmen. It’s quirky, minimal, vague, and super-serious, all at the same time. We like to think of the K5 as a gesamtkunstwerk.
Q: Is there a building or product that strikes you as particularly well-designed or innovative?
Right now, we feel that the Teshima Art Museum by architect Rye Nishizawa is in a class of its own…really uncompromising. Perhaps more of a sculpture than a building, but no less fantastic.