One wouldn’t necessarily expect an architect to be drawn to the ethereal, but the London-based architect Asif Khan can’t help but be attracted to some of nature’s most fleeting expressions. In 2011, Khan created clouds as his Designer of the Future project; this year, commissioned by Swarovski Crystal Palace, Khan set out to create nothing less than an ice halo — in Miami. Here, the dapper and eloquent Khan shares this otherworldly experience, the magic of crystal honeycombs and super-duper construction materials.
It’s been quite a major year for you, Asif. You designed an installation for Coca-Cola at the London Olympics, had a project at the Design Museum, and now we’re here to talk about this commission for Swarovski.
It’s been quite a crazy year. Yes.
So, what will we be seeing in crystal form at Design Miami/?
Parhelia. It’s an ice halo. It’s something that happens to microscopic ice crystals in the northern latitudes. And we found a way to do that with Swarovski crystals. We’re going to create a pavilion inside the tent, which kind of creates that optical effect which you can normally only see in nature.
Is it like a prism?
It’s something that happens because of the hexagonal ice crystals that are forming. This kind of honeycomb that we have, that Swarovski is producing, basically contains crystals that act as a daylight filter. It’s a kind of panel — actually, it’s an architectural material — which incorporates crystals inside of it. You can use it as construction material, but, there’s some stuff that we’re going to do to it which makes it like a super-duper version of itself.
What kind of research did you do to create this super crystal?
We did a bunch of research. I didn’t quite believe that it would be possible to do this, so we set about trying to create an ice halo for ourselves. In fact, we created the world’s first indoor ice halo at the university of Manchester. It was minus 30 degrees in that room!
What attracted you to this project in the first place?
Well, coming from an architectural background, I liked that I could offer them something that’s more experiential and involves working within a space, rather than just creating an object. When I saw Nadia speak at Design Miami/Basel over the summer, I was really taken by how sincere she was. It’s not just a company sponsoring design.
I can only be useful to people who want me to be useful to them. You can feel from them [Swarovski] that there was a genuine interest in innovation, and that’s a part of the history of the company. Their catalogue is so extensive; it’s a who’s who of design — I can’t even touch that world. But with me, they agreed to explore what we can do with architecture.
- Tali Jaffe