Swarovski Crystal Palace/ Parhelia and Conceptual Design for the Real World

Asif Khan with his project Parhelia

Parhelia is an immersive installation here at Design Miami/ 2012 designed by Asif Khan in conjunction with Swarovski Crystal Palace, and is a dazzling recreation of an ice halo encaged in a 20-foot cube. With over one-and-a-half million Swarovski crystals used, the installation recreates the optical refractions caused by suspended ice particles in cold northern climates. Placed in the sub-tropics here in Miami, Parhelia spellbinds the viewer with its shining, silvery-white honeycombs and glittering rainbow-effects.

The giant, twinkling structure explores the relationship crystals, light, nature and architecture. Khan commented on this project saying that “I was first inspired by the atmospheric and optical properties of the sky in northern latitudes and with the idea of transporting these elements to another, contrasting environment.” The multitude of crystals produce an effect that can only really be experienced in person.

As part of the Design Talks program, Swarovski Crystal Palace hosted a discussion with architect Asif Khan and designer Kenya Hara, moderated by Terence Riley. The talk focused on each of the designers’ work, their philosophies regarding the use of design as a tool for problem-solving, and the necessity of going between disciplines. Every single chair was taken and people were standing in the back to listen in.

"Conceptual Design for the Real World," a Design Talk with Asif Khan, Kenya Hara and Terence Riley

Riley began with a question on what it means to be multi-disciplinary. Khan responded with a recent project he conducted with musicians and the importance of collaboration: “You have a feel for this world, but you have to let other people contribute… the tools of architecture can be used in all sorts of ways that aren’t related to architecture.”

Kenya Hara showing a work from his "Architecture for Dogs" project

Kenya Hara, the creator of Architecture for Dogs and art director for Muji, said that “with graphic design, it’s not only about shapes or lines, it’s about the feeling – and creating new fields based on graphic design. Sometimes I’m a poet, sometimes I’m an architect. I wonder what I am… always.”

When asked what piece of work each of the speakers would contribute to the MoMa, Khan said that he would install a bakery, because with bakeries “there’s an intimacy… a smell. Wherever the bakery is, it becomes local.” Hara said that the work of his that he prizes most is always his most recent work, in this case Architecture for Dogs, and so this is what he would contribute.

Khan and Hara spent time speaking of their own work, and it was clear that even though each comes from a different background, they shared foundational qualities and interests. They both expressed an understanding that design is a means of communication, a way to ask questions and solve problems. Kenya Hara commented that his Architecture for Dogs project is a way to apply architecture’s principles as a scaled response to any number of relationships. “This is not a project to create a doghouse,” he said to many laughs, “I show how we can change our relationship with dogs to adjust for both human scale and dog scale.”

Asif Khan, creator of "Parhelia," a commissioned work with Swarovski Crystal Palace

Regarding Parhelia, Khan commented that “We used a single led light and natural sunlight” to create the effect, and that “We have a very intimate relatonhsip with the sun, and with the crystals, I was hoping to bring this light into an intimate distance with the viewer.” This is most certainly accomplished with the one-of-a-kind installation.

The talk closed with a question by Riley on the use of design to create a more optimistic future, and whether designers could use their work to provide answers to some of the world’s pressing problems. Khan responded by saying that “It’s important for us to be very engaged in what were doing. I think about us being in such powerful positions as creators and how people are actually starting to listen to creative people to solve the problems of business and geopolitics. Architecture and design are incredibly powerful. As long as we keep doing what we’re doing, I am very optimistic.”

Riley then directed the question to Hara who took several moments to consider the question very carefully. “If we can create a very fantastic question, we do not need an answer.”

- Rob Goyanes

Categories / Architecture for Dogs, Asif Khan, Kenya Hara, Swarovski Crystal Palace, Terence Riley