Soft Minimal – A Sensory Approach to Architecture & Design
We are a product of our environment. The spaces we inhabit and the objects we live with influence the way we feel, think, and behave, while they create the framework for our lives to unfold within. Guided by the purpose of wellbeing, Norm Architects’ approach to architecture and design is therefore based entirely on the idea that spaces and furniture should, first and foremost, serve its user rather than merely be a means of artistic expression.
Through insightful essays and tactile imagery collected in Soft Minimal, we share the principles that underpin a human-centric design philosophy honed over 15 years. The artful balance of light and shadow is reflected in a Swedish retreat, while a Japanese house quietly professes the calming effect of natural materials; a Sri Lankan residence makes the case for bringing the landscape inside and a Danish retail space celebrates tactility.
With an intention to share what we have learnt and achieved as designers thus far, we want to contribute to the ongoing dialogue about human-centric design, with a broader goal to re-sensualize the built environment. We believe design should be sensory, simple, and functional, and this book published by gestalten is a manifesto-come-monograph outlining what these ideas mean to us and how we work with them. Serving as a sourcebook and aesthetic inspiration for design professionals and enthusiasts, Soft Minimal offers a nuanced perspective on minimalism that is warm, sensory and enduring.
Designers are problem solvers working to improve the lives of the end-user. We certainly feel charged with this cause, but we also want to provide beauty and poetry in the process. We see design as another mode of communication, not dissimilar to the written word, and we see books as design objects as well as vessels for ideas. Our approach has been to make a poetic literary object that looks and feels beautiful, is functional, and hopefully leaves the user better than before they picked it up. We’ve thought both rationally and emotionally about the tactility of the book, the layout design, texts and images, just as we do when addressing architecture and design. We’ve imagined it being held by the reader, how the weight and shape of the book is encountered by the body, how it feels to run a hand over the paper and turn the pages. Structure – both in terms of chapters and the rhythm of content within them – has been given great attention. Just as we consider the way someone moves through a space or reads the language of a product, we’ve attempted to achieve a natural and pleasant flow in this book.
Soft Minimalism should not be considered a revolutionizing movement, but instead a subtle rebellion against the trend driven. Rather than aiming for invention, we think of design in evolutionary terms, holding on to traditions, slowly and thoughtfully applying slight improvements to match the needs of modern society. Instead of adorning with superfluous details that call for attention, Soft Minimalism is about refining spaces and designs to their purest forms, while maintaining a soft and honest feel. It is refinement as a means of expression, but with a distinct thoughtfulness to it, and a clear vision to create spaces that feel good and possess significant haptic qualities.
Soft Minimal organizes our work into eight thematic chapters which can be read chronologically or visited at will. Each chapter stands alone, but all the ideas culminate into our design philosophy. Over 300 photographs have been painstakingly chosen and laid out to best illustrate our values and make tangible what are often intangible notions. Great care has been given to image combination and flow and everything on the page is intentional.
We hope readers will spend time noticing the details within the visuals and imagining what it feels like to stand in the spaces and touch the objects.
The complementary essays within each chapter elaborate on the beliefs and goals that underpin Soft Minimalism and will hopefully prove useful long after they’ve been read. The words can be read from start to finish, or as individual essays. For the ultra-curious, further reading may be found at the end of the book. The listed titles represent a small selection of the varied works that have helped shape our principles – from anthropology to evolutionary psychology, to phenomenology to philosophy.
Ultimately, we invite readers to sit and savour Soft Minimal – treating it as a tactile object to enjoy, a manifesto and a sourcebook in one, and returning again and again to the visual and cerebral qualities it offers.