Thomas Widdershoven and Nikki Gonnissen, founders of renowned Dutch design studio Thonik, translate a celebrated piece of graphic design history into building form.
Here: We’ve seen your studio described as a typeface transformed into a building. Is that an accurate description?
Thomas Widdershoven & Nikki Gonnissen: You cannot describe our studio without referencing Lance Wyman’s Mexico Olympics 1968 project. Lance designed a three-line font to connect the logo, the programme and the super-graphics on site. We love this project for its graphic quality and omnipresence in all facets of the sports event. It brought graphic design to the heart of Mexico City – as we brought it to the streets of Amsterdam.
H: What was your motivation for undertaking the project?
TW & NG: Doesn’t everyone dream to build and design their own place? But there is a greater idea behind this project. If creatives develop their own workspaces, the quality and diversity in the city will grow. That’s what we discovered 25 years ago when we accidentally found a piece of land in the city centre. There we built our first studio, with MVRDV as architects. Fifteen years ago, we started looking for our next opportunity to build. This time we designed it ourselves, in collaboration with MMX-architecten.
H: From start to finish it took 12 years — was this because of concern about how it might fit into Amsterdam’s heritage fabric, or something else?
TW & NG: Our studio is located on one of the few urban streets in the city centre. There is not much heritage, but still a lot of city fabric to consider. Yes, it is extremely complex to add a building on a small, lost plot — in full view for all citizens to enjoy! The strong graphic exterior helped to motivate the city government, the bank, the engineers and the builders.
H: How does the exterior translate to the interior?
TW & NG: The outside is dominated by dark grey and off-white stripes made of Trespa. This is a pressed paper, 1cm thick. It is extremely durable. The exterior is edgy and designed to the millimetre. Inside, the atmosphere is more relaxed and warmer. Curtains, felt, wood, a textile acoustic wall. Raw concrete on the ceiling and polished cement on the floor. The interior is designed to be flexible. It is a building with an open structure, that offers possibilities and never dictates a certain use. A sustainable building is a building that can change function easily, so it is always relevant in future times.
Widdershoven and Gonnissen are speaking at the Superstar graphic design event, AGI Open in Tāmaki Makaurau.
18–19 September 2023
Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland
Tickets from agi-open.com