Q&A: Umut Yamac

Umut Yamac is a British architect and designer whose work explores the middle ground between architecture and light. Taking his inspiration from nature, his work is defined by rigorous craftsmanship and a meticulous knowledge of materials.

Exploring the kinetic and volumetric effects of light and thread, Array marks the first collaboration between Yamac and Vibia. Composed of an array of fine hand-woven threads pulled taut between two metal rings, the collection presents a variety of majestic, three-dimensional volumes that shimmer overhead. Solid, yet translucent, the layered threads influence the visitor’s perception of volume and depth to create a new spatial experience.

Can you give us a brief introduction? Who are your references and where do you draw your inspiration from?

I was born and raised in London, to Turkish parents, and grew up traveling back and forth between these two countries and cultures. I’ve always been fascinated by how certain objects and spaces transcend their everyday purpose and can carry greater meaning.

After studying architecture, I founded my studio in East London in 2011 to focus on designing objects and installations on a more human scale. How these objects are activated by their surroundings, often through movement, physical or perceived, creates the perception of ‘life’ and enables a more emotional connection within us. This is the main thread of investigation which I often come back to in my work.

You studied Architecture at The Bartlett before working for a number of internationally renowned architects. What drove you to make the transition from architecture into product design and how does one field influence the other?

At the Bartlett, I was always in the workshop – I tried out every tool available. The focus was on designing through making and developing an understanding of architecture through the 1:1 scale of making and testing materials. Moving into product design felt like a natural transition, however, the link with architecture remains. I think lighting especially, is very much connected to Architecture. What would Architecture be without light?

Whether it’s natural or artificial, light is fundamental to our perception of space, so the design of lighting is an opportunity to explore spatial and architectural ideas.

Like transparency, volume, lightness, and layering.

Delicate enough to let light pass through yet dense enough to take on three-dimensional form, Array achieves a sense of extreme visual lightness. What was the inspiration behind this? How did you find such a distinctive artistic language?

Originally, I was interested in transforming a humble material, thread, and using repetition, tension and space to trace spatial forms. I was fascinated by the question of how little do you need to define a volume? How can this form occupy a space without taking it over? The voids between the weave create a sense of transparency that means you can go quite large without feeling obtrusive. Instead, these volumes explore, reach out into the space, let the air pass through, and become a liminal architectural element.

With Array, we are suggesting a form without completing it, instead letting the viewer complete it in their mind’s eye.

The language was something which has evolved and continues to do so as we explore and work together. The technology involved in optimising the use of material whilst creating a generous and suggestive volume is incredibly advanced and satisfying, enabling more sustainable products, minimal use of materials, less wastage and, and flat-packing for ease of transportation.

Texture and tangibility has the ability to introduce a unique dimension. How did your exploration of thread begin? How do you express emotion through materiality?

Textiles and thread relate to the body and have inherently warm and protective associations.

My interest was to explore these concepts and the limits of this material and to test how a traditional weaving process could be translated to lighting. My explorations began with a tensioned light made of two intersecting woven prismatic cones. From there the process evolved as I explored different geometries and learned through trial and error the qualities and parameters of this material.

With these early designs, I was excited by how the layering of threads created volume but also gave the illusion of movement through a moire pattern, highlighted by the light. Array is the culmination of these experiments, both 3d drawings in space, and kinetic volumes, activated by the presence of the viewer.

What is it that makes a design authentic? What makes something timeless?

Authenticity is an interesting concept, and perhaps can be quite subjective. Within practice, I think the aim is to follow your intuition and try to stay as close as possible to the original line of questioning, whereas timelessness is probably best measured through the test of time.

How would you describe your approach to lighting?


What travel destinations would you recommend to a fellow professional or a student of either design or architecture?

A very formative destination for me was my first architectural pilgrimage to Igualada Cemetery by Enric Miralles on the outskirts of Barcelona. It sounds a bit macabre but having read and studied the project it was inspirational to visit and walk in the grounds. A poetry of material and landscape, so this would be top of my list.

If you could choose a superpower, what would it be?

Multiple arms like Shiva.

Something that’s never missing from your fridge?

Hot sauce! You can never have enough.

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