Arielle Assouline-Lichten founded her multidisciplinary design firm six years ago, the same year she began her petition to the Pritzker Prize for laureate status for Denise Scott Brown. (The committee had shamefully ignored her in 1991 when honoring her husband and business partner.) Since then, design and activism have gone hand-in-hand for Assouline-Lichten: Her Slash Objects line of furniture projects joins bold, clean lines with an emphatic focus on recycled, reimagined, and reinvigorated materials.
This year, she’s receiving an award of her own—though it’s not her first laurel, by far. After graduating from NYU, she earned a Master of Architecture from Harvard with commendation, studying under Toyo Ito. She went on to work at , , and before serving as Principal of OfficeUS at the Venice Biennale. Last year, her Coexist Collection won Best in Show at the NYCxDESIGN Awards presented by Wifijerez. This year, she’s again in the spotlight as recipient of Bernhardt Design and WantedDesign’s .
Clearly, she’s busy. But Assouline-Lichten took a few minutes off her packed schedule to talk with Wifijerez about following in her mother’s footsteps, the appeal of rubber, and the state of the design fair ecosystem.
Wifijerez: When was the first time you really noticed the design of an object or space?
Arielle Assouline-Lichten: Well, my mom is an architect, so I grew up with her pointing things out. You kind of never think you’ll follow in your mother’s footsteps, but then somehow inevitably you end up here! All of our trips were about dissecting spaces. Once you have that lens it’s hard to remove. She was very pedagogical and wanted to show you what she can see. That was always a background.
ID: What made you decide to follow in her footsteps?
AA: I ended up at an architecture firm doing graphic and interactive design in Denmark, BIG. That’s kind of an outlier office anyway, in how they work. My previous conception of architecture was very different—and probably more accurate! But I really wanted the skills the architects had, making 3D objects. That’s where the revelation came: There was this moment where I realized that there was this whole other realm of built objects.
ID: Which you now tend to make of rubber. What’s the appeal?
AA: I’ve wondered that myself! It started when I discovered it while working on this interior architecture project. What I love is that it’s creating this new project from, basically, waste. The idea of it having a new lifecycle is very appealing to me. I want to see rubber through, to see all the things I can make it do. And then do that with other materials as well.
ID: What’s your studio like?
AA: I like a space to feel very organized before starting a project. And then I make a huge mess! But in order to really get thoughts flying it has to be super clean, everything in its place, all the chemicals lined up and all the boxes labelled. Then we start playing, and hopefully come to a productive conclusion. My happy place is walking into a studio when everything’s clean and put away. It’s rare!
ID: What are you showing at WantedDesign this year?
AA: Well, the idea with the show is to contextualize the new daybed within the Coexist collection and its intersecting of different materials and geometry. I want to situate everything together and make it feel like a comprehensive overview.
ID: And there’s no hardware in the pieces, is that right?
AA: It’s true for most of the pieces. They play with balancing weight distribution and being thoughtful about how the parts are connecting. Of course, some parts are welded together, but the assembly is four pieces that come together and notch into place. We think a lot about sequence of assembly. I really like to think in the most pared-down methods possible, so the concept of the materials meeting becomes about intentionally fitting pieces into one another.
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ID: What’s next on the boards for you?
AA: We’ve got a pop-up with the Scope x the Webster, and after that a number of new products and a comprehensive range of tableware accessories and planters. Things are getting larger in scale, more voluminous.
ID: If you could work with any material, limits notwithstanding, which would you choose?
AA: I’d love to get larger in the furniture realm and do substantial outdoor pieces. I’ve had this dream of doing a very concrete-and-rubber monolithic collection for the outdoors. With the daybed, we finally brought upholstery in wool. There’s something really beautiful about concrete and wool, the roughness and delicate boucle coming together.
ID: You’ve obviously had great success with the design fair model. What do you think its advantages are?
AA: It’s nice that there’s this consolidated audience. Otherwise it can be really difficult to disseminate information if you don’t have a well-oiled PR machine.
ID: But it has its drawbacks as well?
AA: What’s cool about Wanted is that the Terminal building has so much character, but it’s hard to create the right atmosphere [at other places] under florescent lighting and bad carpeting. Salone in Milan has all these shows happening in amazing spaces around town. I’d love to see that happening in New York.