Architecture and art, while of the same breed, are much like maths and English: architecture is a skill that relies heavily on precision, while art allows you the freedom of creativity. Yet 38-year-old Swiss architect André C Meyerhans will be the first to tell you that, in his case, the two go hand in hand. The architect, who has been living in Dubai for almost 10 years, won a Middle East Economic Digest architectural award in 2010 for his design of the New Garhoud Bridge, yet he’s currently displaying architectural-style art furniture and interior-inspired jewellery at Toby Arts gallery until Tuesday May 15. We sat down with the master of the craft to see how architecture and art overlap.
What is your main passion: architecture or art?
The artwork is an offspring of the architecture, and so is the jewellery and furniture. It usually starts with an architectural thought or an architectural background. You can see this when you look at the designs.
Tell us about the exhibition.
It’s quite a wide overview of my creative work, because it includes architectural pieces, furniture and design, artwork and also jewellery designs. The interesting thing that binds everything together is patterns. All the works are somehow influenced by patterns, but they are shown in different ways. The furniture patterns are a little more traditional, with modern interpretations; the architectural work plays with very contemporary pattern themes and so do the artworks. The jewellery is a mix of the two.
Are you inspired by Islamic art?
Yes. In the Islamic world, the focus historically was mainly on abstract design, because you couldn’t show figurative motifs in mosques and so on. You have a very, very rich history here that’s not comparable with anything else in the world, so why not learn from the masters? This type of art is also right on my doorstep, which makes it a very good inspirational point.
How did you make the transition from architecture to jewellery design?
The creative process is quite similar, at least in my case, in the art, furniture and jewellery I create – it’s the same way I go about architecture. When you look very closely, you can sense that it must be an architect’s mind behind the designs. So it’s not that far off. When you design something in architecture, you sometimes would like to explore a detail. Sometimes you make a model. A lot of the ideas I’ve had in architecture have been developed through models, and they kind of turned into artwork or furniture or jewellery. It’s a continuous development of an architectural thought.
Architecture is often based on precision. Do you apply that precision to your artwork?
Yes I do. When you look at my work, you’ll most likely always see the architectural influence, the ‘precision’. However, when you use patterns, elements or ideas, you can have a very joyful or playful way of dealing with that precision. There is often a technical approach in my designs.
Did you hand-make the jewellery pieces yourself?
It depends on the actual piece, on the size, and whether it’s feasible to do that with the tools I have. Otherwise I’ll decide whether it needs to be outsourced.
How have your designs been influenced by your environment?
I live in the Arab world and obviously those patterns have influenced me. Anything that is around you is an inspiration and has an influence on you, whether it be people or the environment. For example, the fact that I create so much furniture in metal is not only to do with the climate: when the climate is harsh, you don’t want to replace furniture every second year, which is what happens with plastic or wooden furniture – you can leave aluminium furniture for years. It’s also to do with the fact that I have some very good relationships here, through architectural projects, with metal workers. I usually discuss new projects with them or bounce ideas off them – the same thing actually happened with the jewellery. I met a jewellery manufacturer and it was just an idea that developed on its own.
Can you tell us what other architectural projects you’re working on this year?
My next project is the Al Nadi Tower, a viewing platform that will commemorate the 50th anniversary of The Club in Abu Dhabi. It’s a stunning project – it’s on the breakwater wall off the private beach in the capital. It has a very organic shape and it features openings that will be illuminated during the night so it looks like a lantern.
Do you plan to continue your art exhibitions?
Absolutely, because they always go hand in hand – they inspire each other. I believe that it’s important to keep this multi-faceted approach in creative work in general.
Which is your favourite building in Dubai?
One of the most fascinating buildings for me is Dubai World Trade Centre. It’s one of the few skyscrapers that uses brise-soleil – a permanent sun-shading technique – to protect it from the strong sun. I also particularly like the Emirates Towers. I think they’re nicely designed in the way that the architecture, the interior design, the landscaping and the masterplan came out of one thought. From an urban planning point of view, I think the Palm Jumeirah is possibly the most innovative masterplan after Venice and maybe even Amsterdam.
Is the jewellery for sale?
Yes – they are limited editions. Only 250 of each item are made, and each item is numbered, so along with your piece you’ll also get a certificate featuring the number of the piece and a description.
Exhibition: Until May 15 at Toby Arts, Block 1, Warehouse 11, Al Quoz 1 (04 380 5292).
Artist: André C Meyerhans.
Price range of works: Dhs900 to Dhs2,015 (jewellery); Dhs3,500 to Dhs120,000 (furniture).