On the lower end of Greene Street in New York’s SoHo neighborhood sits Christian Wassmann’s architecture and design practice, an energetic environment with curving, interconnected surfaces that define a space open to daylight—and ideas.
Exploiting the interplay between the formal rigor of his training and the artistic and symbolic power of his interests and influences, Wassmann’s practice is inspired by the pursuit of refined, restrained and yet vitally complex expressions. His projects, often in collaboration with other designers and architects, begin with a foundation of rhythmic geometry, providing a stylized framework for use and function.
Wassmann recently celebrated the opening of his first stand-alone residence, the Sun Path House, an inspired concrete building whose focal point is the path traced by the South Florida sun.
Tell me about the Sun Path House. The brief was to make a tree house. The client has a house in Miami Beach with very beautiful gardens. Instead of maximizing the space and building, which is common, I wanted to protect that space and the nature represented in the garden.
I had just traveled to India and was really inspired by the Vrihat Samrat Yantra in Jaipur. It’s the largest sundial in the world and there is a complex system of structures to explore the cosmos. I was surprised by how physical the experience of being there was: You really feel connected to stardust. The installations embrace you and you realize there’s a deeper meaning to those forms.
So, we were inspired to trace the sun’s path in Miami to define a plan for the house, specifically during the summer solstice. The spiral form supporting the house defines the space vertically but also in terms of layout: On each level, the living areas are in front of the curve and the supporting spaces and infrastructure are situated behind. I was also inspired by studying modernist villas, like Villa Savoye in France and Casa Malaparte in Capri.
Do you seek small-scale projects like objects and design? I like to work at every scale and in different contexts; it helps the movement of ideas. I like things from the small to the large. I trained as an architect but also studied with artists. When I came to New York I was always searching for a place like Black Mountain College, somewhere that various disciplines were brought together and where collaboration was a key. The closest I ever found was Robert Wilson’s Watermill Center.
I can see the connection with Wilson’s influence. He imposes a strict, highly stylized frame on which everything else is hung with the freedom to be expressed and interpreted. Yes, he always said that as a director you create a structure and then everyone else fills it in. That is what is great about collaboration with him: The dancers and actors and musicians fill in the structure. In architecture, the structure can be understood as a frame for life, but I think more importantly, architecture should inspire the people who inhabit it—architecture and actually anything manmade that ideally connects individuals to one another, to themselves and to the cosmos.
His art and design collection works the same way, where all these different ideas and cultures are represented together in dialogue with each other. Yes, it was inspiring to work there. You sit on designer chairs with art and objects from all kinds of cultures and centuries around you.
Your work is really rigorous and structured, but there’s something of a workroom feel to this studio. I expected a different feeling. I actually have a pretty analog office. I like to keep things around, of course, like my library, all my notebooks and our models. It’s a personal space and we make a lot of things here ourselves. The espresso cups are from the Odeon café from my hometown of Zurich. We usually make prototypes by hand, and even the first resin lamp, which shows at R & Company, was made here. The building’s super wasn’t too into that!
How long have you been here? Almost 10 years. I like it because there are so many materials in this neighborhood. We’re right above Canal Street, which is the best place to source any kind of material we might need.
What are you working on now? We are completing the new building for Lisson Gallery under the High Line, and we are working on a book about the Sun Path House and the first 10 years of the studio. We also started a new residential project on Long Island and are continuing to design more furniture and objects.