In conversation with Jonas Bjerre-Poulsen about Soft Minimal

Jonas Bjerre-Poulsen is the co-founder of Norm Architects, a design and architecture company based in Copenhagen, Denmark. We had the unique opportunity to have a conversation with Jonas about the inspiration and thought process behind their new book, Soft Minimal: A Sensory Approach to
Architecture & Design.

Q. Could you briefly introduce yourself and tell us about your work at Norm Architects?

A. I am an architect, art director and photographer based in Copenhagen - co-founder of Norm Architects. I have a strong vocation for creating thoughtful projects that stand out in an understated and refined manner. For me it is all about balance. Balance between richness and restraint, between order and complexity. Minimalism that acquires softness and visual matter that assumes haptic qualities.

Having worked in the fields of residential architecture, commercial interiors, industrial design, and photography since 2008, we have great experience within a variety of projects and our multi-disciplinary team at Norm Architects is proud to be working across various scales and creative disciplines. The studio consists of competent and passionate people with backgrounds in everything from architecture and design to business and communication – yet our collective goal is simple: We aim to design architecture that stimulate all our senses, that enrich our lives and increase our sense of well-being.

Q. Can you shed some light on how you have paved your way as an architect, art director and photographer?

A. I truly believe there is a very strong connection between the different disciplines that make up my work – photography, design and architecture. There is an underlying philosophy that shows across my body of work. I call it Soft Minimalism and consider it an ongoing study of mine; in human contentment and in creating wholesome, lasting environments.

Whilst it’s important to use all modes of expression, such as sound, smell and touch, we can’t ignore the power of the image and that our modern world reveres the sense of sight. For us, making images is both a way to think through forms and materials, and a way to document and share our work. Photography allows us to build an even deeper understanding of composition, depth, texture, color and light. Through the camera we can study poetic structures and atmospheres that might influence a future work of design. It also attunes us to details. In the reverse, it’s so important that we can capture the essence of our finished projects so that we can show our clients, collaborators and peers what we stand for as designers. When taking these images, we want to convey the sensory qualities of the work and as best as possible, transport the viewer into the space or beside the object. Whilst some architectural photography can be sterile and technical, we try to employ a more poetic lens.

Q. How was the ‘expression: Soft Minimalism' born and how did you apply this philosophy
for The Audo?

A. The first step for our new book – Soft Minimal - was taken around 15 years ago when we wrote a small one-page manifest called Soft Minimalism. That manifest has been our guiding principle in creating architecture and design ever since. The book is in many ways an elaboration on those initial ideas, that has now been refined through 15 years of experience and countless projects.

With the essays we investigate if there are any universal truths in relation to good architecture that can resonate with people regardless of cultural preferences, trends and fashions.  Are there answers to be found in psychology, anthropology or biology that we can use to create architecture for the good life?

We believe that good design is an important element of a good and healthy life. “Soft Minimalism” is our road towards this goal. The concept stands for the sensorial, the simple and the functional. “Soft Minimalism” means designing with empathy (and good will) for the whole human psyche, physical form and five senses; designing with intention and restraint, with uncompromising quality, craftsmanship and technical skill; designing practical solutions to problems that will also improve daily life and finally, designing with longevity in mind.

The aesthetic is a response to what we have learnt about universal human psychological needs—safety, belonging, freedom and identity. Therefore, we find the strongest aesthetic values in our primordial environment—natural materials and colours, natural light and shadow, pleasant sounds, smells and air, relatable forms and voids and comfortable spatial flows. The aesthetic borrows a lot from nature to enrich the senses, whilst rational design influences bring necessary functionality. “Soft Minimalism” is honest, simple, tactile and neutral.

Q. Could you walk us through the thought process of curating the projects that we see in the ‘Soft Minimalism’ book?

A. Our work has in many ways developed and been refined over the years, but the core is still the same – and I think that has resulted in a body of work that is recognizable. We think of the book less as a monograph and more as a manifesto where our work illustrates our beliefs. To communicate these ideas clearly to the reader, we opted for a thematic structure that highlights the eight design principals guiding our practice. Within each chapter, we share a combination of finished works of architecture, interiors and furniture through another one of our beloved mediums—photography. Over 300 photographs have been painstakingly chosen and laid out to best illustrate our values and make tangible what are often intangible notions. Great care has been given to image combination and flow and everything on the page is intentional. We hope readers will spend time noticing the details within the visuals and imagining what it feels like to stand in the spaces and touch the objects. The projects are not grouped by their location, year or concept, but by the design principle they represent. We hope that by using this format it’s possible to read the works through a philosophical lens and take them as examples of our broader intentions as design professionals.

Q. What kind of emotions and ideas you wish the book inspired in the readers?

A. Soft Minimal organizes our work into eight thematic chapters which can be read chronologically or visited at will. Each chapter stands alone, but all the ideas culminate into our design philosophy.

These essays elaborate on the beliefs and goals that underpin Soft Minimalism and will hopefully prove useful long after they’ve been read. The words can be read from start to finish, or as individual essays. For the ultra-curious, further reading may be found at the end of the book. The listed titles represent a small selection of the varied works that have helped shape our principles—from anthropology to evolutionary psychology, to phenomenology to philosophy.

Ultimately, we invite readers to sit and savour Soft Minimal—treating it as a tactile object to enjoy, a manifesto and a sourcebook in one, and returning again and again to the visual and cerebral qualities it offers.

Q. What was your main inspiration for conceptualizing The Audo space?

A. We were inspired by many different places in the world where the lines between home-life and work, were blurred. Spaces that attracted likeminded creatives, uniting design and community in innovative places that are alive and under constant renewal. It was hotels that attracted certain crowds or retail spaces with small café corners that organically had become co-working spaces because people were allowed to work there while drinking their coffee. The idea was to create a place that continues to evolve and advance—a destination for design enthusiasts and creatives alike. Our hope was that people would come together, inspire, collaborate and experiment alongside one another, sparking conversations, friendships and creative alliances.

Q. And finally, which space / room is the closest to your heart at The Audo?

A. I think all the guestrooms at The Audo Residence are particularly successful. They embrace your body and make you at ease instantaneously. Humans instinctively search for spaces that make the body feel bounded and centered, that incite a sense of safety and comfort, and encourage activity and thought. In architecture and design, we must work with scale, fullness and emptiness in a way that embraces the human form. I think we succeeded quite nicely with the guestrooms at The Audo.

The Soft Minimal book is published by Gestalten and available at The Audo Concept Shop.