Designer of the Year — Sept. 2020 & Jan.2021
With every new edition, Maison&Objet Paris elects a Designer of the Year to honour one of the most outstanding names in industrial and interior design worldwide.
Maison&Objet's Designer of the Year Franklin Azzi is a man with multiple and disparate influences, from architect Claude Parent and artist Donald Judd to pianist Glenn Gould and psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan. He also avows a passion for American novels and loud rock music. The Paris-based architect brings a similar diversity to his work, with projects encompassing everything from urban planning to interior design. His best-known is probably the metamorphosis of a stretch of expressway directly on the Left Bank of the Seine into a 2,5km-long pedestrian promenade. His firm is also part of the Nouvelle AOM collective (along with ChartierDalix and Hardel Le Bihan Architectes) selected to transform Paris' iconic Tour Montparnasse skyscraper and the district around it. Born in 1975, Azzi graduated from Paris' Ecole spéciale d'architecture, where one of his teachers, the philosopher Paul Virilio, made a lasting impression. "He was a catalyst for many things", he recounts. "He not only influenced the way I work today but taught me really how to see". He also studied at the Glasgow School of Art, where he firmly embraced its cross-disciplinary eduction. "I liked going from one class on industrial car design to another on fashion textiles", relates Azzi. He founded his own agency in 2006, which now employs a staff of 50 housed in a former warehouse at the heart of Paris' 2nd arrondissement. He considers himself to be an "architect-technician" and professes to not having a signature style. "For me, each project is totally different", he insists. He also firmly believes that a beautiful building is not simply an aesthetically pleasing one. "It's one that brings happiness to those who use it".
In his own work, he resolutely avoids conjuring up an immediate "wow" effect. Instead, he aims to contruct buildings that are ageless and will stand the test of time. Many of his projects to date have involved rehabilitating existing structures.They have included the transformation of a postal sorting office in Lille into a cultural venue, the creation of the Nantes Fine Arts School in a former storehouse, and the crafting of the Beaupassage-Grenelle lifestyle and housing complex in Paris' 7th arrondissement. With each, his approach was the same: "to respect the past while celebrating the future".
Among Azzi's other commissions have been fashion boutiques for Christophe Lemaire, Isabel Marant, Lacoste and the LVMH group; a door handle for the Italian hardware manufacturer PBA; and the Holiday Café in Paris. Currently on the drawing board are a Mama Shelter hotel in Dubai, a multipurpose building on the Champs-Elysées, a temporary structure that will house a restaurant and bar on the roof of the Galeries Lafayette department store on Boulevard Haussmann; and boutiques in New York and Shanghai for the Chinese fashion brand EP Yaying.
He also regularly undertakes assignments related to the world of work, whether they be the Workstation and Dock en Seine office buildings in the Paris suburbs or the Deskopolitan Voltaire co-working project in the east of the city, which incorporates among other things a gym, kindergarten, restaurant, barber's shop, rooftop vegetable garden, and nine room hotel over 6,000m2. "We live in a time where things need to be more versatile and adaptable", he asserts.