March Studio

Jun 6, 2011
  • Article by Alexa Kempton
  • Designer
  • Architect March Studio

March Studio is a practice that describes its work as a combination of the experimental with the pragmatic. The young firm, established in 2007 by Rodney Eggleston and Anne-Laure Cavigneaux, prides itself on the craftsmanship of the five individuals that form the core of the practice. With materiality and rigorous processes at the very backbone of its innovative approach to interior design, everything is hands-on from the start with a March Studio project, from the prototyping to the actual installation and building of a new space.

Making the most recent use of March Studio’s holistic design process has been the skincare company Aesop – a brand well-known for its retail design aesthetic, both in Australia and Europe. As expected from a firm that has nurtured an enduring partnership with such a design-conscious client as Aesop, March Studio stresses the importance and integrity that is always invested into its client relationships, but Eggleston confesses it’s not a one-size-fits-all. “We don’t do marketing for people,” says Eggleston. “It’s a design adventure.”

“We’re trying to find a new vision of what spaces can do, and so we ask our clients to take a risk with us,” adds his French partner, Cavigneaux. “We can’t deliver something that looks like something else we’ve already done.” In this sense, each project develops organically. The process of uncovering the quirks and interests of the client informs the direction in which the project may travel, and it is clearly important to March Studio that the relationship delivers something meaningful for its team in return.

Their ongoing partnership with Aesop is a relationship that began when March Studio and the small skincare boutique were neighbours in the Melbourne suburb of Carlton – and has certainly been an important catalyst for the practice’s experimentation with materials. Its latest Australian store for the brand, in Prahran’s Greville Street, is a hybrid storefront with a new mail-order portal located around the back of the building. The interior features a matrix of layered CNC-cut plywood that clads the wall and ceiling, inspired by the aesthetic of the mailroom.

“It’s been a good relationship, and they’ve been very trusting,” says Eggleston. Each of the Aesop stores – March Studio has created 10 – explores one material and one technique, with previous fitouts articulated in cardboard, ply, glass bottles and even string, sourced from Singaporean coconut husk. It’s perhaps the most impressive Aesop of all, made all the more notable as an example of applying locally sourced material with a clear sense of environmental context.

The most recent work is the studio’s second Paris-based Aesop, featuring a curving tensile form suspended below the ceiling and filled with thousands of hand-folded cardboard boxes. This project again explores the studio’s fascination with cardboard. The rigid edges of the individual boxes seem to disappear within the fluid, organic form of the supporting structure. While it challenges the perception of this everyday material – a task that many designers have busied themselves with– it’s clear that March is pushing the boundaries. “Materials are very important,” says Eggleston. “You can make architecture and interiors out of virtually anything, which is something we’re trying to do.”

For ‘Unlimited, the inaugural Asia Pacific Design Triennial’ held in Brisbane in October 2010, March Studio was commissioned to design the main exhibition space, entitled ‘Make Change’. The exhibition examined a collection of projects from across the region, focusing on the role of design in humanitarian relief and long-term development. March Studio began by investigating the geographical locations of each of the projects, employing computer modelling to relate them to each other with a sequence of large and small spheres. The edges of these spherical forms were then defined in the exhibition by sheets of paper suspended from the bulkhead above – again, a complex idea expressed using simple materials.

“Our work relies so heavily on detail, and there’s been a history with us making models, testing things out as much as possible,” says Eggleston. “The computer is just another tool in the process, but for us it’s more about making.” One such model is an intricate piece created by March Studio’s Julian Canterbury – a handmade early concept for the studio’s entry to RMIT’s 2009 ‘Shelter: On Kindness’ exhibition. The model was built by configuring individual pieces of nylon (PA2200), generating a sculptural exterior with protruding lengths, and a sound structure strong enough to be hollowed out. Canterbury’s model was then explored with computer modelling, in order to give the team layer-by-layer instructions for constructing the full-scale model. It’s a project in which digital modelling came second to physical construction. “We’re not fascinated with form making, but rather the actuality of making,” says Eggleston. “It’s hard to justify heroic formalism all the time. Sometimes, you have to take the simple route, and go back to sourcing Australian-made industrial objects,” he adds, assuring that the studio will continue to push boundaries with its material choices. “We want to make something that you’ve never seen before, out of something very simple and humble.”

While much of the studio’s work until now has been fairly small-scale, interior-based work, it has also been completing larger projects as they come along. 2010’s Brent Knoll, a contemporary addition to an 1850s homestead in regional Victoria with a striking, angular copper rooftop, was the firm’s first completed residential project. Thanks to these bold efforts and the experimentation facilitated in the smaller works that have come to fruition, the practice is quickly garnering a wider clientele of willing ‘risk takers’, and the team welcomes the new challenges. “We never had any targets to get into a certain area,” says Cavigneaux. “We’ve always just wanted to test and try things that haven’t been done before.”

For March, the future is promising. Its international reputation is growing, with several projects located in Paris, Cavigneaux’s hometown – including a recent pitch for ‘a small project in a prime location’, though more details remain closely guarded – as well as four residential projects closer to home. Eggleston is realising the importance of the international work. “I think we underestimate the talent here in Melbourne,” he says. “We can do these types of jobs at home, but it isn’t until you work abroad that you get that sort of attention.”


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