Maria Gasparian, Colour Ceramic City

by Giada Giachino

A big city like London is not always an inclusive space: the metropolis tends to absorb lives and cultures, creating an impersonal unicum.  For a city that speaks over 300 languages and hosts more than 50 non-indigenous communities, looking for a sense of identity is a painful necessity.

This is one of the starting points from where Armenia-born Architect Maria Gasparian has started her MA Ceramic Design at Central Saint Martins. She believes that architectural ceramics can make a vibrant and interesting contribution to public spaces, whilst exploring important cultural references and being a high-quality, sustainable building material.

Colour Ceramic City, her 2016 graduation project, aims to “offer an engaging and sensory experience within public urban spaces”. The work “seeks to re-invigorate empty and under-used city spaces through the medium of large scale two and three-dimensional ceramic elements. Through the use of dynamic colour, texture and form the aim of the project is to influence people on a subliminal level, breaking the routine of everyday city life.”

The main features of the projects are volume, formed by extruded clay coils, colours, aimed to impact on the user’s subliminal level, and scalability. Maria’s research “will allow the application of elements to site-specific interventions creating vibrant and enduring spaces.”

Maria Gasparian was awarded Unilever Sustainability award and MullenLowe Nova runner-up prize for design innovation and won a Winston Churchill Travelling FellowshipWinston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, through which she researched the manufacturing of architectural ceramics and their application in public spaces in the Netherlands, the USA and Hungary, in relation to the UK market.

Your project is innovative in terms of techniques and concept. Is it feasible at the moment?  “ To develop my project further, I will be working in collaboration with industry. In this sense, I know that often production processes inform design, that means that design has to work in conversation with the industrial boundaries.  I am particularly interested in the crossover between the machine/digital and hand-made, which is unusual in the ceramic field.”

Why your practice is important now in the ceramic field? “ Currently there is increasing demand for decorative and sustainable materials for the built environment that people can engage with.  At the same time, there is a lack of design expertise and manufacturing of ceramics on a large scale in the UK.”

Did your project change after this Summer research period? What is your biggest breakthrough? “ Identifying best practice abroad and seeing examples of successful application both historical and contemporary was very inspirational, this certainly affected my practice and opened new possibilities.

How do you imagine your practice in 5 years?  “ I hope to lead a cross-disciplinary designer-maker studio that will be developing designs, producing prototypes, and facilitating the production of site-specific ceramic interventions to invigorate city spaces.”