“I am happy because this is my work and my life.” When the Parisian architect Joseph Dirand says those words with a big smile on his face, you believe him immediately. And he has many reasons to be happy. Since childhood he dreamt of becoming an architect, and it seems that the little boy from back then realized his vision. Today Joseph is a well known architect in Paris and throughout the world. During our visit, he reveals the poetry of natural materials and speaks to us about urban beauty, as well as his inspirations and role models including Joseph Beuys and Jean-Michel Basquiat.
During our time with Joseph he shows us his apartment, his office space and the neighborhood he lives in. The interview gives us a chance to experience the everyday life of this renowned Parisian.
Tell us a little bit about your working environment.
I created this studio about 15 years ago. At the beginning we worked on very small projects. At the beginning I started working on two hotels in Mexico, which was sort of my introduction to the hospitality business. Little by little, the studio expanded and took on bigger and more diverse endeavors. Today I have a team of 10 architects. We all work together in this office in Saint Pierre like a kind of family. For me it is a bit like a traditional Parisian artisan studio. We are the new generation of ancient Parisian cobblers.
How do you approach a project as for example the Mexican Hotel? Take us through the process!
The most important is the context, where it is located – the country. Is it on the countryside or is it in a city? Or maybe, on the top of a tower? The concept has to relate to the context of the space or building. I wouldn’t create a French 18th century construction in a tower in Shanghai.
But there is also your own culture, which influences your work and gives it personality. The challenge is to translate your own culture into other cultures. You start to work on a project and you have all these images in your head, sometimes clichés. For example if you have never worked in Mexico, what are the first images popping up in your head? For me it was the period of Modernism, Acapulco, a sexy spirit. It was not traditional Mexican architecture, over all because it was an urban project.
So, I went there to get an idea of the place, to learn who about the local people, what can a hotel offer them and what kind of Mexican experience can it offer to people traveling through Monterrey. It is really hot in Monterrey, so people tend to stay inside with air conditioning and go by cars from one place to another. But because of this, they miss out on the beautiful landscape. Therefore my biggest challenge was to build a hotel, which allows people to enjoy the nature surrounding them.
Besides surroundings and landscapes, what else inspires you?
There is something current to my work or creative projects. I try to create a kind of storyboard, to build a scenario which corresponds to the project I am working on. I start collecting images, things I’ve seen in movies, in magazines, or at the location. I put everything together and the story starts to develop itself.
For example, for the hotel in Mexico I thought about its location in a very urban business district. Everything is fast and noisy and it seems like there is hardly any place to take refuge. But behind all this there is a certain kind of beauty hidden, a kind of beauty that is illustrated in Jacques Tati’s movie Playtime. This movie was a great inspiration to my work at the hotel, though nothing is taken from the movie and duplicated at the hotel. The inspiration comes from the general idea of the movie.
You talked about your culture, how would you describe your culture?
Already as a child I got inspired by a lot of things like the Garden of Versailles, Japanese architecture or sculpture by Joseph Beuys. All of these things provoke so much emotion, that they become addictive, like a drug.
How do you look for material, because I have just seen the proposal for materials on the table?
I am attracted by natural material or by things that are made by hand. If it comes from nature, there is poetry inside and you can’t really control what comes from nature. So for example you order marble, but marble will always be different. I prefer things that are produced by small designers, opposed to buying from big labels.
So we would probably meet you at a flea market than in a Vitra shop?
Let’s talk about Paris, starting with your apartment. How did you find it and what have you done inside?
I found the apartment, which is situated between the 9th and the 10th arrondissement, by coincidence and fell in love.
Before I lived in a place which was more like a loft and then I found myself in this classic Parisian apartment, a place I would have never imagined living in. I said to myself, it would be amazing to oppose something very classic with modernity. To violate it with Kubrick-like objects. For example this huge black monolith.
Art seems to have a certain value for you …
Yes, I think art is an incredible implement of our world and to understand the world we live in. Everybody has his or her own way of looking at an art piece and everybody feels something else.
The things I buy for myself are very intimate and have a kind of importance for me. I have sort of relationship with them.
Can you tell us a little bit about the objects you like?
What really matters to me, a lot more than the interior, is light. Light is what makes architecture alive. Wherever I go, especially my studio, my apartment, and the places I live, I have to see the sky.
Tomorrow you are taking us to two places to show us your work …
Yes, tomorrow I am taking you to two places which I have constructed recently and which show, in my opinion, two ideas of Paris. The Paris of today – modern and contemporary and the more classical Paris, sophisticated, situated close to the Champs-Élysées. They also show two very different sides of my work.
How would you define your creativity and style?
As the absence of a certain style!
To find more information about this extraordinarily creative from Paris have a look at his website. Next time you’re in Paris we recommend to you the Rosenblum Foundation and a personal appointment at the Balmain Store near Champs-Élysées. Also make sure to check out his hotel creation for Design Hotels in Monterrey – Mexico
Video: Ilan Rosenblatt
Interview: Tim Seifert
Text: Karolin Langfeldt