In our last Frame Awards Live, four of the 15 jury members who assessed February’s Frame Awards products and projects discussed how a trend towards minimalism and natural elements in spatial design is a reaction to disorder brought upon by the pandemic, climate crisis and state of war.

When asked by Frame director Robert Thiemann what stood out across February’s winning project and runners-up, Philip Tefft, founding director at Ralph Appelbaum Associates London Studio, remarked, ‘so many projects embodied a kind of minimalism, a reductive nature of design. I think that a minimalist approach pushes designers to be more creative with materials, space and geometry.’ The minimalism that Tefft referred to was later bolstered by the conclusion that the common thread through February’s top interiors was, ‘a sense of order, calm and serenity,’ said Peter Greenberg, partner at Ester Bruzkus Architekten. ‘Maybe this says something about the zeitgeist of the moment, in a world of an on-going pandemic, an imminent climate crisis and a period of military aggression, we seek balance with nature and a sense of order.’

Hiba Restaurant in Tel Aviv, Israel, creates an intimate and personal dining experience due in part to a massive oak wood screen, which generates a sense of privacy as well as allure.

That sense of balance was tangible in February’s winning submission, Hiba Restaurant designed by Pitsou Kedem Architects. The use of natural materials like oak wood furniture and a sweeping screen were contrasted and simultaneously balanced by polished concrete floors. Opposing forces that create equilibrium with one another were also apparent in elements like the rough-cut granite island and rounded ceiling edges. Pitsou Kedem Architects' attention to materiality was not lost on the jury and proved to be one of the space’s strongest features. 

‘The space reduces the materials to their essence and uses them in a really confident way,’ said Adam Thompson, strategy director at Amplify. ‘The way that the designers have used the wooden screen to provide some privacy was really effective. The space has a fantastic mood.’ The praise of the screen’s role in creating an ambient dining space was echoed by Sarah Kennedy, principal and interior design director at CLB Architects. ‘Think about walking into the corridor and experiencing glimpses of the restaurant, its energy and atmosphere. The screen is almost leading you into the space.’

Pitso Kedem Architects' Private Spa in Tel Aviv seamlessly blends interior and exterior elements.

Another Pitsou Kedem Architects' project acknowledged, Private Spa in Tel Aviv, also effectively used screens to separate and strengthen the connection between different spaces. ‘One thing that this project does well is it blends inside and outside atmosphere, so that when you are inside, you feel outside, when you're outside, you feel the presence of the inside,’ said Thompson. ‘This blurring of environmental boundaries is a beautiful dream that can only be done in certain climates.’

Heytea Yongning Alley Store Xi'an, designed by Leaping Creatives, makes use of the city's connection to the historical Xi'an City Wall of Yongning Gate to create a unique space for tea-drinking.

The connection to a space’s local environment was also central to another honourable mention project, the Heytea Yongning Alley Store Xi’an designed by Leaping Creatives. The tea house’s location informed the foundation of its aesthetic and material choices. ‘As a tea house that's built next to the historic walls of the city, there's a particular material palette that comes from the city itself, and yet they use it in a fresh way,’ said Greenburg. ‘The colour of the floor tiles is contrasted with the wall tiles, but that floor tile goes out into the street and becomes the wall of city. The massive wall is now contrasted with a delicate, welcoming glass wall. This project made clever use of the parallels of the materials and the contrast of the materials in colour.’ 

Rejecting a fully white, clinical interior, i29's approach to Dentista's Amsterdam office balances medical professionalism and wellness.

Colour was an essential aspect to Dentista, an Amsterdam dentist office, another honourable mention. i29 Architects balanced ‘medical harshness’ with a ‘softness’ and ‘connection to nature’, said Kennedy. The effective use of colour as well as material tacility resonated with the jury. ‘Entering from a busy Amsterdam street, the waiting room is blocked in green. Walking through the white, clinical space, you emerge at the courtyard, where the colour green returns not as paint but as nature,’ said Greenberg. The space balances what is harsh and soft – a clinical, medical space and gentle, natural elements.

The Kama-Asa Shop in Tokyo, a retail space for high-end Japanese knives, makes use of the very materials necessary for producing knives.

A similar balance was struck at the Kama-Asa Shop, a retail space for knives in Tokyo, Japan, designed by Kamitopen. 'The rigour and intensity of this project is as sharp as the knives on display,’ Tefft remarked. Mostly using wood and steel, the fundamental materials of a knife, ‘the space succeeds in using the parallel between the materials of the product and those used to make the architecture,’ adds Greenburg. However, the hardness and coldness of steel is brought into balance. ‘The use of woody warmth offsets the edgy, nature of the steel rebar,’ Tefft continued. While some jury members were critical of the use of rebar in the space may evoke a feeling of being locked in or out, the role of cultural perspective came into to play. ‘I think to a certain degree, the difference in perspective may be a cultural thing.’ Kennedy said. ‘Culture influences how we see design. Someone from a particular background may perceive a space differently. I think, though, that this space definitely provides some kind of experience no matter what your background is.’

Watch the Frame Awards Live below: