the 2022 spring edition of maison&objet paris has recognized the talent of architect franklin azzi as designer of the year. with every edition, the fair acknowledges the most outstanding names of the international design and decor industries, giving them a dedicated space where they have the opportunity to showcase their work and express their design practice in a manner they see fit. 

as the longest running designer of the year maison et objet has ever had — the pandemic extended his tenure — franklin azzi presents RETRO FUTUR, an immersive installation that explores the architect’s creative process. 

designboom spoke with azzi in paris about his past and current projects, his obsession with tidiness, and how his exhibition at maison&objet reflects his life and work. read it below.

interview with franklin azzi, maison&objet's designer of the year 2022
image by anne-emmanuelle thion, courtesy of maison&objet


founded in 2006, franklin azzi architecture develops a cross-disciplinary approach that draws from different perspectives encompassing everything from urban planning to interior design. from the urban microarchitecture of the eiffel kiosque, to the refurbished alstom warehouses in nantes, azzi’s work is underpinned by a quest for sustainability tailored to meet user’s needs. minimalist in its aesthetic and maximalist in its multi-faceted functionality and environmental quality, the architect advocates to the return of common sense.

with the RETRO FUTUR immersive installation at maison&objet, franklin azzi explores the creative processes of the future using tools from the past. his day-to-day activities have been staged throughout a tableau of screens that showcase a selection of basic tools related to an architect’s work (set square, roaring pen, tracing paper, light table, etc.) together with items required when developing a project: architectural models, materials, sketches, etc.

upholstered in felt, the space creates an acoustic bubble that fosters concentration. the slatted curtain invites visitors to enter and exit at will, while the felt adds to the calming and intimate vibe of the space.

interview with franklin azzi, maison&objet's designer of the year 2022
image by anne-emmanuelle thion, courtesy of maison&objet


DESIGNBOOM (DB): because of the pandemic, you have been maison&objet’s designer of the year for three years already. is the exhibition you’re presenting the same as the one you envisioned three years ago? what has changed?

FRANKLIN AZZI (FA): I think we have designed this exhibition at least two times, maybe two and a half. when we first began, there was no sanitary crisis, and my idea was to produce a show, which basically explained who we are as an architectural practice. I decided to showcase all the objects that surround me, making it a very intimate installation – it’s not very shy, as far as I’m concerned. I think it represents me and shows off my personality. we wanted to do something that relates more to an art installation than an architectural one. finally, the whole installation will be 100% reused and that was very important for me.

DB: you have used felt throughout the installation. could you please explain this material choice?

FA: felt is really important for me because it is a renewable material – it is made from fabric dust. I like to reference joseph beuys because he loved this material which to him had protective and life-giving attributes, and also because you don’t need much energy to produce it. for me, it’s also very important to reuse the materials. and it’s the same with the screens I’ve used — they have been used before and I will use them again. I didn’t want to buy anything that wouldn’t be reused. so it’s a 100% reused project.

DB: do you approach your architecture projects with the same vision?

FA: definitely, definitely. let me tell you about our project for the montparnasse tower where I created a collective with three architecture practices: chartier-dalix, hardel le bihan and myself. we decided to reuse all the materials that are inside the tower. the project is huge and it’s been four years that we’re working on this.

the project was a big international competition with entries by rem koolhaas and dominique perrault among others. but I think we won because we come from a generation that thinks of real sustainability and not the marketing sustainability. because you can do a building with a green facade, but it doesn’t mean it’s a green building.

for the past fifteen years we have been doing mostly rehabilitation projects, I would say around 70% of our projects are of this type. so basically we are presented with a bad building, and we have to make it better without demolishing its skeleton because all the carbon is within its skeleton. we are specialized in the renovation of old buildings.

interview with franklin azzi, maison&objet's designer of the year 2022
image by anne-emmanuelle thion, courtesy of maison&objet

DB: I’ve heard you have been very eager to show your first project. why is this?

FA: I like to show my first project because it’s like with musicians, everybody knows that the first album is the best one. as far as I’m concerned, the beatles’ first album is their best one.

DB: so you also consider it your best project?

FA: oh, I mean, all my clients would be absolutely furious if I was saying this (laughs). but it was the purest project I’ve made, the most spontaneous one.

it was the creation of two bali barret stores in tokyo — one was in the district of shibuya, and the other one was in jingumae. I’m fascinated by architecture derived from military processes. I hate war, I have to say, I really hate war. but I like the design that comes from army processes. and this is because you don’t have the signature of a designer, it’s only about function. I mean, I don’t consider I’m an artist, I’m more like a technician. and I believe aesthetics will come naturally if the function is okay.

DB: this installation talks about precision: all the tools have been laid down in perfect order, like a surgeon getting ready for an operation…

FA: yes, let me tell you a story. I went to marfa, texas to see the work of donald judd. and I went to his ranch, and was very curious about his objects which he seemed to be a total maniac of. he was very, very strict in his way of thinking, and I was looking at his pens, and they were all parallel, perfectly aligned with just one centimeter in between. and since that day, I have been doing the same with mine, because I truly enjoy order.

interview with franklin azzi, maison&objet's designer of the year 2022
image © designboom

DB: your renovation of the alstom warehouse into an art school, can you tell us more about this project?

FA: yes, this is a very important project for me because that was the first rehabilitation project where we got rid of the whole skin of the building because it was full of pollution and asbestos. the idea was to create like an umbrella around the metal shade, and to claim some russian dolls inside. so we separated the skin from the skeleton, and its since this project that I always separate the skin from the skeleton, because the skin can change in design but the skeleton will never move. you have to keep the skeleton if you want to have a good, sustainable process. but the skin has to change. and also, it’s in the skin where we find more innovation and research, and maybe in 10 years we’ll have much better skins for the buildings.