In search of Wabi…

One project this month has seen me going back to my designer roots to explore the essence of what Wabi Sabi means to me. It has got me thinking also about what it means in a modern western setting? Can it exist?

My client has a small inner city warehouse style apartment. Amongst the raw concrete walls and exposed steel beams, she has been desperately trying to create a home. She has found so many challenges within this space that was once only meant to house machinery. Her small ensuite bathroom is to be our starting point…

The word Wabi stems from the root wa, which refers to harmony, peace, tranquility and balance – all great characteristics when thinking about a bathroom design. Wabi had the original meaning of sad, desolate and lonely – a visit to an old abandoned warehouses is likely to conjure those very emotions but I digress…

Nowadays its connotation has a more poetic interpretation. It has come to mean simple, unmaterialistic, humble by choice and in tune with nature.

The task at hand is trying to find something visual to help explain my ideas and give my client something tangible to relate them to. The solution has been the Belimbing Avenue project by Hyla Architects in Singapore…

bathroom vanity and sink (designed by Hyla Architects and photo by Derek Swalwell)

bathroom vanity and sink (designed by Hyla Architects and photo by Derek Swalwell)

 

This paired back, almost austere space captures a sense of magic for me. Its simplicity masks some very clever design… the concrete shelf that appears to float, the warmth of the bowl to balance the starkness of the concrete, the fragile glass appearing to slice through the tougher concrete…

 

shower niche with ceiling mounted rain cloud shower head (design by Hyla Architects and photo by Derek Swalwell)

shower niche with ceiling mounted rain cloud shower head (design by Hyla Architects and photo by Derek Swalwell)

 

The shower space appears so open with the clever use of the ceiling mounted shower rose to help unclutter the walls and give the illusion of extra space – another stroke of genius.

The space is primarily made up from off form concrete. Off-form refers to concrete cast against formwork. The finished product takes on the texture of the board it is cast against (EG a concrete panel cast on woodgrain will have a woodgrain texture). The addition of the tropical timber really helps soften and add warmth and the large planter box is a great way to bring Mother Nature to the space. Without both of these things in play, the bathroom could easily feel oppressive with all the grey.

For me this is a design that feels simple, unmaterialistic and humble by choice… This is Wabi.

 

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