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Pushing the envelope: SO-IL, USA

SO-IL’s innovative elegant structures, often characterised by the studied lightness of the armature, address diverse types, materials and scales

SO-IL have been shortlisted for the AR Emerging Architecture awards 2019. View the shortlist here

Founded in 2008 by Florian Idenburg from the Netherlands and Jing Liu from China, SO-IL occupies that tantalising terrain between the emerging and the established, trying out a range of architectural identities to see what fits. Some themes are clear, however: a gossamer lightness, with a playful rigour and concern for making that can be traced back to the Tokyo office of SANAA, where Idenburg and Liu met. Asked their favourite material, their reply is ‘shrinkwrapped’. ’

Now they operate out of an office in Brooklyn, surrounded by the disparate blare of New York, where ‘building anything is like building a Tower of Babel. No one speaks the same language’. But their sphere of operations extends from California, with the Manetti Shrem Museum of Art, a cluster of ribbed concrete pavilions swathed in a froth of membrane-like canopies, to Hong Kong, and the Chow Tai Fook Museum. Currently under construction, the latter’s convex glass envelope is fabricated from 475 customdesigned 9m-high tubes, like a giant layer of glistening bubble wrap.

‘With a curator’s mindset, the architects explore experimental, future-oriented ideas, and work with clients willing to take chances’

From the outset, Idenburg and Liu approached architecture with a curator’s mindset, investing in projects that allowed them to explore experimental, futureoriented ideas, and work with clients willing to take chances. Initial forays had a nities with fashion and art, as with the design of a serpentine tent for Frieze art fair on New York’s Randall’s Island and the Kukje Gallery, an enigmatic cube wrapped in mesh in Seoul. They also devised the backdrop for the recent speculative Home Futures show at London’s Design Museum.

So il drawing for the frame series

So il drawing for the frame series

Drawing for the Frame series

Their work now encompasses all scales, with smaller projects testing ideas about form and making, feeding into larger set pieces. Whimsical furniture made from bent steel pipes and chainlink has the character of gauzy architectural models. Adding a modern visitor centre to an 18th-century glass factory in the Vosges region of France, in collaboration with PILA and French practice Freaks, shows a skilful reconciliation of old and new. The concrete topography of the new building seeps in and around the existing structures, unifying a disparate post-industrial site. ‘We enjoy doing the kind of work that allows ideas to materialise. Work that offers new insights and experiences’, says Liu.

So il drawings

So il drawings

Click to download

Coming soon is a prototypical housing project in León, one of Mexico’s fastestgrowing cities. Seeking a solution to the nation’s housing crisis, SO-IL collaborated with the Instituto Municipal de Vivienda de León (IMUVI) in the development of high-density, sustainable social housing. Shared patios along a public staircase create opportunities for community building, and enable residents to socialise and enjoy outdoor spaces – an intimation that SO-IL’s ambitions are not just limited to the rarefied worlds of art and fashion

This piece is featured in the AR November issue on the Foreign + Emerging Architecture – click here to purchase your copy today

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