John Balmond

Architecture provides, in the words of Marcus Vitruvius, the great Roman architect and historian, “firmness, commodity and delight”. We believe architecture is one of the most critical forms of applied art that reflects not only the above, but changing paradigms of culture, lifestyle and esoteric. The larger purpose of architecture is ebbed in the design and architectural workings of John Balmond, Director & Designer, of Balmond Studio, representing novel attitudes towards space, form and artistry. In this context, we explore the discourse of architecture with John, esteemed and renowned design personality who is not only inventive and bold, but facilitates architectural paradigms that span from spaces to emotions in understanding how architecture becomes a time capsule that articulates human needs and heritage. The son of internationally renowned architect and designer Cecil Balmond, John heads the Colombo office, overseeing architectural development and interior design for multiple clients across South East Asia. This includes an $850 million Waterfront development in Colombo, one of Sri Lanka’s largest private mixed developments which resulted in him winning a $400 million mixed development contract in Myanmar.

In this exclusive interview with ARTRA, John explains his perspective and functionality of the applied art of architecture, mathematical interpretations in its design process and the conceptual significance of his local and international projects, namely that of The ArcelorMittal Orbit (London), Waterfront Project (Colombo) , Danzer (Denmark, Chicago, Tokyo), and Infinita (Amsterdam).

Q | What does architecture mean to you?

A | I think architecture for me is about creating spaces for human beings to enjoy and evoke emotions. I really believe architecture is about creating strong feelings that are essential for human beings. Architecture has a lot of applied planning and design. There’s a lot of science behind it. 90% of architecture is a hard craft while 10% constitutes the dream. In essence, I believe architecture is about creating positive emotions and inspiring something that you enjoy being in.

Q | What is the role that design plays in architecture, in your opinion?

A | The design point of view comes in when you’re on the site and looking at fundamentals. For example, sun patterns, wind patterns and viewpoints form starting points of thinking of the design element. You never really go in with a preconceived idea of what you’re going to do, you just go to the site and that will basically direct you to what you are to do. That’s very important. I think by really understanding the surroundings and simple ideas of sunrises or sunsets, you come up with a much better building, whether it’s in a city or whether it’s in the middle of nowhere. But I think design elements are strong from a human point of view, so it’s not just a robot designing a functional building, it’s more than that. It’s a human evoking a positive emotion through space and form.

Q | With relation to an artist, to what extent is an architect or a designer, similar and different?

A | That is a good question that has sparked a lot of debate and you’ll get a lot of traditional architects saying it’s very different as architecture is planned. Architects need to strategize, think comprehensively, draw with accuracy with mathematical formulas or rigor. Artists dream and essentially conceptualize their work with no measured premise. Artist do not plan, but are only inspired. We believe that the work we do at Balmond Studio bring the best natures of artists, designers and architects. If you look at some of our work, they are based on mathematical rigor and planning. We call that art. Some traditionists wouldn’t call that art. It’s a very blurry ground, in the end, it comes down to what you believe, and that is very personal.

Q | How did your career in architecture begin?

A | For me architecture, although not formally trained, was rather innate in interest. From a young age, my father and I would sit together and have discussions on architecture. We would sketch together and often found ourselves to have the same taste. He always said that if I am to get into this trade, I shouldn’t simply pursue it because of his formulated career but rather for my own interest. I started about ten years ago, designing small cabanas on the west coast of Sri Lanka looking at how the villagers were living, looking at how they used their materials, adapting that in a contemporary way. It was very successful and then one thing led to another and now I have a very strong creative soul that comes through my music, songwriting and music production. I’m very much involved in designing homes, villas, condominium apartments and around me, I have very technical people including architects, engineers, electricians, and plumbers who will then look at that vision and try and fulfill it. Obviously, there are challenges when you have vision versus function. If it becomes too functional, you lose the aesthetic, and if it’s too aesthetic, it may not work functionally. There’s a fine balance. That’s something I’m working on every day with my team.

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4th July, 2019 Applied Art | Architecture