Silo is a London design studio formed by Attua Aparicio and Oscar Lessing who, taking inspiration from industrial processes, try to replicate them through a simpler and more imaginative way.
Founded by the pair when they were both students at the renowned Royal College of Art, in London, Silo Studio – despite its relatively young age – has already received numerous accolades. Immediately after graduation, they became the first designers in residence at Jablite, the largest polystyrene factory in the UK after impressing the management with their creations using the material to produce furniture. Since then they have shown their creations at Salone del Mobile in Milan, the London Design Festival and at the Design Museum in London. More recently, one of their latest collaboration has been with the Danish brand Hay with Tela, a series of textile molded glass creations.
Polpettas met one of the founders, Attua Aparicio, to discover more about the studio.
WHO’S BEHIND SILO?
Oscar [Lessing, one of the brains behind Silo] and I went to RCA – Royal College of Art – together and attended the same course, Product Design, from 2009 to 2011. After doing a project together, things went organically and we ended setting up Silo studio together.
HOW DID IT START?
We started collaborating when we both signed for a RoboFold workshop (a technology that allows folding metals with robots) at the RCA. Our idea was to use this machine to create furniture. However, we soon realised that it was very expensive using this technology to fold metal. So we thought: “Instead of making a chair let’s make a mold with the RoboFold”. And from there everything else it just happened organically. It wasn’t a strategic choice. At the beginning of the project we went to school very early in the morning and we were the last to leave. Each of us had a project but we were dedicating little time if compared to the main “big project”. Eventually, our tutors saw that both of us were dedicated in equal measure to the big project so they let us graduating together. And we set up Silo.
WHEN YOU GRADUATED YOU RECEIVED VERY POSITIVE REVIEWS AND FEEDBACKS FOR YOUR USE OF POLYSTYRENE. WHEN DID YOU START WORKING WITH THIS MATERIAL?
We started working with polystyrene because of different factors. As I told you, everything started when we signed up for the RoboFold workshop. Once we realised that our idea wouldn’t work because of budget and time – we were very tight on time as it was January (2011) and we had to graduate that June – Oscar mentioned me about a material, Polystyrene, that needed only 100 degrees to expands. This is a temperature that it’s very easy to reach just when boiling water.
After the first day of the workshop, with the realisation that we could not use this technique, came also a plan B. I told Oscar that maybe we could do without the RoboFold and make our mold without metal. We started experimenting using fabric molds and polystyrene and we had interesting results. We invented a technique for our furniture by steaming polystyrene beads inside fabric molds. The project had to last only three weeks but then we kept working together.
WHAT WAS THE RESULT OF YOUR EXPERIMENTS?
NSEPS (Not So Expanded Polystyrene) which is a play on the name of the plastic which normally is called EP – Expanded Polystyrene. When we graduated we had a lot of good reviews. We were asked to do an exhibition in London, in a gallery called Marsden Woo which focus on craft gallery.
In the same period, Bloomberg commissioned us some pieces for ‘Waste not want it’, an initiative that has been running for while now in which they ask designers and artists to make a permanent installation up-cycling their waste. The finished pieces are hosted for a year in their London headquarters.
WHAT DID YOU CREATE FOR BLOOMBERG?
Bloomberg has a warehouse in London where it keeps and manages its own waste. Among all the objects that we found there, we decided to use their keyboards to do our project. We had 2,000 Kg keyboards. We disassembled them to get just the keys. We decided to use their keyboards because they had bright colors and the are made of a very good quality of plastic (all Bloomberg hardware is made in-house).
They wanted some chairs and tables so we made a seating space for meetings where there was the same shape, and according to the height of the legs, we went creating from a stool to a gazebo. There was a table, a low table, stools, chairs. I think we made about 20-something pieces.
AND THEN YOU CREATED YOUR TELA COLLECTION…
Actually, before we developed the textile molded glass with Marsden Woo. These were handmade. We experimented with textile molding using different materials. We found a textile which is made of silica that it can be heated at 1000 degrees and it doesn’t burn. We also did some aluminum cast into metal using the same technique. But we stopped doing that as we found out another designer that. So we decided to stick with glass.
HOW DID YOU END UP COLLABORATING WITH HAY?
A guy that studied at RCA with us, a year junior, was working for HAY. Once he came to Marsden Woo and saw our textile molded glasses. He liked them so much he asked us to make him a couple for his girlfriend as a birthday present. As he had them in the office to prevent to spoil the surprise, they were spotted by Sebastian Wrong who works for the Danish company. We knew him already as he had done some tutorial with us at RCA. We went to the office for an interview and we got the commission. Our Tela collection in collaboration with HAY was born.
HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE NEWTON BOWL INSTEAD?
Newton just happened. Both of us was thinking of producing something that involved spinning. We started trying with metal and pouring it. It was working but it was not very exciting in the sense that it was a very expensive way of doing it. At that time I was using jesmonite because I was experimenting with magnets. We started experimenting with that and it was much nicer because the colors are really sharp and this material it’s harder than plastic.
Newton is made of jesmonite and instead of mixing it with water it’s mixed with lithium so that the colors are brighter. Usually, our color palette is white, black and a bright color as in our brand identity.
HOW IS NEWTON MADE?
We produced our own machine. It’s like a potter’s wheel in a way, but instead of having a flat surface where you would normally put the clay on it, it has a bowl in which we put liquid plaster in different colors. We fill this bowl with liquid and while the bowl spins the liquid creates a parabola that then creates its own geometrical pattern.
YOUR COLOR PALETTE IS MADE OF NEUTRAL AND PRIMARY COLORS. WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS SCHEME?
Silo’s color palette happened almost by accident. When we started with the polystyrene you could get it only in white/black and orange plus some rare hot pink, yellow and green therefore, we carried on with this color combination. If polystyrene had been available only in black, probably our color identity would have been different.
IS THERE ANY OTHER PROJECT YOU ARE WORKING ON?
Magnets is another project that I personally have been working on for a long time on my own. I use jesmonite. I put the iron powder in the mix and I make molds that have magnets in the molds. The iron powder is attracted by the magnets. Once the iron powder is set, you end up with a piece that has this specific design created by magnets.
Before going to the RCA I used to work in a porcelain company and there I got exposed to molds. I find them very interesting. In the future, I also want to start making flooring/surfaces.
WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR INSPIRATION?
I am not sure as we generally don’t make things just for the sake of making. It’s more like we try to find new ways of making things. With bowls, it seems as we have a kind of an obsession of making bowls. I’d like to do other things.
WHERE DOES THE NAME SILO COME FROM?
Silo or ‘sailo’, it depends on how you pronounce it. When still at RCA we were looking for a studio. One day we went to visit the factory that was sponsoring our polystyrene project. I saw they had silos in their factory and then I realised that it was the same used in Spanish. We looked a bit at what silo meant – as I always do when I have a brief – and I found out that the root of this word is very similar in many languages. Apparently, the root of this word comes from an old Iberian word so it sounded perfect to us.
YOUR LAST PROJECT WITH SILO WAS SHOWN DURING THE 2016 LONDON DESIGN FESTIVAL. CAN YOU TELL ME MORE?
Modern Design Review had access to the shopping list of the ACE hotel and then asked designers to create what the hotel needs with a pre-set budget. They commissioned us 500 soap dishes. Usually, we’d create our techniques but normally they are very labor intensive. Having very little time we created something that could be done in a factory. We had them made in the Birmingham area where there are all the factories. To make them artsier, once they arrived in our studio, we heated the pieces on one side. The heat, in fact, changes the color of the metal.
THE LAUNDRY ROOM
If you were a fruit, what will you be?
Definitely not berries. They are too sour for my likings.
A designer that influenced you.
Victor Papanek and his book Design for the real world. It’s from the 70s. He was a designer environmentalist and philosopher ahead of his time.
Music you are listening at the moment.
My partner’s music. Usually, he has a Brazilian playlist. Currently, I am listening to Caetano Veloso e Os Mutantes.
What would you change in your job?
A person that inspires you?
My dad. He’s very brave, he has his own way to understand how things should be, and he never gives up.
If you were to choose a place to live?
Uhm…I don’t know. Every time I go on holiday somewhere, I can’t help imagining myself living there. I find quite hard the idea of settling. In a way, I can’t wait to settle down but I’d also love to experience life in different places. I’d like to live in Mexico or in rural Spain. Somewhere close by the mountains.
The first thing you do in the morning and the last at night prior to going to bed.
Drink a cup of tea.
Is there any artist you’d like to collaborate with?
Yes, my sister Saelia Aparicio and her expanded drawings!