Exhibiting the fruits of Domaine de Boisbuchet

It was the unusual combination of imagery – photographs and sketches, leafy green landscapes, sleek architectural masterpieces and several more makeshift designs – that immediately struck visitors to the October exhibition exploring a fruitful summer trip to France. On October 19, interior design students who chose to participate in the International Studio, an elective summer course, put together an interesting and visually striking exhibition about their trip at Sheikh Zayed Hall. 

Usually the International Studio consists of an overseas visit to several key architectural sites, but this year’s format was a little different. The 26 students who signed up for the course, accompanied by tutors Vanessa Dammous and Sophie Khayat, spent a week at Domaine de Boisbuchet, near Poitiers, before traveling on to Paris. A chateau set amid rural farmland, the Domaine offered students a week-long design workshop throughout the summer, headed by renowned international architects and designers. 

“They host students and interested individuals from different backgrounds, and they work together with the designer on a subject,” explained Dammous. “Finally, at the end of the week, they produce an installation or an object… The students had to work with other people from different backgrounds and nationalities, so there was a very nice relationship happening on a human level and on a work level.”

The LAU students visited the Chateau during the final week in August, when three workshops were running consecutively – Door Opening, taught by renowned French furniture and exhibition designer Philippe Nigro and curator and writer Earlwyn Covington; Between Spaces, taught by Amsterdam-based cooperative BCXSY; and Sound – Body – Environment, taught by Japanese designer Shin Azumi.

The students effectively conveyed their experiences in an exhibition of large posters, combining their own photography, text and sketches. Also on display were the students’ sketch books, providing a fascinating glimpse into the diverse ways in which each participant experienced and recorded the experience in France, and three videos, created by Domaine de Boisbuchet to provide an in-depth look at each of the three workshops. 

The three days spent in Paris were also represented through photographs and sketches of the buildings the students visited – Frank Gehry’s Louis Vuitton Foundation, Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye, Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers’ Centre Pompidou, I. M. Pei’s Pyramide du Louvre and Lacaton & Vassal’s Palais de Toyko.

 “What was very important for them is the team work that they experienced,” said Khayat. “It was very productive, because being with international students from other cities and countries exposed them to other ideas and habits and made them more creative on the spot.”

Marc Azzi, a student who participated in the Sound – Body – Environment workshop, worked with fellow LAU student Maria Fiani and a Japanese participant to design a chair with attached tubes able to pick up and amplify ambient noises, from the wind in the trees to the distant rushing of the river that runs through the chateau’s grounds. 

“We used wood, steel and tubes made of cardboard and bamboo… We were inspired by what happens when you hold seashells up to your ear and you hear the waves,” he explained. “Starting out with textures, we saw that cardboard and wood and paper amplify different sounds, so we decided to use these tubes to create an envelope around the chair, which is at a 45 degree angle, the resting position of the body.”

Sarah Al Turjman worked with four fellow LAU students and other visiting participants as part of the Door Opening workshop, creating a delicate series of bamboo arches leading from the forest down to the river. “They have a river but they have no access to it,” she explained. “The goal of the project was about creating a transition, so we chose to create this transition between two destinations. The design was very minimal, but you feel like you’re going through a tunnel, going through an experience from one place to another.”

In the final workshop, the participants all worked together on a single project, a simple bamboo gate marking the entrance to the domain, embellished with handmade pendants hung from the crossbar. “We all had different mentalities and different approaches,” explained Dima Stouhi. “It was very interesting, because at LAU we work in one system, we’re very conceptual, and the others didn’t work like that, they had a more hands-on approach, so it was a very nice blend.”

She added that the workshop has had a lasting effect on her and the other students who took part. “I think Boisbuchet is one of the best courses I’ve ever had,” she said. “We still talk about it now. We want to go back and do it again. It was an amazing working experience.”