An Interview with Amanda Nogier of Béton Brut
Amanda Nogier is the creator and designer behind Béton Brut. She is a graphic and industrial designer, who likes to experiment with limits of materials, often times with green or natural elements, and shares a mutual affinity for Stefan Sagmeister. We had a chance to catch up with and grab an interview on her work as an industrial designer and what exactly goes into some of the work at Bèton Brut.
ONETWOSIX: So who are you and what exactly is it that you do?
Amanda Nogier: I’m Amanda, and I make things. While I was in school I made a lot of furniture, which is where I started working with concrete. My favorite piece—which is a grassy ottoman—is going to IDS West with me in September. It has a concrete base and powder coated steel legs, and has grass as the entire top. The piece was a reaction to our current relationship with the environment—we don’t have enough green and lack connection to nature in our cities. We lack a lot of that contact that we used to experience as a kid, like who takes off their shoes and runs around in a playground as an adult?
126: Would you say you’re trying to bring back some of that playfulness in a way?
AN: Yeah, and be able to have that in your apartment so readily, that instant contact and relationship with nature. It’s supposed to be more of a social change thing—trying to change how people understand their environment, interact within it, and talk about it.
126: So what got you into your line of work?
AN: I’m really interested in the things that surround us everyday, like our environment, the city, and how we interact in those spaces—the materials and things that we surround ourselves with—that led me into industrial design. I traveled a lot before I went back to school, which influenced which program I chose to study. One such major influence was when I visited Finland. They have a completely different understanding of what design is and its place in everyday life. They have an appreciation for good design in a way that we don’t really experience in this city, or in this country. I’m really interested in how we can teach our general public about design here, what it can do for your every day life, and how it can make life better in our cites and space; for interactivity and social well being. That’s where this has all sort of started. The Jewelry is a small scale version of this, I’m taking materials you use in every day life, live in, walk on—it’s concrete—and getting people to see it in a different way. I’m trying to provoke inspiration and push the possibilities of what you can do with these materials.
126: Where do you draw your inspiration from?
AN: Most of it is just wandering around in the city, and experimenting with materials. While I was still in school I was really interested in how different kinds of materials reacted and worked together, so I started trying new things, like growing concrete. I embedded seeds in the concrete and they grew through it. I love experimenting and doing different things, that’s actually how I ended up with the Grassy Ottoman. Another experiment, I used some woodchips from a local tree trimming company and embedded those in the concrete, I came up with this muddy, concrete and wood mixture that I ground down after it was cured. This experiment later became an end table that will soon be on my website. I also always carry around a sketchbook and sketch what inspires me while wandering around. Most of my jewelry right now is actually inspired by floor tiles, and the 1980’s Memphis movement. It’s very bright; my jewelry connects those bright colours with the stone to make the final product and drive the aesthetic of the jewelry.
126: What’s the 1980’s Memphis movement?
AN: It started in Italy. It’s actually one of my favorite movements. In school we had to choose a design era to present on, one that we loved and one that we hated, I ended up having to present on the one that I hated the most which was the Memphis movement. After researching it, my perspective changed and I felt that it was an incredibly brilliant movement. I grew to love its stubborn foundations; it was basically a reaction to all the rules and constrictions surrounding the modernist movement in design and successfully proving them wrong.
126: So it was basically how postmodernism was introduced into Memphis?
AN: Yeah, It’s really weird and interesting, it only spanned for three to five years and that’s sort of when we started getting into neons, and bright 80’s and 90’s colours and geometric patterns; it ended up influencing everything after.
126: What does the process for building one of your pieces look like?
AN: For the jewelry I usually start with sketches and thinking about it a bit in my head, and then I just start playing with whatever brass and tools and stuff that I can find. Most of my pieces right now are just cut tubing that I’ve soldered together in some sort of way. Then I make molds and mix and pour the concrete. Afterwards every piece is hand ground and polished—at which point I inspect every piece and make sure it’s a good pour and cured properly, and if not I’ll often have to hammer it out or fill holes and different things like that.
126: So what’s the process when you’re making furniture?
AN: It’s basically the same kind of process, but usually with a lot more research and prototyping. For example, The Grassy Ottoman had a lot of pre sketches and research, specifically working out ideas around nature vs the built environment. Even with the jewelry there is quite a bit of prototyping—a lot of just making things to see how they look and how they fit together before I actually make a final piece. Sometimes I get lucky and things just fall into place, which is how I ended up with the cluster necklaces. They just sort of fell together as I was moving them, and that’s how they ended up looking the way they do. There are a lot of happy accidents throughout the process.