Storytelling, art, psychology, and environmental responsibility breathe life into the multi-award winning work of Laurie Chetwood.
We had the pleasure of sitting down with Laurie to explore how the symbiotic relationship between Man and Nature informs this innovative artist and designer - with his colourful ideas and radical vision.
First off, who's the man behind the magic?
Laurie Chetwood founded Chetwoods in 1988, and continues to lead the practice as Chairman and head of its creative Studio. Chetwoods has won an array of awards, including being shortlisted for a Sterling Prize in 2000.
Laurie’s art has been exhibited at the V&A’s Zoomorphic Design and Living Architecture and his work is regularly selected for the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition, where Laurie has won Best Architectural Drawing. Also at the Royal Academy, his work was selected to feature in an exclusive one-off exhibition Paper City: Urban Utopias. His ground-breaking show gardens at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show have earned three Gold Medals.
We are moved by your approach to architectural design - and see crossovers between how we design our scents. Storytelling, art, psychology, environmental responsibility all inform your practice of designing spaces and buildings. How and why?
It's always good to add a story to any design concept. The art and science of architecture gives the designer a great opportunity to design something that is lovely and stimulating, and yet also has a logic and a story which can be told and which makes the design experience even more tantalising. If something is delightful in itself and there is an engaging story to go with it, it just makes the experience of the user that much more pleasurable. We've won 3 gold medals at the Chelsea Flower Show and every garden we designed had a strong story to go with a great looking garden— not all designers work in this way.
Art and design over the past 50 years or so has tended to reject colour, decoration, variety and a more organic approach to design. These elements have often been relegated and replaced with a minimal, more simplistic theme. This is unfortunate, as I think those relegated parts appeal more naturally to the human spirit, linked, as they are, to human nature, rather than to something more formulaic which often relies on man-made ideology.
" As designers we seem to have forgotten how to appeal to human nature and to the human psyche. It might be economically convenient to build predictable, repetitive, prefabricated structures that march down the high Street with regular monotony, sometimes with blank facades and certainly in monochrome but I believe human beings need something more — variety, something that changes, something that is colourful and decorative. We need to be aroused, intrigued and delighted by something that is unpredictable — and that is the art of design I love."
These days, mental health and wellbeing is something of a hot topic. I think this is closely allied to the psychology of design. We think it is now possible to analyse, scientifically, the ingredients for that feeling of well-being, the tingle factor one gets when all is good. There are many new techniques to assess how a human being will react to such things as colour, form, shapes and spaces. A lot of this information is based around the senses and how we react to them. By pleasing our customers, by ensuring the senses are satisfied, I believe we can get to the 6th sense — that tingle factor — a feeling of well-being. Analysing how the senses are served by perfume, a car, or a building is now possible and we can add that into the brief for any design project in order to reassure our clients that the outcome will be an enjoyable one and therefore a valuable one too.
We’ve explored an olfactive interpretation of the symbiotic relationship between man and nature at its most concentrated in the city. The intention is that when you layer them - you achieve the balance we all strive for. What needs are shared by us and nature, and what is at odds?
Nature does everything so effortlessly. We, as human beings, have been associated with nature for longer than anything man-made, and I think we should take it more seriously, and not just for good environmental reasons.
We are instinctively turned on by nature - it's in our genes, it's in our heritage, and this goes back thousands of years. We recognise the smell of wood smoke; we are drawn to more organic shapes; we like to be among biophilia. Yet for most of us, we are surrounded in our daily lives by man-made objects, often created in a simplistic, minimal way, which suits the economics of our culture but doesn't necessarily suit our natural instincts and inclinations.
Logistically, it is impossible now to discard our urban environments but it is tantalising to consider merging the two to create a more sympathetic environment for those of us who live in the city-a symbiotic, productive relationship of nature and urban life working in harmony in an attempt to can improve our feelings of well-being.
The greening of a city is not only an attractive alternative to the concrete and hard surfaces that predominate, but there are other reasons for bringing nature and the city together. It is well documented that the use of biophilia improves mental health; air quality is enhanced with the use of the right trees; food production in the city using vertical and horizontal man-made surfaces shortens a little understood and vulnerable supply chain. (It is well documented that there are only 4 days-worth of food in London unless supplies continue to arrive).
Much of the research into well-being refers back to nature - biophilia, colour, variety, organic forms. If we can prove scientifically that these ingredients improve people's well-being. I think our designs of spaces and buildings will also improve the lives of those that live, work and play in and around our designs.
So the city, with all its efficient, functional but impersonal surfaces, would benefit from a more natural, organic addition that softens the outlook and appeals more to human nature- and from an environmental perspective, it tells us a good story too..
Self-expression and art could be seen as two of the same. You're a talented artist as well as architect. What's the difference between designing buildings and spaces for people to inhabit, and creating art for people to experience as a viewer?
I grew up in the 60s so the self-expression I like most has the more dreamlike, surreal qualities which bring in variety and colour and makes something intriguing and naturally attractive to look at which, again, I think appeals more to human nature. I was influenced by the album covers by Roger Dean for Osibisa and Yes, and I love the art and architecture of Gaudi and Calatrava. I try to make things beautiful and surprising — I don’t believe that beauty is in the eye of the beholder — most things are obviously either beautiful or ugly! I think a human being is instinctively drawn to beautiful things.
As previously mentioned, there are many basic things that resonate with human beings: I don't think we want repetition; we want variety, and we want shapes that aren't predictable. I love art because it carries that unpredictability - and with no responsibility. I can draw anything I like - I don't have to worry about neighbours or stakeholders or whether the client is happy. Unlike the restrictions that come with architecture, my art is mine to control and deploy as I see fit - it allows me to go anywhere, only limited by my imagination.
You can explore our scented expression of man-made and human only — in contrast with the unfaltering beauty of nature at the dawn of a new day. Available in 50ml and 2ml.