Stephen pounds down out of the design studio into the kitchen, scrambling to catch his flight with half hour to go - a client meeting. In stark contrast, Gunnar languidly disappears for milk to make coffee. Soon with a scalding beverage in hand, I'm introduced to the lair of one of the hottest upcoming design groups in the Berlin scene, The Fundamental Group.
The philosophy that design is daily life is evident from creations jutting out of walls, climbing out of corners, and peeking out curiously from behind half opened doors in this apartment-cum-studio. With a solid history of design experience, this duo recently teamed up to form a collective making "mathematically inspired architecture, furniture and artefacts.” Undaunted by any scale small or large, they tackle each project with rigorous interrogation.
Their own Altbau studio-apartment is a reflection of this scale-investigation. Objects and samples sit within containers within shelves within rooms within TheFundamentalGroup. Order and control is allowed to be broken for the occasional injections of humour.
Gunnar eventually pads upstairs into the attic-turned-studio to wrap up some work. Taking a swing of coffee and nearly burning my throat, I get busy scoping out the pad.
GABRIEL: OK guys, let's pretend it’s 7pm and work is done - what’s your drink of choice?
STEPHEN: It depends, if there is a sunset to watch, I’ll get sentimental and have a campari. In winter it’s more likely to be a scotch, with a dash of soda.
GUNNAR: I’d have a Bloody Mary – a leftover from our last event a week ago where we launched ATLAS, a new furniture piece we designed.
GABRIEL: Oh, count me in on that scotch! At this point, you guys are definitely "locals" so what are some favourite spot in Berlin?
STEPHEN: The roof terrace that I don't yet have.
GUNNAR: Anywhere outdoors - Berlin turns into an instant holiday during summer when the weather is nice. If I need to impress my tourist friends from abroad, I’ll choose the Spree canal down in Kreuzberg.
GABRIEL: Well why Berlin as your headquarters? Will the Fundamental Group always stay in this city or move town?
THE FUNDAMENTAL GROUP: There’s space and time for everything here. It’s definitely a place to grow. I think we are quite woven into the fabric of this town. Which to a degree, allows us to come up with designs and concepts that would not be possible the same way in NYC or London.
It about a rigorous interrogation of the material,
speculation, testing and combination.
GABRIEL: The Fundamental Group just recently opened shop. What’s been some of the challenges?
THE FUNDAMENTAL GROUP: With The Fundamental Shop we were lucky to have rolled out during a time when the internet became more and more important as a marketplace for design. I guess we have profited from it and we'll continue working on expanding into new forms of online distribution. It’s a real roller coaster!
GABRIEL: Sounds like it. What about the future in terms of work expansion?
THE FUNDAMENTAL GROUP: We’re gradually getting projects in larger scales, both in architecture and furniture design. It still is the greatest achievement to create architecture that serves the spatial needs of our contemporary society – to build a church would be one of the greatest challenges in my eyes.
GABRIEL: Do tell, what's the hottest project in the works?
THE FUNDAMENTAL GROUP: At the moment we're working on several interesting projects for the medical sector and art related spaces. Apart from that, we also just released a manifesto that describes the what, how and why of our design approach. It’s all about growth, not just our own development, but how you can take the amazing and beautiful concept of growth and capture it in space and furniture.
GABRIEL: I'll have to check it out. From what I understand you guys have a diverse area of expertise ranging from product design to urban planning. How do you keep track of it all?
THE FUNDAMENTAL GROUP: At any scale we work in, we always use the same set of tools that you have as an architect. And it all has an impact on what surrounds you. You look at what you’re working with, whether it’s a 60×60 cube of oak or a whole street, and ask yourself: "What does this guy want to do? Where does he fit in with the whole scheme?" It about a rigorous interrogation of the material, speculation, testing and combination.
GABRIEL: What are your backgrounds? And how do you think that’s influenced you into becoming TheFundamentalGroup?
STEPHEN: I trained in the UK as well as here in Germany, gathering experience at David Chipperfield, Jürgen Mayer H and Graft before striking out on my own.
GUNNAR: I trained as an architect and have spent the last years abroad in the UK and the U.S. before I came back to form THE FUNDAMENTAL GROUP together with STEPHEN – I couldn’t wait to come back to Berlin and start up as the time seemed right. Our first architectural jobs we received were from friends and then we built up from there.
GABRIEL: And lastly what’s the origin of the name “theFundamentalGroup”?
THE FUNDAMENTAL GROUP: Apart from being an awesome design collective, it's a mathematical concept. Our dear friend Paul von Bühnau, a passionate mathematician at the TU Berlin, suggested it to us after seeing our work and what our designs relate to.
First defined by Henri Poincaré in 1895, the name "Fundamental Group" is a group that records information about the basic shape or holes of the topological space. Catching the tiniest glimpse of a world so full of questions, and a mind-blowing way of understanding surfaces and spaces, we decided to honour this endeavour with the name of our collective, hoping that in our own messy little way, we challenge our own notions of space and surface.