Johnson Chou, designer of the Red Bull office in Toronto, founded his eponymous multidisciplinary design practice in 1999. The Toronto firm’s work encompasses architectural and industrial design, furniture and interiors, graphic identity, and corporate communications.
Do you have a particular design philosophy? How would you describe it?
I would describe my work as a form of “narrative” architecture that engages on intellectual, emotional, and physiological levels of experience. The creation of a narrative forms the conceptual point of departure for all of our work. Distinct and unique to each client, the narrative is comprised of two parts: ritual and metaphor. Ritual is manifested as a “scripting” of movement and views—the architectural promenade. It is intended to elevate one’s experience of the mundane or commonplace. Metaphor is invoked as a means of generating form—to facilitate one’s “reading” of a space.
How selective are you with the clients that you work with?
We are very selective for two reasons. The first is that we, as a team, invest so much time, creativity, and passion into our projects that we cannot squander on clients whose primary concern is expediency. The second—and most important—reason is that clients are instrumental in the success of their own projects. Clients who find creativity in what they do are inclined to appreciate innovation, art, and design.
Do you have a particular approach to a dialogue with a client in a project’s early stages to understand what they want in the project?
Most of our clients are already well versed in design, but sometimes conversations can be deceptive, both for what is said and what is not. I often ask our clients to compile a selection of images of objects, music, or literature that they find inspirational to enable them to articulate their thoughts.
Is there a particular material that you enjoy incorporating into your current work? Why?
Currently, in addition to concrete, clear and acid-etched glass, and stainless steel, I am appreciating figured, natural materials such as statuario marble, flat-cut walnut, rosewood, and ebony. There is so much life in these materials. I am also using reclaimed wood for many of my projects for the same reasons.
What would be your dream project?
A museum or an art gallery because of the building type’s inherent narrative potential.
What advice would you give to design students or those starting out in the field?
It is vital for students to gain practical experience, especially in internships. It is important for students to recognize that there is a cost incurred by an employer in training an intern, and one must treat an internship experience seriously.
Which interior space—anywhere in the world, designed by anyone—inspires you? Why?
The one space that was most formative and illustrated to me the power of architecture was Le Corbusier’s chapel in Ronchamp, France. It was both a revelation and one of the most moving experiences of my life. The building seemed alive. Le Corbusier’s brilliant use of natural light as a hidden source—along with the iconic interior forms—verged on the metaphysical and sublime.