Make Small Outdoor Spaces More Functional With URBN Balcony

When you live in a small apartment or condo, every square foot has a use. URBN Balcony is a modular outdoor system that can help you add function and purpose to a balcony or terrace space, should you have one. Designed by Unopiù in collaboration with Meneghello Paolelli Associati, the modular structure is made from resistant iroku wood that performs wonderfully outdoors. The system can be attached to a wall or the ceiling, then personalized further with various accessories. These include flowerpots, small cupboards, shelves, multifunctional container benches, a small tripod stool in teak wood, and a table and set of foldable chairs in white steel and Wood-Skin®. With URBN Balcony it’s easier than ever to take advantage of what outdoor space you have. Spend time dining, reading, studying, working, drying laundry, gardening, and more in a refreshed, renovated space that can add to your living space’s footprint.

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<p><a href=balconies with cafe tables and chairs and plant systems

cafe table and two chairs on a balcony

balcony with plants on modular wall

balcony with plants on modular wall

balcony with plants on modular wall

modular outdoor wall

cafe table and two chairs on a balcony

cafe table with hand resting a glass of raspberries on it

detail of outdoor wooden furniture

To learn more about URBN BALCONY, visit

Photography by Mattia Greghi.

Kelly Beall is senior editor at Design Milk. The Pittsburgh-based graphic designer and writer has had a deep love of art and design for as long as she can remember, and enjoys sharing her finds with others. When undistracted by great art and design, she can be found making a mess in the kitchen, consuming as much information as possible, or on the couch with her three pets. Find her @designcrush on social.

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Koray Duman on Making Space for Art – and Everyone Else

Architect Koray Duman – born in Turkey and based in New York City – knows about creating spaces for art – both appreciating it and creating it. As the founder and principal of Buro Koray Duman, he converted an 11,000-square-foot manufacturing space into a gallery and studio space for artist Richard Prince in Harlem. That experience and others have taught him how to negotiate our expectations of spaces dedicated “to art” and the actual elements of a rewarding architectural experience. “There’s a common thread in designing art spaces – people always want the space to be ‘natural,’” he says. “It is important that space doesn’t compete with the artwork – but it’s very important for the space to elevate you. To get you ready [for the fact] that you are going to be faced with a great work of art. I always see the space for artwork as a threshold [between] everyday life and the special moment where you are faced with the artwork.”


In this week’s Milkshake, Duman talks to us about the special demands of designing these spaces, as well as the most inspirational experience he’s had recently – that would be Simone Leigh’s work within the American pavilion at the Venice Biennale, which he says was “just unbelievable, very inspiring and very moving” – and “decentralizing” brick-and-mortar buildings within the context of the institution – a topic he recently explored as part of a series of social justice-minded panel discussions for the American Institute of Architects New York Cultural Facilities Committee, at the Center for Architecture. “One thing that was really inspiring none of these organizations wants to call themselves institutions anymore,” he says. “They call them programs, community projects, happenings – but this idea of being an institution is something they reject, which I thought was very interesting,” he says.

artist foundation site

artist foundation site

artist foundation site

Also in this week’s Milkshake: Duman shares the thing (read: person) who’s making him hopeful these days, and also, his favorite architect cliché: “We tend to always dress black and white,” he says. “And if it’s another color it’s only in blue.” (Tune in to see how well he aligns with this cliché – pretty well, we’d say.)

simo pizza restaurant

simo pizza restaurant

simo pizza restaurant

Diana Ostrom, who has written for Wallpaper, Interior Design, ID, The Wall Street Journal, and other outlets, is also the author of Faraway Places, a newsletter about travel.

Milkshake, DMTV (Design Milk TV)’s first regular series, shakes up the traditional interview format by asking designers, creatives, educators and industry professionals to select interview questions at random from their favorite bowl or vessel. During their candid discussions, you’ll not only gain a peek into their personal homeware collections, but also valuable insights into their work, life and passions.

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The Minimalist Mop and Vacuum Cleaner

Does anyone else remember the completely unique, yet impractical exercise of style over substance known as the Kone? Designed by Karim Rashid for Dirt Devil back in the early 2000s, the handheld vacuum’s primary appeal was its minimalist cone shape. The Kone wasn’t necessarily an ergonomic success, but still had its proponents for its sculptural form, a design to be seen as much as purchased to clean. The Actoplus concept by Chinese design studio Suosi Design gives off some of those same vibes, albeit with a form more thoughtfully conceived with a greater deal of functionally and ergonomics than its early 2000s predecessor.

3D render of Actoplus Cordless Wet-Dry Vacuum Cleaner design situated in a corner of room surrounded by sheer white curtains.

The Actoplus is as elegantly shaped as it is clumsily named, a lightweight cordless wet-dry vacuum cleaner with a gently tapered cylindrical silhouette with built-in cleaning water containment units that pare down controls to the bare minimum.

Side-back view of Autoplus vacuum showing two water compartments and tapered handle.

Suosi’s approach seems almost like the antithesis of the ubiquitous Dyson stick vacuum; instead of a brightly colored cleaning tool, the Actoplus takes on a more soothing, organic-architectural approach to a cleaning device that doesn’t beg to be noticed.

Front view of Actoplus Cordless Wet-Dry Vacuum Cleaner design.

The Actoplus is most interesting and appreciated from the front, with an obelisk or candle-like profile.

Close up of Actoplus Cordless Wet-Dry Vacuum Cleaner handle and power button control.

Unlike the above mentioned Kone, the Actoplus designers have given their vacuum a more comfortable handle grip, with an easy to reach and press power button.

Actoplus Cordless Wet-Dry Vacuum Cleaner shown positioned on tiered pedestals, one in stone color, another in black.

Angled front view of Actoplus Cordless Wet-Dry Vacuum Cleaner.

Clean freaks hoping for such a blissfully calming appliance dedicated to the art of cleaning will be sadly disappointed to discover the Actoplus is currently only a concept. Stylishly executed solutions like the Samsung Bespoke Jet and Miele Triflex HX1 Pro both offer a similar degree of all-in-one functionality as imagined for the Actoplus, but available today, albeit at premium prices, each exceeding the price of even some dedicated canister and upright models.

This post contains affiliate links, so if you make a purchase from an affiliate link, we earn a commission. Thanks for supporting Design Milk!

Gregory Han is Tech Editor of Design Milk. A Los Angeles native with a profound love and curiosity for design, hiking, tide pools, and road trips, a selection of his adventures and musings can be found at

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Furniture Collection Inspired by the Space Age

If you’ve ever seen designer Sunshine Thacker’s work, you’ll notice a common theme. Oblong shapes come together in unpredictable forms to create both hard and soft furniture pieces. Thacker’s newest collection, Groovitational, continues the trend. The upholstered series, which includes a pair of swiveling club chairs, a sofa, tête-à-tête, and a chaise with handmade ceramic drink rest, is inspired by the beauty of repeating lines and shapes, as well as the nostalgia of Space Age exploration.

blue grey sofa

If it wasn’t for the fact that they’re functional, the pieces in the Groovitational collection can stand on their own as sculptures. The spatial repetition gives the collection a futuristic look while the tantalizing and tactile soft fabric invites users to come and sit. To create dialogue with the controlled style of the collection, Thacker juxtaposes it with her ceramic lighting and furniture with undulating textures. The ceramic pieces are made with coils and snakes, experiments in painting with glaze, and an urge to design without predictability. Three floor lamps, a table lamp, dining table, two side tables, and a rug created with Thacker’s son pair beautifully with her softer pieces.

blue grey sofa with brown floor lamp

blue grey sofa

modern lounge chair

modern armchair

blue grey sofa

modern side chairs

floor lamp

ceramic stools

ceramic dining table

ceramic dining table


Sunshine Thacker

Sunshine Thacker

For more information on the Groovitational collection, visit

Photos by Joe Kramm.

As the Lifestyle editor, Vy Yang is obsessed with discovering ways to live well + with intention through design. She’s probably sharing what she finds over on Instagram stories. You can also find her at

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soft tones, sans serif, and glass jars modernize NOOCI’s traditional chinese medicine

Brand identity for traditional chinese medicine


To underline the decades-old practices of traditional Chinese medicine, supplements company NOOCI tapped creative agency Smakk Studios to redefine its brand identity and packaging design, gifting the design earth and soft palettes, a sans-serif typography, and reusable glass containers for recycling to align with the modern pull toward minimalism and eye-catching brand sakes. The creative agency modernized the traditional symbol of Yin and Yang from its black and white theme to gentle colors such as pastel purple and blue-green with two white dots and a white swerving line. The sans-serif typography is an ode to the growing appeal of the simplistic design, and pairing it up with minimal texts across the product containers makes the overall look clutter-free. 


The creative agency also collaborated with NOOCI on the product naming – ReNoo, Noo Air, and Noo Moon – to tie them in with the brand’s identity. The product names correspond to what the supplement offers. Green or barley tea ReNoo enjoys a deep-purple packaging design and attempts to rejuvenate the well-being of the clients by stimulating their metabolism, combatting bloating, boosting immunity, lowering sugar craving, and maintaining healthy skin and youthful aging. The pills of Noo Air – a non-drowsy herbal formula that helps alleviate common symptoms caused by nasal allergies – are placed inside a reusable glass jar, strapped with a white label and the now signature mark of NOOCI, the revamped Yin and Yang. Capsules of Noo Moon – a daily supplement to support menstrual cycles – are also locked in a glass jar, but saturated orange marks its labels and signs.

soft tones, sans serif, and glass jars modernize NOOCI’s traditional chinese medicine
images courtesy of NOOCI



Retaining the nuances to the typical products


Having Smakk Studios work on NOOCI – whose profile has developed brands within the industries of health, wellness, beauty, personal care, fashion, lifestyle, food, and beverage – means the supplement company’s character veers from the common designs of traditional Chinese medicine which often embody scripts over scripts and overlapping colors. Smakk Studios sought to retain the nuances of these typical products found in the market while instilling NOOCI’s philosophy of ingredient traceability. The supplement company writes that it sources its ingredients from around the world, accumulating herbs, spices, and components such as Perilla Leaf, Reiki Mushroom, Fermented Soybean, Jujube, young Barley Grass, Acerola Cherry, and Beta Carotene.


When NOOCI founder Stephanie Tan was pregnant with her second child, she struggled to find balance as she juggled being a mother, wife, and entrepreneur. Coupled with her allergies acting up, she lacked sleep and felt anxious most of the time. She says she was eager to find a more natural solution, given that she was pregnant, and stumbled upon traditional Chinese medicine as an alternative. She read up on its practices – from alleviating sleep and mood swings to help with seasonal allergies – and consulted university professors and integrative medicine specialists to put forward NOOCI. She writes that her supplement company was born from a desire ‘to educate and share with other women the incredible benefits of TCM, so they too can see the powerful part it can play in a sustainable healthy lifestyle.’

soft tones, sans serif, and glass jars modernize NOOCI’s traditional chinese medicine
soft tones, sans serif, and glass jars modernize NOOCI’s traditional chinese medicine



Catering to the new society’s design demands


The creative agency claims that consumers are demanding more and that smart brands are rising to such a challenge. The team writes that every day, in increasing numbers, consumers are showing up for brands that prioritize sustainability, inclusion, authenticity, self-expression, health, safety, and social impact. ‘Brands that commit to making a positive impact can win the future,’ the company writes. In response to the design tastebuds the consumers seem to crave, the creative agency work on building and developing brands that cater to the modern buzzwords. ‘We’re on a mission to change consumer behavior towards purchasing decisions that are better for people and planet,’ writes Katie Klencheski, the founder of the creative agency.

soft tones, sans serif, and glass jars modernize NOOCI’s traditional chinese medicine
some of the ingredients of NOOCI’s products

soft tones, sans serif, and glass jars modernize NOOCI’s traditional chinese medicine
raw ingredients of NOOCI

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a micro-resort in thailand’s koh pha ngan island

‘anaia villa’: a tropical escape for wellness + entertainment


Located on the secluded and tropical island of Koh Pha Ngan in Thailand is ‘Anaia Villa,’ a luxury micro resort combining entertainment, nature, and wellness-based experiences. The project, completed by Sicart & Smith Architects, spans 1,000 sqm on 4,300 sqm of land. ‘This property aims to be a modern wellness resort made with vernacular materials, using site conditions and existing topography to its advantage as an energy-efficient and sustainable building,’ shares the architecture practice.


The journey around the property is a sight for sore eyes. Reaching it, new-time visitors are met by an ‘opus incertum’ stone cladding with a white porch and a large timber pivot door, inviting them to a world of serenity. The dining and kitchen areas make for a communal space, leading toward the infinity pool set against a lush tropical garden backdrop peppered with palm trees.

local materials local actors for an all inclusive retreat luxury villa on tropical island 1
images courtesy of Sicart & Smith Architects and Anaia Villa 



The main building in ‘Anaia Villa’ comprises two stacked perpendicular blocks, with the cantilevered block supported by a signature ‘V’ column. This volume composition ensures shading and rain protection while sunbathing or swimming. Furthermore, floating slabs arching over both ends of the infinity pool hold a bar on the right and a sunken lounge on the left; these are covered with fabric gazebo atop timber posts, mimicking the sensation of boats on still sea.


‘The modern and rectilinear forms of the resort serve as a brilliant canvas for more fluid forms within the property, such as the black spiral staircase within, the random pathways, the hammam, and the plunge pool with a natural rock waterfall. This deviation encourages guests to be at ease, relax and indulge. It makes this project a physical manifestation of Yin & Yang,’ elaborates the team at Sicart & Smith Architects. 

sicart & smith architects shapes 'anaia villa' as a sustainable micro resort in thailand

a wellness-entertainment micro resort set amid a tropical context



Local materials, local actors


The planning of spaces in ‘Anaia Villa’ is defined by the topography of unmovable rocks found on site. Specifically, the rock bed around the main building supports the sharp upper volume while incorporating parts of immovable boulders into the interiors, acting as a partition. The yoga shala, plunge pool, and waterfall feature also take advantage of that naturally occurring rock bed, exuding a therapeutic ambiance. On the other hand, smaller stones collected on-site are used for wall cladding, a process carried out by local artisans and builders over a period of six months to form an ever-present artwork. 


Complementing the ‘hard material’ is a lush landscape of mango, frangipani, gooseberry and cashew trees, which the property weaves into and around. The existing palm trees, meanwhile, are integrated into the design, creating a unique vista from the main building. ‘This tree cover blends in with the landscape and pathway design to create hidden spaces, an added incentive for exploration to the guests,’ notes the practice. 

sicart & smith architects shapes 'anaia villa' as a sustainable micro resort in thailand

stone wall cladding led by local artisans



earth-toned interiors deeply connecting to the surroundings


As for the interiors, the architects opted for a minimalist setup featuring earthen finishes, a neutral color palette with black accents, custom-made decorative lighting, and bespoke furniture. These elements impart a serene, decluttered environment as soon as guests walk in. Upon exploring further, a hidden door leads them to a lounge and cinema room. Unlike the more somber interiors, this space reveals a colorful, maximalist design — a sweet escape from daily life, with its bright custom mahjong sofas set against a dark backdrop, and a desaturated nature-inspired wallcovering.


Finally, two additional pavilions below the main building serve as an open gathering space. There sits four guest bedrooms, each fitted with an en-suite bathroom connected to the surrounding nature. Open-sky and open-air bathtubs or outdoor tropical showers complement these rooms, enabling a sensorial healing experience with clutter-free and customized terrazzo washbasins.

sicart & smith architects shapes 'anaia villa' as a sustainable micro resort in thailand



Beyond offering a wellness-entertainment experience at ‘Anaia Villa,’ Sicart & Smith Architects focused on embedding a sustainability strategy. First, a hybrid solar system will help attain energy efficiency and reduce the global footprint of the property, which is carefully being analyzed and monitored. Second, the staff will use water from an existing well to cater to guest activities and needs. The resulting grey water goes through treatment tanks before being used for gardening, while harvested rainwater will be treated for domestic use.


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undulating red brick facade envelops ‘wave’ commercial building by JYA-rchitects in seoul

 JYA-rchitects completes ‘wave’ commercial building in Seoul


JYA-rchitects has completed ‘Wave’, a commercial building with an undulating red brick façade in Seongsu-dong, Seoul, South Korea. The project seeks to highlight the identity of the up-and-coming neighborhood by transforming an old multi-family house into a structure with an eye-catching exterior. The brick skin pops through the area’s narrow streets, becoming a visual staple that provides the locals with a sense of familiarity, comfort, and excitement. By incorporating new ideas, concepts, and activities into the dense urban fabric, the project enriches the region’s classic look while harmoniously coexisting with its commercialization.

undulating red brick facade envelops 'wave' commercial building by JYA-rchitects in seoul

all images by Hwang Hyochel



curved brick facade provides openness and privacy


As previously stated, the project started with the conversion of an existing family home into a commercial space. The goal of JYA-rchitects was to retain the character of the region by constructing a structure that could cohabit harmoniously with neighboring residential structures.


To generate a sensation of openness within the interior of the structure, large windows and openings were required. However, such a design would most likely cause dissatisfaction among the residents and their neighbors. Thus, the architects installed a double-skin with a multi-exterior layer to provide a translucent, open interior, and maintain privacy at the same time. Curved shapes were used to meet two distinct functional needs: concealing the view of neighbors while enabling openness to the sky. Such shapes become distinguishing features of the building’s overall look while still meeting its practical requirements.

undulating red brick facade envelops 'wave' commercial building by JYA-rchitects in seoul



overcoming structural obstacles and limitations 


Red brick was naturally chosen for the façade since it is a material that distinguishes Seongsu-dong today and its usage is enforced by law. Nevertheless, constructing curved surfaces with bricks presented multiple physical obstacles and limitations. The assignment was structurally challenging because the walls were divided in the center, necessitating the load of the bricks to be suspended in the air via a separate structure rather than being immediately transmitted to the foundation. Curved forms were created utilizing a dry construction process employing bricks, and round bars were validated according to the angle using 3D simulation for curvature treatment before construction began. Despite such safeguards, mistakes occurred in the field, necessitating hard labor from the field workers to complete the building.


For effective planar usage as a commercial building, the staircase was relocated, and the main space was modified to be utilized in contact with the curved walls. For a sense of openness and activity inside that is not evident from the outside, an all-glass design, terrace, or landscape were created close to the curving walls. After the building was completed, all the floors were inhabited, giving the red building a more vibrant appearance. The building was filled with programs that bring new vitality to the neighborhood where people come and go.

undulating red brick facade envelops 'wave' commercial building by JYA-rchitects in seoul undulating red brick facade envelops 'wave' commercial building by JYA-rchitects in seoul undulating red brick facade envelops 'wave' commercial building by JYA-rchitects in seoul undulating red brick facade envelops 'wave' commercial building by JYA-rchitects in seoul

undulating red brick facade envelops 'wave' commercial building by JYA-rchitects in seoul

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limited-edition heineken sneakers are injected with beer

limited-edition sneakers by Heineken x the shoe surgeon 


Heineken has collaborated with celebrity sneaker designer Dominic Cambrione, also known more widely as The Shoe Surgeon, to launch Heinekicks — the limited-edition sneakers that are filled with beer. The collaboration follows the launch of Heineken Silver, setting out to celebrate the innovation behind the brand’s new smooth, easy-to-drink beer brewed for a new generation of drinkers. Not only embodying the renowned Heineken brand, but also carrying it, the sneakers ‘that will have you Walking on Beer’ feature the signature red, green, and silver of the brand, and a sole injected with the Heineken Silver brew.

heinekicks 4
all images courtesy of the author



the sneakers allow you to ‘walk on beer’


In celebration of Heineken’s newly launched innovative Heineken Silver beer, the Dutch beer brewery hands full rein to Dominic ‘The Shoe Surgeon’ Cambrione, the acclaimed designer behind some of the most high-profile custom sneakers worn by the likes of LeBron James, DJ Khaled and Drake. With his latest proposition, the result is an expression of Heineken’s brand in a pair of sneakers that are the first of their kind. Mirroring their signature colourway, each limited-edition pair of Heinekicks is endowed with a sleek green lenticular upper with silver and red accents. Crafted alongside Le Pub and BBH, the sneakers also features a removable bottle opener built into its tongue.


Elevating the shoes in a unique display are transparent soles filled with a dose of Heineken Silver itself. The brew has been inserted using a specialised surgical injection method to make Heinekicks the first ever pair of sneakers that allow you to walk on beer. As symbolic as it is functional, parallel to the the smooth taste Heineken’s new Silver brew, the soles provide the wearer with an ‘unexpectedly smooth’ and unique sensation when on the go. 

heinekicks 9
a removable bottle opener is built into the tongue of the sneakers

heinekicks 2
mirroring Heineken’s signature colors, each pair of sneakers has a sleek green lenticular upper with silver and red accents

heinekicks 10
the transparent soles filled with a dose of Heineken Silver itself

heinekicks 1
the sneakers ‘will have you walking on beer’

heinekicks 3
The Shoe Surgeon is behind some of the most high-profile custom sneakers worn by the likes of LeBron James and Drake

heinekicks 6
Heineken collaborates with Dominic ‘The Shoe Surgeon’ Cambrione to launch Heinekicks

heinekicks 11
the collaboration celebrates the launch of Heineken Silver, the new smooth, easy-to-drink beer

heinekicks 7
the brew is inserted using a specialised surgical injection method

heinekicks 8
Heinekicks are the first sneakers of their kind



project info:


name: Heinekicks
designer: Dominic Cambrione: The Shoe Surgeon

collaborator: Heineken 



designboom has received this project from our ‘DIY submissions’ feature, where we welcome our readers to submit their own work for publication. see more project submissions from our readers here.


edited by: ravail khan | designboom

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20 A’ design award and competition winners flicker in dreamy colors

Chun Jiang Hua Yue Ye Wedding Banquet Restaurant by Wei Zhang, 2021

image credit NZ Production


name: Chun Jiang Hua Yue Ye
designer: Wei Zhang
award: Platinum
category: Interior Space and Exhibition Design

20 A' design award and competition winners flicker in dreamy colors

Open Village by Shimu Wang
image credit Weiqi Jin


name: Open Village
designer: Shimu Wang
award: Golden
category: Architecture, Building and Structure Design

20 A' design award and competition winners flicker in dreamy colors

Ningbo Bauhinia Business Center Office by Andy Leung, 2021

image credit Shengyang Lee


name: Ningbo Bauhinia Business Center
designers: Andy Leung, Raymond Yuan and Tom Niu
award: Bronze

category: Interior Space and Exhibition Design

20 A' design award and competition winners flicker in dreamy colors

Br Design Center Office by Ryan Wen, 2021

image credit Zhonghai Dai


name: Br Design Center
designer: Ryan Wen
award: Silver
category: Interior Space and Exhibition Design

20 A' design award and competition winners flicker in dreamy colors

Light Cube Art object by Natalya Koptseva and Vasily Tarasenko, 2017

image credit Natalya Koptseva and Vasily Tarasenko


name: Light Cube
designers: Natalya Koptseva; Vasily Tarasenko
award: Platinum
category: Lighting Products and Lighting Projects Design

20 A' design award and competition winners flicker in dreamy colors

Mango Demonstration Office by Martin Chow, 2021

image credit Kimi Guan


name: Mango
designer: Martin Chow, Pan Mok, Kimi Guan
award: Silver
category: Interior Space and Exhibition Design

20 A' design award and competition winners flicker in dreamy colors

PLAYOHO Art Pavilion by Ricci Wong Cheuk-Kin, 2017

image credit Ricci Wong


designers: Ricci Wong, BM Tang, Susan Wong, Tung Chui; engineer Yasuhiro Kaneda 
award: Platinum

20 A' design award and competition winners flicker in dreamy colors

Or2 Photochromic Canopy Structure by Francesco Brenta, Christoph Klemmt and Laura Micalizzi, 2013

image credit Francesco Brenta, Christoph Klemmt and Laura Micalizzi


name: Or2
designers: Francesco Brenta, Christoph Klemmt and Laura Micalizzi
award: Platinum
category: Office Furniture Design

20 A' design award and competition winners flicker in dreamy colors

Google Campus Dublin Office Interior Design by Camenzind Evolution, 2014

image credit Peter Würmli


name: Google Campus Dublin
designer: Camenzind Evolution, in collaboration with and Henry J. Lyons Architects
award: Platinum
category: Interior Space and Exhibition Design

20 A' design award and competition winners flicker in dreamy colors

Rangla Punjab Restaurant And Bar by Ketan Jawdekar, 2017

image credit Sameer Chawda


name: Rangla Punjab
designer: Ketan Jawdekar, Rohan Lomte, Siddhesh Bagade
award: Gold

20 A' design award and competition winners flicker in dreamy colors

Ungrey Private Apartment in Mumbai by Prashant Chauhan, 2022

image credit Yadnyesh Joshi


name: Ungrey
designers: Anu Chauhan, Smarani Vuppala, creative director Prashant Chauhan
award: Iron
category: Interior Space and Exhibition Design

20 A' design award and competition winners flicker in dreamy colorsThe Beauty of Light Beauty Center by Raymond Lee – Arti Studio, 2022

image credit Raymond Lee


name: The Beauty of Light
designer: Raymond Lee
award: Bronze
category: Interior Space and Exhibition Design

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kory bieg on text-to-image generators & the future of AI

Artificial intelligence, architecture and design


Artificial intelligence is dramatically transforming the nature of creative processes, with computers already playing key roles in countless fields including architecture, design, and fine arts. Indeed, the advent of text-to-image generating software such as DALL-E 2, Imagen, and Midjourney, shows that AI machines and computers are already being used as brushes and canvases. While some choose to focus on the benefits of artificial intelligence, like the increased speed and efficiency it offers, others worry that it will take eventually replace designers as a whole. In any case, one thing is certain: AI is here to stay, and it will radically impact the way we create — how it will do so remains to be seen.


Kory Bieg, Principal at architecture, design, and research office OTA+ and Program Director UT Austin School of Architecture, is one of the several creatives that have experimented with AI generative tools. Mainly using Midjourney, Bieg has been producing architectural designs that have taken over Instagram with their striking visuals. To learn more about text-to-image AI generators, Midjourney, and the future of AI, designboom spoke with Kory Bieg. Read the interview in full below.

interview with kory bieg on text-to-image generators & the future of AI in design
camouflage series

all images courtesy of Kory Bieg | @kory_bieg



interview with Kory Bieg 


designboom (DB): How would you describe Midjourney to someone studying/practicing architecture who has never used it?


Kory Bieg (KB): Midjourney is a text-to-image Artificial Intelligence that uses your text (called a prompt) to construct an image of anything you want; buildings, landscapes, people, machines, really, anything. It pulls from a huge database of pictures that are tagged with a bunch of parameters, like object names, style, and even the type of view or whether it’s day, night, or raining — whatever you can think of to describe an image. Once you submit your prompt, Midjourney searches its database to find pictures that match your text, and then combines the relevant parts into a collage-like cloud of pixels that it thinks represents what you are after. You are given four images with the option to run it again, or vary any of the images to produce four new options. You can also upscale any or all of the images, which increases the resolution of the images while also adding detail. You continue to vary and upscale images until you are happy with the results.

interview with kory bieg on text-to-image generators & the future of AI in design
camouflage series


DB: Can you describe how you create parameters, visual vocabularies? Do you edit and refine the result afterwards? What does this process look like?


KB: AI is amazing at constructing images in almost any style you choose. You can draw portraits in the style of Vincent Van Gogh and design buildings in the style of Zaha Hadid. And that is why I completely avoid the use of style descriptors in all of my prompts! If you are interested in emulating the style of someone else, I have found it to be much more productive and interesting to use words that someone like Van Gogh or Hadid might use to describe their own work. Words like ‘organic’ will start to produce results that might have the same qualitative elements as a project designed by Hadid, while not limiting the database of pictures from which the AI is pulling by using her name as a descriptor. By describing your desired image in more generic terms, you will uncover more interesting tangents that lead to new design territory.


As an architect, I am also very interested in form and how to gain some control over it using AI systems like Midjourney. In my Vault Series, I used common typological and architectural descriptors to achieve some of the formal attributes I was hoping for in the output. I also used words associated with natural patterns and structures that might relate in some way to the architectural terms I was using in order to form synthetic hybrids that are not entirely natural or architectural, but reside somewhere in between. In my Text Series, I experimented with using letters to control form. Letters are made up of straights, angles, curves, arches, dots and bends, so by asking Midjourney to create images of buildings in the form of letters, you can expect certain formal conditions to appear in the imagery. Maybe it’s the academic in me, but every time I start a new prompt, I have an agenda and a set of questions I am trying to answer.


One drawback of Midjourney is that you can’t edit the prompt once you’ve started a thread. To change something or add additional text, you would have to edit the original prompt and run a new series. However, the images produced by Midjourney don’t require additional post-production, because things like lighting, saturation, and mood are all embedded in the images it creates. That said, you can easily manipulate these standard image files in any photo editing software.

interview with kory bieg on text-to-image generators & the future of AI in design
vault series


DB: Speaking of visual vocabularies, did you have a rough vision of what this series would look like before starting? Were you surprised by the results?


KB: Midjourney is a creative AI, so the results will never be exactly what you expect. This is partly the result of this type of AI, which understands the context objects are typically found in, what parameters are often associated with certain object types, or even what other objects an object in your prompt is usually found with. So if you ask Midjourney to make an image of a building, it will likely add doors, windows, a street in the foreground, and a sky, without you having to include that detail in the prompt. Regardless of what you include in your text, Midjourney will always be filling in some blanks and adding detail that you might not have intended. This is also where it can be very exciting. By combining elements in the image output that you might not have considered with whatever you feed the AI, you often find yourself on tangents that are incredibly rich and often outside your comfort zone (usually a good thing). That said, if you want to be very specific about the building’s context (like placing it in a forest, rather than a city), you can include that information in the prompt. If you want it to be a cloudy sky, then specify that. If you want the doors to be made of spider webs, it can do that, you just have to type it in.


When I think about what parameters to include in my prompts, I do consider what objects Midjourney might add and whether I want to be more specific about them in my text. At the same time, I think about how these standard elements might be replaced with nonstandard alternatives to create new overlaps between otherwise unrelated elements. For example, in one series I described the roof of a building as a sponge. The output was exactly that; a building with a sponge for the roof. What Midjourney does so well, is that it doesn’t just erase the roof and plop a picture of a sponge in its place. Rather, it maps the structure of a sponge into the form of the roof, even molding it around things like windows and roof vents, so the two synthetically integrate with the overall form of the building.

interview with kory bieg on text-to-image generators & the future of AI in design
vault series


DB: How does midjourney differ from DALL-E, which generates an image based on a short text input?


KB: DALL-E and Midjourney (and there are others — Disco Diffusion, Imagen, Stability AI) all use the same diffusion-based approach to generating images, but they also have very different features, and the output can vary dramatically. DALL-E, for example, has a great feature that allows you to erase part of an image and replace it with a new prompt. So, if you have a chair in your image and you want a clown sitting on it, you can erase a portion of the image, add text describing the clown, and DALL-E adds in a clown. DALL-E also lets you upload an image (Midjourney can do this too, but not as well), and with the click of a button, it will return three image variations. As a test, I uploaded a photograph of a real, built house I designed, and DALL-E gave me three very convincing variations with different roof forms and with windows and doors in new locations. Each image looked just like the original photograph. On the other hand, Midjourney gives you more control over the image-making process. It allows you to define the size and proportion of the image, how much leeway you want to give the AI (you can increase or decrease how much ‘style’ it gives the image, and you can control the amount of ‘chaos,’ or how far the AI deviates from your text). Midjourney is great as a tool for sketching and discovering entirely new design territory, while DALL-E is great for varying and editing an existing image. DALL-E, of course, also generates entirely new images from your text, but it doesn’t seem to be as geared toward speculative buildings and architecture, yet.

interview with kory bieg on text-to-image generators & the future of AI in design
vault series


DB: Are there any similarities to parametric/algorithmic modeling tools like a Grasshopper plug-in?


KB: There is no doubt that these text-to-image AI’s will become an integral part of the design process, but they are an entirely new category of tool and don’t replace any of the tools we currently use as designers. I think the only overlap between Midjourney and parametric modeling tools is if a Midjourney user wants to create an image that has parametric qualities. You can include words like modular, repetitive, and parametric and they will affect the output to look somewhat like a building designed using a plug-in like Grasshopper. One interesting side note is that Midjourney does recognize images in its database that were created by various software programs, like VRay or Octane Render, and it will attempt to use the style of images made with them for the images it returns.

interview with kory bieg on text-to-image generators & the future of AI in design
vault series


DB: Is the process more useful as a ‘working partner’ or a tool for creating rough and quick iterations?


KB: I often start a prompt with only a few words, just to see the effect one or two words might have on the output. I then add a few more words and run the prompt again. I do that until I am happy with the way certain words are mixing and how they are influencing the output. Once I settle on the text and other parameters of the image, like aspect ratio and the type of view (all words to include in the prompt), I vary and upscale over and over again. I probably do more variations than most people, but in my experience, the most compelling results are often discovered when following one thread for a long time. Moreover, once you get to a certain point in the lineage, it seems to start producing gem after gem, and it is well worth the time it takes to get there.


So yes, Midjounrey is great for creating very quick iterations and testing ideas out before spending too much time on any one thread, but the images I post are usually days, or even weeks in the making. Of course, when compared to the sort of design process we are all used to, a few days is no time at all.

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