With the advent of mobile and ever-increasing reach of data networks, the very notion of the cloud has taken on a new meaning in contemporary culture. The omnipresent yet radically decentralized concept may seem at odds with buildings, but rest assured the word perfectly captures the philosophy of New York City-based Clouds Architecture Office. Established by founding partners Ostap Rudakevych and Masayuki Sono in 2010, the firm has produced a number of imaginative proposals: from hitchhiking interstellar space stations to symbolic memorial monuments, both their speculative and client-based work demonstrate the cohesiveness of their vision and their ability to imagine and document something that does not exist in concrete reality. As in the formation of a cloud, Sono and Rudakevych distill their research and analysis, materializing their ideas through design — architecture not merely as form-making, but rather making experiences.
For their first project of this typology, Clouds AO looked to transcendence for inspiration to design the NYC-based yoga/meditation studio, Center for Remembering and Sharing (CRS).
This month, Clouds AO unveiled their most recent project, Center for Remembering and Sharing (CRS), a multipurpose space for yoga, meditation, and events. In a space where transcendence is the common goal, Sono and Rudakevych decided the studio should mimic the free internal empty headspace one experiences during yoga or meditation. As in a cyclorama, curved white walls mitigate the edges and scale of the space, creating the illusion of limitlessness — a metaphor for the use of the space.
“In the case of CRS,” Sono explains, they “got lucky because the intended use of the space allowed for an architecture of erasure, or disappearance. We wanted to create a space that energized people but was still anti-iconic.”
Partially blurred edges of the curved walls in CRS create a tranquil sense of zen-like tranquility.
They approach most client-driven projects in this manner, investing time in understanding who the clients are and what their values are in order to devise a space. This year, the New York Chapter of American Institute of Architects took note, recognizing St. Mark's Bookshop in the Interiors category of the 2015 AIA Design Awards. Located in the historic First Houses complex in New York's East Village, the new retail space features floor-to-ceiling shelving that cleverly accommodates day-to-day book display while doubling as informal gathering space. Attention to detail — the lower reaches of the shelves are angled toward eye level — illustrates how Clouds AO devises forms that stem from the functional demands and unique circumstance of each project.
There are no sharp corners at St. Mark's Bookshop. A series of continuous bands smoothly lead the eye around the space without visual friction.
“Clouds AO doesn't have formal biases; the curvilinear forms in the recent projects stem from functional demands as well as our interest in how form is perceived visually,” notes Sono. “The optical experience is important in both projects: with CRS, it's about delimiting the enclosure by removing edges and corners; while at St. Mark's Bookshop, it was about activating the space and making the books more accessible by curving the shelves in sections to make the book spines more legible.”
Just as these client projects showcase the firm’s ability to develop intimate, user-friendly spaces, Rudakevych and Sono's speculative work allows them to take on wider cultural issues. Last year, Clouds AO was nominated for the biennial Iakov Chernikhov Prize, recognizing young architecture offices that respond to contemporary challenges. Take Comet Runner, their most recent conceptual project, which envisions potential futures based on the current political, economic, and social conditions. An investigation into new modes of space exploration, Comet Runner proposes hitching rides with interstellar comets to travel between different planetary systems of our galaxy, sourcing fuel and oxygen directly from its embodied energy.
Inspired by a recent mission of the European Space Agency, Rosetta, Comet Runner will orbit around comets outside of Earth’s solar system and, in doing so, transport astronauts across the galaxy.
In the future, Clouds AO hopes to bridge the gap between speculative and conceptual projects with a new typology. “This future-casting is a different way of working than client-based work — we set our own constraints and define the subject of exploration. Likewise, the way in which this work is disseminated and digested is rather different. Someday, we hope to bridge the two modes of working through site-specific installations.”