Guided by his own lights, Christopher Haas is redefining what it means to be an architect. He creates structures of carefully conceived ingenuity and decided variety. Dazzled — and perhaps heartened by the sight of paths opened by Haas while following his muse — the architectural establishment has taken notice. The result: a cascade of praise and awards, including the 2012 Excellence in Architecture Award and California Home + Design magazine’s 2014 Emerging Architect of the Year for 2014.
Haas does not have a readily identifiable style, a set “architectural vocabulary” that he deploys in response to a client’s brief. Instead, he approaches each project as if starting anew. His work is best discussed in terms of his well-honed process and approach, and a vision for how a building will be used rather than an overarching “look.” Of foremost importance to Haas are the client’s needs, excellent craftsmanship, and mastery of materials that result in subtly arresting — sublime — detailing, along with ecological sensitivity and sustainability, how the building will be used in the short and long terms, and a heartfelt desire to “inspire the spirit and uplift the soul.”
Before establishing HAAS Architecture in 2009, he worked in collaboration with the acclaimed Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron. The fruits of this association include San Francisco’s de Young Museum — an essay in copper, stone, wood, and glass that is simultaneously visually arresting and a harmonious component of the park space that surrounds it.
Today, Haas is creating homes and interiors; museums, galleries, and other cultural spaces; and furniture and fashion. He is as much a collaborating artist as a designer and builder of venues in which art happens. His set design for the ballet Triangle of the Squinches, presented by Alonzo King LINES Ballet in 2011 and 2012, was composed largely of bungee cords and assertively corrugated cardboard. These utilitarian — indeed, visually drab — materials inspired and shaped the dancers’ movements. The performers pulled, plucked, and found support in the bungee cords, and climbed the carapace of a cardboard tower. For his central contribution to the ballet, Haas received the 2012 Isadora Duncan Dance Award for Visual Content.
Haas chose Caroline Rocher, a lead dancer in Triangle of the Squinches, as his muse when designing eyewear commissioned by DINOSAUR. These spectacles offer a revealing (quite literally) glimpse into Haas’s experience in working on the ballet and in designing for the arts, and — most of all — express his delight in shaping an ever-broadening design horizon.
Matt Singer: What appealed to you about this project — designing eyewear commissioned by DINOSAUR? How did you approach it? How does it relate to your larger body of work?
Christopher Haas: DINOSAUR commissioned me to design a pair of eyewear that related to a ballet [Triangle of the Squinches] that I collaborated on with the choreographer Alonzo King of LINES Ballet and the musician Mickey Hart. We were different artists who worked in different mediums. We wanted to explore space and movement by creating kinetic, transformable architectural objects, as opposed to fixed sets. These objects could be manipulated by the dancers, while at the same moment they forced the dancers to adapt to their unique characteristics. I was interested in reinventing what a stage set may be. With this project, I wanted to reinvent what eyewear may be, to come at it from a different angle.
The dance project was an enormous success. The shows sold out, and the ballet received numerous awards. It was filmed and re-broadcast on European television. Experiencing that gave me a lot of confidence that I could explore areas outside of traditional architecture.
The first part of the process was focusing on the materiality. The materials used in the ballet were cardboard and white elastic shock cord. But I didn’t want to be so literal. I wanted to create something soft, like a piece of clothing, in a material that would also complement the features and incredible skin tone of Caroline Rocher, a gorgeous, brilliant, talented artist and renowned ballet dancer I had the privilege of working with during the ballet collaboration.
I also thought it would be interesting to create eyewear that has a pragmatic function. Something that would allow one to literally shut out the distractions around them by transforming the eyewear into a private space. They’re really intended to be like blinders, like the flaps on theater lights. They can open up to 180 degrees, allowing full vision, or you can close them completely.
The eyewear creates a physical space for your eyes — a quiet space that you can go into to focus on the task in front of you or even meditate. It has a tie-in with theatrics but isn’t literal. The eyewear is its own entity, not directly tied to the ballet. Instead, I took the opportunity to rethink the paradigm of eyewear.