It all began in 1999, when the young recently graduated architect, Joseph Dirand, founded his agency. He was twenty-five years old. His studio rapidly became well known for its established vision of interior architecture, expressed through various projects: residential, commercial, cultural, and hotelier. Based in Paris, the agency then carried out projects in France and abroad, notably in New York, London, Mexico, Cairo, Tel Aviv, Beirut, and Tokyo. With the growing reputation of his agency, Joseph Dirand imposed his vision of architecture through his projects; notably commercial ones, collaborating with luxury brands like Balmain, or hotels, constructing two hotels for the Mexican hotel group Habita which won him the Wallpaper Design Awards 2010 for “the best new hotel 2010”, “The Best Conceptual Design Hotel 2009” by IRHA (International Restaurant and Hotel Award) and by Architectural Digest’s “Icons of Design” award for the Hotel Habita. Established in a varied and sophisticated French design culture, Joseph Dirand has developed innovative vocabulary for each project, inspired by his own roots, the place, and the context. He often uses the duality between classic recollections from the past and the modernity of today’s sculptural lines. These two universes, the past and the present, therefore merge in productions as evidence of their times.
The world according to Joseph Dirand is a tale written in black and white with sharply contrasting lines, echoing the influence of his photographer father. With his graphic style, the elder Dirand showed the way for his son, who worked as his assistant while studying architecture. “I have always been inspired by photography and its pictorial aspect, but I drew away from it in favor of arendering of space in movement, a kind of cinematographic process,” explains the interior designer, now a well-dressed man in his thirties.
Early on, his career was boosted by a series of prestigious commissions like the Balmain shop in Paris, in the building built by Mallet-Stevens where the couturier lived. For his decor, Dirand drew inspiration from the Stanley Kubrick film 2001: A Space Odyssey. “The scene in 2001 shot in a classical-style room with an underlit floor and large black stelae became my point of departure,” the designer recounts. “The mirror-finish panels—or stelae—that I designed and inserted in the space become background objects, countering the room’s 18th century style while reflecting it, superimposing an abstract composition and the reflection of a classical form.”
Dirand expanded on this “story within a story” approach for the new Parisian art venue Rosenblum Collection & Friends. The entrance opens onto a corridor streaked with concentric black and white geometrical lines. From there, the visitor discovers a series of white spaces separated by black tunnels. “The farther in you go,” Dirand explains, “the more you have the impression that the back wall is pulling away, that the third black rectangle is another tunnel, and so on to infinity. Then you arrive and see that the third black shape is a work of art in a fully lit room. I wanted to orchestrate the space as a progression from abstraction toward the artworks, blending genres—here photography, there an installation.” Dirand is accustomed to blending genres, creating a different story-board for each commission. A scene from Inglourious Basterds, a red wax installation by Anish Kapoor, the silhouette of Alfred Hitchcock and a Steichenesque photograph merge in his imagination, resulting in an ultra-contemporary interior dominated by a red marble staircase. For Distrito Capital, the prize-winning design hotel in Mexico City, he found a source of ideas in Jacques Tati’s Playtime, and set out to update “the idea of a city undergoing changes that are already nearly obsolete.”
“Inventing scenarios is the driving force behind my work,” Dirand says, “providing the meaning and the framework. Before the first sketch, I compile a storyboard that mixes scenes from films and elements from different periods. At that point, I’m not thinking about materials or colors—they come later. Rather than piecing together a pastiche, I try to define a trajectory that arises from the spirit of the place and the local culture.” In Cairo, Dirand’s design for the Villa Massoud is based on a notion of humility and minimalism in the face of the pyramids, confronted with the power of the landscape, the desert and history. In contrast, the sprawling residence that he created on the top five floors of a modern building in Beirut is nearly insolent, and the apartment he is renovating on Cadogan Square in London nearly quaint, based on the Queen Anne style. Just as posh but facing Central Park, a penthouse on 5th Avenue makes the most of the skyline, with spare lines punctuated by artistic references—a microcosm of Manhattan.
“I do in-depth research, buying fittings and moldings from the period in order to establish a framework that conveys a form of truth, but avoiding anachronisms,” Dirand says. “I don’t want volumes and objects that are there just to be beautiful. Beauty fades fast—what one retains is how beauty fits into the context. For many years I refused to draw inspiration from the past, but today, after making my share of mistakes and breaking free from my own taboos, I no longer rely on any formula, starting from zero with every new site. It seems so obvious to me now: the spaces, countries, cultures and clients are all unique. And yet ultimately they are all interconnected, like the chapters of a novel drawn from past experience—from life.”
By Marie Le Fort for Air France Madame