The XYZ Lounge, designed by French-Portuguese architect Didier Fiúza Faustino in the guise of his Paris practice Didier Faustino, is a newly completed site for work and play. Pink-hued and with a multifaceted layout for various purposes, the lounge is part of the Belgian city of Ghent’s Zebrastraat complex – a mixed-use apartment and cultural centre based around an early 20th century workers’ housing block in the street of the same name – and serves the members of the public who wish to take a moment and socialise, share a few drinks or hold meetings and conference calls.
With the aim of redefining the use of the public space as an area of modern neutrality, the 360sq m interior features an entrance, nave-bar, side rooms and a conference and meeting room on the mezzanine, all with pastel-hued khaki and blush tones.
The project was devised from a simple brief: to refresh the old lounge, which Faustino describes as “old fashioned”. “Firstly, the brief was to renew the lounge. It’s located in a conference centre with a lecture hall, and they needed a place where people can have a drink, can relax and stay or discuss,” says Faustino. “And secondly, the brief revolved around how to make the flux of people more fluid in this space.”
The existing design, as Faustino explains, was outdated. Designed in the 1990s, it looked more like an 80s creation: “It didn’t fit with today; it never did fit, really.” So when he was given the chance to overturn the archaic interior, though this was his first bar design project, it was an opportunity not to be missed.
Faustino continues to discuss how the brief was open, and that he had a great level of creative freedom with the fit out and design: “The client told me that I could do whatever I wanted, but the only thing to keep safe from the project was the staircase and the sculpture – a very famous sculpture by the Belgian artist Panamarenko.” The staircase links the ground floor lounge with the lecture halls and rooms on the first floor, and in true Faustino style the lounge depicts an experimental and visually stimulating aesthetic, enhanced by a distinctive colour palette.
Faustino says that the first influence on the aesthetic was the name of the bar: “The lounge has no name.” XYZ refers to a nameless space, which he proclaims is a means of allowing the bar to become “the face of neutrality”.
The building used to be called the Zebra Lounge. “It was a strange name,” says Faustino – although aptly titled due to the Zebrastraat neighbourhood being built on the site of the former Ghent zoo – as he reflects on how the old design was in some ways stuck in the past. “We started to work through the brief and focused on the idea of something linked to the current time. It’s the time of identity; people are more concerned than ever before about identity, so with the lounge being a place for meeting, we linked it with this contemporary topic. That was the first thing we started with.”
“The second thing – which was really important – was the chromatics of the place. We looked at what would be the most neutral colour for today, particularly in a place where people meet. The less invasive or aggressive the better; we wanted the softest colour we could use.”
The team decided upon the colour pink. “It’s kind of clear, it’s the colour of skin and very soft,” he says. “When we were discussing identity, what we found was that it was interesting to work with this kind of colour. We’re now very millennial – but what we call the millennial colours are those that are really soft. We wanted that to be at the forefront of the project: to ask what millennial means, and what this means for us in this new century. That’s when we started to talk about gender, and about masculine and feminine identity. We found that the conclusion – light pink, millennial pink or skin pink – will be the best point to start.”
Pink was first used as a colour name in the late 17th century. According to surveys in Europe and the United States, it was most often associated with charm, politeness, sensitivity, tenderness, childhood, romance and femininity. Although historically associated with women, its transition to a sexually differentiating colour for girls occurred gradually, most prominently in the 1930s and 40s, and even in the 20s some groups had been describing pink as a masculine colour. The shade was also more recently associated with social movements, with its use for Pink News and the magazine Pink for the LGBT community, as well as in the form of the pink ribbon – the international symbol of breast cancer awareness.
So in this case, why use a historically marked, interchangeable but stereotyped colour associated with gender, to denote a neutral setting? “It’s interesting because today the colour pink is more democratised,” Faustino goes on to explain. “The colour pink in the 16th century was the colour of the man – which changed to the colour red. There’s a long story about who owns this colour and what the meaning of it is. What I found interesting is that it’s not associated with women anymore. Although it could be a colour that still has this kind of attribute, that’s what I like playing with. That’s why we bring the colour in and mix it with lots of stone.”
Another angle is that colour can be very personal. Faustino admits that the two colours – pink and khaki – are his favourite by choice. When mixed together, however, these “antagonists” become blended, intertwined and form into “ambiguous colours”, he says. “On one hand the green, or the khaki, can be seen as military and masculine, but on the other it’s also a natural colour from nature.” In this sense, the two characteristically opposing colours level each other out and are blended like an artist’s palette – “I think in our society it’s interesting to play with this ambiguity.”
The backdrop aesthetic combined with furnishings designed by Faustino himself is what makes this interior special. The Delete Yourself chair is a prime example, and sees a simple design gestating towards a global system (as the chair connects with its neighbour seamlessly).
The chairs have no reference and are instead designed to be “anonymous”, hence the name, and with the least functional (and least comfortable-looking) frame imaginable. Faustino adds: “It looks like a grotesque chair, or a parody. It’s a parody chair.”
Perhaps this addition devalues the solemn undertones of restricted gender binaries induced by identity, and the efforts to steer into a more neutralised zone fit for the millennial-minded. Or perhaps this is a hint to remind us all to take life – and design – a little less seriously.