The fascinating, futuristic designs of architect John De Maio hold your gaze and immerse you in a unique world. Imagicasa was immediately captivated by his impressive concepts that push the boundaries of technology, design and scale.
John De Maio is an exceptional designer who creates deliberate experiences and environments in his innovative concepts. His designs often take you to other worlds. Sometimes you can imagine yourself in space, on mars or on the moon, at other times you seem to be in the desert and at another moment in a futuristic world. All his designs carry a certain mystery that keeps you intrigued and captivated by his architecture. Each and every one of them unique creations that we can't possibly fathom and describe ourselves, that's why we contacted the talented architect to tell us more about his exceptional designs.
How did you become a designer? What’s your story?
“I have been designing things for as long as I can remember. As a child I always had pencils and paper around and I would lose myself drawing the ideas that came to me for hours at a time. It was almost a sort of meditation. I was fascinated by the idea that I could create spaces that did not exist. This continued throughout my education and I leaned more towards the arts and sciences. My artwork drifted more and more into architectural themes and I was reacquainted with my love for design. When it was time to choose what I wanted to focus on in my career, I realised that the six year old me had already chosen! I moved to the United Kingdom and studied Architecture at the Glasgow School of Art in Scotland. After that, I started to work at the architecture firm Foster + Partners in London where I am one of the partners now and run the office in San Francisco.” Are all your works renders or are some projects actually built? Would you want your concepts to be realised?
“It is the ambition of every designer to realise as many of their projects as possible but inevitably some will only exist as studies. I feel strongly that architecture should not remain on paper. It is meant to be experiences and inhabited and it is only improved through continuous experimentation. My experienced as a partner at Foster + Partners has exposed me to some of the most amazing projects, many of which have been built. A few years ago, I started to use Instagram as a kind of digital sketchbook. This allowed me to apply my ideas to design concepts and ultimately images that could be shared with others. When I started, I never expected to receive as much support and a sense of community as I have. I am truly humbled by all that I have learned from exchanging ideas with artists and designers from around the world.”
How would you describe your work and style?
“I really try to go into every concept with an open mind and avoid having a style. Inevitably, my work carries a certain visual signature as it is all produced by the same hand but it is important to me that each project is approached without preconception. I try to bridge science, technology and emotion where possible. When you get the balance right, that is where things become truly magical. When it comes down to it, it is actually pretty simple: I try to create spaces that amaze and inspire people.”
What is your design philosophy?
“The truth is that it changes every day and I hope it will continue to evolve over the remainder of my career. There is still so much to learn and explore. To think I have got and do it all right at this point would be very naïve. Everything is based on the choreography of experience and emotion. That to me is architecture. The interplay between scale, comfort, discomfort, pace, tone, anxiety, tension, release, light, dark, transition, etc. is what the designer should be considering. The concepts that I create are an attempt to experiment with these emotional networks and their balances in the pursuit of making better spaces.”
"The good thing about organic forms is that they can be manipulated in a way similar to music."
Where do you find inspiration?
“I am very much inspired by other industries: art, fashion, industrial and automotive design, film, music, science fiction, nature, science. Seeking out new experiences is one of the best forms of inspiration for me. Experiencing a new scale, learning a new skill or perspective from someone is what inspires me the most.”
We love the organic, flowing forms in your work. Why do you like to work with such forms and is this a deliberate direction?
“That is a great question. The type of geometry that I use in each project is deliberate but I do not set out at the start with the idea to design an organic form. Ideally, the geometry of the space dedicated by the experience it is designed to contain. Orthogonal spaces make an individual feel differently than organic ones do. The positive of organic forms is that they can be manipulated in a similar manner to music. You can speed up or slow down a transition subtly with the severity of the geometry. Transitions from one space to the next become much more fluid, connected and considered. There are also no corners and therefore no hard boundaries so you have more freedom with how you distribute the focus in different areas within a space.”
What do you want to express and achieve with your designs?
“Every design, artwork or gesture is a response to a question, a perspective that offers an alternative view or experience. The evolution of design is built on this continuous exchange of opinions, a sort of perpetual conversation. The greatest measure of success for me would be to inspire others in the way in which thousands have inspired me, to return the favour and keep the conversation going.”
What is your ultimate design dream?
“An ’Orbiting Space’ habitat hands down! I have had an obsession with outer space since I was a child. To be part of the design of a structure that would enable people to escape our atmosphere and look back on Earth would be life-changing. If more people could experience something like that first-hand, it would change the world for the better. A realisation that we are all on this fragile little marble together, hurtling through space. I would love to build up to outer space by working with Hollywood to design buildings and environments for films. There is so much that can be explored!”
Who knows, maybe in a few years it will be possible to see our earth floating from a habitat in space designed by De Maio. After all, everything seems possible in the future when you see his designs.
This interview was originally published in Imagicasa Autumn 2019.
Images ©John De Maio