Does architecture need more graphic design?

Dutch designer Hansje van Halem is changing how we experience the buildings around us, using tiles, 3D installations and patterned facades to personalise churches and housing blocks. CR finds out if it’s time to give graphic designers a chance at architecture

Van Halem has been working on large scale architectural commissions for the last ten years, although she originally studied graphic design. After graduating she worked as a book cover designer, and spent time experimenting with precise line drawings of letters and alphabets. Her big break into the world of buildings came in 2013, when she released a 400-page book filled with her type and pattern experiments – which caught the eye of an Amsterdam architect.

“They asked if I could make it this small, if I could also make it really big to fit on a building,” she says. “It was never something I’d anticipated myself, but my clients saw that there was so much more potential in this drawing. They could see it being translated into laser cutting, water cutting, bricks and tiles. It was by publishing this very open document of unfinished work that triggered other people to interpret my work in a different way to what I’d imagined myself.”

Early projects included a sandblasted glass façade in her home city of Amsterdam, and then later a set of patterned sliding sun screens for a school building – the point at which she says she became hooked on making large scale work. But while van Halem says the technical nature of her drawings made them easy to imagine in other materials, the actual process required some adjustment.