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Weekly Chew: Off-beat architect group Oh No Sumo get uninhibited

No big, fat Japanese wrestlers but Oh No Sumo certainly know how to push the boundaries.

Who is Oh No Sumo? 

A bunch of architecture students all studying at the University of Auckland - Patrick Loo, Sarosh Mulla, Katherine O’Shaughnessy and James Pearce. When we graduated in 2008, we were all interested in after hours projects that offered different challenges to our day jobs. We would be hanging out together anyway. It soon transformed into a design collective exploring many avenues of design and creative work.

What do you aim to do? 

Push the boundaries of conventional design practice for uninhibited design freedoms through creative thinking and active participation. 

How did you arrive at Oh No Sumo? 

We had a studio in Epsom—a basement under a hairdressing salon—and it needed a paint. One day we were painting the walls using rollers, thinking of other crazy ways to do it, like having a launch party where everyone had to dress up in sumo gears, splash themselves in paint then bang up against the walls. We didn’t do it, maybe in the future. But that’s what inspired the name. 

What are your day jobs? 

Patrick works at Jasmax, Sarosh at Salmond Reed Architects,  Katherine's at Salmond Reed & James was at Brown Day but is now at Popolous which designs stadiums [stadia?]. 

What was your first major project? 

The cupcake pavilion. There were a lot of graduates finding it difficult to find work. In March 2009, the teachers brought us together to inspire a group exhibition. They told us about Architecture Week in October. We knew we wanted to build something. Architecture Week is about opening up architecture to the public – it’s educational and experiential. It traveled from there. We thought it was an opportune time to do something. 

At the worst point in the Recession, sponsors were sought to provide support as we pushed through trying to develop a design. The design evolved according to what we could get our hands on. We knew we could use cardboard for the structure because it’s cheap, accessible and sustainable.  We wanted an interior space, an awning and a window for serving. 

Eventually the architecture emerged as two intersecting double curved surfaces produced from laser-cut corrugated card ribs. When combined they created small cubby hole openings for each cupcake to sit in. After rounding up volunteers and a warehouse to prefabricate in, the pavilion literally touched down outside the Britomart train station in central Auckland. 

What ensued was a frenzy of hungry downtown workers; eager to get their hands on beautifully crafted gourmet cupcakes. The pavilion succeeded in selling out of the 1000 cupcakes in just 90 minutes, but more crucially it succeeded in proving the public have an appetite for fun public architecture.

And your next project? 

The paper sky at Lifestyle Kitchens for Urbis Design Day. We agreed the Poggenpohl kitchens were so beautifully designed, we should enhance the spaces around them to connect them with a paper sky. A lot of design decisions were made as we were fabricating. Family and friends helped create 20,000 individually folded pieces that were strung together on the ceiling. Sponsored by Spicers (for the paper) and Geon (die cutting) we held little folding parties where we shouted dinner in return for folding. 

The Paper Sky project and the Cupcake Pavilion won silver and gold awards at the 2010 Best Design Awards 

How/why do you choose techniques employed? 

With each project, we’re keen on using a different fabrication technique. We work as architects but these research projects allow us to explore other avenues of design. Things that seem commonplace to graphic design, we hope to interpret the methods differently. We look for spatial/architectural opportunities. The best part of these production lines is getting a really interesting melding of people. We tend to design stuff every day but it’s rare that we get to be involved in the making so this is a great opportunity. 

What’s next?

Preparing for The Blow conference out of Massey University in Wellington—Nov 11-12. They’ve invited people involved in interdisciplinary design, trying to find where the blurring of the boundaries exist. 

Patrick and Sarosh are working on a project for the Prague Quadronial in June—a competition for a theatre space. We’re reveling in throwing out the most distilled ideas we can. 

Through these events, we’ve met up with a Studio of graphic designers called We Love Inc, and we’ve started a design battle series with them, agreeing to create some rules of engagement with challenges to suit the framework….one of the first challenges “How do you measure smiles?” We’re planning to publish the results each time. 

Watch out for more fabulously creative solutions from the amazingly talented design studio team.