Bridging poetry and reality – Interview with Aline Asmar d’Amman

Architect and founder of Culture in Architecture, Aline Asmar d’Amman is translating emotion and culture into the material world.

Born during the war in Beirut in the 1970s, Aline Asmar d’Amman turned to literature and artistic references to escape the external chaos. In 2011, she founded Culture in Architecture in Paris and Beirut, with the aim of bridging cultures, craftsmanship and heritage with an innovative interpretation of the past in the future.

Her projects range from luxury hospitality to private residential, furniture design and scenography. One of her the breakthroughs for her career was guiding the art direction of Hotel de Crillon’s renovation, for which she had the chance to collaborate with Karl Lagerfeld on his “Grands Apartements” decor.

Aline Asmar d’Amman exhibited for the first time in October 2020 The Memory of Stones’ collection at the EDIT Napoli design fair. The sculptural furniture series designed with Italian firm Laboratorio Morseletto is made from discarded marble pieces and slabs of brutalist Vicenza stone.

Aline Asmar d’Amman, architect and founder of Culture in Architecture – ©Marco Zorzanello

Who is Aline Asmar d’Amman? And how did your journey in design & architecture begin?

Aline Asmar d’Amman: “I chose to become an architect like in a spiritual calling, motivated by the certainty that good design makes the world a better place. I was born and raised in Lebanon, a country where years of adversity were followed by an ambitious reconstruction.

I learned to find beauty in ruins and in the tensed contrast between the precious and the raw. I was deeply influenced by the Phoenician heritage and the glorious magnificence of the Greco-Roman temples dating back to 5000 years before J.C., a first glimpse of Italian galore since a very early age!

I’m architect by degree and I graduated from ALBA (Académie Libanaise des Beaux-Arts) in Beirut, with two special distinctions which influenced the beginning of my journey.

Years of travelling as a child and later as an architect working from Beirut and Paris on international projects in the four corners of the world, taught me to cherish diversity, distinctive historical symbols and the importance of the cultural bridge, the one that connects past and future and enriches every culture with cross-fertilization.

I’m a deep believer in the power of beauty to elevate the soul, more than ever in this very particular moment in the world, when creativity can save us from reality, transcending materiality and raising our awareness about the importance of conservation, heritage, and a more humanistic approach for tomorrow.”

Aline Asmar d'Amman - The Memory of Stones
‘The Memory of Stones’ collection tells the story of the constant conversation between man and nature through the combination of marble and stone – ©Marco Zorzanello

All your works evoke a powerful presence. What is the ultimate aim of your practice Culture In Architecture? Why do you do what you do?

Aline Asmar d’Amman: “Three pillars define the essence of my work, ‘culture, architecture and emotion’, and I can’t find better words to describe my creative process and journey seeking to bridge past and future, poetry and reality.

The three of them echo to a magic combination of my love for history, high materials and the evocation of a ‘Romanesque’ experience one can find in literature for example. I like the idea of ‘concrete poetry’, how to transform and transcend physicality into emotional substance in a materialistic world. Novalis’ interpretation in these words: ‘the more poetic it is, the more true’ is my motto.

In a material world, I like to believe that creativity is a powerful tool for positivity and sharing forward thinking values.

Curious to know more about luxury in the hospitality industry? Don’t miss Interior design for luxury hôtellerie – The word goes to Tony Chi.

Considering your extensive experience in high-end interior projects, what are the elements which define luxury in interior design?

Aline Asmar d’Amman:Luxury is slowly shifting towards deeper values which makes new horizons very exciting to explore in design philosophy and aesthetics. For example, in hospitality, travelers of tomorrow seek a strong authentic connection with the destination they’re visiting, bespoke services and personalized adventures with meaningful storytelling, these can’t be replaced by technology and social media.

Luxury is something you can remember and enjoy, not something you can just purchase as a consumer.

In the residential field, luxury is about being in one’s own sacred sanctuary. A place to recharge and rejoice, bespoke and tailored to the curated pleasure of each person.  

Culture and art enhance the luxury experience in a playful inspiring manner. I strongly believe in the power of beauty to elevate the soul and reading, thinking, looking at art are therapy in a fast-moving world where creativity and emotional intelligence will always be treasured.

Uniqueness is rarity and rarity is all about luxury.

How do you approach a new interior project? What is the process you follow to ensure the desired outcome?

Aline Asmar d’Amman: “Simply by making it unique! I read a lot and spend as many times as possible visiting artists, artisans, workshops and exhibitions. 

When a new project comes along, digestion of multiple food for thought happens and the combination of the historical location, the essence of a culture and spirit of place are crossed-fertilized with the accumulation of readings. Luckily, this has no counter effect! This is how I start every journey.

Being attached to the cultural context and background of each project is therefore a step defining the uniqueness and rarity of every project.

Looking for local talents, connecting with traditions and heritage through the know-how of the craftsman makes each experience rich with human encounters and outstanding modern results. Hospitality guests and users do appreciate this attention to detail and participate actively in every project by sensing this strong DNA and thought process.

We met at the fair EDIT Napoli where you were exhibiting the evocative “furniture” collection The Memory of Stones. Can you tell us how the project came to be?

Aline Asmar d’Amman: “I am drawn to the mineral world of stone and marble since my early childhood. Coming from Lebanon and being raised in a land of myths and old stone archeology which has survived all means of adversity – the recent events still speak about the constant rebirth from earth and ashes-, I see stone and marble as the rare vestiges of an ideal world, a generous gift from earth, resistant, mesmerizing, born from quakes and millennia, seducing all generations and cultures.

With The Memory of Stones’ collection of functional sculptures, I wanted to tell the fascinating story of a constant conversation between man and nature through the materiality of marble in conversation with the textures and scars left on the Vicenza stones by man, time and giant machines.”

Aline Asmar d'Amman - The Memory of Stones
“I see stone and marble as the rare vestiges of an ideal world” – Aline Asmar d’Amman – ©Marco Zorzanello

“The hard Vincenza stone is often used as a solid base on which the colossal saws, cutting the marble, leave random scars, creating an abstract random pattern impossible to imitate. This sort of muscle memory imbedded in the Vincenza stone is an invisible thread with the marbles transformed on its bed. Beauty is not only about perfection, but also about emotional memory, symbols, culture, stories, sometimes tinted with darkness and wounds.

This is why I chose to photograph these pieces in Cava Arcari, in the Berici hills of Northern Italy, where the Morseletto family quarry the Vincenza stone. These pieces are the result of a profound journey ‘the quest of concrete poetry’, an idea of transmitting a soulful message with materiality, a quest embraced by creatives, artists and poets since dawn.

The silence, the light, the mist in the carved underground quarry connects human conscience with nature in a powerful way. Somehow, I am hoping to convey the same power with these radical elements which presence holds an ancient memory and the highest craft in the making.”

You had the unique chance to collaborate with Karl Lagerfeld on the furniture collection Architectures. What do you rejoice most of this project?

Aline Asmar d’Amman: “I met Mr. Lagerfeld in 2013, I was working on the interior design’s artistic direction Hotel de Crillon and my first inspirations for the renovation came from Karl’s photoshoots of French art de vivre scenes in a gorgeous historical hotel particulier where models were dressed in 18th century perfection. The modernity of these images was striking as much as the precision and beauty of the furniture, fabrics and details. 

I was certain Karl Lagerfeld would give another dimension to the epic renovation thanks to his immense knowledge and discerning eye. I wrote him a simple manuscript letter and delivered it by hand to one of his addresses… it was like throwing a bottle into the ocean.

I was so pleased when he reached out to me personally after receiving it. And even more thrilled when he accepted to design the suites he would later call ‘Les Grands Appartements’ and a room inspired by his Birman cat Choupette. 

The work sessions were made of books, stones, the finest craftsmanship and magic sketches he would create in a glance. An accelerated learning and dialog about Antiquity, French art de vivre, poetry, literature, architecture, photography… a fast travel in time and through every creative discipline!

Architectures’ functional sculptures art collection designed by Karl Lagerfeld was born from this first creative encounter. It was a simple instinctive gesture materialized in one of the master’s magical drawings during a work session which he calls a total improvisation… “nothing is more modern than Antiquity” says Karl who is inspired by the aesthetic of Antiquity as the origin of beauty, culture and modernity. 

Today, I realize how much working with Karl Lagerfeld has influenced my journey. It’s a true gift as he certainly is one of the masterminds of our times.”

Despite the difficult times we are going through, what is the next step for Culture In Architecture?

Aline Asmar d’Amman: “The coming year is full and exciting! We were recently entrusted with the interior design and the art curation for the renovation of one of the jewels of Venice, Palazzo Donà Giovannelli, a Rosewood Hotel, with the ownership of the leading property development company Barletta Group.

The 15th century neo-gothic mansion, renovated in the 19th century by architect Giovanni Battista Meduna, will reveal the quintessential venetian lifestyle through romantic and delicate design details with a contemporary approach.

The Palazzo Dona Giovannelli has a rich history engraved in its living walls, ‘the flesh of time’ as described by Brodsky and Ruskin. Each architectural feature and detail, fresco and wall painting, tinted glass and sculpted faces adorning the surfaces has a mysterious story to tell and I love listening to them, imagining the Palazzo’s new life as a natural continuation of this Venetian enchantment.

I can only be more inspired by the Serenissima being the gate to the legendary East, with golden strings invoke a glorious orientalist age!

We’re also having wonderful creative conversations in the Middle East and Europe on new hospitality developments and restaurants, whilst we continue developing bespoke residential properties and an upcoming furniture collection.  

For example, we’re delivering a residential project in Saudi Arabia, on which we have been working for 7 years and where exceptional craftmanship are able to express their knowhows.

We’re also bridging cultures between East and West, Paris and Bahrain, working on the rehabilitation and exhibition design of Shaikh Isa bin Ali’s house which influence on the kingdom area, that will narrate this history.

What I love the most is tomorrow’s surprises and enlarging ‘The Memory of Stones’ family will be the opportunity to explore new finds of rare stones!”

Find out more about design firms working in the hospitality industry, don’t miss Hospitality Design: the award-winning creations of THDP.

Aline Asmar d'Amman - The Memory of Stones
“I’m a deep believer in the power of beauty to elevate the soul” – Aline Asmar d’Amman – ©Marco Zorzanello
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