Memory-centric designs – Interview with Utkan Günerkan

Architect and a designer Utkan Günerkan talks about how he always had a tendency for creative processes, and how experience from other creative fields helped him influence his on-going professional practice.

Utkan Günerkan is an Istanbul-born architect based in Milan. A postgraduate in architecture from Politecnico di Milano, the largest technical university in Italy. Utkan set up his studio in Milan in 2017 and since then, with his distinctive interior style, he is working simultaneously in Italy and Turkey. In this interview, Utkan explains the use of shades in his work to elevate optimism and leave an impact, while interpreting a person’s memory into space.

Utkan Günerkan - postgraduate from Politecnico di Milano
Utkan Günerkan is a postgraduate in architecture from Politecnico di Milano

What made you interested in architecture? Can you tell us more about your journey until now?

Utkan Günerkan: “I am interested in architecture since I know myself. My family is not coming from art or architecture background but they were really interested in interior design and furniture to get inspiration for our house. We used to have stacks and stacks of magazines lying around and my childhood surfaced around that environment. I always had a tendency for creative processes. I painted and professionally played few instruments for years then, later on, I had nothing else in my mind to create but architecture to feed the hunger. I studied architecture and got my master’s degree. After stepping into the real-life and working with few companies, I found myself more and more interested in interior architecture and had my first job directly came to me which got many publications.”

Residential project in Greece - Utkan Günerkan
Utkan Günerkan’s residential project in Milos Island, Greece is influenced by the volcanic geological nature of the archipelagos and their formations

Your interior design projects reflect a distinctive color palette and sophisticated display. What is the inspiration behind working with these particular shades and shapes?

Utkan Günerkan: “The color palette of contemporary architecture around me was always about grey tones. I believe grey shades are not only more safe to play with but also people like the emotions it brings like calmness and tranquility. My intention was creating spaces that evoke different feelings like nostalgia, safety, and alertness which means fewer grey tones. Each function has its own emotional needs and colors reflecting them. Of course, by using only monochromes we are not able to express all the emotions we desire so I combined colors to create a comfortable balance, highlighting some materials to create a focus on the main elements to evoke memories.

I was lucky to have a chance to develop such a project in Mexico, and reflect these ideas knowing that the main characteristics of the Mexican and Spanish architecture, which consist of montane and coastal identities together making an eclectic mixture of domes, arches, and courtyards expressed mainly through colors.”

Open kitchen concept by Utkan Günerkan
The open-kitchen concept in respect to Mexico’s lowest 21-degree weather

Your designs trigger emotions and arouse a sense of classical expression. What message do you want to convey through generating such experiences?

Utkan Günerkan: “I believe our memories are the most important factor in the process of forming our visual preferences and emotions. I try to interpret our past, the memories using the contemporary architectural language until it arrives at the point where it becomes familiar and can trigger our emotions. What can be seen in almost all of my designs are the swooping arches, circles, and smooth corners. I am trying to create spaces that their shapes and colors provoke the memories of childhood as if you were just now taking candies from your grandmother’s wooden drawer. These experiences are giving you glimpses of the past while creating a memorable space that you want to share with others. Getting this information is not a one day job for sure. It’s an evolving process. While designing, we all have our aesthetic preferences and as we process them with daily life, they morph into something new carrying the old ideas in it. I believe more or less this is how my approach works, since it’s triggered by the emotion, it’s quite instinctive.”

Interview with Utkan Günerkan - proposal for the Notre Dam
Utkan Günerkan’s proposal on creating an art installation for the Notre-Dam renovation

You made an eye-catching proposal for the renovation of Notre-Dame after the devastating fire breakout. What is the message behind it?

Utkan Günerkan: “It was a devastating event for humanity’s history. The first thought that came to my mind was how it could be reconstructed. I believe it has such major significance in history that it cannot be simply to have a new proposal for renovation, such as in St. Mark’s Campanile in Venice. While what I proposed to create an image of a new renovation, it was actually a twist of “a way to keep the museum open, generate money and increase awareness” a temporary art-installation creating strong contradiction through style and color and supplying even more intense awareness for the landmark in Instagram-era. Abstracting a history and an event at once.

French culture has influenced a lot of different cultures and took them under its wings. The colors of the french flag “Tricolore” are mixed to refer to the unity of the French cultures and the resulting tones are used as a base on the arches.

The canopy has pink-hued iridescent vinyl tent placed on arches that are fixed yet allowing the movement of the tent. Moving with the wind, the spectrum of selected shades creates harmony, representing the whole nation and the heartbreaking fire that happened a short time ago.”

Utkan Günerkan uses blush tones
Utkan Günerkan’s style of using pastel blush tones, expressing a calm environment in the space

Do you have any upcoming exciting projects that we can an eye out for?

Utkan Günerkan: “Furniture!

Creating a space that evokes memories and little experiences while your body is surrounded by the space itself, is much easier than trying to design a furniture that reflects the same desire.

Since the users will be coming from various backgrounds. It is important to have a comprehensive understanding of our human nature, and what makes us all curious to explore and fill with enthusiasm no matter what our background is. This process of exploration had to take hints from each period and emotion – The roughness and fragile shapes of the past – colors and materials resembling your and the most further past of our ancestors. 
Emotions that felt in every era reflected in a very different way through different societies and backgrounds. Carefully selecting between them and creating contradictions through their modern representations that tickle your fancy and make you feel familiar with your past and even before you. So I hope with this approach it will be possible to design pieces that will exist and bring the same emotions in different contexts and become a striking piece on its own.

Commercial complex proposal- Interview with Utkan Günerkan
A contemporary style multi-layered commercial complex proposal by Utkan Günerkan

Unlimited budget, unlimited resources: what is the project that you would develop?

Utkan Günerkan: “It may sound banal but definitely a skyscraper. Because I feel the lack of vertical connections on each floor in them. It would be challenging and great for me to experiment with how spaces can extend vertically without becoming ‘islands of floors’. It would probably be a postmodernist building where classical elements and modern building materials get together. Somewhere where you feel related and connected to the past that lives today.”

Utkan Günerkan concept
Utkan Günerkan pink interior
Utkan Günerkan architecture
Utkan Günerkan interior

Interior Designer | Writer | Blogger