There is so much more to our cities than concrete, steel, and glass: US-based designer and professor Igor Siddiqui explores progressive options for flexible and sustainable architecture that meet the ever-changing demands of urban construction.

Technology offers near limitless possibilities for future improvement of personal and civic life in metropolises. One of the people with a firm finger on the pulse of such developments is Igor Siddiqui. As professor for design at the University of Texas and head of the architecture and design practice ISSSStudio, he researches materials from sustainable plastic to light textiles, exploring the overlaps and interstices between product, interior and architectural design.

smart magazine: Mr. Siddiqui, your studio resembles an exhibition of sci-fi materials. So let’s start with the basics: What is your favorite material?

Igor Siddiqui: I love to work with materials that offer a certain degree of plasticity, translucency, and a high degree of customization. I have always loved plastics and their unique aesthetics – perhaps because of my appreciation of 60s and 70s design and architecture. At the same time, I know that we can’t continue to design using only non-renewable materials; we need to look for something that is easily compostable and biodegradable.

smart magazine: Is this a clear focus of ISSSStudio? What does your practice revolve around?

Igor Siddiqui: Generally speaking, ISSSStudio is an experimental practice that uses architecture as its primary body of knowledge. We’re really interested in how design not only has a permanent impact on the environment, but also serves as an educational tool in public space. Many of our projects take advantage of exhibitions and installations to force conversations about what’s relevant in design today. At the same time, a lot of our work is motivated by digital technology, design, and fabrication’s ability to provide greater degrees of customization in the built environment. Over the past few years, I’ve been looking at how architects not only apply materials, but also design them.

smart magazine isssstudio Igor Siddiqui
Photo: Daniel Brückner
smart magazine isssstudio Igor Siddiqui
Photo: Daniel Brückner
smart magazine isssstudio Igor Siddiqui
Photo: Daniel Brückner
smart magazine isssstudio Igor Siddiqui
Photo: Daniel Brückner
smart magazine isssstudio Igor Siddiqui
Photo: Daniel Brückner
smart magazine isssstudio Igor Siddiqui
Photo: Daniel Brückner

smart magazine: How does this affect contemporary urban architecture?

Igor Siddiqui: We are currently experiencing a shift back to spirituality, to thinking about urban conditions, but also acknowledging the role and impact of nature. How these things come together really gives architects a sense of how to move forward with material innovations in the 21st century.

smart magazine: … innovations that draw on past, present, and future?

Igor Siddiqui: One of the most exciting contributions of visionary architecture from the 60s and 70s was this pretty radical idea that architecture could be temporary. In some ways, however, such temporary architecture might be seen as quite wasteful. Now, many architects are once again looking at buildings in a more traditional sense – structures that could last forever. I am interested in exploring how architecture can be temporary, but in a more responsible, sustainable, and engaging way.

“I am interested in exploring how architecture can be temporary, but in a more responsible, sustainable, and engaging way.”
Igor Siddiqui

smart magazine: A good example of such temporary, yet sustainable design is your Solar Floral – a clever beach combo of canopies and chairs. Could you tell us a little bit more about this particular project?

Igor Siddiqui: Developed as a concept for a resort, Solar Floral was inspired by digital technology’s ability to customize building components. The interconnected blossom-shaped elements are made from light, vibrantly colored textiles stretched over metal framing. The resulting canopy produces a variety of shaded areas, while its surface can be used as a lounge chair, a hammock, or a floating beach blanket.

smart magazine: Sounds like the perfect set-up for Austin’s sweltering summers. To what extent does geography influence architectural practice?

Igor Siddiqui: Our perception of cities and the constructed environment is always inspired by where we are. I’ve lived in several American and European cities. Being an Austin resident makes me pay more attention to some things than others. How less traditional cities, like Austin, will evolve in the future is one of our foremost challenges.

smart magazine: What exactly sets Austin apart from the rest?

Igor Siddiqui: Compared to 19th and 20th century European models, Austin is not a conventional city, so our relationship between urban and natural, between exterior and interior is quite different. One of the challenges we need to work out is how such growing cities can continue to foster creativity.

Photo: ISSSStudio
Photo: ISSSStudio
smart magazine isssstudio Igor Siddiqui
Photo: Daniel Brückner

Watch our “One fine day in Austin around SXSW” video featuring Igor Siddiqui, Gabe Blanchet, CEO and co-founder of Grove Labs, and Transitmix inventors Ainsley Wagoner and Tiffany Chu.

For more information on Igor Siddiqui and his work, check out his website.

Header image: Daniel Brückner