THERE IS NO CLASSIC BOOKCASE DESIGN, IN THE WAY THAT YOU GET CLASSIC CHAIRS
Ruth Slavid Your firm, Open, is a company largely devoted to the design of bespoke entrance systems. This is a very specialist subject. Did you come to it through a training as a mechanical engineer?
Nick Antoniou No. My father is a civil engineer and my brother is an architect. It just kind of rubbed off on me.
Ruth Slavid But how did you get there?
Nick Antoniou After a biology degree, I worked for BP for a while and then I worked for Allgood, which was looking to move into the EU. From there I moved to Geze. While I was there, I realised architects were not at all interested in being given a catalogue and asked to choose. So I looked at the opportunity for Geze to take semi-finished products and 'bespoke' them. It wasn't the ideal solution for mass producers.
Ruth Slavid So that led you to set up Open. Do you ever wish you had M&E training?
Nick Antoniou Maybe, maybe not. I know so many interesting engineers in different fields, I found that because I am not as knowledgeable in certain subjects as they are, I can free-flow and see possibilities for using products from other fields they may not have thought of.
Ruth Slavid What makes your entrances different from the standard ones?
Nick Antoniou Discrete interventions. On a rotating door, for instance, I will use light emitters and receivers as a heel detector, so you can avoid having an ugly projection on the bottom edge. And I put in technology borrowed from the aerospace industry, which uses light emitters to send beams to receivers at the top.
If you break the circuit, the door stops.
Ruth Slavid You have also made some of the tallest rotating doors in existence.
What is special about those?
Nick Antoniou Glass producers provide glass that is 6m long, but the manufacturers of automatic doors don't want to deal with it. So they are restricting the architects. What I like to do is to work with the architects, to let them have a blank canvas to express what they would like the entrance to look like, and I can bring that to reality for them.
Ruth Slavid I understand one architect asked you to produce sliding glazing that could exist in a single plane and slide out of that. How did you work that out?
Nick Antoniou On a bus or a train you have a door that slides out and across. I based the glazing on that. But what is clever about this is that the drive mechanism is in the ceiling and the floor. So you don't see it, but it pushes the door out of its plane and it slides across.
Ruth Slavid Normally, having produced something entirely bespoke for a client, you then roll it out more generally to the market. Do you have any other clients for this in-line slider?
Nick Antoniou Yes, my first project is for a private house in the Home Counties.
Ruth Slavid There doesn't seem to be much connection between sliding doors and bookcases, but you designed a bookcase recently. How did that happen?
Nick Antoniou It grew out of another project for an architect. I realised you could use 10mm aluminium as horizontals and verticals, with an alloy that is used in the aerospace industry. Then each shelf could carry 750kg to a tonne of books over a free span of over 1,600mm wide. You don't see any of the fixings and you feel the whole thing is floating.
Ruth Slavid What makes you think there will be a market for it?
Nick Antoniou We discussed it with several interior designers and we discovered there is no classic bookcase in the way that you get classic chairs, apart from one designed by Dieter Rams in the 1960s. That is why I was so keen to develop the bookcase. It is going into a show flat designed by Foster in Milan.
Ruth Slavid Are there particular architects you like working with?
Nick Antoniou I enjoy working with anybody and everybody, but I find there are certain practices that are always researching and that suits me. With most practices, you have to have something already on a building before they will entertain using something new.