Michel Abboud, “Architecture is also about evoking emotions and engaging the senses”

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Michel Abboud
© SOMA

We recently interviewed Michel Abboud, an architect and artist who founded SOMA Architects. The firm has been based in New York since 2004, and specializes in integrating craft, digital technologies, and environmental responsibility into their projects. SOMA operates globally and has expertise in developing residential, hospitality, commercial, and mixed-use projects.

Michel Abboud received his Master in Advanced Architectural Design from Columbia University in New York in 2004. Abboud has won several awards such as the World Architecture Award in 2019, the James Beard Award in 2015, and the Architizer A+ award in both 2016 and 2017. His latest solo exhibition at the Opera Gallery features several series of Abboud’s works.

Michel Abboud
Unilux, Beirut © SOMA

PA: This year marks the 20th anniversary of your award-winning firm SOMA. How are you celebrating this milestone? In what way has your use of parametric design contributed to redefining the Architectural landscape over the years?

Michel Abboud: As we celebrate our 20th anniversary, SOMA enters a new era. In this regard, I’m excited to unveil this exclusive news today. We have an upcoming special venture: a state-of-the-art shared workspace in Dubai that brings together artists and architects. This “SOMA Incubator” stands as a landmark for us.

At its core, SOMA is renowned for implementing parametric design in Architecture, which allows art forms and advanced technology to merge. It is an algorithm-based process of designing building layouts, structures, and elements. As a result, it lets designers take charge of the relationship between design intent and response.

The use of advanced software to generate geometrical forms enables us to produce structures that could potentially be difficult, even impossible, to achieve through traditional means. Throughout the past 20 years, this unique method has helped us create more adaptable, efficient, and visually compelling designs.

PA: Could you let us in on SOMA’s revolutionary methodology, “Art Meets Architecture”? Tell us more about the importance of integrating parametric art.

Michel Abboud: “Art meets Architecture” comes from the combination of me being a practicing architect and a practicing artist. I believe that “Art meets Architecture” is at the essence of SOMA’s design philosophy. It seeks to incorporate artistic elements and principles in architectural practice and vice-versa. This gives form to structures that are functional and aesthetically innovative, culturally sensitive, technologically advanced, and emotionally resonant.

Parametric art allows my sculptures to often feature dynamic, fluid forms, and intricate patterns. These generative designs are not solely about being aesthetically groundbreaking; they are functionally responsive to various factors such as environmental conditions, structural necessities, and spatial dynamics.

Michel Abboud
45 Park Palace © SOMA

PA: What are the key aspects that set SOMA’s “Art Meets Architecture” apart? How is your distinctive methodology reshaping the Architectural scene?

Michel Abboud: To best illustrate it, I would say that there are 5 major aspects that makeup SOMA’s pioneering philosophy. I do not perceive art and architecture as separate, but as seamlessly unified, so the first aspect lies in Integrated Form and Function. I aim to convey unique forms and provide innovative and accurate use of materials which surpass conventional architectural norms. The second one builds on Meaningful Structure. SOMA perceives spaces as canvases for artistic expression that create immersive experiences. It allows us to employ unconventional shapes, explore new materials and textures, and incorporate dynamic lighting and interactive elements.

Another one of our pillars is Contextual and Cultural Relevance. The art in architecture often reflects or responds to the cultural, historical, or environmental context. Thus, each project holds a unique story. Additionally, Technological Innovation plays a big role in facilitating the intersection of art and architecture. Lastly, we have Emotional and Sensory Engagement. Architecture is not merely about creating spaces that are visually appealing; it’s also about evoking emotions and engaging the senses. This approach turns buildings into emotive artworks.

PA: SOMA successfully balances out artistic innovation and functionality. Can you better illustrate how your work reflect this synergy?

Michel Abboud: SOMA’s philosophy is engrained in a holistic, thought-provoking architectural stance. I ensure that every single one of our projects embodies both functionality and artistic depth. This exact mindset welcomes and nurtures diversity, leading to revolutionary solutions.

Considering that we adopt a customer-centric approach, we aim to balance out practicality with innovative design. We integrate digital technologies while preserving the craft in a sustainable and efficient way. Additionally, we handpick projects and clients to ensure alignment with SOMA’s values and philosophy. This gives space to personalization, highlighting each project’s distinctive facets.

I also put cultural context at the forefront. The collaboration of skilled design architects with local market expertise gives SOMA a unique edge. This ensures that every work resonates with its culture. Another key element is our view of architects as “storytellers”, adding a distinct dimension to the projects. Ultimately, this helps observers connect with them, fostering human connection.

In addition, seeing that sustainability is becoming increasingly important in today’s world, I am adamant about staying environmentally conscious and responsible. SOMA translates this into forward-thinking, eco-friendly work.

Highline Installation, New York © SOMA

PA: Can you give us an insider’s look at the SOMA incubator in Dubai? How does it forge a new form of intersection of artists and architects?

Michel Abboud: Our new, groundbreaking venture in Dubai marks a pivotal expansion in the region of SOMA’s vision. We have an unwavering commitment to create a modern epicenter for creative collaboration and innovation. This project can potentially redefine the way artists and architects interact. Thus, we’re here to set a blueprint for creativity and cooperation in the architectural and artistic communities.

Our cutting-edge initiative seeks to widen SOMA’s impact in the global creative community. We’re offering a dynamic, sustainable hub where ideas seamlessly blend, bringing about innovative solutions. It’s a space where artists and architects combine diverse, thought-provoking ideas. This will attract an exceptional talent pool, fostering a multifaceted culture.

SOMA is driving long-lasting change within the creative environment through this disruptive venture.

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