In recent years the capital-A, prize-winning exemplars of architecture have emphasized a paradox of largeness—in purpose and physical mass—and fluidity, in complex geometry and dimensions, though those can at times seem more inflected by the impression of graphic abstraction than physical purpose. At the same time the practice and study of architecture, away from juries and the pomp of public ceremony, has increasingly become the redoubt for interests more interior than spatial reckoning — tensile form activated by movement or memory. 

For A/D/O Workspace member Natalia Roumelioti, the more holistic pursuit of this kind of form has tended to dissolve boundaries, both metaphorical and literal.  The furniture she creates as half of Ruho Design is often seen as pure sculpture, and her dressings for musical and theatrical performance (under the name Ntilit) often bleed together textile design, bricolage, and performance art. But it’s hard to characterize them so discreetly. “I’m tired of the labels architect, designer, artist, fashion designer, costume designer”, she says. As her work expands into unknown territory, she says: “I do these things as Natalia. As a curious person.”

With Ntilit, her first client—if it can be called that—was Malcolm Mooney. At the encouragement of the eccentrically brilliant first vocalist of the German experimental rock band Can, she crafted an evocative headdress, a structured sheaf of upright goldenrod and red kinetic bands. Mooney wore Ntilit’s Crown during a performance at PS1 in 2012. In “Unsee,” which she developed with the dance group HAM for the Neo Domestic Performance Art Festival, the wearables were assembled in real-time from contributions from an audience in a cumulative interrogation at the border of the public and private. Her series of collaborations with Christine Krishna Washburn, a professional dancer who lost her vision at age 19, are designed to emphasize feeling and relation in the absence of sight.

Ruho, which she founded in 2015 with structural engineer Odysseas Olysseou, recreates  disused materials and forms into one-of-a-kind pieces that divine new life for found objects. The component members of the pair of Soft Chairs are components of a familiar mass-produced upholstered wooden chair: but their cushions and frames have been taken apart and reconfigured, with one frame assembled from concrete cast from the form of the cushions, and its mirror, a concrete support layered with the original cushions.  “At the end of a life cycle” — fragments of discarded furniture and mass-produced goods. “Ruho means a dead carcass in Finnish,” Roumelioti said. “In Greek it means something you choose to surround your body. It embeds two different ways of seeing an object—both of which are reincarnated into a new life.” The past life and a new one, or a new interpretation of one, interpenetrate. Through this process, she says, “there is absence and presence at the same time.”

Roumelioti received architecture degrees from Athens Polytechnic (NTUA) and Columbia’s GDSAPP—in the process feeling out how the material and the experiential, might, in a sense, edge into the spiritual. In her student work she considered not only the ramifications of a place’s shape and the suggestions of its social role, but its historical resonances and evocations within a sphere of shared experience. After architecture school’s alternately practical and theoretical examinations of the built world, she said, “I wanted to work with my hands.” To mold “tangible materiality” into a form that is directly sensitive to “how it applies to the body.”

“Ruho means a dead carcass in Finnish, in Greek it means something you choose to surround your body. It embeds two different ways of seeing an object—both of which are reincarnated into a new life. The past life and a new one, or a new interpretation of one, interpenetrate. There is absence and presence at the same time.”

During her time in the A/D/O Workspace, Roumelioti has embarked on a new project: the Anasa chair, a dynamically fabricated solid form meant (in contrast with her unique works as Ruho) to be produced in multiples, or configured for mass production. Designed around three yoga postures, she is modeling the chair in permutations using both routing and 3D printing. Its sinuous form is engineered to adapt to, and ameliorate, the rigidity and stress of everyday life. (”Anasa” means breath in Greek, “Asana” are poses in yoga that combine firmness with relaxation).

The body, through its freckles and birthmarks, its scars and wrinkles, tells a story about the progress of life—about how form is not an ideal state of balance or decision but a process of developed contingency. With Ruho and Ntilit she has pursued something closer to spatial choreography and material genealogy, following the resonances of objects’ history and the structural devices of textile fluidity. Their physical form is merely the language for the stories they tell about their past, and the medium for what they might still have to say.

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