While being introduced to a room full of architecture graduate students at Columbia University in 2017, Virgil Abloh had something of an epiphany. He had arrived that night prepared with a lecture titled "Everything in Quotes," a credo meant to challenge attendees to take on the status quo. But as the evening’s host began by describing a prolific, discipline-spanning career—one built on the foundations of both an undergraduate and master’s degree in architecture—Abloh saw himself in a new light.
"Let me go back to my notes," says Abloh as he takes the podium, "because as [2x4 cofounder] Michael Rock was speaking, I realized I needed to reinvent my whole presentation." In a pivot, Abloh announces, "Young architects can change the world by not building buildings."
A bold statement to direct at aspiring architects, Abloh’s stance crystalizes when you learn how, while attending his first architecture course as an undergrad, he and his classmates were told by their professor that fewer than three percent of them would design buildings. Still, he pushed onward, taking lessons learned in academia and applying them fearlessly to forever change the worlds of art, fashion, music, and design.
In his life and career, Abloh, who died in November at age 41, never did build buildings. Instead, he was the creative director of rapper Kanye West’s agency, Donda, and the first Black creative director at Louis Vuitton. He founded his own luxury fashion and home goods brand, Off-White, and frequently DJed at social gatherings and events, to name just a few of his pursuits. That he was able to drift effortlessly between an array of creative arenas should provide enduring inspiration to anyone, whether they intend to build buildings or not.
"I distinctly feel like this generation, our generation, is the first one where we can unveil the mask, give the kids the tools, and let them create," Abloh said at Columbia in 2017. "Then we’ll have a better existence afterwards."
In recognition of Abloh’s boundary-breaking creative spirit, we’ve collected five of his contributions to the worlds of architecture and home design.
In 2019, Virgil Abloh created TWENTYTHIRTYFIVE, an installation for furniture brand Vitra that presented a vision for a home set in the year 2023. Abloh took two works by celebrated architect and designer Jean Prouvé, the Petite Potence lamp and the Antony chair, and reimagined them in a bold orange color. Abloh then created a second iteration in 2020, this time in icy blue. The aim of the collections was to show how design can evolve to speak to new generations.
Abloh’s own luxury brand, Off-White, was primarily known for producing streetwear, but in 2019 it launched its first collection of home goods. Aptly titled "HOME," the collection featured classics with a twist: a comfy throw in a searingly bright reddish orange, and ceramics including mugs, plates, and key trays with whimsical blue sketches inspired by delftware.
Off-White’s Flagship Store in Miami
To design a flagship store for Off-White, Abloh collaborated with Samir Bantal, the director of AMO, a branch of Rem Koolhaas’s Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA). To create the Miami Design District retail space, Abloh and Bantal brought into question the traditional role of brick-and-mortar storefronts amid the growing popularity of online shopping. Their response was a flexible space that can be used as a cafe, or for gatherings like lectures, art shows, and music events.
"Young architects can change the world by not building buildings."
Puffer Jackets Covered in Buildings for Louis Vuitton
Architecture often popped up in Abloh’s work in unexpected ways. For Louis Vuitton’s Fall-Winter 2021 campaign, he created puffer jackets complete with 3D models of Paris landmarks and skyscrapers (skip ahead to 6:30 for a look). To design the set for the show, Abloh took inspiration from Mies van der Rohe and Lilly Reich’s Barcelona Pavilion, creating a catwalk with green marble walls and furnishing the spaces with Barcelona chairs. In the show notes he wrote "Mies is my other Michael Jordan."
Brutalist-Inspired Furniture for Galerie Kreo
In 2019, Abloh took inspiration from brutalist architecture and urban landscapes to create a collection of concrete furniture for Galerie Kreo in Paris. The collection, titled Efflorescence—a word for the way salt and moisture forms on the surface of brick, concrete, and other porous materials—included mirrors with circular cutouts, a bench inspired by a skate ramp, and monolithic stools and consoles.
Abloh wrapped each piece with graffiti, combining the heritage of brutalist architecture with the ephemeral expression of street art. "To me," said Abloh during the launch of the collection, "design always has the inherent idea of being a bridge from the past, with an eye toward the future."
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