Sitting at a sun-washed glass table surrounded by samples, pens, bits of odds and ends, and a crumpled piece of parchment—an idea not quite formulated before tossed to the side—Jon Kastl, one of the principals at Champalimaud in New York City, emits a calmness that doesn’t seem to match an industry hotshot who spends two to three weeks a month in various areas of world. This isn’t the man you imagine when you think of the stress and brashness that travel often causes many of us, but as he points around the layout of the open office and his preference to sit at a table that could fit eight comfortably, he explains the necessity for them to have a space where an easy exchange of ideas can take place, it’s clear the type of man he is: he’s a collaborator.
The same can be said of his counterpart, Winston Kong, Champalimaud’s second principal, who is currently working over a design associate’s shoulder as she works through a design. This is not a silent studio filled with designers who are nervous of a meeting with the boss.
It’s that collaborative, listening mindset of the two principals that drives the genius behind their vast international projects, which make up about 50 percent of their projects. Designing for other cultures and countries involves visiting and understanding the region and inhabitants to create an environment which fits to that society. “For us, the most important thing is to see,” explained Kastl. “The more we see, the more we’re exposed to, the more we bring back.”
As the world becomes more global in scale with influences passing over borders, seas, and continents at unprecedented speeds, retaining the spirit of the region becomes an important aspect. With Champlimaud, the one-size-fits-all aesthetic of the international style is sidestepped for research and understanding that individual space. “It’s all about understanding the client from a cultural standpoint,” continued Kastl. Kong agreed: “Inspiration is in everything and everywhere, starting with the site of the project. Culturally, you have to see these differences. China will act differently from Hong Kong, which will behave differently from Jakarta.”
“And you really have to listen to your client too,” said Kastl, “because they may not tell you as directly as an American would, but they’re communicating what they’re looking for.”