Pernilla Ohrstedt explains her storytelling-centric approach to design

LONDON – London-based Swedish designer Pernilla Ohrstedt has a specific spatial vision. In the architecture, installations and experiences she designs, spaces are seen, sensed and shared.


Do you design in terms of ‘framing’ space, or take a more conceptual approach?

The most important aspect of framing is the conceptual frame, which happens when a project is conceived in the first place. If you consider Donald Judd’s work – which, I’ve loved for a long time – you’ll see that his art and his architecture define space with clarity. On one hand, Judd framed and defined space with precision, but on the other, he approached it with a simplicity that was generous and welcoming.

Sometimes it’s important to ask if there’s any real need to frame space at all. Allowing what is already there to remain as it is may be the most radical act an architect can make. 

Pernilla Ohrstedt and Jonathan Olivares joined forces for Vitra at Orgatec 2016 to ‘reinvent the fair’.

Do you have a vision for how scenography could influence architecture and spatial design?  

I regard some of the spatial elements in my projects to be ‘backdrops’ – just like the kind you see on a stage. I want architecture to offer visitors the freedom to perform within a space. Backdrops can empower and excite, but should never take over from the functionalities we are designing. In some projects, it may be best to allow the backdrop to be a silent feature defining a larger space.


How do you think living spaces and workplaces will be defined in future?

We’re already seeing a collapse of distinctions between how we live and work today, which indicates that the two will be less divided in future. Together with the architect Joseph Grima, I’m leading a research project with students at the Architectural Association to explore how the work/live/space relationship will unfold in the near future. We’ll explore a world without work, and completely reimagine how we will live and structure our communities in future.


‘Backdrops can empower and excite but should never take over from the performance itself,’ says Pernilla Ohrstedt.

Are emerging technologies and virtual software influencing the way spaces are understood?

Spaces are seen by technology, sensed by technology, broadcast by it and shared by it. We have become technological beings. It’s interesting to see that technology is virtually invisible today, disappearing from our surroundings, while still enabling everything we do. When you contrast the imperceptible aspects of technology with the solidity of space, the tension that results can create a compelling experience.


Ephemeral structures are increasingly popular. Are they carving out a new future for architecture?

A space that exists for a short period of time often has to make more impact while permanent structures need to be more flexible. Ephemeral projects are free of the rules that permanent structures have to follow. When a project is free of such considerations, designers can experiment and even explore radical ideas more easily. This is essential for the evolution of architecture.


We chose Pernilla Ohrstedt as one of 20 creatives defining tomorrow. Get the full list in our special anniversary issue 20 Years: Framing the Future.

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