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Each year at Design Miami/, Swarovski presents Swarovski Crystal Palace, a project where the brand commissions a designer to make an installation using Swarovski crystals. The chosen design for 2012 is Asif Khan. And what he has come up with, entitled “Parhelia,” is quite ambitious. It’s a structure that recreates ice halos, previously only a naturally occurring phenomenon. We spoke with Khan about how he dreamed up, “Parhelia.”
KATY DONOGHUE: How did you get to the idea of creating a manmade ice halo, something that otherwise only occurs naturally?
ASIF KHAN: I simply wondered what it would be like to capture something immense and condense it to the size of a room. In some way I’ve always had a curiosity about “what is natural”.
KD: How did you then go about physically creating it?
AK: At first we borrowed a chest freezer to see what effect suspended ice crystals had on light refraction. It was a lot of fun and beautiful photos, but no halos.We then went to University of Manchester Climate Studies laboratory. They have Europe’s largest ice cloud chamber where at -30 degrees centigrade we finally made the world’s first man-made indoor ice halo. This was, in a way, the beginning of the design process. I wanted to understand how we could harness those light effects using Swarovski crystal. I wondered if we could fuse architecture and crystal to allow people to experience that light.
KD: Did you have to find the right crystal shape or pattern for the pavilion in order to create the ice halo?
AK: We had to do a lot of tests, but it’s been a very satisfying process.
KD: The ice halo can be seen with direct sunlight, not just the lighting of the pavilion. What times of day will be best to visit it?
AK: The light conditions will change throughout the day. I am really excited about seeing it in the famous Miami sun.
KD: You’ve said that this project, and other projects you’ve worked on are prototypes, like a laboratory for future projects. What will you bring back to your studio and practice from creating Parhelia?
AK: I think of this piece as a fragment of a larger piece of architecture. Keep your eyes peeled, we’ve some very interesting projects ahead!
KD: Your work exists on the boundaries of architecture, art, and design. Why do you think you have this preoccupation of exploring natural beauty in architecture?
AK: Rather than thinking of Architecture as sculpture or delineator of space, I see Architecture as a medium that is able to bring you closer to things – such as nature. I create projects, which, rather than being reactionary, connect with people in a different way – at least different for architecture.