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#heyddw: κοίτα Nikoletta Karastathi

02 February 2021

Every other week we celebrate one of the most interesting, exciting, intriguing, funny or unusual #heyddw Instagram posts by featuring an exclusive interview in our online DDW Magazine. This week, Greek architect, teacher and material designer Nikoletta Karastathi.
BIO Plexis
© Nikoletta Karastathi

Could you tell us a bit more about yourself? Who are you and where are you from?

Hello Hello!! I am Nikoletta from Athens, living in the UK where I studied and worked as an architect. Currently I am living in London doing my PhD and also teaching at UCL. 

As a child, I always tried to find creative ways to entertain and preoccupy myself. At one point, I decided to pour a bucket of colourful paint on our new white carpet; as I was curious to see the shapes and colours that would appear! On-going curiosity and creativity are my key drivers. My interests lie in architecture, textiles and material computation. I value a lot of collaborations with people from other disciplines, thus the past years I have collaborated with computer scientists, anthropologists, doctors and scientists. It was through these collaborations that my work has evolved and flourished. 

You shared your project BIO PLEXIS with us via Instagram. Can you explain a bit about the project?

Humans and microbes co-exist, and the relationship is remarkably complex. Some microbes can be useful for our bodies whilst some others can cause harm. Unmasking the relationship of microbes with their surroundings and other materials is key. This knowledge can help in re-establishing an equilibrium between ourselves and the microbes and the way we perceive our surroundings. 

Bio – PLEXIS is a speculative project that seeks to explore the nexus of those relationships through homemade textiles with tunable material composition. There is a series of prototypes in which the yarns are infused with materials of various consistencies such as bee-pollen, achaii and also living marine algae. These materials are chosen due to their properties that are proven to protect from infectious bacteria.

You graduated as an architect. How did you end up designing garments made of bio-yarn?

This is a great question!! As an architect, I was always leaning more on the making, craft, and research side. I am a great believer that research and multidisciplinary collaboration can bring innovation. However, it might be something hard to achieve within an office. Therefore, I was always looking for design competitions where I could explore my ideas further.

The seed of the work started while I was doing my MA in Design and Emergence at Newcastle University. I was looking at knitting as a fabrication method, exploring natural fibres and also their response to the environment. I was always interested in the relationship between body- materials - environment. Examining those relationships through speculative garments was a link that happened naturally. 

Where do you look for inspiration?

I am very much interested in understanding how things work, what is the process and mechanisms from a micro to a macro level. Unravelling the relationship that exists in nature between form – material – environment is a key source of inspiration. I am actually very much fascinated by the complexity of bacteria and cells. Also, what I try to do is to look for things outside my discipline and how this can bring a different perspective in the way I practice.

You’re currently doing a PHD at Barlett School of Architecture in London. Can you give us a sneak peek into your research?

The principles of the work remain the same. I am interested to explore how they can be applied to an architectural scale. The aim/challenge is to explore how these prototypes can be scaled up and explored as an interactive ‘third skin’ between ourselves and the environment. I envisage a structure-envelope in which fibers, textiles, body, technology and environment are all entangled and interconnected.

If you were able to choose anyone in the world to work with (a designer, politician, artist, scientist or someone else), who would that be and why?

 Oh! This is a very difficult question. There are plenty of people that I would love to collaborate with. A key person whose work has always been of great source of inspiration is Neri Oxman. She works at the intersection of architecture, materials science and digital fabrication.

What is the most special or remarkable work you have ever made or designed?

A piece of work that I am very happy with is a design competition that we won while I was at Napper architects, looking at ‘Information Design and architecture: combating drug – resistant infections. It was a great experience as I got to collaborate with scientists, clinicians and programmers; also learning from pharmacists, designers and most importantly interacting with the local community. Part of the project was also rolled out in Rwanda! I believe it was a key point for me and I was very excited to see the positive impact of such work in raising awareness to the public. 

Besides doing your PHD, you teach as well. Is there any student in particular we should keep an eye on and why?

Keep an eye on the degree shows! There is some amazing work happening at the moment. Although it is a very challenging year, students are asking and exploring the right question on what can take us forward.

What impact has the coronavirus had on your practice so far and how do you look to the future?

It definitely has impact. On a practical side I am more limited with space. I was aiming to have constructed large scale prototypes, which currently is difficult. On the other hand, I always considered my kitchen bench as a ‘lab’ and it has been interesting to see what you can achieve with a more low-tech method. What I miss most are the serendipities and talks that would spark ideas. Looking forward, I think we should keep the positives and continue tackling problems creatively. 

Do you have any news you would like to share with the DDW community?

Absolutely! I have started a new prototype and hopefully you will be able to see more of the work so keep an eye on my Instagram!