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Interview Architecture & Design

The expanding plant pot


Words by Lena Bril

Photos by Ashley Lewis

Four o’clock and it’s teatime in London. Designers Bike and Begum Ayaskan are sipping Earl Greys in the café at Somerset House, a vibrant cultural centre overlooking the River Thames. The twins work out of Makerversity, a pioneering initiative created to foster young talent by providing affordable space to the next generation of artists and makers, located in the lower floors of the iconic building. Their design studio, Ayaskan, is on the rise. One of their most recent projects is ‘Growth’, a collection of flower pots, inspired by the Japanese art of origami, that grows together with the plant. Bike proudly puts one of their beautiful pots in the middle of the table before the girls tell us about their mission: to inspire people to get more green into their lives.

Can you tell us about yourselves?

Bike: We have always lived in the city. First in Istanbul, where we were born and raised, and now in the city of London. We graduated from the Royal College of Art last year and are now working on multiple projects from our atelier at Makeversity in Somerset House.

Begum: Despite living in an urban environment, nature has always played a big part in our lives. In Istanbul nature is hard to find, so every summer our whole family would pack their bags and move to the countryside.

Why are your projects all based on nature?

Begum: During those summers in the countryside of Turkey I felt so connected with nature. When I was surrounded by plants and flowers, it felt as if my daily problems had evaporated. I was so much calmer and happier.

Bike: But for the other seasons we lived in the city and missed nature. The speed of city life caught up to us and that relaxed feeling faded as the seasons changed. It was this transition that inspired us to bring nature back into the city.


What do you hope to achieve with your projects?

Bike: We want people to experience this calming effect of nature by integrating nature into city spaces. Urban life is getting more concrete and people are getting more stressed. Most people have no access to gardens in London so we want to make it easier for people to have plants and flowers in their surroundings.

Begum: The best way to display nature in our city lives would be with city planning of course. But we have to start on an individual level: we want to motivate and inspire people to green up their lives. Eventually, we hope our designs will contribute to a greener city life and have a real impact. With every project we do, we try to find new ways to integrate nature in the city.

"We want to make nature more widely available in city life".

What inspired ‘Growth’?

Bike: We started the project ‘Growth’ to investigate the relationship between a manufactured, static object and nature. Is there a way that the two can merge together?

Begum: I remember that we were standing in a garden, looking at a tree. For me, the lifecycle of a tree is so inspirational. We wanted to translate that process of growth into an object.

Bike: We wanted to create a meaningful object with a longer lifecycle, that people wouldn’t dispose of so easily. When an object grows, it comes to life which gives it more value, because people get attached to it.

Why did you use the Japanese technique of origami in this work?

Bike: So we looked into methods that would enable 3D transformation and we soon came across the Japanese technique of origami. We tried over 90 origami patterns before we found the right one. There is a whole mathematics to the design: the form had to be not too loose and not too rigid in order for it to expand with the growing plant. So far, we have only made three prototypes, but we are talking to some fabricators about producing them, made of recycled plastic.

Begum: The funny thing is we accidentally solved the problem of repotting with ‘Growth’. We had no idea that people were struggling with repotting their plants. So we are really happy that we made it easier for people to get plants into their houses, without the hassle of getting a bigger pot.

"With ‘Growth’, we accidentally solved the problem of repotting".

As your work talks about bringing nature into city life, how do you see that movement evolving in your city?

Begum: We definitely see an increasing interest in nature. There is more awareness of the health benefits of having nature in our lives. There are communities in London who are trying to green up the city with guerrilla gardening, for example. But we also see that people want to grow their own food and are curious about permaculture instead of structured gardening. Even in city planning, there is more interest in integrating nature into the city. For example, there are plans for building a park on a bridge over the Thames River.

Bike: Also our colleagues who are designers are showing more interest in solving the problem of the lack of nature in the city, especially in combination with technology. I think these are exciting times: technology could really use the power of plants and flowers for good and contribute to a wider availability of nature.