“Curiosity with all the digital tools is what makes me who I am,” says Architect and Visual Artist, Chantal Matar. “In my architecture training in Beiruit, we had to sketch by hand for the first three years. We weren’t even allowed to use any software. So I’m relatively new to these tools, even though I have all the graphics knowledge and the classical foundation. My software explorations are still quite innocent and that’s what makes me unique.” With influences as wide-ranging as sci-fi, biology, music and film, Chantal is now working with both traditional and non-traditional software tools in her avant garde and minimalist design expressions through her role as Senior Architect at Zaha Hadid Architects in London.
“We used to spend so much time on sketching one design option and now we can show hundreds of iterations in no time at all. I can’t even remember the last time I used a pen. But, now designers have to be especially careful not to get lost in a loop with so many ideas that we want to express. I’ve always been attracted to minimalist design aesthetics in architecture, photography and visual expressions of any medium. I think the less you show; the more you filter out, the more you can focus in on something specific.”
This focus on simplicity and natural design is at the core of Chantal’s work. “In a world with so many options, you get to be different and honest and express what you really feel and think about something. I make my designs very clear and delicate so you can tell what you’re seeing but it also makes you question why you are only seeing this one thing.”
When Chantal was in university in Beiruit, her fellow students often noted the similarities between her sketches and the classic Zaha Hadid aesthetic. “They used to call me Chantal Hadid,” she laughs. Though she never got the opportunity to work with the legend, herself, Chantal’s dream of working at Zaha Hadid Architects in London was realised in 2018.
“It’s a really challenging working environment, but also so rewarding. I’ve wanted to work here for as long as I can remember. I grew up drawing stairs and houses as a kid but I also had a fascination with biology and medicine. There were these competing desires for both paths. So now, most of my generative design work touches on scientific themes like cells or landscapes or terrains.”
Influenced in part by her brother who is a film-maker, Chantal is interested in merging the two realms of media and architecture. “These concepts have not yet been fully integrated; it’s a powerful combination that I want to explore further.” She is experimenting with film-making software, Houdini, in conjunction with more industry-familiar tools like After Effects to create what she says are really powerful and unusual expressions of design in motion.
“I’m mostly in a relationship with my computer.”
“I’m not as interested in static work. I want to focus on light and experimentation through mediums like projection mapping. I’ve done a few animations in collaboration with experimental artists which is something I’d like to explore further. I recently worked on a multimedia exhibition of ambient music: sound, cosmic sound, galactic sound. It was chaos and noise and motion. It was experimental on a philosophical level.”
Her use of non-traditional software tools has led on to online workshops and teaching, something Chantal thought she would never do. “I always said I never had the patience or the time. I’m also still learning, myself, and I lacked the confidence to teach these tools. But during the pandemic, all these online academic platforms came to life and I got asked to teach Houdini. I wanted to test it out and see how I would do as a tutor. It turned out that it was really interesting and I really liked it, which has also led to teaching in a more traditional academic sense.”
A restriction on travel and working from home has meant more work, generally, and an opportunity to keep growing and exploring. “I do sometimes miss the social interaction. These days I’m mostly in a relationship with my computer. But I’ve been growing so much on an academic and professional level this year. The next step now is to bring more of my generative art and projection mapping ideas to Zaha Hadid. It’s a very experimental team which is not just focused on architecture. I’m excited that I can potentially introduce them to something quite different.”
Chantal is finalising details for an upcoming Houdini online workshop in January, as well as a live and virtual exhibition in Paris. To keep up-to-date with Chantal’s work, please visit https://www.chantalematar.com/ or follow @chantal.matar on Instagram.