Harry Parr, co-founder of London-based design studio, Bompas & Parr, infuses whimsy into one-of-a-kind installations that blur boundaries between scientific research and pure, unadulterated fun. Olha Romaniuk writes.
Culinary designers Sam Bompas and Harry Parr are renowned for their studio’s larger-than-life installations that combine gastronomic experiences with architectural settings and spaces. With a slew of high profile projects, including a breathable fruit cloud installation titled Ziggurat of Flavour, a glowing Neon Jelly Chamber and companies like Disney and Louis Vuitton as some of its clients, Bompas & Parr has become a recognisable name in the world of culinary research and design.
Recently in Singapore to celebrate the launch of the world’s first Magnum Infinity Playground – Bompas & Parr’s first project in Singapore consisting of an interactive installation that transformed a rooftop bar into a play space for adults – Harry Parr speaks about his and Sam Bompa’s shared passion for food, jelly-making and immersive, flavour-based experiences.
What prompted your interest in exploring the relationship between food and architecture, and starting a firm with both elements as central focus in your practice?
It all came from jelly. Initially, we were very interested in reviving Victorian jellies, which carry a huge amount of nostalgia. We were looking for a way to make beautiful jellies with fresh fruits. However, we quickly discovered that all Victorian moulds available were incredibly expensive. Sam and I wanted to start making these moulds ourselves and decided to start a jelly company.
At the time I was training to be an architect, so the skill I had was 3D modelling. I was still at the university when I started designing jelly moulds for 3D printing. Shaping jellies was always important but, eventually, colour and flavour somehow had started playing an important part in the architectural jellies.
What was your first big event?
Our first big event was the Architectural Jelly Banquet where we invited some of the world’s leading architects to design jellies shaped like different buildings and structures. We received a huge amount of interest and realised that we needed to host an event to exhibit all these jellies and to also entertain the event attendees. So, for the event, we commissioned a special sound stimulation with a soundtrack composed of recorded and altered sounds of wobbling jellies.
What was quite unexpected is that this exhibition turned into an all out food fight and party – an unexpected engagement of the food off the plate with the environment and the people. Through this event, we discovered that by engaging people’s senses, truly magical things could happen.
What is your design process when working with clients on these highly unique, one-of-a-kind installations. How do you interpret a client’s brief to come up with a design solution?
At the start, we are normally given a very loose brief by a client. What we, then, do is think about how a brand’s product plays to the experience and how we can script people’s journey through space. Many firms try to do that through a more stripped down method but for Bompas & Parr the main goal is to have a very enriched journey with attention to a brand’s history.
How do you convey a brand’s message through your installations?
Brands are fascinating. With most brands what you often experience is the final product but what you don’t necessarily know is that, behind every final product, there are a lot of scientific tests and research. We think about how we can transform and capture that research spatially and, as is the case with Magnum, for example, how we can translate the pleasure and satiation that people get from consuming a food product into a new experience.
You work with experts from different disciplines to create immersive environments that enhance the product’s impact, as is the case with the Guinness Tasting Rooms or the Chewing Gum Factory in Dubai. How do you use research from other disciplines in your works?
We love collaborating with specialists and we love taking scientific research and putting it into new settings that give that research new context. For example, recently we did a lot of work with the impact of sound on flavour: how sounds can change taste perception and how sounds and visual effects shape the sense of taste.
How do you find the right experts for your projects?
On a number of our projects, we’ve worked with quite a few different specialists. Depending on the nature of the projects we are working on, we roughly know which specialists we need to collaborate with to meet our project needs and we reach out to them. But really, we just try to make great, rich experiences for people to remember when they are coming to our events, hoping that they walk away having discovered something new.
What was your most challenging project so far and how were you able to pull it off?
One of the most challenging projects was a large floating island in Kew Gardens outside of London. Kew Gardens is very protective of the pond where we wanted to do the installation and this project involved very heavy engineering. We had to go through planning commissions and lots of stages to push the project through to completion. We were very lucky to collaborate with a number of people to make this experience happen, including a collaboration with a specialist to make a banana-flavoured cloud. We visited the archives of the gardens to find incredible illustrations of plants from around the world and worked with a fashion designer Kit Neale to create the staff attendants’ uniforms that were later translated into a fashion collection. In other words, we took one idea and really ran with it from the beginning to the end.
You have collaborated with Magnum on other projects in the past. How was the brief for Magnum Infinity different from earlier projects?
For our previous project for Magnum – the Magnum Infinity Pleasure Pod – we worked with neuroscientists and looked at how you could turn scientific data to create a “Pleasure Portrait” to record the pleasure that you get as you eat an ice cream bar. Through biosensors that detected individual responses, like facial expression and skin tension, the collected readings were projected inside of a Pleasure Pod to provide visual feedback of the visitors’ experience as they were eating Magnum ice cream.
For Magnum Infinity Playground, the inspiration for the installation goes back to childhood and nostalgia. Ice cream is something that you associate with being outside, being in the park in the summer. This is the experience that we wanted to recreate – a place for adults that takes them back to that time when they were children.
What projects are you working on now or would like to work on in the future?
We are working on a pub in central London that is based on the Alcoholic Architecture concept we have developed about five years ago, where you go into a room and the whole atmosphere is filled with gin and tonic, or any other alcoholic cocktail. It is an immersive and transformative experience that becomes a part of an architectural environment.