Thea Hallak, architect, studied in Beirut and London. Thomas Billas, designer, studied in Lille, Tournai and Brussels. Together, they found HIER in Brussels, a studio that works on aesthetic and rational branding solutions for businesses, brands and institutions.
The duo plays with scenography, signage, and any 'thing' that translates brand philosophies into tangible, spatial experiences, physical and responsible stories. Rethinking everyday objects is an important part of their work.
MAD had a talk with Thea Hallak from Studio Hier.
What is the working dynamic of your studio? What is your approach?
"Hier is a love story, a studio, a toolbox, a huis and space to meet, Hier in Brussels. I am architect and Thomas is an industrial designer. While working together in Beirut we realised that our practices had a lot in common. Thomas started with signage and I began with scenography and displays for exhibitions. These are two fields that come together and underline this idea of 'physical branding'. How to tell the story of a brand, of a business, through a space and/or object. All this is not limited to graphic design."
"When a client comes to see us, we think together and listen to their needs. From idea to project delivery. We explain our vision and favour flexible solutions and collaborations with our partners."
Why does upcycling and creating with old materials play an important role in your work?
"HIER designs responsibly and produces locally. But upcycling depends on the project, the customer and various parameters. If we have materials available that are easy to reuse, we will of course transform them. But sometimes reusing materials is too energy-consuming, in which case we think about alternatives that consume much less energy and materials. We really work on a case-by-case basis with each client. For each project we ask ourselves: What will it be used for? What will it be like in a few years? If the object breaks or is damaged, what do we do? Will it be possible to (re)repair it? "
"We focus on having the smallest possible impact on production and energy consumption, we consider the number of operations that a material will endure."
You are former residents of MAD, today you are working on a project to redevelop the residence spaces, what has been your journey since you left MAD?
"MAD's strength at the time was above all that it gave us a nice atelier to receive clients, prospect, develop our studio and have access to machines. It was a way to start in community, which gave us, among other things, motivation. Even if we missed some common projects and coaching at the beginning. Today our studio/workshop is located on Chaussée d'Alsemberg in Saint-Gilles and we work on projects for Duvel, Hub Brussels, iMAL and MAD Brussels."
Raw materials and the reallocation of objects are at the heart of your practice, what materials did you use for the rue du Vautour project with MAD?
"A few years ago we worked on a project to redevelop MAD Workshops in rue Haute. The project stayed in place for 3 months and then we moved and everything we produced was put aside. Aesthetically and architecturally, the rue Haute workshop has a lot in common with rue du Vautour. We tried to be respectful of the place by making nods to its history and MAD's history. You can see that there have been additions and transformations to the building with its mix of tiles and concrete. That's why we wanted to reintegrate the idea of rue Haute, with the use of galvanised steel. We often use this material, not necessarily for its aesthetics but because it is a very interesting raw material, which lasts over time. It's not necessarily the DNA of our studio, but we often use it in our different projects."
What do you think are the challenges of design today?
"Having an ecological approach, by taking care that what we produce can be recycled, is a parameter that should be in the essential skills of everyone today. It should no longer be an identity, something that sets us apart, but the basis of all design thinking. We focus on having the smallest possible impact on production and energy consumption, we consider the number of operations that a material will endure. We also look at the end of life of the object, how it can be treated at the end of its use."
What are the particularities of the Belgian craftsmen you work with?
"We work closely with artisans to complement our expertise. Depending on the project, we call on textile designers, graphic designers, ceramists... We design the project and look for the proper language with the right people. Collaborating with others allows us to learn new things, generate a team spirit and make connections with other local and international arts and crafts disciplines."