Paf atelier
Paris, FR

Paf atelier is a Paris-based studio specialising in architecture and scenography. Founded by Christopher Dessus in 2017, it's driven by experimentation and research in art, design and architecture, questioning the entire process. Each project is a balance of knowledge, skills, theory and practice, with the design and production processes intertwined. In our interview with Christopher Dessus, we explore the profoundness of his practice and delve into their interdisciplinary approach. We better understand how they collaborate among various stakeholders while focusing on an experimental process of constantly learning by producing through responsible and ethical practice.

Innovating constantly

C.H: In 2015, I founded Pli Éditions, an association that aims to promote research in architecture and design through various means and initiatives. Two years later, I expanded this endeavour by establishing Paf atelier, closely linked to the editorial research undertaken by Pli. For a long time, I had aspired to establish my own company. My goal was to create something that would enable me to collaborate with individuals whom I admired, to learn and to interact with them. Before launching my own practice, I worked for a year at the contemporary art centre Villa Noailles in Hyères, where I acquired a deep appreciation for the balance between conception and production. This motto continues to inform the way I approach my personal projects. Following this experience, I set up my own practice in a 20 sqm studio in Paris, with just two interns and myself.

Winning the Agora du Designaward in the "curatorship" category was a significant milestone in my career. As a result of this recognition, our studio was invited by the Pavillon de l'Arsenal in Paris to design and produce the Offrir des Fleurs (Offer Flowers) exhibition in June 2021. The exhibition featured a book published by Pli Éditions, including a collection of testimonials, texts, interviews, photographs, and images from the exhibition. In 2022, our emerging interior design studio was included in the long-list selection of the Dezeen Design Awards. These accolades, along with other collaborations, have propelled our practice's rapid growth. Today, just five years since its inception, our team of ten individuals works on a diverse range of projects, from retail to exhibitions, installations, live performances, interior design, furniture, set design, and graphic design.

I never envisioned myself working in an architecture firm because I'm not keen on large-scale projects. Instead, I believe that small-scale interventions are capable of creating remarkable designs that I'm more comfortable working with. Additionally, to work in multiple intertwined fields such as design, architecture, publishing, and graphic design is crucial for our research. At Pli Éditions, we focus on these aspects. Pli is an association with varying geometries that aims to support architects, designers, and publishers. We promote research through various media and actions, describing a new generation in architecture and design. Our publication features one new issue annually with over 300 contributors so far.


A all-inclusive practice

C.H: We are a diverse group of experts consisting of architects, product and graphic designers, production specialists… Our studio's added value lies in our interdisciplinary approach, which allows us to bring a unique perspective to each project. This porosity and cross-pollination of ideas enables us to expand our network and develop new concepts. As a team, we are close-knit and work collaboratively in a relatively small space. With 10 collaborators, we handle over 60 projects per year, working with private and public clients across a range of industries including brands, fashion shows, theatre, showrooms, and exhibitions.

My goal is to establish a robust organisational structure that can accommodate new professionals. At the moment, I am solely responsible for managing the team, which can be demanding given the number of commissions we have. We maintain an open approach to our work and do not limit ourselves to any particular brand or field. A typical day at Paf atelier involves exchanging ideas and engaging in open discussions among micro-groups. We believe in involving the entire team in finding solutions, which is why we have these exchanges two to three times a week.

Each project we undertake is unique, and we often complete them within tight deadlines. Some of our recent projects have taken anywhere from two to three weeks, while others have taken two to four months. We're always striving to explore new materials and experimental production methods. Our focus is not merely on aesthetics, functionality, or compensation, but rather on the feasibility and possibilities of each project. To achieve this, we have a team of experts who oversee the production process within our office. Without their input, we wouldn't be able to provide clients with accurate assessments of the work's feasibility. Although we don't have an on-site workshop for creating our own designs, we've built a network of artisans who support our production process. Two of our collaborators have backgrounds in design and production, and we often take a "learning by doing" approach to our work.


Towards more virtuous ventures

C.H: When I look around the construction industry, I can't help but feel saddened by the sheer amount of materials that are not recycled or repurposed. There are so many possibilities to explore; we simply need to create a link, think outside the box and find solutions. It's not merely about making an aesthetic gesture; it's about striking a balance between all the elements. While it may be challenging, I want our atelier to prioritise ethics and be aware of our environmental impact. Personally, I refuse to contribute to the production of more waste. To achieve this, we must research and experiment with new construction techniques and their application. It's crucial to stay local, work with local materials, intelligence, craftsmen, and institutions that surround us.

When developing a project, we follow a few essential steps. First, we take our time to find the best strategy and think about how we can make a project less impactful on the environment. Then, we proceed with a careful selection of local materials and craftsmen, limiting the impact of transportation and production on the final artefact. By thinking ahead about every step of production, we reduce unnecessary materials, wasted time, and energy for my team. To give a simple example, we recently set up a storage area in the studio for this purpose. It can be a bit challenging to source local expertise, reuse our existing materials, and make everything work seamlessly in our new projects, but it's a fantastic accomplishment when we do! 

Initially, this approach may seem like a constraint, but it encourages us to be more creative and resourceful. Over time, we've come to see the recycling process as an opportunity rather than a limitation. However, time remains a challenge, and managing our team, clients, and ongoing projects can be daunting. These constraints force us to be efficient and come up with creative ideas in a short time frame. We are committed to prioritising sustainability and will continue to do so in the future.


A wide range of expertise

C.H: In our studio, we strive to balance multiple projects at once. This not only provides us with a budget for experimentation and creation, but also allows us to invest our time and resources in new collaborations. However, finding the right balance between paid projects for both private and public clients and self-initiated projects can be tricky. We often choose to develop our own projects, even when there is no client involved, in order to pursue our creative passions.

Over the past few months, we collaborated with COLLECTIBLE, a fair exclusively dedicated to contemporary collectible design gathering unique pieces, bespoke or limited edition,, to create an installation for their 6th edition They commissioned us to design and produce the scenography of the fair, along with the global signage. Our team designed an installation made entirely of inflatables, held up by ropes. This was a unique single-material project, and we were excited to take on the challenge. The scenography of COLLECTIBLE 2023, located in the Tour & Taxis industrial building, plays with repetition and gravity to create a striking element that complements the exhibitors' works. The primary installation serves as a spatial landmark and a meeting place, without interfering with the other exhibits. Composed of 24 inflatable structures and over 350 linear metres of rope, the suspended installation showcases the exceptional quality of each component. The inflatable structures are large yet lightweight, while the rope boasts both technical and aesthetic qualities, providing support to the inflatable structures. COLLECTIBLE provided us with an opportunity to explore our passion for working with materials. Inflatables, in particular, are incredibly amusing, flexible, and adaptable. This project reflects our approach to creating something impactful by minimising the use of materials. Our aim was to be as sustainable as possible during the setup process. After dismantling the installation, the materials could be reused simply by inflating and deflating them.

We also worked on an exciting project with Yoann Bourgeois, an interdisciplinary artist who is internationally renowned for his work in various artistic fields such as dance, theatre, music, plastic installation, and audiovisual art. The project called Face au Vide (Facing the Void) is an immersive installation that takes the visitor on a vertiginous climb through a strange staircase that leads nowhere. Along the way, they are posed with thought-provoking questions that encourage self-reflection. At the culmination of the experience, visitors are faced with the ultimate risk of taking a leap into the void. At this critical moment, just before the fall, his face is captured by a camera. The floor is covered in smoke, obscuring the fact that there was something preventing them from being armed. The project was important for two reasons. Firstly, the production and construction were both challenging and exciting, relying on an enlightened scaffolding system. Secondly, working with a dance company provided a different experience, allowing us to demonstrate our ability to undertake cultural projects, rather than just retail or furniture work. We intend to explore this field further in the future, as it is crucial to develop the sensorial aspects that characterise these types of installations. Additionally, we are always on the lookout for collaborations with artists, scenographers, cultural managers, and curators. The concept of porosity reflects the way we work, highlighting the diverse backgrounds of our team.

Portrait Christopher Dessus Samuel Pasquier Photo credits ©Samuel Pasquier

01. Paf atelier Ben PerrierPhoto credits ©Ben Perrier G.

02. Paf atelier Collectibleg Luc Bertrand 3Photo credits ©Luc Bertrand

03. PAF ATELIER 104 YBOURGEOIS 2 11h45 HD 11Photo credits ©Florent Michel

04. PAF ATELIER ARSENAL ODF 2021 11h45 BD 23Photo credits ©Florent Michel

05. PAF ATELIER  PROJET SOHO Luc BertrandPhoto credits ©Luc Bertrand

06. PAF Defile LGN 11h45 HD 2Photo credits ©Florent Michel

07. Paf atelier Workshop UQAM Samuel Pasquier 04Photo credits ©Samuel Pasquier

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