Based between Norway and Germany, design studio NODE’s work has come to define the image of many arts and cultural institutions in both countries. Along the icy streets in Norway, I saw NODE’s Risograph posters and printed paraphernalia for Oslo Pilot, a two-year art program that’s preparing for an art biennale next year. Later, at the Edvard Munch Gallery, I spotted the identity NODE designed for the Edvard Munch Award, featuring Galapagos, a truly eye-catching new typeface by Studio Felix Salut.
Back home in Berlin, the visual identities for exhibitions at cultural institute HkW (the House of Culture) are always by NODE, alongside work for galleries and independent art presses. NODE co-founder Serge Rompza says that specializing in cultural projects is not the studio’s specific desire, but the cultural context affords a degree of freedom for experimentation upon which he and partner Anders Hofgaard thrive.
NODE most enjoys client work that allows it the space to engage with larger, often conceptual design questions. This is especially clear from the studio’s current approach to web projects; its web design for the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), which was founded in 1975 by Rem Koolhaas, suggests there are other ways to curate a web portfolio than the standard visual language we’re used to. OMA has designed hundreds of buildings, but it’s also defined by its work in media, politics, technology, publishing, and renewable energy. Rompza and Hofgaard collaborated on the multi-faceted OMA site with Bengler, which shares its office with NODE’s Oslo branch.
“At the firm, there’s also this fascination with the life of each building that encompasses more than just the rendered image or a photograph the day a project’s finished,” says Hofgaard. “The company has a very finite way of understanding what a work is, so we needed to reflect that in the site.”
Just as buildings grow and change over time, the OMA website refreshes every 30 minutes. The homepage is a “listening post” that collects information from all over the web—Instagram photos, news sites, architecture blogs, OMA’s own articles and essays by Koolhaas—and weaves these into a shifting, porous network of associations, creating a stream-of-conscious narrative that represents the multidisciplinary and unfixed nature of OMA.
“There are rules that the system uses to choose the content,” says Westvang. For example, “One rule is to stay on topic and to make relational links.” While the dynamic layout system was designed by Bengler, Node were crucial in shaping the visual language informing it. “Almost all the layouts you see are based on grids,” says Hofgaard. “This isn’t. Things often end up looking fairly similar in style because of technological constraints, but we wanted to push against what the medium wants you to do visually,” adds Westvang. Therefore the way that images and headlines overlap and fall next to each other on the homepage is unique every time.
“The things OMA wrote in the brief are things a client often never says, like that content is the most important thing, not the design; or that the design should not be part of the contemporary look, but have a longer life,” says Westvang. “Also, often it’s important for a client to control their message. Here, it was like, ‘what if we have an algorithm that re-does your homepage and collages Instagram pictures all over your project sketches? And they said yes. There was a lot of license.”
The next web project that NODE is focusing on with its colleagues at Benger is a digital archive of the collected artworks at MIT’s Centre for Art, Culture & Technology (ACT). Both studios have recently returned from a one week residency at the university where they conducted mmsearch through numerous workshops and discussions. The project will reimagine the form of an online library—like the OMA site, it’ll be functional and easily accessible, but it’ll also connect archived material together through a series of changing and unexpected associations. It’ll be a site for those on a mission, but will equally cater for those not necessarily looking for something specific.