Since the depth of the water at sea varies constantly with the tide, the depths on nautical charts and for tidal predictions in tide books refer to an arbitrary yet precisely defined level known as chart datum or hydrographic zero. This term inspired the name of the research and creation studio Niveau Zéro Atelier from La Courneuve which currently consists of eight members, including Souleimen Midouni and Mathias Vincent Palazzi. “Contextual exploration is a cornerstone of our practice. Most, if not all of our work is based upon the exploration of the sites, people, and crafts we work with. This also means that we develop a lot of In-Situ projects, which we like to think of as ‘acupunctural’ interventions,” Souleimen tells C24. Through its work, the studio engages in a continuous dialog with its environment, merging architecture, art, and design. “Since the ecological crisis challenges the role of architects and designers, we are quite concerned with finding ways to help these professions to reposition themselves,” Mathias reflects.
On every project, Niveau Zéro Atelier begins by researching and playing with materials found in and around its city such as clay from Parisien building sites excavated during the architectural construction of Greater Paris, or aluminum and steel from closed factories. “There are way too many objects in the world to add more for the simple purpose of creation. Besides that, we have a certain tendency to work both functionally & symbolically: choosing a material for what it expresses and for what it allows,” Mathias explains. Approaching each project with a unique perspective, they refuse to be tied down to any specific style.
Their work “Limpida, Marvelous” is currently on display until August 20 at Format 2023: Water Expeditions at Hasselt-based Z33. The exhibition brings together a group of designers and architects to explore and rethink our relationship with water. By diverting and filtering the rainwater from the reservoir in Z33’s basement, Niveau Zéro Atelier opens a discourse about the future potential of rainwater harvesting for drinking water production. According to a paper published by scientists at the University of Stockholm in 2022, rainwater is unsafe to drink anywhere on the planet due to contamination with per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)—a human-created group of chemicals. Using tools and technical devices such as pumps and filters, “Limpida, Marvelous” indicates the necessity of new methodologies and rituals to ensure sustainable management of our resources in the future.
This year, Brussels-based OS Studio invited Niveau Zéro Atelier to exhibit a set of furniture in their OS project room, reflecting on control and organicity and how they interact within our bodies and domestic environment. “Design objects tend to appear as finished objects. Yet, from our perspective, they just exist as the result of a constant flow of matter and energy. So it goes for our domestic environments: We collect objects and sort them out while trying to make order out of the immense flow of matter we produce. But eventually, these objects don’t fit in the boxes anymore. There is no more space on the shelves. Or the basement becomes too packed,” Mathias summaries. Looking at both the opportunities and shortcomings of modularity with a sense of humor, Niveau Zéro Atelier encourages its audience to embrace the unexpected.
The initial idea behind the collective, long before its official foundation in 2020, was to create an open space where members engage, share, and support each other. Its distinct and collaborative approach has allowed the collective to be flexible on projects across any discipline and combine their skills and experience. “For us, establishing a collective practice was a way to create our ways of working, free from the constraints of ‘traditional’ structures,” Souleimen explains, and Mathias adds: “There is no hierarchy in N0A, it’s built on trust and responsibility— which is complex but possible as we are friends on top of everything.”