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Pharrell Williams discusses with Wallpaper* regarding his latest creative project – a youth center slated for his hometown of Virginia Beach. The Pharrell Williams Youth Center has already gained the backing of beauty care brand Kiehl’s which will work in tandem with Williams’ own From One Hand to Another charity. The project’s design comes courtesy of Miami architect Chad Oppenheim with statement “inspires to aspire.” Below are a series of answers from the interview involving Wallpaper*, Williams and Oppenheim.
What inspired the project?
Pharrell Williams: I wanted to provide people with the same opportunities I got. My teachers didn’t let me go until I had realised my potential. They taught me to fight my way out of a paper bag. Children need guidance and creative discipline and someone to be there when they fall. They also need a safe haven. At the moment, arts organisations across the US are having their funding cut and we can’t let that happen. There’s so little regard for creative skills. Where would we be without design?
Chad Oppenheim: We’re taking matters into our own hands.
You met at Art Basel in 2008. How did the collaboration come about?
CO: We were introduced through the French art gallery Emmanuel Perrotin, with whom we have both collaborated. Pharrell was a fan of what we were achieving and I liked the way he thinks artistically. He thinks big and it has been fun to try and turn his vision into architecture.
PW: Chad is a guy who turns real life ideas and situations into buildings. I like his very clean and linear signature. Together we wanted to challenge the status quo and create something that is sensitive to the environment.
How did you you establish the scope and programme of the proposed building?
PW: I talked about the DNA of the building. I want it to be a safe haven for children and a place that challenges them, encouraging them to be curious. We had a very easy creative dialogue.
CO: There is an amazing grove of trees on the plot and we decided we wanted to integrate the building with nature. The tree house is symbolic of a child’s imagination. Pharrell wanted it to be a kind of metaphor for fantasy becoming reality.
What exactly will it house?
CO: It will house departments for all sorts of different creative vocations, including art, music, and research.
What has informed the material approach?
CO: We want it to be as green a project as possible and for it to be at one with its environment. It will incorporate reclaimed materials like steel, wood, metal and stone, as well as high fly-ash content concrete, photovoltaic panels, geothermal technology and indigenous planting.