Erwin’s career path is one with a lot of twists and turns. The Brussels native got a Master in photography from Sint Lukas, took a sneak peek at film studies and is also a trained cook (which comes in handy for the weekly Base team dinners). After having launched his very own gallery “Bullitt” while working at a Tex-Mex restaurant, the multi-talent quickly started to get booked as an exhibition builder and signage designer by renowned museums and art centers such as Wiels, Bozar and MuHKA and even opened up his own multidisciplinary design office. Erwin also designs furniture and recently started teaching at art school La Cambre. At Base he has been working as a spatial designer for a few months now and we had a little chat with the go-getting all-rounder about his job, fixing office doorbells and why he always has a tape measure in his pocket. See pictures of projects at the end of the interview.
How did you end up at Base?
I think it was through Sander, who is the creative director here and already knew my work. Base contacted me for an exhibition at the Olympic Museum in Lausanne last year and everything went so well that we continued to work together.
What exactly is it that you do at Base?
Most of the time I think about spaces. I translate ideas into an environmental concept, so to say. I convert a concept into materials, lighting, sounds…everything that surrounds you, that you can touch and see. When there is a brochure for instance, then I am the one thinking about how we will present it in the space. Or take a pitch we did for Pierre Marcolini as an example: we worked on the packaging, the shelves, even on the shape of the chocolate. How do you create an environment which communicates the concept and the content effectively? That is the question I deal with in my daily work.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on the signage design for the new exhibition center in Toulouse. This means I think about all the signs showing you the way to the parking or the ticket counter and how to harmonically integrate them into the environment. For the moment I’m doing a lot of 3D simulations for this.
What does a typical day in the office look like?
When I arrive at the office I make a coffee, check my emails, and chit-chat a bit with colleagues. I try to have my meetings in the morning and then work on my desk until the evening. Most of the time I’m busy with problem-solving, finding solutions for issues we are dealing with. Let’s say we want to hang up some floating letters in a space: I have to figure out how we could attach them, who would construct them, what the costs would be,…I make a lot of sketches which I then develop further on the computer. A big part of my job is also to visit the buildings (if they already exist) and get a feeling for them.
What inspires you?
Everything. I can’t really put my finger on it. This is something I also try to tell my students: be really eager and curious and draw in everything around you. Even when you’re not thinking about it, it will come back somehow. Everything you do is in a way a tribute to something that has been done before.
What part of your job do you like best?
The moment when I find a solution for something. The most annoying part is making all the detailed plans for the people who have to construct everything.
What question do your colleagues bother you with the most? When do they come to you for help?
Mostly technical things. I’m also the guy who gets annoyed by a broken door bell. I’ll find a battery, take a screw driver and fix it. For example a doorknob was broken and although there were 20 people having trouble opening the door no one did anything about it, so I fixed it. I like things that work!
What is the most important thing you have learned here?
Being less stubborn and not getting stuck in little details too much. But mainly working with other people. I used to be a very solitary guy, and now I almost can’t imagine anymore to work on my own. I can be quite lazy and working in a team gives me the necessary drive!
What has been the biggest highlight for you so far?
The first time somebody cooked in the office. It is actually a rule here: once a week someone cooks for the whole team. It really brings a team together more than anything. It’s a really clever thing to do.
And what has been the biggest challenge?
To not take everything so seriously.
What makes you get up in the morning?
My alarm. Sometimes the sun, which makes it easier.
What are the three things you need to survive at Base?
Humour! Having a sense of humour is really important. And you need to be driven and eager and take responsibility.
What are the three things that you cannot work without?
A tape measure. I have to be able to quickly visualize how long three centimeters are at any time. Then there’s my hard drive and a good pen. Some people can write with just anything, but I’m not on of those. It has to be a smooth, black uni-ball pen.
Is there something you would really like to do for Base in the future? A certain project, a certain client you’d like to work for?
I would love to work for the City of Brussels. There are so many things that we could do for them. Not only for the image but also regarding how you organize a city. I see so many things every day which are not going well. For example I live near this park in Forest…when you are the mayor of this city, you should see a green space like this as the most valuable thing. But they’re doing nothing with it and let it fall apart. It’s really shortsighted. I’d love to develop plans for this park.
Do you have any advice for those who want to follow in your footsteps?
The best advice: be really, really eager. And my grandmother, a seamstress, once told me something that really stuck with me: always be honest, but steal with your eyes.