Mathias Mentze & Alexander Ottenstein
Layering history and narratives
Mentze Ottenstein is the intensely elastic practice of couple Mathias Mentze and Alexander Ottenstein. Seamlessly working across scale—from the architectural body to the most minute details and objects—they frequently play the role of custodians to a history, a particular place or craft, bringing ideas, narratives and stories rooted in the prior into the current.
More than often, their work deals with the quotidian, particularly the kitchen, where everyday objects and motifs are translated through their prism of archival material, reference and research. “Our increased attention to the kitchen and cooking today has to do with a sense of intimacy we are drawn to, one that looks to the physical, more tactile experiences,” says Ottenstein.
There is a correlation between architecture and the kitchen. It is the same process — creating form out of materials. The better the material and technique you use, the better the product. It is two sides of the same story, both stir the senses, says Mentze.
The duo is finely attuned to precisely that, forging spaces and objects that both anchor and elevate the act of cooking and dining — stirring emotion, memory and the senses — with a growing repertoire of cafés, eateries and restaurants to their name; Pegasus at Den Frie in Copenhagen, Dashi Diner and Sofi Bakery in Berlin. Both mention the process behind Frederik Bille Brahe’s Sofi Bakery as a formative experience, as there is such a strong archetypal narrative around the act of bread-making. “It is hard to name a more primordial motif in an architectural context, where everything revolves around the hearth, the oven. There are many processes behind the baking of bread that inform and shape the interior and architecture. The formal language is unique to it, that materials can be more rustic, being used intensely every day. We wanted to pay tribute to the performative part of it, a ritual repeated day after day with the dough being fermented and fired,” says Mentze.
Our practice is about narratives. How storytelling, layers of time and meaning interact in architecture and design. That goes for the culinary context too, where a feeling or a memory is often attributed to the actual product. There is an almost literary element to it, one cannot help but read all sorts of things into it, says Alexander Ottenstein.
An extraordinary attention to detail marks their output, one intimately linked to their love of craft and a time-earned network of collaborators in the crafts community across Denmark. Recently, they created a collection of tableware for the Copenhagen-based design brand Menu, initiating a collaboration with textile designer Marie Louise Rosholm. With Rosholm’s extensive archives as a point of departure, they among other things designed a take on the archetypal French bistro inspired by restaurant Balthazar in New York. Another piece, a jug, was inspired by Etruscan ceramics from 800 AD. “Conceiving our collection for Menu, we longed to make something that feels outside of time and space, something that makes one unsure if it is contemporary or a hundred years — something with references outside of the ingrown adoration of Modernism,” Ottenstein explains.
“We have an immense interest for the local, for techniques that Modernism has made us alien to and has made us forget. It is not about a longing for bygone times, rather recognizing that there is an enormous potential in all of the knowledge we have thrown out with the bathwater”, says Mentze.
As Designmuseum Danmark, Copenhagen’s museum of design, recently reopened, Mentze Ottenstein presented a new commision; a monumental cabinet housing half of the institution’s collection of Japanese sword ornaments called tsubas. A direct response to the display created by Kaare Klint in the 50s to house the first half, it is an example of their fingerspitzengefühl, executed in ebony and solid walnut — a piece made to last in a time where exhibition design rarely does.