Founded in the early ’90s, in a derelict margarine factory, shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the KW Institute for Contemporary Art has come to be seen as a symbol of Berlin’s artistic development. After 25 years, it continues operating as a lively platform for progressive art practices, and a meeting place specialised in experimental discursive programming. As part of a larger institutional restructuring process under the new directorship of Krist Gruijthuijsen, every part of KW’s 2017 program of exhibitions and events is filtered through the lens of artistic vision. The new program emphasizes dialogue and experimental uses of language, fostering visible exchange between artists and audiences in Berlin, and beyond. Ongoing investigations into singular art practices or thematics form the basis for corresponding commissions and exhibitions. The open-endedness and collaborative nature that lies at the core of the establishment’s mission creates a profoundly inclusionary place that invites numerous voices, and narratives to unfold through its program and the conversations it inspires in its audience. Thus, KW continues to push beyond the confines of the physical building through artistic commissions and events. Inviting artists to interfere with its physical space is an inextricable element of the institute’s approach. One of the most recent site-specific artworks, Philippe Van Snick’s intervention on the entrance gate, complements already existing pieces like Dan Graham’s glass pavilion housing Café Bravo, Renata Lucas’ pavement restructuring outside the main building, as well as the iconic garden by atelier le balto that has returned to the courtyard.
With the opening of Schaudepot in June 2016, the Vitra Design Museum more than doubled its exhibition space. Designed by Basel-based architects Herzog & de Meuron, the new addition functions as a venue for presenting key objects from the museum’s extensive collection to the public. Holding the first permanent exhibition of the institution’s sprawling collection, the brick building includes over 7.000 pieces covering all significant epochs and protagonists of design from 1800 to the present, and the estates of designers such as Verner Panton and Charles & Ray Eames. The central focus is a selection of more than 400 key objects of furniture design, including rare works by such designers as Gerrit Rietveld, Alvar Aalto, Charles & Ray Eames, or Ettore Sottsass, but also lesser-known or anonymous objects. What the collection aims to achieve is to document the past and present of interior design, and foster research in a broader context. Schaudepot combines the simple appearance of an industrial warehouse with the complex requirements of a walk-in museum repository. To the outside, the structure presents itself as a monolithic volume constructed from hand-broken bricks, characterised by a completely windowless facade and a simple gable roof. With its understated and dignified appearance, the edifice’s architecture reflects the cultural value of the objects stored within. Through this new expansion, the Vitra Design Museum is addressing the characteristic development in the sphere of design and museums today, as well as communicating the significance of design through discussions, the demonstration of social correlations and the presentation of references to other fields. Now in operation, Schaudepot is one of the world’s largest permanent exhibitions and research facilities on modern interior design.
After commissioning architect John Pawson to plan a comprehensive spatial reimagining, Munich’s luxury department store Oberpollinger enlisted the Berlin-based studio Gonzalez Haase AAS to design the store’s lower level. Consisting of the kidswear, urbanwear and accessories sections, the basement floor is characterised by an interaction of different layers that follow a certain choreography yet remain non-hierarchical and distinguishable as individual. Architecture studio Gonzalez Haase, who in 2003 began designing the first concept stores for Andreas Murkudis across Germany, takes an interdisciplinary approach to architecture by combining elements from art, cinema and scenography into their projects. Always harking back to the origins of a space as a departure point, the duo tries to see the bare substance in each structure to better analyze its profile. In Oberpollinger’s case, they formed clearly readable spaces with simple lighting and raw, almost improvised surfaces. This combination of elements forms cool environs, elegant in shape, with a detached precision—something that corresponds to the duo’s interpretation of the so-called ‘Berlin style’.
Architecture is linked to everything and vice versa. An architect should be someone who gathers and synthesizes knowledge from a broad array of fields and is ambitious enough to challenge parochial views and foment a shift in perspective. Following a straight-forward dictum—smart, touching, simple architecture—the Berlin-based architecture collective Something Fantastic aspires to foster changes within the industry and initiate discussions about architecture in a wide spectrum. Contemporary politics, materials, energy and the environment are all topics that coalesce into the core of architecture and what it means today; topics that SF seeks to address through their practice and the site-specific courses they teach at ETH Zurich. The trio’s hopeful view on the future is not solely based on unyielding idealism but also realistic expectations and pragmatic plans. Simply put, they aspire to make the world better.
Here, we engage in a discussion with Julian Schubert, Elena Schütz and Leo Streich about the role of the contemporary architect, the inflexibility of city planning and the need for fewer rules.
The architectural practice has inadvertently formed a status quo within the industry that’s quite obsolete. How do you approach this state of things?
We do what we do because we think that somehow we’ll contribute to a situation which allows for better architecture and the amelioration of the field. Our specific role is not to be politicians; our role right now is to design and to give shape.
You’ve stated that we need fewer rules. How do you mean that?
In the field of construction, rules are mostly put into effect to cope with the complexity of what is technically and programmatically possible and what is good and safe for the society as a whole. But rules are often too rigid and they can keep you from developing in a more diverse way. For example, there are more and more regulations emerging in order to prevent gentrification and rising rents. Of course, it’s a good idea, I’m glad i don’t have to leave my place, but at the same time you can’t really change anything in those buildings or do anything to improve certain aspects. And that’s where you see the coarseness of rules as they leave no room to distinguish between someone whose motives are to raise the building’s standards and someone who’s out to to make a financial profit at the expense of others. Architecture is suffocated by more and more rules because the essence of the practice is all about vitality, progress and movement.
Your approach is multi-disciplinary. Do you think architecture is more about how we interact with spaces in general, and not just buildings per se?
To better answer this, it might be helpful to differentiate between architecture and architects. Architecture is from the very small scale of furniture and the process of furnishing a room all the way up to cities and structures, landscapes, and how the urban interacts with the rural. On the other hand, being an architect doesn’t necessarily mean that we only focus on architecture. Personally, I don’t have such a wide understanding of architecture, but I do have a wide understanding of what an architect should be doing.
It’s more about the idea of the architect being this individual who culls all kinds of information and synthesizes it into forms and into something that maybe manifests architecturally, that can be touched or whatever. That’s our understanding of practicing as an architect nowadays. This was also the starting point and the outcome of our manifesto. We ask ourselves, how can we engage with the world using the tools, skills and knowledge that we possess. In the end, it’s not necessary to produce architecture per se—architecture meaning all that is built—in order to be considered an architect.
How do you see the role of the architect then?
Ideally, architects will get involved in multiple fields, become more interested in processes and accept that the manifestation of their thoughts can happen indirectly and maybe later down the line—instant gratification isn’t the goal. That also involves that students should veer away from this idea of the form-creator and the necessity for tangibility. We should become more independent from form. It’s about the space, not about the form; there is no form. It’s about people, interaction, performance with the space; that’s what we want to discuss. Well, we believe that limiting yourself to a narrow understanding of design as a discipline that invents nice facades using nice materials is counterproductive. Also, if you stay within the traditional spectrum of architecture as the practice that designs buildings, it is important to take into account the mechanisms that have an impact on the building you’re creating on various scales and levels. How does it interact with the city? How could it be used when the original user has moved out? How is the building operated? How does it complement the adjacent buildings? How does it influence the lives of people who live in and around it? Where do the production materials come from?
But it should not stop there. We are interested in the planning of the city; the real estate market; the social and economic developments within neighbourhoods; the meaning of the building sector in global economics; and the flow of goods and resources in relation to architecture.
Tell me more about the kind of discussions you’re trying to initiate as architects.
We get the chance to explore this aspect through the courses we teach every year at the ETH Zurich. The one we did in Brazil focused on favelas which are totally stigmatised; they’re seen as something that city planning should eradicate. And, sure, favelas have a lot of problems but they also have potential. For example, they are extremely pedestrian-friendly, they exude a strong sense of community, and you actually see that in the way space is structured. Favelas are intriguing and inspiring—it’s a matter of perspective. Informally built neighbourhoods have a lot to teach. Our goal there was to describe them as habitats and explore how denizens found solutions for urban development.
Speaking of inhabitants’ needs within the city, right now in Berlin, people want a better cycling infrastructure, and in that discussion arises the issue of seasonality. In the summer, the majority of the population opts for cycling, but come winter no one really wants to use a bicycle. So it seems pointless to retain year-round cycling paths considering that the demand for them drops massively in winter. Of course, this is just an example that pops to our head, but it goes to show that seasonal design can be effective in various fields. Cities need to be more flexible and adaptable to needs and seasons. We’d like to discuss this idea of seasonality but our modernist mindset doesn’t think about seasons; to be modern is to not be reliant on nature’s elements. Being dependent on seasons seems anachronistic or even primitive. However, it would be very smart to consider this logical parameter.
Why are cities reluctant to changes?
Cities are complex, wicked problems. Planning is even a super wicked problem—to use a scientific term here. Complex interdependencies render problems almost impossible to solve. But, if a politician thinks that implementing this or that would make his life easier, then the plan in question is put into effect. But in the end, we don’t just sit here making ourselves increasingly frustrated due to our belief of what is good and what is bad in this convoluted state of affairs. Admittedly, things are somehow moving in the right direction… Which means they are becoming more pressing and more obvious. It’s the sort of development that makes what’s important and viable more acute, present and talked about.
Finally, can you give us a selection of three staple books that have significantly influenced your practice and approach to architecture?
In the field of informal housing, Housing by People: Towards Autonomy in Building Environments by John Turner, and Tropical Architecture in the Dry and Humid Zones by Edwin Maxwell Fry. Generally and conceptually, A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction by Christopher Alexander. And, last but not least, Wie funktioniert das? Technische Vorgänge, in Wort und Bild erklärt (in English: How does this work?) published by Allgemeiner Verlag.
Interview by Effie Efthymiadi
According to theorist William Myers, a designer should also be a kind of translator, shaping material and visual elements into something that makes sense as part of our daily lives. Designers transfer research into everyday use; they work on objects and systems. So what is our understanding of design research? How can it be practised as an experiment and in turn produce knowledge pointing to the future? For the third edition of the exhibition series Design Display at the Autostadt in Wolfsburg, Julia Lohmann and Petra Blaisse transfer scientific examination into the world of design. Delving into the subject of material research, the two designers present their in-depth investigation and distinct outcomes inside the exhibition’s characteristic glass display. On one side we find Julia Lohmann’s work which primarily addresses the question of how design can deal more sensitively with natural resources. In her mobile research station, the “Department of Seaweed”, she develops new methods for how seaweed can replace fossil fuels, as well as how it can be be pressed, cut, sewn, and applied to objects. The other side of the display is occupied by Petra Blaisse’s “Solar Curtain”, an aesthetic, ecological product that shows how previously unused surfaces can be discovered as a resource and then utilized. The 3D curtain, equipped with solar cells capable of producing electricity, is the interim result of a long-term research project that the designer has initiated after collaborating with textile experts and engineers.
To order a copy of the magazine On Display that accompanies each exhibition and delves deeper into the chosen subject, head over to form.
“A man who wants to lose his self, discovers indeed, the possibilities of human existence, which are infinite, as infinite as is creation. But the recovering of a new personality is as difficult – and as hopeless – as a new creation of the world.” – Hannah Arendt, We Refugees, 1943
Akademie der Künste in Berlin presents Uncertain States, a major group exhibition and multimedia programme of events running until January 15, 2017. Current and historic states of oppression, human migration and cultural dislocation are addressed within a dynamic framework, which has already drawn widespread critical acclaim in Germany. The extensive exhibition programme is a timely exploration of the significance of memory and narrative, within eras of political, social and cultural transformation. Across art, archival ephemera, film, music, performance, talks, pop-up events and practical workshops, the show engages with migrants, thinkers, politicians, writers, artists and activists from across the world, as they confront today’s realities of forced displacement, cultural loss and mass emigration. A historical element of Uncertain States features objects sourced from the Akademie der Künste’s archives of artist émigrés, including cultural icons such as Walter Benjamin, Valeska Gert, Heinrich Mann and Kurt Tucholsky. Their artifacts, rich in memory and cultural identity, form a vibrant narrative when paired with artworks by modern-day artists. In addition to the group exhibition, a rich programme of events seeks to contextualize global political perspectives on migration and identity, within an artistic framework. Talks and panels will debate the topics of migration from the Middle East in particular, addressing themes such as reactionary xenophobia and Islamophobia. Under the banner of “Thinking Space” (Denkraum) a programme of concerts, readings, theatrical performances and symposia, tackle numerous questions surrounding these topics with original and challenging approaches.
Initiated in 2014 by the Museum of Architecture and Design in Ljubljana, Future Architecture is the first European platform dedicated to bringing ideas on the future of cities and architecture closer to the public. The initiative unites museums, festivals and producers, and promotes a new generation of creatives through a vibrant programme of outstanding architectural events in a number of European cities. Individuals from various disciplines get the chance to present and apply new ideas on architecture concerning both our current reality and the near future. At the core of the concept lies the question: How can architecture evolve and how should it be shaped moving forward? The aim is to make complex issues of architecture comprehensible to everyone, and nurture a more sustainable living environment.
“Ideas promoted through the Future Architecture Platform show that, for the emerging generation of professionals, architecture is not necessarily an activity whose sole purpose is to build, but rather a field of intellectual research. This generation feels the need to consider all of architecture’s different aspects, to change the understanding of it as a business model, and to re-establish the discipline’s commitment to society. They show architecture as a way of thinking, observation and analysis of the modern world in which we live and operate.” — Matevž Celik, platform leader and director of the Museum of Architecture and Design (MAO), Ljubljana, Slovenia.
Budding talents within the multifaceted spectrum of architecture explore and share their ideas at exhibitions, workshops, lectures and more. Creatives who apply to the programme are matched to members of different institutions and organisers in order to present innovative ideas in synergy. So far, among a number of different events included in the first year, Something Fantastic’s lectures and conferences at Swiss Architecture Museum Basel,S AM Basel, and CANactions Kiev discussed the design intelligence of arrival cities and the importance of collective spaces. Also, the architecture office Plan Común explored the power of micro-interventions in public spaces with their exhibition “Common Places” in Nove Fužine. And acclaimed writer Jack Self suggested using financial conditions of debt as a design tool to create high-quality and inexpensive homes at S AM Basel.
Coney Island in 1904; Joan Littlewood and Cedric Price’s designs for the Fun Palace from the 1960s; Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi’s analysis of 1970s Las Vegas — these are just a few examples that assert the relevance of utopian ideas in the conception of amusement parks in the last century. What they all have in common is the integration and interplay of diverse forms of art — be it visual arts, film, music, literature, design, or architecture — while throughout concerned with inventiveness, a display of the latest technologies, and reanimations of the past via visions of the future.
The development of an art- and culture-focused concept for the Spreepark, a former amusement park, builds on this legacy, raising the interesting question of what entertainment can be today. The potential for further expansion and reinterpretation of the term “amusement park” or “amusement” via cultural development lies in the establishment of a structure that transfers the link between the nostalgic and the present-day onto a forward-looking culture and topography of amusement. Taking the nostalgic aura of the Spreepark and building upon it with integrations of art, architecture, design, and technology, a simultaneous interweaving takes place between that which has been left behind and the sights, activities, and experience now available. Following the principle of collage, the idea was to superimpose over the preexisting structure a linking system creating fluid transitions between the extant and the new. This new structure creates a unified narrative space accommodating the spatial and the temporal, the dormant and the interactive. Realised in collaboration with Hager Partner, Holzer Kobler Architekturen, Tourismus Plan B and Runze & Casper Werbeagentur.
All collages by Holzer Kobler
Cycle Music and Art Festival serves as an international and local platform for contemporary music and visual arts as well as the coalition of the two fields. Now in its second year, the festival promulgates unconventional works and collaborations, with the goal of deeply engaging the audience and making them reconsider their preconceptions about disciplines and their role as spectators. Acclaimed artists are invited to produce and exhibit work that transcends the boundaries between art and music, classical and popular modes, and audience and performer. That Time, the title of this year’s performance programme and exhibition, will initiate yet another interdisciplinary experiment that will delve into the questions of ‘deep time’ and ‘peak futures’ (the title takes its cue from Samuel Beckett’s eponymous play, parroting the protagonist C: “Never the same after that never quite the same but that was nothing new.”). With an exhibition at Gerðarsafn Kópavogur Art Museum and other venues in Kópavogur, and a rich programme of performances, workshops and concerts, Cycle will promote experimentation, on-site synergies, and will seek to redefine the nature of a traditional art festival. That Time will run until 18 December.