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
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
On the occasion of the 15th International Architecture exhibition in Venice, the Goethe-Institut organised the program Performing Architecture comprising five projects that are closely connected to this year’s exhibition in the German Pavilion. Merging architecture, choreography and the performing arts, the series of events seeks to address a set of pressing questions. How does a multicultural society change a city? How do people with diverse cultural, religious, social and political backgrounds encounter one another, and how can they all make an adopted city their shared home? The focal point of this year’s programme is the project “The Veddel Embassy: Representing Germany”. The temporary embassy will bring the migratory, multicultural reality of the Hamburg district of Veddel to Venice to offer a space for discourse and cultural exchange. What used to be the departure point for German emigrants in the past, is now an arrival quarter. All migration movements of the last 70 years have passed through the area of Veddel; immigrants from over sixty different countries have been living here for generations in peaceful coexistence, forming a new society. Around 60 inhabitants of the small island in the river Elbe will come to Venice for a week and invite everyone to become part of an enriching process. The Veddel Embassy will turn into a place of enlightening encounters. Delving into the reality of life on Veddel conveys an idea of what the future holds for Germany as an immigration country. In Venice, the residents present their projects, ideas, ideals, and their home in order to form a substantial discussion with both the international guests of the Biennale as well as with the multicultural citizens of Venice.
Internationally renowned industrial designers Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec elucidate their thoughts on urban development and public spaces by presenting a diverse body of work and the results of their ongoing research at the Vitra Fire Station. What can be seen as a wide-ranging study of possible development solutions for cities, the exhibition Rêveries Urbaines seeks to list new forms and concepts that may be imagined in various urban settings. Like glimpsing inside the brothers’ notebooks, the proposed solutions are revealed to visitors as they wander through models and animations, immersing themselves in different scenarios and urban fictions. Unlike the duo’s usual domestic approach to design and focus on the individual, the exhibited proposals solely concentrate on public spaces and the relationship between inhabitant and city. The metamorphosis of spaces through lines, harmony and transparency aims to give a new sense of magic to the places in our cities where we walk, meet and talk. The designers’ “dreamscapes” take into consideration pre-established urban functions and remind us of a new direction in the connection between buildings, the quality of a pavement, where a fountain is situated, the planting of a jungle; all the elements that city dwellers should care about in order to add more charm to the city.
“The exhibition presents our open and abundant research, a ‘pragmatic reverie’ that is designed to exist in public spaces.” – Ronan
“In our work, no project is dedicated to a particular person or place. The exhibition brings together propositions for developing public spaces that have an element of abstraction. They reply to a question that is not completely clear. It is in this vacuum that? our propositions could be potentially re-imagined on site.” – Erwan
After the Second World War, military edifices constructed for protective purposes were left abandoned and consumed by dismal emptiness. Germany, in particular, is replete with bunkers that in recent years have assumed a variety of new roles, from residential spaces to cultural institutions. One such concrete behemoth built in 1943 in Munich’s Ungererstrasse, houses BNKR, a multifaceted art space offering room for present-day visions without ignoring the past. The main focus of BNKR’s programme is to instigate reflection on our present reality in the realms of art, design and architecture. In the contemporary transformation of the bunker, with its new use and orientation as an art space, an unavoidable tension is created that oscillates between remembering and forgetting, past and future. The project was founded in 2014 , in order to give a format to art and architecture, to promote exchange and dialogue. BKNR collaborates with external curators over the course of one year to develop a programme that uses exhibitions, performances, lectures, discussions, film screenings, concerts and more to raise questions situated in the notion of the ‘in-between’, whether that’s referring to time, space or mental states. Currently on show, the solo exhibition Urban Shelter by Annett Zinsmeister examines the specific history, meaning and transience of shelters.
Following its opening to the public in February 2016, Dusseldorf’s Wehrhahn line is now in full use and worth revisiting to dissect its singular aspects in more detail. Fifteen years in the making, the recently acquired U-bahn expansion is a refreshing approach to inner-city mobility and a nod to the future possibilities of public transport aesthetics. Collectively designed by artists, architects and engineers from the very outset, the ambitious project offers an unparalleled art and architecture experience to commuters who are invited to immerse themselves in soundscapes, geometric animations and sculptural installations. Here art is not merely showcased on the walls but it has deeply infiltrated the entire structure—each of the line’s six stations have become pieces of art complete with their own thematic character but also seamlessly incorporated in an all-encompassing system. And that’s certainly not the norm when it comes to public transport—the line’s overarching concept initiates a dialogue between disciplines that’s visually perceptible throughout. From acoustic impulses, sound bites and interactive installations to a planetary underworld dedicated to outer space and poetic texts transformed into sculptures, the line’s stops highly elevate the long-neglected notion of the subway. At the Heinrich-Heine-Allee station, artist Ralf Brög designed the three entrances as visual and acoustic venues for the performance of changing sound compositions—an “Auditorium”, a “Theater” and a “Laboratory”. Each of the three model spaces boasts a high-quality sound system, enabling the most wide-ranging acoustic interventions possible.
Space is the place at Benrather Strasse where sculptor Thomas Stricker embedded the vastness of the universe with its tranquility and weightlessness into the confined space of a subway station. To achieve the impression of flying in outer space, stainless steel panels cover the walls and lend the station a futuristic dull, metallic sheen. Like droplets, the dots stamped in the panels fall from the walls, forming a matrix or a kind of Braille that can be identified as encrypted letters while media walls act as windows to the universe.
At Schadowstrasse, Ursula Damm has created an interactive installation featuring a large screen displaying the real-time movements of passersby on the city surface transformed through a computer program into visualised data. The constantly shifting dynamic of the ‘outside world’ is presented to those waiting for the next train below. Small virtual creatures build a temporary, fluctuating architecture from the kinetic energy that emerges and vanishes with the city’s daily rhythms.
Another crucial element of this feat is the complete absence of advertisements and any sort of commercial placement. Thus, the individual stations become calm public spaces that alleviate commuting stress, render urban movement more pleasurable, and slow down the frenetic pace. Admittedly, exemplary underground stops are nothing new in the map of so-called “art stations”—in Naples the Toledo stop covered in blue-hued mosaics pays tribute to the aquatic world; Stockholm’s Solna station emits the ambience of a villain’s lair complete with a cavernous interior; while in Moscow the Komsomolskaya stop competes with the theatrical flair of opulent palaces. What’s unprecedented about Dusseldorf’s Wehrhan line is that these “art stations” are not merely stand-alone architectural projects but are part of a holistic network that seamlessly connects all six stops under one conceptual direction, creating a multifarious experience.
In a special edition published by Kerber Verlag, the impressive undertaking in public transport is thoroughly presented through photos and text elaborating on the project and the visions of the people involved. The Wehrhahn line is also accompanied by a newly launched website that delves into the line’s concept, process and distinctive characteristics—have a look here.
The Museum of Architecture and Design (MAO, Ljubljana) has launched an open call for participation in FARAWAY, SO CLOSE – 25th Biennial of Design, curated by editor and curator Angela Rui and MAO curator Maja Vardjan. The open call is dedicated to designers, architects, filmmakers, graphic designers, interaction designers, illustrators, writers, animators, photographers, researchers and other interdisciplinary agents who see the biennial as an experimental, collaborative platform for testing, developing and sharing their own approaches and expertise around the issues and structure of the new biennial format. From 25 May to 29 October 2017, FARAWAY, SO CLOSE will present seven local interventions under the main exhibition umbrella. For this, seven creative figures from Slovenia have been selected for their projects outside the field of design and paired with international designers to form a team. Selected participants will work within these teams and together they will use design and architecture as tools for investigating contemporary issues.
Read more in an interview with the two curators on Domus.
Application deadline: 10 July 2016
Kick-off event: 15 September 2016, Ljubljana
More information and application: www.bio.si/en
Top gate: Felix Torkar; Man at door: Offenbach, Portrait: Arthur Seitz Foto ©Jessica Schäfer; Flowers: Dong Xuan Center, Berlin Foto ©Kiên Hoàng Lê; Breakthrough: ©Kirsten Bucher; Houses: Quinta Monroy, Iquique, 2004, Architekt: Elemental, Chile Foto ©Tadeuz Jalocha; Mosque: Moschee in der Sandgasse, Offenbach Foto ©Judith Raum, 2010
For the 15th Venice Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, the German contribution cuts into the walls of the historic pavilion building in order to address the acute refugee situation. A powerful metaphor of opening emerges and encourages a discourse on new ideas and reliable approaches to the integration of asylum seekers. Walls are being broken in Venice as a commitment to the inviolable dignity of humankind. There will be no closed doors, day or night. The pavilion is open. Germany is open. The current refugee situation is part of a massive worldwide flow of migrants. What are the challenges facing cities with incoming refugees and migrants? How, in the future, can Germany’s “arrival cities” such as Offenbach respond, hypothetically shaping the conditions that create a good “Arrival City”? And how can architecture and urban design contribute to this process? The team of the Deutsches Architektur Museum (DAM) examines these questions at this year’s International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia. With the exhibition Making Heimat. Germany, Arrival Country the DAM uses examples from Germany’s Arrival Cities to pose for discussion a series of theses developed in collaboration with the Canadian author Doug Saunders. His book Arrival City: How the Largest Migration in History is Reshaping Our World has inspired a shift in perspective on immigrant districts – a shift that is also applicable to Germany. Although these districts are typically characterized as “problem areas,” they offer residents and new arrivals the most important prerequisites of an Arrival City: affordable housing, access to work, small-scale commercial spaces, good access to public transit, networks of immigrants from the same culture, as well as a tolerant attitude that extends to the acceptance of informal practices. The design concept, developed by the architecture office Something Fantastic, underlines the strong statement of this year’s German Pavilion.