English Summary 134/135
Conditioned Openness Florian Riegler and Roger Riewe in discussion with Otto Kapfinger p. 18
Mobile elements in social housing in Austria Peter Allison p. 36
Architecture of Movement Patrik Schumacher p. 56
Urban Living: Diversity in Homogeneity Werner Sewing p. 84
Conditioned Openness Florian Riegler and Roger Riewe in discussion with Otto Kapfinger p. 18
Otto Kapfinger: Let's Start with a housing project, a design which, it's true, datesfrom 5 years ago but which represents a basic theme ofyour work — your contribution to the 1989 Europan competition in Amsterdam. Airaro Siza, a member of the jury, regarded your entry as the best of all those submitted on account of itsßexibility of use and also because the architecture did not propagate a certain life-style but offered functionally neutral Spaces. Within the context of housing construction today, what do you understand by the term functionally neutral space' — does such a thing in fact exist?
Riegler/Riewe: Europan 1 aimed at defining forms of housing for a new market which is moving away from the traditional, settled small family. One of the aims was to make it possible to integrate dwelling and working. The whole thing was to be very inexpensive: iow-eosr was the motto. We developed a unit sixteen metres deep and four and a half, five, or six metres wide. It was important to us to keep the fixed points in the entire space as small as possible. The Service and waste ducts and the sanitary rooms are placed together and located so that they form an 'internal lens' in the floor-plan: a minimal core which, however, allows the most diverse interpretations of use and indeed directly provokes them.
If l understand correctly this core consists of a Standard bath-tub and the w.c, their short sides facing each other, (with, in each case the service duct behind), they are separated by an intermediate space with the washhand basin in it. As it has sliding doors, this space can also be crossed in the short axis. The point is that the bath-tub can be closed off completely without a gap — like a kind offree-standing wardrobe, the entire height of the room. When open this bath-wardrobe activates a part of the side passage i.e. the doors become walls which create a temporary space across the width ofthe corridor.
As an introduction perhaps it sounds somewhat banal to talk about these details. But they illustrate a principle which is very important to us. For us the quality of a building is largely measured firstly in the extent to which it 'determines' use and secondly in the potential for use which it allows, either implicitly or openly, in both cases over a longer period. In the housing type for Amsterdam the narrow, deep room is so conditioned that the internal fixed points referred to form this minimal double focus within a pattern of strips by means of which the rectangular floor plan can be organized and divided up in a variety of ways, both laterally and longitudinally, without those straightjacketing decisions which nowadays usually culminate in precisely fixing the location of the double-bed through the positioning of the electrical sockets.
Perhaps a look back at a legendary characteristic confrontation can help us make a more precise analysis. In the history of classic Modernism Hugo Häring was the only one who took the claim of Modernism — the space tailored toßt a specißc requirement — literally. Mies van der Rohe, who shared an atelier with Häring in 1923/24, is said to have commented on these efforts to achieve precise specißc forms as follows "Ah Hugo, make it more flexible, more open, just make the box a little bigger!" Yourßoor plans do not exactly express the contours of particular functions but they also dijferfrom the neutral, open space which Mies propagated.
To stay with the design for Amsterdam: the "box" could not, unfortunately, become "somewhat bigger', the areas had to fit the proscribed categories. Through certain measures the room for manoeuvre within this framework is greater than in an orthodox functionalist concept. To be more precise: this side passage, for example, has more than one function. It can be sectioned off quickly as a bath-room. Various functions can, in the course of time, accumulate in this one area and at the same time alternative routes develop in the space. The linking ofthe Spaces to each other is ambiguous and variable. This is where the difference to classic Functionalism lies, which generally adds unambiguously conditioned Spaces together in a linear fashion.
In contrast to contemporary Postfunctionalism with its tendency to freestyle' or 'destroyed' forms you — like Mies — employ a very strict geometry.
With good reason. This Europan project — and several of our subsequent housing projects — are 'low cost' concepts. That means we wish to and we must achieve maximal spatial freedom with minimal means. Therefore the volume and the building surface area must be as small as possible, the ceiling spans must be economic as must the amount of circulation space. This is the reason for the simple geometry. This geometry is broken up in such a way that it produces a very complex ränge of spatial possibilities and ways of experiencing — a differentiated spectrum of interconnecting views and figures of movement, sideways, lengthways, diagonally. In the classic Japanese house geometry also dominates, not as a constraint but as the basis of a free way of dwelling of which we, here and now, can only dream. Also, unlike Mies, we do not want the 'loft', the isotropic space which, in the final analysis, is 'ordered' (in a subtly monumental way) through the proportionality ofthe dimensions and ofthe details, what we want is precisely this conditioned openness.
If l understand you correctly your aim is to achieve an equal distance both to organic and to geometrically abstract rhetoric. I am reminded of a text by Alison and Peter Smithson — 'Without Rhetoric' — in which they wanted to pay tribute to the example of Mies but also distanced themselves from any constructivist or machine-like expression in building.
In many current Standpoints — for example in Switzerland, in England or in Holland — there is doubtless more ofthe Smithsons 'Brutalism' than one might think. But, apart from this, our relationship to the AngloSaxon world is perhaps more direct. We admire the attitude which exists there. the apartment — much more radically than here — is treated as a wäre with considerable fluctuation. The typical apartment there has many built-in cupboards and neutral space: location and cost are the decisive factors and people move apartment much more often than here.
To return to the question how one can nowadays, with limited resources, make the small room large, make the box 'somewhat bigger'. 1 don't mean the formal expression — making the box optically 'richer' — I mean the potential for use, the energetic dimension of the building. We have referred brießy to the debate on this theme which started in the 1920's. At that time there were already alternatives to the 'organic', 'geometric' and 'rationalist' approaches. For example: Hans Adolf Vetter built a very simple house in the Viennese 'Werkbundsiedlung' in which the stairs leading to the upper level is not placed in the functionally and rationally correct place — in the entrance area — but rises at the far end ofthe living room. Vetter reacted to criticism with the comment: "In very small houses the staircase must not and should not Start directly in the hall because the path through the living room forces one to move through thus concealing the shortage of space and the tightness." This Statement reveals traces of a spatial-psychological economy founded by Loos and expanded by Strtwd and Frank: it is not the shortest route which is the best, sheer spatial size is no criterion for usability, movement in space is recognized as an independent qualitative factor. Movement and the freedom to move make space larger. The variety of paths is also the force which makes your spaces (which seem so severely laconic) dynamic.
In the case ofthe housing in Mautern the 'public' areas — kitchen and living room — are separated and placed at opposite ends of the floor plan. A wide corridor lies between them. In this small apartment one is automatically led to use everything (due to the placing apart ofthe 'poles'). In addition, the corridor is 2,20 metres wide, the width of a room, and when the doors are opened it is linked visually and functionally to the adjacent small rooms. Also it has quite a low horizontal window under which — as part ofthe basic fittings — there is a sixty centimetre wide sill. By means ofthe deliberately low window and the table-like window sill, this 'corridor' invites one to sit down and offers various uses which go beyond the usual atrophied pattern. To us 'neutral in use' does not mean an 'open, Single space'; by this phrase we mean a subtle precise articulation, an offer which we define very precisely but which nevertheless can be interpreted in a very free and individual manner.
Another characteristic of your work is this striking severity, the Spartan simplicity of thc materials, the simplicity ofthe workmanship, the 'Brutalism' in the detailing and in the form in general. Recently the international scene has also shown, as a reaction to the lavish Post-modern phase, a tendency towards reductionism. Marcel Meili deßned this new minimalism (as illustrated in the work of Peter Märkli) asfollows: the reduction to afew materials used as purely as possible, to 'simple' elements serves to recapture a basic clarity: what does the architeeture do, what happens between the building and the ground, what happens at euch junction, how important is lightfor the room, for the perception of texture, ofclose and distant, what happens at the junctions of different elements etc.
We certainly see parallels and Peter Märkli's approach is very close to our own. Reduction helps to establish clarity but makcs no moralizing Claims. That would still be the traditional palhos of Modernism. We use simple materials and elements for two reasons. Firstly, because they are cheaper, secondly because these materials are, in our opinion, 'more open': formally and culturally they are less "occupied", so to speak. The housing in Mautern was a Special case. We used plastered surfaces there — Eternit sheets and fair-faced concrete — and wanted in this way to illuminate the theme of'flushness' — the smooth surface in one plane with the further intention of bringing the difference in shade ofthe grey tones under various light conditions into play. When the sun shines there is a ränge of violet tones. when the sky is overcast the ränge shifts to pale grey values. In Mautern we had to do a lot of detailing. We would no longer do this today. The 'beautiful detail' is of absolutely no importance to us. We regard the detail as subordinate to the total coneept, we do not design new window profiles or anything of that kind.
I would like to return to the question of materials. I have noticed one particular thing about the new 'Minimalism': buildings are pointedly handled as autonomous objeets — that is, thc building does not fit into the landscape, it does not atlcmpl to integrale with its surroundings but asserts its independence. We note nowadays a preference for rather hermetic 'blocks and bars'. Does this have a background in 'Zeitgeist' — the new cocooning, the collapse of social solidarity, the general increase in egocentricity, the decline ofthe public space — or is this simply a return to the Piatonic aesthetic of early Modernism and to its critical dichotomy between architccturc and nature?
In the case of Mautern we can answer that right away. When seen as a whole with the nearby mountain slope the 'bar' forms a new spatial field. We left the immediate surroundings bare. We did not want a manicured environment. The ground floor is deliberately raised above the meadow. There are hardly any front gardens — in the housing projeet in Straßgang we did not envisage any — they would not, in any case, funetion properly as they could be seen into from above and would further emphasize the ground floor (which anyhow reeeives somewhat preferential treatment — no stairs to climb). Also, front gardens would unnecessarily 'privatize' the surroundings ofthe building. This front area left open can — we think — do more than the "oecupied' front garden. In other projeets we have also treated the ground floor zone more openly, more generally, as it is precisely the seam between building and site which is essential for future developments and changes, in the sense of a long-term perspective.
If we look at traditional housing, the so called anonymous building, don't we find there also simple Stereometrie building types, modules, which initially stand 'hermetically' by themselves and which only through the cumulative interlinking with eaeh other and with the natural topography make a 'built landscape' out of Ulis differentiation?
The front garden, indeed the private flower garden is a wretched form, a caricature dating from the 19th Century. The problem nowadays is that too much is asked ofthe dwelling place. The dwelling's relationship to nature is important but this does not mcan that we have lo pave the landscape with allotment gardens.
The term 'new Classicism' crops up in some commentaries on your work. This term contains implied criticism on your use oforthogonality. Euclidean geometry with its rightangled grid is, for Postmodernism, a clear antagonist, i.e. it represents a certain logocentrie and anthropocentric view ofthe world which (due to new discoveries) is regarded as outdated in various branches of knowledge. Orthogonality and the grid are also characteristic of lhal modern Cartesian rationality which 'white' architectural Modernism continued and from which 'black' Modernism — Expressionism, Surrealism, Dadaism etc. — polemically distanced themselves.
For us this is very simple: every geometry apart from the grid involves limitations. Orthogonality is the most open spatial coneept — in the long term — which we know or which is known to history. But we do not wish to make an issue out ofthe right-angle. This issue, indeed any issue, becomes suspect for us once an attempt is made by means of this, or any other geometry to promote an ideology or anti-ideology. Also we work less with the rigid grid and more with this rhythmic pattern of strips.
Could one put it like this: your starting point is not primarily form but the organiiation of space, the layering of spatial networks, a step which comes before form. For this type of open spatial organization you employ orthogonality as a relatively neutral tool. Rem Koolhaas once explained his spatial starting point for the OMA project for Parc de la Villette in Paris very clearly. He referred to the manner in which landscape is divided up in Holland where long parallel strips of ground with very different uses He directlv next to each other. In a similar manner OMA wanted to separate the area ofla Villette into strips: a Strip ofwood. beside it a strip of tennis courts, beside them meadow-land, beside that another wood, beside that plaving areas, a street etc. The aim was to make it possible to experience for a long time, while moving in one direction, a Single kind of urban park landscape and, on the other hand, to experience a rapid transition from one pattern to another by moving crossways. Of eourse other, more complex and larger scale overlayerings and interruptions were involved but this strip pattern was the underlying basis. I immediately thought ofthe example ofthe 25 TV Channels where I can remain for a long time with the one Channel — the linear progression — or can switch rapidly from one Channel to another. The woven strueture oftcxtilcs is also similar: the warp threads in the linear direction and the woof threads in the cross direction. I believe that a similar prineipal is illustrated in your housing projeets, more clearly perhaps in the urban designs, for example in the compeiiüon projeet for the Information Technology and Electro-Technical Institute in Graz/Inffeldgründe.
The network there is not a schematic grid, it has these important and significant interruptions — the internal Spaces. The entire strueture does not merely permit a highly diverse interlinking ofthe various spatial layers but is also unproblematically open to changes in the programmc and to variations in use.
A new version of what Josef Frank ineani with his analogy between the city and the house — the city as a house, the house as a city, the 'House as a Path and a Square'...
It is a building split into layers of Spaces and zones of movement without any facade...
Infact the facade is merely the top view...
We went right up to the boundary of the site with the strueture. The historic duality of building and site, of figure and ground does not exist here. The strueture fills the entire site and produces the 'public' space within itself from the dynamic ofthe internal circulation. We also see this very consciously in an urban sense. Therefore we do not make any sign, any implant which might assert the existence of an overriding therapy for the entire area. We set no premises which might demand that the System be continued outside the borders, the boundaries ofthe site. That would be dogmatic and modernistic.
You mean that Modernist (or Postmodernist) urban interventions in existing Systems would have merely produced fragments, which would eonstantly require to be compleied, would thirst for totality and which, on that aecount, would have produced places of mourning — to put it poetically.
It is obvious that, once again, we could only place a fragment, but perhaps one which does not attempt to create a style out of this fact, which is Content with itself. We want neither the aesthetic of the fragmentary, nor the demands of total harmony.
Modern, without Positivism?
Your competition project for the Inffeldgründe Studies Centre — on a neighbouring site — employs a similar spatial structure in a very different way, more vertically.
These are different themes. When we planned the Studies Centre the Institutes had not even been mentioned. When we were planning the Institutes it had long become clear that we were not going to build the Studies Centre.
I regard the Studies Centre as one ofthe most interesting designs, also within the entire Austrian scene of recent years. When I look at the plans I cannot help thinking of, for example, Mies' designfor 'A Museum for a small City' or the Smithsons 'Hunstanton School'. But I do clearly see the difference.
The difference is this: in the projects you mentioned everything is unequivocal, unmistakably clear or definitely determined. Our spaces are not unequivocal, because we set up more than, for instance, the 'plan libre' and because we balance this extra amount of determinism with additional flexibility.
What is the starting point for your design work, where does your analysis of the brief start? In analysing the topography, or examining adequate typologies, with geometry, or with construction?
We always start with the question of use: how will what is supposed to occur in this building actually happen? We hardly ever think in architectural terms. Topos, location and lighting have an effect on this analysis. And then we choose the material, the construction. We definitely do not want to deliberately build in a 'poor' way — although we could be superficially understood in this way. We want the completely normal things, the most reasonably priced items (which are also usable) from the catalogue. The materials, the details, the construction should not become a problem of any kind, not in the design phase, not on the building site, not in use. In the case ofthe airport it was almost suggested that we redesign all the logos. We did not want this. This would have had an artificiality, a totality which seems to us, today more than ever, to be dated. A raw concrete wall leaves us in peace. It shows and it is what it is. A metal cladding does not leave me, does not leave anybody, in peace. It is 'as if.
We have arrived again at the question of materials and their treatment.
We recently looked at the concrete work of Gigon/ Guyer and Märkli in Switzerland. The concrete is the same as ours. But in the case of Gigon/Guyer it is elevated to a programme. One does not see this in photographs. But in the museum in Davos the concrete is so smooth, the joints are so celebrated, that it seems forced. The reaction is that you start to look for faults, thinking there must be a mistake somewhere. Märkli is much more subtle and relaxed, more agreeable. In our housing project in Straßgang we aimed to build with the most simple possible pre-cast elements, without any 'ennobling', any celebrated junctions etc. The locksmith construction ofthe sliding shutters in front of the bare structure produces, in any case, the contrast of fineness, lightness. We did not want the 'beautiful' locksmith construction either. We clarified everything beforehand with the people who were to carry out the work and then drew hardly anything more.
The Brutalism of the 1950's was a reaction to the smoothness and abstract quality ofthe International Style. 'Brut' had nothing to do with 'brutal' but meant raw, not beautißed, tactile, touchable, understandable etc. Is your simplicity a reaction to the blossoming of decorative Expressionism in the 'Grazer Schule' in the Eighties?
We don't react — not consciously. We seek to take the path which we believe to be right. The simplicity of our buildings is not a self-sufficient goal but the interim result of a development, a process.
In your lectures you use, among other things, an object by Bertrand Lavier from the exhibition 'Bildlicht'.
Lavier formed a square with lighting tracks and fixed floodlights to it. The light which they cast modulates the area of wall surface framed by the tracks and the surrounding area. The light (the lighting) takes the place of colour. The frame does not separate the picture from the surroundings, as is usually the case, it actually incorporates its surroundings and makes them part ofthe picture. The surroundings — the wall — is no longer the display surface (the base) for the picture but becomes itself the picture. The conventional, hierarchically ordered basic elements ofthe easel painting are linked to each other in a new way. Here they are of equal significance and interdependent.
In the history ofarchitecture, which can be seen as the artistic elevation ofthe art of building, there are perhaps three basic positions: Architecture as an image of the function (funetionaiist); as an image ofthe technology (constructivist); as an image ofthe cosmos fanthropomorphic, biomorphic). On other levels of interpretation we also speak of building as a framework, as the interface between man and environment, but also as background, unobtrusively serving the processes of life: The reference to Lavier's picture reveals a principle where the frame - in itself a traditional classical element — is torn out of its traditional rote andßtted into a new, open, puzzling field of forces between signifier and signified.
So, in a completely different sense to normal one can say: the frame makes the painting. The building as an image of use — not funetionaiist, not constructivist, not anthropomorpic, not biomorphic — is the result ofthe energetic potential of its framework — a structure whose relative simplicity, whose objeetive rigor offers a surprising variety of use, of individual interpretation. This sounds somewhat dijßcult but I am merely attempting to describe your approach to architecture in contrast to other positions.
We don't design 'built images'. We arrange struetures, open and yet precise: frames for the complex flow for the images of use.
Translated from the German by: James Roderick O'Donovan