What is the role of language in contemporary design? Orlando Lovell has recently teamed up with her mother, the design writer, editor and curator Sophie Lovell, to form the intergenerational studio_lovell. In DAMN° magazine issue no.47 they discuss language, design and system change from their respective perspectives.
It’s June again, time for the annual international gathering in Basel of lovers and dealers from the worlds of art and design. And just like every June, one if the highlights of these few days is the Vitra Summer Party in neighbouring Weil am Rhein. Usually the weather plays along and for one long, balmy summer evening each year, several thousand guests make merry on the green sward between the furniture company’s collection of exemplary architecture by exemplary architects, like ants enjoying a box of chocolates at a picnic.
This year’s party has a special guest DJ: the American engineer, architect, designer, fashion designer, artist and (is there anything he can’t do?) Louis Vuitton artistic director, Virgil Abloh. The DJ set is just a rather excellent bonus, however, because Abloh is actually here to celebrate the opening of his new installation “TWENTYTHIRTYFIVE” in Zaha Hadid’s Fire Station on the Vitra Campus, as well as unveil three new limited edition products he has been developing together with Vitra.
It is an understandable pairing: the creative world’s favourite new multidisciplinary, genre-bending deconstructor and reconstructor of narratives who says “modernity is something I believe in” meets a manufacturer with a strong modernist heritage that has a talent for identifying and embracing the avant-garde before helping it on its journey towards design classic. What is interesting is that the resulting collaboration is not targeted towards the majority of revellers on the Vitra Campus but towards “the emerging generation”.
TWENTYTHIRTYFIVE is a two-part immersive installation about how, in Abloh’s view, our environment influences our life paths and taste decisions. The first section, “Past/Present”, is about the interaction between a young person and their home surroundings. There are familiar objects here, some original like a vintage Prouvé children’s desk and Eero Aarnio’s 1968 Bubble chair. Others have been remixed, such as an Eames bench converted into a see-saw and a pair of Nike Jordans reworked by Abloh’s Off-White label. The second section, “Tomorrow”, is a speculative workshop/living environment for the same individual as an adult in the year 2035. In Vitra CEO Nora Fehlbaum’s words: “The teenager has become a creative ‘do-er’ who transforms his memories and cultural and social experiences into his own products…”
The exhibition is clearly autobiographical in nature. This borrowing and remixing that Abloh does right across his immense creative output reflects the highly eclectic nature of contemporary cultural context. Thanks to the heterogeneous worlds opened up by smart phone technology and ubiquity it becomes increasingly difficult to work out where we come from and who we are. If design is about problem-solving, perhaps the problem Abloh is attempting to solve with his work is the danger of the aforementioned emerging generation having no context, no individual narrative, and he is trying to help them construct one. But he sees the results of this heterogeneity in a positive and affirmative light: “For me, there’s a generation at hand that has a different aesthetic,” he says, “for me it’s an art movement”.
Three objects from the “Tomorrow” section of the exhibition have been produced by Vitra as a limited edition series, test runs if you like, for what looks like a bigger, more commercial collaboration to come: “Knowing our personalities”, says Abloh, smiling across at Nora Fehlbaum, who smiles back, “it would be a short conversation to open this up to not be a limited thing”, says Abloh, then adds: “if you think I just wanted to make three things, then times that by six”. There is clearly chemistry there. “I was interested in Virgil’s perspective on our collection”, says Fehlbaum, “Virgil has this access to a much wider, much younger audience than we have here with the design elite”. For now though, the editions comprise two remixes and a new piece: Jean Prouvé’s Petite Potence lamp gets a contemporary utilitarian coat of bright orange lacquer and an LED lamp in a cage. Prouvé’s Antony chair also gets and orange lacquer update (“orange is a hazard colour…you want it to punch”) and a transparent plexiglass shell-seat to draw all focus to the structure. In the installation, there is a wall of 999 hollow, glazed ceramic blocks – each one individually numbered. These too are an edition and can be bought and taken away from the show. Thus, the viewer (but only as paying customer mind) can also alter Abloh’s vision of “Tomorrow”.
Perhaps the most important result of this collaboration between the polymath from Chicago with Ghanaian heritage and this prestigious furniture manufacturer will be, as Abloh comments, that his working with Vitra “is going to open the door to a number of my contemporaries who don’t think that door is even open.”
Read article online at wallpaper.com here
“I don’t want your hope. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I do. Every day. And want you to act. I want you to behave like our house is on fire. Because it is.”
Greta Thunberg, World Economic Forum, Davos, January 2019.
Design, business, politics and economics have belonged together at the very least since the dawn of mechanised mass-production. Modernism, the Deutscher Werkbund and the Bauhaus, for example, may have been about providing a functional, modular, utilitarian living environment for ordinary people: “total architecture” filled with devices to make life easier and better for their inhabitants, but they had just as much to do with reviving economies and the rise of a new kind of political environment as they did with a radically stripped-down design aesthetic.
It is this link between design, industry and social responsibility that fed into the post-war German Economic Miracle (Wirstschaftswunder) in the 1950s where companies that pioneered that wave embraced new forms of design as well. Good design made sense socially, yes, but it also made sense commercially. This “design-driven” approach, incidentally, was picked up many years later by one Steve Jobs who used it as a template to turn around his own failing consumer electronics company Apple and make it the largest information technology company in the world.
But all this rampant growth came at a human and environmental price. By the 1960s it became clear that the Earth was sick, and our own rampant consumption and greed was the cause. On December 24th, 1968, the astronaut William Anders on the Apollo 8 mission took a colour photograph of the Earth rising behind the Moon. For the first time ever it became blatantly, visibly, clear that all human life shares this one ball with nothing but a thin film of atmosphere separating us from oblivion. In 1969, the influential American architect, designer, theorist and inventor R. Buckminster Fuller published his famous Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth in which he talks about “earthians’ critical moment” in which “All of humanity now has the option to ‘make it’ successfully and sustainably, by virtue of our having minds, discovering principles and being able to employ these principles to do more with less.” The writing was already on the wall – along with the path we needed to take for our salvation – 50 years ago, yet we were already learning to ignore it.
Not long after, at the 1970 International Design Conference in Aspen, Colorado – founded in 1951 by Chicago businessman to encourage a closer relationship between art, design and commerce – there was a clash with a new generation who, like Bucky Fuller, had a very different understanding of design and responsibility. Designers, architects and student activists disrupted the week-long event protesting against, in the words of design critic Alice Twemlow (in her 2008 essay A Look Back at Aspen): “its lack of political engagement, its flimsy grasp of pressing environmental issues and its outmoded non-participatory format.” For these protesters, Twemlow goes on: “design was not about the promulgation of good taste or the upholding of professional values; it had much larger social and specifically environmental repercussions for which designers must claim responsibility. Nor, for them, was design only about objects and structures; rather, they understood it in terms of interconnected systems and processes and specifically, within the context of the exploitation of natural resources and unchecked population growth.”
These protesters had a far more inclusive view of design, one that sees design touching on and – more importantly – having responsibility towards all humans and to the rest of the planet. In 1971, the designer Victor Papanek published his book Designing for the Real World. In it he not only called for an inclusive attitude to design, away from commercial goals, a design approach which, he believed, could help change social inequalities by designing for the disadvantaged, but he also said designers had a responsibility to think and work in this way.
But here we are it seems, half a century of further unchecked growth in all directions later, and in wanton ignorance of all warnings, we nonetheless find ourselves in the middle of the biggest crisis humankind has ever faced (or caused): one that threatens our own extinction and all life as we know it on our beautiful blue spaceship, not tomorrow or in some distant future, but now. Design has changed massively in those fifty years, as has technology and science, but our planet’s problems have remained pretty much the same. So what can designers do and what are designers doing to shoulder this responsibility they already knew they had?
The first step is to acknowledge and work with the change in parameters. Design should now be understood as a systems-based discipline, rather than an object-based one. Back in the nineteenth century, the naturalist John Muir stated: “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world”. This means the ramifications of our actions are never isolated and often more far-reaching than we consider. It also means that the level of complexity involved in designing and finding solutions can be daunting and mind-boggling. But it also gives hope because thanks to these interconnections we do have opportunities to exert change no matter how vast and complex the system might be.
Human-generated complexity however is still nothing compared to what nature is capable of. So, taking ecology as a model has become an increasingly (excuse the pun) fruitful path for designers. Regenerative design, for example, uses whole systems thinking to design processes that are not only environmentally-friendly and “sustainable”, but which are dynamic, restoring and, renewing their own sources of energy and materials. It is a very different approach to “growth” in the capitalist sense in that it is at once conservative and regenerative. Regenerative design was another idea that came out of the 1970s with the idea of a sustainable, permanent agricultural system called “permaculture” developed by David Holmgren and Bill Mollison in Tasmania. The term was later expanded to mean “permanent culture” since it had social aspects and implications. Today there are entire frameworks based on the idea – particularly in the highly complex realm of building. The Sustainable Project Appraisal Routine (SPeAR), designed by the engineering firm ARUP, for example, is a complexity-managing tool to appraise architecture projects in terms of “key themes such as transport, biodiversity, culture, employment and skills” and allow for the adjustment of “project performance”.
As a result of this better understanding of complexity, there are now many branches and sub-categories of designers from biosynthetic designers, reverse-engineering nature, to virtual reality designers creating entire new worlds. Many thousands of solutions will be needed to change the world for the better, and many millions of people to design and make those changes. The “swarm intelligence” of the planet is required, not just to design solutions but social, political, behavioural and technical as well.
In real terms this means that we are not going to change the refugee crisis by designing, producing and selling flat-pack temporary housing, for example, if we do not change the system that generated and perpetuates the refugee crisis. And we are not going to solve the world’s dependency on fossil fuels by designing and selling cars that run on alternative fuel sources without changing the system and lobbies that perpetuate and profit from fossil fuels – or changing the behaviour of car users. So this means that designers need to engage with the bigger “ecosystems” related to design, connect politically, professionally and socially to design alternative systems in an interdisciplinary fashion. Common examples of such systems on a local scale are new forms of exchange such as time banks, neighbourhood tool-sharing platforms or car-pooling and car-sharing. Also, fair and direct trade networks between producers and consumers of certain goods which can allow greater consumer choice on the ethical and environmental aspects of the products they do buy because they have increasingly less trust in “brands” to do it for them.
The majority of these systems are concerned with rethinking the idea of ownership and how “value” is recognised and socialised. One recent example is a group called Phi from the Strelka Institute in Russia who are using a combination of peer-to-peer blockchain technologies and speculative design to imagine a new, decentralised model for generating and sharing energy rather than having to rely on governments and monopolies to provide reliable and affordable energy sources.
Perhaps instead of asking: how can design improve our lives, we should ask how can design change our behaviour? Tim Brown, CEO of the global design company IDEO believes strongly in the value of using design to change behaviour. Whether it be reducing child respiratory disease by getting children to wash their hands more often or putting the tools for change in the hands of the users in the form of data and analysis apps for example. But changing behaviour to promote more ethical behaviour patterns within social and environmental contexts begs the question: whose values are we promoting and who will benefit from those changes?
Also, fixing behaviour alone will not be effective if we do not change the overriding system governing human activity on this planet – and that system is, like it or not, late capitalism. In his 2013 book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, the French economist Thomas Piketty argues that the problems of inequality and unequal distribution of wealth that have come with the global capitalist system are not temporary but are the result of structural flaws in and the effect of the system itself. If he is right, we can change behaviour all we like, but if we do not change the system as well, then the overall global situation will not improve.
In April 2018, when the world watched US Congress grilling the CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, on the subject of data misuse, it was interesting to witness a) the spectacular degree of ignorance amongst national government politicians as to how social media actually works and b) that that same government, seemed to expect a for-profit corporation to legislate and lead the way in setting its own ethical standards and policing itself. It felt like witnessing the final abdication of the world’s most powerful nation state from the responsibility for the moral and ethical welfare of itself and its citizens.
The speculative architect Liam Young recently advocated the dissolution of the term “architect”, saying that an architect’s skills are wasted on building buildings – on creating objects – and that that is a good thing: “It means that the profession can find traction in other fields: the architect as a strategist, as politician … as activist or storyteller. Finding ways to operate in other disciplines just gives us more agency.” We all, not just architects, need to push beyond the outdated apparatus of our professions. Although appearances may be to the contrary, we do not need more houses, we do not need more objects, we do not need more stuff. We need new systems. Urgently. And it is agency that designers need to cultivate in these times when trust in our established systems is failing and the environment is in crisis. Designers are, first and foremost, problem-solvers. They need to show politicians, industry and consumers how their skills can be used to solve problems.
It is both bizarre and terrifying to think that the survival of the Earth could lie in the hands of the executive directors of the world’s leading companies, rather than governments. Interesting because at this point in time they seem to have the better potential for more concerted rapid change in terms of products, production, logistics, waste and energy than many governments and because consumers may still just about have the potential to influence them by voting with their wallets. Terrifying because this kind of power is anything but democratic.
At the 2019 World Economic Summit in Davos there was again strong protest about climate change and wealth inequality, but unlike the 1970 protest at Aspen, it was much broader in scope, extending to the outmoded, non-participatory format of the way our governing, economic and commercial systems are structured. There may not have been much change in the damage we are doing to our planet, but there has been a global perspective shift since then. Design also still has just as much to do with reviving economies and the rise of a new kind of political environment now as it did at the beginning of the twentieth century. But now the situation has turned inside-out. Change is not being directed top down, it is being demanded and directed from the bottom up.
Designers need to exercise their agency to change perspectives and come up with solutions and convince decision-makers of the value and potential of new system designs within a holistic, regenerative and social and ethical framework. Designers have a responsibility, as we all do, to convince politicians, employers, clients and consumers that making less, but better, stuff and changing their systems to ones that are more robust and self-sustaining can bring value and growth of a more durable kind. It’s a big ask. But what is the alternative? If we continue on as blindly as we are doing, trying to stick band-aids on a sinking ship, then it doesn’t matter how many billions your net worth is or what your Forbes list rating is. We are all going down together.
A former Augustinian cloister becomes a modern-day sanctuary under the guidance of legendary Belgian architect Vincent van Duysen in his first-ever hotel project.
“…Van Duysen made his name as an architect and designer in the 1990s. Right across his, very broad, range of architectural and design output from private houses, offices and showrooms to furniture, light fittings, cutlery and even his own range of gorgeous pottery storage vessels, a sense of “less is more” and meticulous attention to detailing have become his trademark. Yet he hates to be called a minimalist. His particular aesthetic vision, restrained choices of materials, forms and desaturated colour palettes are very much pared to the essentials, but there is a richness there that is anything but spartan. Perhaps luxurious functionalism best describes his much aped and admired style, which is in high demand from clients around the world. Van Hool and De Scheemaecker were delighted when he accepted the commission.
‘I’ve been approached many times by other people, even big names, to design hotels,’ said Van Duysen, when we met at a site meeting with the client and his team. ‘In a way, I was never ready for it. But with the August, the building, the location, the fact that it’s my home town and with a family that I know, means that the chemistry is just right.’…”
lovell_studio is proud to announce the launch of Hieronymus Journal, a new periodical publication dedicated to progress through reflection, beauty, poetry and quality, for Hieronymus Stationers AG.
Issue no.1 is a mindspace miscellany, it looks at both the mental and physical spaces people seek out in order to dream and create real worlds from fantasy; the creative and constructive spaces where something can happen. It also explores the places we go to in order to reach the intense concentration and focus needed to generate extraordinary achievement. It features especially commissioned interviews and original texts including: astronaut David Wolf talking about life and death decisions in Space; composer Max Richter on the architecture of his imagination; bestselling young Irish author Eimear McBride writing about her mind as a “conduit to desire”; renegade perfumer Geza Schön on the essence of being different, plus freediving under ice, Nordic retreats, the muses of radical fashion by author Jina Khayyer and more.
The Hieronymus Journal aims to provide a “Heimat”, a “home”, for inspiration that comes through deceleration, investigation and reflection but always in the context of the contemporary – the now. Thanks to the digital age, the awareness and value of writing culture, of photography and other forms of visual representation has changed. Amidst so much proliferation, excellence has become more precious and the kind of quality that can only be arrived at through time, skill and expertise has more value than ever before. Our intention with Hieronymus Journal is to provide a platform for just such excellence in the written word and image – excellence that is born out of forward thinking, expressed in new and exciting ways.
The Hieronymus Journal is published by the Swiss firm Hieronymus Stationers AG, a brand dedicated to the high culture of paper and writing that sees itself in comfortable symbiosis with digital media. Taking time, to communicate by hand is about giving yourself time for a different kind of communication, it is not about falling out of time but giving the mind time for thought, for ourselves, and for others.
Editor in Chief: Sophie Lovell
Assistant editors: Fiona Shipwright, Sebastian Schumacher
Format: 246 x 345 mm
Binding: open thread stitching, Japanese premium paper, 4-layer hot foil embossing, slightly perforated endpapers
Contents: 130 pages, natural paper, offset and silkscreen printing
Limited edition of 500 copies, numbered by hand
How can you navigate towards something when there are no fixed points, when you cannot determine your position? How do you know where to go, or even when you have got there? This fourth volume in the Archifutures series investigates how architecture, traditionally considered to be a future oriented activity, can best respond as we find ourselves on the threshold of a “post-futurist” condition where the future is not necessarily ahead of us, but everywhere and – perhaps most especially – “now”.
Contributors: Nora Akawi, Florian Bengert, Filipe Estrela, Mariabruna Fabrizi, Nikita Gyawali, Ana Jeinić, Holly Lewis, Fosco Lucarelli, Brett Moore, Sara Neves, Paolo Patelli, Pedro Pitarch, Blanca Pujals, Benedikt Stoll, James Taylor-Foster, John Thackara and Andreas Töpfer, José Tomás Pérez Valle, Marta Fernández Cortés, Arquitectura Subalterna, Ilirjana Haxhiaj, Jeta Bejtullahu, Oliver Goodhall, Fiona Shipwright, and Janar Siniloo.
Date: Autumn 2017
Archifutures is the publishing project accompanying and expanding upon the Future Architecture platform, a Europe-wide network and EU-funded initiative set up by the Museum of Architecture and Design in Ljubljana. It features projects and initiatives from young practices supported by the network as well as contributions from more established voices that are helping to shape the architecture, cities and societies of tomorrow.
The ongoing Archifutures series is a truly European collaboration: originally conceived, edited and designed by the publishing collective &beyond, it has now evolved into a pioneering digital and print project masterminded by dpr-barcelona, publishers and Future Architecture platform members. It merges the possibilities of critical editorial work, innovative printing and active user intervention allowing readers to select texts from the series online, according to individual interest, and order their own custom compilations.
Delighted to be a contributor to designer Stephan Diez’s wonderful new retrospective book and exhibition “Full House Diez Office” designed by Mirko Borsche and edited by Petra Hesse and Sandra Hofmeister. In it I discuss democratic” design, “good” design and the manufacturer’s perspective in the context of Stefan’s work with Rolf Hay of HAY.
Mick Pearce is a Zimbabwean architect who specialises in designing buildings that utilise renewable energy systems for environmental control, based on biomimetic models drawn from nature. And, as with nature, many of the interesting things that go on in his buildings happen after dark.
In 2006 Pearce was the principal design architect for an office building for Melbourne City Council in Australia called Council House 2 (or CH2). It utilises an innovative combination of passive measures to maintain a natural ventilation and comfortable indoor climate of 21-23 degrees Celsius in a city where summer temperatures can soar to 45 degrees. A key aspect of this climate system is what takes place in the building at night. “If you want to design a building which works passively by responding completely to its immediate environment then the night is as important as the day”, explains Pearce, adding: “CH2 uses the night to disperse day heat like the planet does through back radiation into space”.
The office’s exposed concrete ceiling panels are chilled during the day providing radiant cooling for the building’s occupants and storing excess heat in the ceiling spaces above. Then, some 60 percent of this heat is removed at night during the “night purge”, when the windows automatically open to a maximum of 65 degrees and the cooler night air is drawn in, across the undulating ceiling panels to be then sucked out through shafts at the side of the building, drawn up by the assistance of wind turbines on the roof. This natural ventilation system, usually occurring between 2am and 6am, is based on the way termite mounds regulate their core temperature, due to this same chimney or “stack” effect. It is simple in principle but its efficiency is dependent on the CH2’s computerised building automated system BAS, which uses temperature, wind and rain sensors on a floor-by-floor basis to optimise its functions: if the building is cool enough, the windows stay closed.
Supplementary cooling measures in the building, particularly useful for the retail spaces on the lower floors, include a set of “shower towers” at the side of the building through which air and water fall and cool together. The water is then pumped through a phase changing material (PCM) plant in the basement which also acts as an additional passive cooling unit – like a rechargeable battery – to help keep the ceilings refrigerated, maintaining a steady supply of “coolth” (as against warmth) during the day.
CH2 is Melbourne’s flagship building for sustainability. Yet a report by Exergy Australia in 2012 found its performance not quite matching its promise, which Pearce believes is down to a number of reasons: “The contractors handed over the building after their one year guarantee ran out and the occupiers did not educate anyone to run such a complex building. You need an engineer to run a fully computerised control system being fed with data from 2,500 probes in the building’s structure and equipment. There was soon a data overload and no one to deal with it. Hopefully Melbourne Council will do something about this”. He adds that while users were assumed to tolerate a temperature range from 20-25 degrees Celsius, in practice they refused to budge from 22-23 degrees, whilst admitting too that the co gen plant seems less efficient than predicted.
But while Pearce and his team had hoped to generate energy savings of around 88 percent, the actual value is closer to 50 percent: which is still a massive reduction. As Pearce concludes: “My designs can easily save 50 percent energy consumption without any social engineering, but to get there you have to aim at 80 percent saving at the design stage and you have to give people what Lance Hosey calls ‘the shape of green’: the aesthetics – here the wavy ceiling, shower towers and the yellow roof turbines. The occupants of CH2 love the building so it probably will last a long time past its energy life cycle.”
Night cooling is without doubt a vital component of passive climate controls for building and CH2 is an impressive model in this respect. But all systems – especially natural ones – need ongoing care and nurture in order to succeed. It is this aspect of our biomimetic building future – dynamic monitoring and capacity for adaptation, (admittedly not particularly sexy fodder for the marketing aspect of architecture) – which will likely prove to be one of the most significant areas of architectural development in the future: day or night.
Matthias Schuler is the founder of one of the world’s leading climate engineering firms, Transsolar, and teaches at Harvard Graduate School of Design. He has worked with Frank Gehry, OMA, Herzog de Meuron, Stephen Holl, Jean Nouvel, Norman Foster and many others developing sustainable design strategies for everything from cabins to entire cities. He talked to uncube about thermodynamic entities, compost toilets and the measures we need to take if we are going to survive the next flood.
You call yourself a “climate engineer”. What does that mean exactly?
As engineers and physicists, we understand buildings and cities as thermodynamic systems. We want to understand how they perform – not mechanically, but in their reaction to outside loads, such as wind and sun exposure. Energy, air quality and resources such as water, are our focus and we seek to optimise performance by adapting forms and openings through “passive measures” – the building itself should do as much as possible. It’s important to be part of the design team from the start, so architects can integrate these measures, tailored to each individual building and its site: what we call local thermodynamic identity.
Talking of specific projects, you completed a tiny and self-sufficient building prototype recently with Renzo Piano for Vitra, called “Diogene”.
The main intention of that building was to show people you can live on a small footprint, not just spatially but energy and material-wise as well. This project was Renzo’s life dream; he first sketched it as a student and has worked on it throughout his career. Now finally he found Vitra to support it and even develop a product out of it. It’s not intended to be a permanent home, more a weekend place or maybe an extension to an existing building. The idea is you could place it wherever you want, unconnected to any form of civilisation, to any grid. No electricity, no water, no sewage, nothing. It will have limited capacity for energy generation, water collection and storage, so at some point, you may have to decide between a hot shower or warm food. Therefore it was obvious it should do without a water toilet. This provoked one of the longest discussions with Renzo! He’s a sailor, and said: “you really have to love someone on a boat to share a chemical toilet”. That was his experience of the non-water flush toilet. But I told him we could use a compost toilet. We even installed one in the office which the whole company used for two months – with no smell problem! The important thing with compost toilets is to separate the urine and faeces. When mixed, a digestion process starts, which creates the smell. If you separate them, it just dries off. Urine is a great fertiliser so you can use it for your tomatoes around your Diogene. The solid matter is collected in a self-composting bag which, when full, can be taken out, buried, and takes about a year to turn into soil.
It’s very Walden, this idea of the Diogenes hut, isn’t it? Surely there are too many people in the world for us all to be able to go out and live like Thoreau in the woods.
Vitra is now going to make a hotel using about 25 Diogenes on their campus, but clearly, they’ll have water-flushing toilets. And if you buy one for your garden you can connect it to the water supply if you want. For us, it was about if the house really can be autonomous for electricity and water. The toilet accounts for 80 per cent of our domestic water consumption: all over the world, we’re flushing valuable drinking water down the drain. We need to distinguish between drinking water – of which we need perhaps five litres per day for drinking and cooking – from greywater used more as a hygienic element. That was the main lesson we learned from this project.
Tell me about the “Secular Retreat” house you’re working on with Peter Zumthor in South Devon in the UK.
The project is part of the “Living Architecture” there, an enterprise where they both refurbish old protected buildings and build new, high-value, architecture, for rent as holiday homes. I think it’s a great idea. Very few of us will ever live in a Peter Zumthor house, but you will be able to rent this for around 2,500 GBP per week and stay there with ten friends. The site is beautiful: on a hill overlooking the ocean. It has electricity but the water’s from a well, and there is no sewage.
So compost toilets again?
No, I couldn’t convince Peter. There will be water flush toilets. We talked about a biological reed-bed filter system but this is hard because it’s on a hill. So we have a three- or four-stage enclosed treatment system. The water that comes out is quite clean, so we can run it on site. This is the most state-of-the-art water treatment that’s possible on an independent site.
That’s interesting because one doesn’t usually associate Zumthor buildings – or retreats – with high tech or “state-of-the-art”.
You’re right: I can imagine such a building by Zumthor with just water and no electricity, nothing else. But if you rent something for that amount, even if it’s a Peter Zumthor house, people still expect WiFi.
Turning to the other end of the scale, you did the climate concept for Norman Foster’s Masdar City masterplan in Abu Dhabi due to be six square kilometres in size.
The energy and climate concept for Masdar is one thing, but the water concept is also interesting. When we were approached to develop this carbon-neutral city with Foster, we had to include water treatment because there’s no fresh water in Abu Dhabi. The only water available is from the shallow Arab Gulf, which is 30 per cent more saline than the normal ocean. For the past 20 years, local states like Qatar and the UAE have all been surviving on desalinated water. With this process you take the sweet water out and pump the highly concentrated saline residue back into the Gulf: a disaster environmentally. The typical corals and mangroves of the Gulf have been lost as the salinity of the Arab Gulf has increased by two per cent. So one of the first lessons we learned was: thinking we can solve the water problems in the Middle East with solar-driven desalination is wrong. Energy-wise it might be okay, but overall this highly concentrated brine residue is a real load. Our Masdar energy concept showed that we would produce 120,000 tonnes of salt a year:, but what to do with it? We’ve had brainstorm sessions with the German chemical company BASF and they came up with ideas like encapsulating salt crystals in plastics to add to road material. But we’re still working on it. Another issue is that daily water consumption in Abu Dhabi today is 500 litres per person. By contrast, the French are down to around 130 litres and the Germans close to 150. So in a region where water is a rare resource, they’re consuming triple the amount used in European countries, which includes water for all the golf courses and the 400 million trees planted along Abu Dhabi’s highways. Emiratis wash their cars three times a week because of the dust – yet don’t pay a single dollar for water or electricity. Only ex-pats are required to pay.
What stage is Masdar’s construction at now?
Around 25 per cent of the university is built and in operation – some 50,000 square metres – and the huge Siemens HQ for the Middle East is under construction, as well as the Abu Dhabi Energy Foundation. Foster is working on detailing the first 25 per cent of the city, transforming the master plan into actual buildings. In my opinion, though we may never see all Masdar built as planned, the lessons learned will impact majorly on future developments. This is what I see as the big potential of Masdar City: that it creates an example for everybody who is starting in the same direction.
Masdar, as well as your new Al Fayah Park project with Heatherwick Studios, are environments created from scratch in extreme conditions. What about interventions within existing buildings and cities? Should we knock down old inefficient structures and start again?
No, around 75 per cent of the embedded energy of a building is in its structure. So whilst you can replace its façade or technical systems, holistically, energy-wise it would be a crime to tear it down and build anew. A rough rule of thumb is that even for very low-energy buildings, it’ll take around 15-20 years to make up for the energy wasted in destroying the old one.
This leads us to the recent news of the Thwaite ice sheet’s collapse in Antarctica with sea levels now predicted to rise by up to ten feet over the next two centuries. If these predictions are true, massive changes are coming.
We’ve known this since at least 1972. At the time of the Club of Rome, they were already showing the limits of growth. The only thing we can do is change our social systems. Take the ETH Zurich 2000-Watt Society proposal for getting annual carbon emissions per person down to one tonne. This is exactly the kind of proposal to show the world – that it’s possible to do this yet keep a high-quality lifestyle. We must rethink our idea of luxury, asking ourselves: do we really need three TVs, walk-in refrigerators or whatever. Realistically, we can’t now save the world from some changes. There are already areas with annual temperature rises close to 2.5 degrees Celsius. Instead, we need our systems to be adaptive. This doesn’t mean everybody going and living in secular retreats without electricity or running water, but we do each need to live on a smaller footprint.
The Berlin Philharmonie is an architectural masterpiece famously conceived from the inside-out around the requirements of its acoustics. Designed by Hans Scharoun, the main 2,440 seater auditorium, the Großer Saal, opened in 1963, but Scharoun died before the second, smaller chamber music hall, the Kammermusiksaal, was built. This was designed in detail by his partner Edgar Wisniewski, who also completed the surrounding suite of public cultural buildings, the Kulturforum.
As is so often the case in these “man behind the throne” scenarios, Wisniewski’s input is rarely acknowledged in textbooks, yet much of the Philharmonie’s success as a building is owed to him. He died in 2007, but ten years ago Sophie Lovell, uncube’s editor-in-chief, got the chance to meet Wisniewski, a tall, striking man in his mid-70s, at the Philharmonie, and talk to him about a working life devoted to translating Scharoun’s simple yet revolutionary ideas – sometimes technically nightmarish to realise – into buildings of world renown.
Dr. Wisniewski, you started your working life as Scharoun’s assistant, helping design the Berlin Philharmonie, but ended up completing and continuing his work yourself.
We worked together for 15 years until he died. During the latter part we were in partnership, which contractually means if one partner dies, the other carries on the work. And that’s what happened. When he died in 1972 I had all these projects, including the rest of the Kulturforum, to continue.
The site was still a bombed-out wasteland then – though 30 years earlier it had been the busiest city centre in Europe.
The final location on the former Kemperplatz is not far from where the old Philharmonie building had been before the war. During construction, the Berlin Wall came down. We stood there on the roof and watched the tanks rolling up and the barbed wire being laid. Some of the main workmen on the site had to come through the sewers to work every day from the eastern part of the city. The building was very close to the border, almost within firing range. Nobody knew what was going to happen next.
How did your partnership with Scharoun come about?
When I finished my studies at the Technical University in Berlin, Rügenberg, one of Scharoun’s assistants, recommended me to him as there was a post available. Of course, I knew who he was and had attended his lectures. I liked how he worked in an organic way; the form of his buildings developing from the inside out. Then the very first project that came up when I began working for him was the competition for the Philharmonie. It was very helpful that I was heavily involved with music. I was in a famous choir at the time, St. Hedwig’s Cathedral Choir, which the Philharmonic Orchestra under [Herbert von] Karajan played with. My knowledge and understanding of the repertoire helped form a good, trusting relationship with Karajan, who was the one that pushed the Philharmonie through. Karajan also told me once he’d originally wanted to be an architect.
So Karajan was a decisive factor in choosing and building Scharoun’s design?
Although the scheme had won first prize in the competition, there were intrigues: people wanting to hinder its construction from the start. The decision to build was won narrowly by a single vote, only after Karajan threatened to leave the orchestra – and Berlin – if it wasn’t built. His support was decisive.
Was this support because of Scharoun’s idea of putting the “music in the middle”?
The trust and understanding between us, Karajan and the musicians were very important because this idea of putting music, the orchestra, at the centre of the hall with everything else circled around it, was new – the Berlin Philharmonie was the first. Scharoun always said that it’s no coincidence that wherever improvised music is played, people immediately form a circle around it, and that this must be translatable to a concert hall. The whole design developed from that premise.
Was the design driven primarily by the acoustics?
Putting the music – the acoustics – in the centre had other important benefits too: Scharoun didn’t want any hierarchies. In the seating, there are only slanting planes and stalls with no dress circle, apart from two galleries for special music performances, and there’s a single foyer for all. The idea of being up close to the action was also important. There are over 2,200 seats in the main hall, yet none is more than 28 metres away from the stage. That’s what’s so special about this space: you are so close to the people making music. This works the other way too: when you stand on the podium you feel how close the audience is, how they demand the best from you. I particularly like to sit in the choir seats behind the orchestra because you are so much inside it all. The whole floor, everything, vibrates there.
Do you think visiting musicians and orchestras look forward to playing here?
Since 1963, practically every great orchestra in the world has played here. But they do have to adjust acoustically. Many of them are used to playing in halls with a shoebox construction, with walls all around. Suddenly, here there is nothing – the flanking walls are relatively low, and some are angled, meaning part of the sound is reflected back to the orchestra so that the musicians can hear each other.
The reflectors in the ceiling are also specifically designed to stop the echoes from the high ceiling. A relatively long, two-second reverberation time in the full hall was originally requested because that is what’s needed for the late Romantic pieces such as Brahms, Brückner, Mahler and Richard Strauss, the tradition of the Berlin Philharmonic orchestra. The only way to get this reverberation is with a large volume, which is why the ceiling is 22 metres above the podium. But then it comes down in a convex sweep towards the audience, who comes up to meet it, like coming up the sides of a valley. Mrs Scharoun said it looked like a vineyard.
I understand it was Lothar Cremer who worked out the acoustics. It must have been an intense collaboration.
Yes, the first thing he said was that it wouldn’t work! There was nothing to go on. Nobody had built a hall like this before. There were no lasers and computers for measuring like today. We built a big scale model at 1:9 that you could stand in, and they fired a type of acoustic pistol in there, recording the results with microphones.
And the Kammermusiksaal? You built that yourself based on a rough sketch from Scharoun.
I was not only deeply involved with music, I also studied musicology at the Technical University, with lectures from people like Hans Heinz Stuckenschmidt, one of Schönberg’s students. I’d learnt about the whole development of new music and was able to bring this to the design of the Kammermusiksaal, and it was Scharoun’s wish that I do – he was very open. He made just one sketch of it: not so much a design as an agreement that we make a centrally orientated space. Cremer said it was acoustically more complicated to build than the main hall, but when it was finished we didn’t have to make any acoustic adjustments at all.
How much of the Philharmonie is you and how much is Scharoun?
That’s something I wouldn’t even discuss in private! Many changes had to be made to the original design, to the staircases, the foyer, and so on. I designed a lot in the building. Even the gold aluminium façade is mine.
Was it a burden carrying on Scharoun’s legacy?
Scharoun’s and my own achievements are inextricably bound. From the initial planning of the Philharmonie, I simply moved on to the other big building projects of the Kulturforum. They represent more than 30 years of continual work. I never perceived the work as a burden, more a challenge.
Do you see yourself as having lived in his shadow professionally? His name often only gets mentioned in relation to the Kulturforum ensemble.
Planning the four main buildings of the Kulturforum: the Philharmonie, the Staatsbibliothek, the Staatliche Institut für Musikforschung with the Musikinstrumenten- Museum and the Kammermusiksaal, has been so fulfilling. I perceive Scharoun’s shadow as inspiring, not obliterating. He only lived to see the Philharmonie, but I, on the other hand, can look at the four buildings, remember the battles fought to build them and experience them now, today, filled with music. Any feelings about shadows evaporate.
Architect Ricardo Scofidio co-founded Diller Scofidio + Renfro, an interdisciplinary design studio based in New York in 1979. His practice is as well known for its installation and performance projects as its architecture. He talked to uncube‘s editor Sophie Lovell about skeuomorphism and the dangers of investigating the new, when burdened by luggage from the old.
(see the original article online)
I understand that you have an interest in science fiction and space. Is there a particular author whose visions have left a strong impression on you?
Yes, I’ve read many books over the years. Science fiction has changed so much from the times of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells through cyberpunk to an incredible amount of dystopian fiction today. I’m less interested in somebody’s idea of what the future of technology might be and more in stories dealing with bodies and people and ideas and problems – I guess “soft” versus “hard” science fiction.
With the recent Mars missions, Chinese probes on the moon, and the move towards commercial space flight for private citizens, we seem to be entering a new space race era. I find it interesting how little architecture has been involved in these plans. Have you ever been involved in thinking up scenarios for space habitation?
I haven’t been approached to make a proposal, but I do think it’s an incredibly interesting problem, for many reasons. On earth, if you make an architectural or construction mistake, you may get water leaking from the roof; if you make a mistake in space it may mean the end of your life. There’s such an enormous amount of technological issues that have to be met that it would require an architect to spend years acquiring that knowledge or else working with a compatible engineer. The other problem is that when a design needs only to solve pragmatic problems a creative approach often becomes less important.
But probably the thing that scares me the most is that wonderful word “skeuomorph”. If I look at my browser and click on a skeuomorphic “home” symbol it takes me to my personal folders. We’re burdened by so many analogies that attempt to help you deal with new, unfamiliar technologies by using old metaphors rather than creating a new language. For example, if you were designing a gravity-free architecture, I’m sure somebody would still insist that you put a standard doorway in the wall just so people know it’s the place to enter.
Like the designer Raymond Loewy, who was the first to suggest putting a window in the American manned spacecraft so the astronauts could actually look out.
What is a window on a spacecraft compared to a window on earth? Windows are often an opening to daydreaming, allowing the mind to think, fantasise, and wander. At the turn of the millennium, we did an installation project called Master/Slave for the Cartier Foundation in Paris about the shift from the twentieth to twenty-first centuries. Our project involved a collection of tin toy robots that were owned by Rolf Fehlbaum from Vitra. The Cartier exhibition included a spectacular film by Andrei Ujica, called Out of the Present, about the astronaut Sergei Krikalyov [he spent 10 months aboard MIR during the collapse of the Soviet Union, ed.]. Ujica gave Krikalyov a camera, which he smuggled on board the Russian space station. Sergei was at the opening of the Cartier exhibition and Elizabeth Diller and I were lucky enough to sit opposite him at dinner where we talked about living in space. He found that being in space for an extended period of time produced a continuously enjoyable euphoria. One orbit took an hour and a half, during which time he saw night and day, and all four seasons. The most incredible thing for him was spending hours looking out of the window at earth. So to design for space I think you would have to spend some time in orbit just to understand the issues involved.
We have had ideas of outer space influencing architecture for many decades: from Buckminster Fuller’s Spaceship Earth to silver flying-saucer shapes and streamlined rocket forms. Norman Foster’s new Spaceport America for Virgin Galactic is particularly interesting since it seems to blend the terrestrial with an alien aesthetic. Humans seem to have a propensity for turning science fictions into science facts. Is this also the case for architecture? Are we building our futures according to how we envisage them to be?
In the 1920s, Norman Bel Geddes and other engineers started looking at automobiles in terms of aerodynamics and streamlining. Suddenly there was a whole field of aerodynamic design being applied to things like irons and toasters and coffee pots – even if they didn’t move one inch. So what is the vision for an object in space? The closing sequence of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, where the protagonist Dave Bowman [Keir Dullea] ends up in a Louis XVI bedroom, was alien, inexplicable and disturbing for me to watch. Much more so than if it had been something that we perceive as a “space environment” as represented by Hollywood today. You mentioned that the future becomes what we project upon it – as far as I’m concerned there are very few examples in which someone predicted the future and that’s exactly how it happened. Foster’s Spaceport seems to me more symbolic of the way we think space or the future will be, rather than really what the future might be.
The first photograph of the earth taken from behind the moon in 1968, Earthrise, inspired the idea of “spaceship earth” and suddenly changed our whole perspective of ourselves. Do you think it continues to have an effect on design?
Scientists have invented and sold us so many things that the industry can’t now turn around and say: “Oh we made a mistake, this thing is terrible for the environment and now you can’t have it.” Rather than developing new paradigms energy is being spent to allow us to keep what we have been convinced that we want and desire, with modifications to make it less aggressive towards the environment. We really have to dump some things and find new answers to old problems, rather than propping up old solutions.
How would you envisage the beginnings of a Martian or a lunar colony?
Thinking about skeuomorphism I become concerned that a lunar colony might look like a suburban town under a big protective dome. I wonder what Frank Lloyd Wright or Mies would do with a space colony? Would we even be designing for our same bodies? How much luggage are we dragging from one discipline into an area that really wants to be perceived in a totally different way? I reread Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange a while ago. What’s so beautiful is that when you first start reading there are new words in the opening chapter that you don’t comprehend. But as you continue reading you pick up the language and start to understand this future time/place. So, how can we take a new problem and give it meaning that transforms the way we think about the object we are trying to make?
Do you think all the film material documenting the lives and work of astronauts on the ISS has any kind of effect on architects and how they think about environments?
I’m still struggling with the idea of what space is. At the moment I can’t think of space in terms of feet and inches. At one time the earth was flat with heaven above and hell below, and if you went too far you fell off the edge. Then with the industrial revolution, space became about the transportation of goods from one place to another. Someone in a prison cell had no space, and someone in a mansion had lots of space. My personal understanding of space is no longer feet, inches, or metres, but time. I don’t say a place is 500 metres away, it’s five minutes away by foot – or if it’s in Los Angeles, it’s five hours away by plane. If we talk about going to Mars we don’t talk about distances, we talk about how many days we will spend travelling to it.
I was talking to a mapmaker once and got him a bit upset by saying: maybe the Moon is just half a mile from the earth, but it’s very small. So, when we leave earth and travel towards it we shrink, getting smaller and smaller, which is why it takes so long to get there. How do we know that is not the case? I wonder how much we really know about what’s out there in terms of distances and dimensions. We have an Einsteinian understanding of space and know that dimensions change and space warps, but there are so many new discoveries and questions, I think in the future scientists will look back at how little we knew.
From: uncube magazine issue no. 19: Space, edited by Sophie Lovell