How We Became Who We Are – A professional biography of EM2N
Conceived by Ilka & Andreas Ruby
Told by Mathias Müller and Daniel Niggli
Published in EM2N – Both and, 2009
Building as city, city as building
M We spend a lot of time thinking about how form can be explained and what a design process actually is. And this led
us to take down Christopher Alexander’s Pattern Language from the shelf again. (12) He’s a mathematician and he speaks about what patterns achieve, not
only formally, but also in social terms. For example the pattern ‘promenade’, which is about how different degrees of privacy and transitional spaces can
be formed by accessing rooms sequentially. In our Hegianwandweg project you find precisely this path. Along it there are differently dimensioned spaces with different
graduations of public and private, from collective spaces, the entrance halls and staircases to the entrances to the apartments. And the apartment itself is
nothing other than a transitional space between the privacy of the core, the more collective living area and, finally, the balcony as a transition
to outdoor space, which then completes the loop. These ‘degrees of publicness’ as Alexander likes to call them, are very important to us and
they play a role in many of our projects – mostly because the purely public or private space rarely exists. Elsewhere Alexander speaks of
the ‘university as a market place’ – that is, an attempt to see the university as a hybrid programme, in which the issue is
more than just studying. The question: what constitutes a space for learning today was one that occupied us in the Toni Site project and
in our school in Ordos in China. Is it primarily an institution or a place? Incidentally, Scharoun’s description of his Primary School in Darmstadt
is very similar to our description of Ordos.
Fig. 40: Building Thoroughfare, from: Christopher Alexander, A Pattern Language, New York 1977
Fig. 41: Hans Scharoun, Design for a Primary School in Darmstadt, 1951
D Scharoun sees the school as a village-like system or an urban organism, as a place of socialisation. This equating of space with social
space was something we found again later among the protagonists of the Paulista School. Vilanova Artigas adopted Alberti’s statement: ‘the city like the building,
the building like the city.’ When, like on the Toni Site, we open the building and bring the city into the building or the
building into the city, this interests us not just as a typological mutation, but also in the sense of the additional social value that
this makes possible. The issue is to create a space in which the individual can experience him- or herself as part of a community.
If you understand interior space as social space, then in principle the concern is no longer the typological meanings of the terms ‘building’ or
‘city’, but the question whether the house can be understood as social space in exactly the same way as the city.
Fig. 42: EM2N, Toni Site, Zurich, concept model
Path through the building
M We want Toni to be not just a school, but part of the city. Perhaps this is a little naïve, but to conceive
a building of this size just as an autistic object in the city would be wasting an opportunity. We imagine the Toni Site as
a perforated urban object that you can wander through, just like any other part of the city. Naturally, there is a central importance attached
to the path as a ‘promenade architecturale’ in and through the building, in the sense of a mutual penetration and networking. And, of course,
it would be ideal if the building were open 24 hours a day. We placed public programmes like concert halls, exhibition spaces, jazz club
and so forth on the periphery of the building, that is, on the interface between building and city. The idea is that after a
concert people will bring the outdoor space alive …
D … so that the building engages in a physical exchange with ist surroundings. For much
the same reason in Ordos we attempted to organise the campus in the form of urban districts that are linked to the city surrounding
them – simply because the school is so large that it will inevitably become an urban district. In this way the school becomes an
urban infrastructure for the general public. This principle of programmatic networking between building, programme and the city or public outdoor space is something we
have used several times, for example in the two Hardau Schools in Zurich.
M In this context, Herzog & de Meuron’s Tate Modern was a
key experience for us – with regard to the monumentality, the dimensions of the interiors, and also the public routes. In contrast to OMA’s
Kunsthal in Rotterdam, where the route through the building doesn’t connect anything and therefore remains more of a symbolic urban statement, in the final
phase of the Tate a public system of routes leads through the turbine hall. This is why Olafur Eliasson’s Weather Project functioned so perfectly
in this space. This reminded me of a sun-downer meeting in Florida where people gather in the evening to watch the sunset and drink
whatever they have brought in the boots of their cars. In Eliasson’s gigantic space installations, too, people didn’t behave like normal museum visitors.
Fig. 43: OMA Rem Koolhaas, Kunsthal, Rotterdam, 1987–1992
D We find this ambivalence between inside and outside, between private and public, this reversal effect of town and building extremely interesting. By being
able to walk publicly through a building, like you can do in Le Corbusier’s Carpenter Center in Cambridge Massachusetts, the building is strongly interwoven
with the urban fabric. In the process the circulation system of the city and that of the building are partly short-circuited. This often creates
the structural framework for the internal organisation of a building where the circulation figure made up of corridors, halls, squares, courtyards and staircases –
the infrastructure elements of the building so to speak – correspond to the function of streets and squares in a city. Hans Scharoun’s Staatsbibliothek
in Berlin has an urban scenery or atmosphere of this kind that is very stimulating. A building like this is ultimately also conceived in
an urbanistic way, and for a number of projects in our office we have coined the working term ‘inner urbanism’.
Fig. 44: Le Corbusier, Carpenter Visual Center, Cambridge, 1961–1964
Fig. 45: Hans Scharoun, Staatsbibliothek, Berlin, 1967–1978
M Naturally, what also interests us about this equating of the city and the building is its spatial and architectural potential. Often two additional
aspects play an important role: size and programme. Size and hybrid programme are not per se an essential precondition for a building conceived in
an urbanistic way. Alvaro Siza, Kazuo Shinohara or also Otto Kolb show in small (monofunctional) projects how complex urban spatial moods can be produced
with architectural means.
D But really large buildings themselves often function like cities, they are real city machines! Of course, this is especially true when
a hybrid programme is available. The density of such function hybrids in large buildings, of the kind we know in New York or Chicago,
leads in a certain sense to a model-like form of an urban organism, or even to a kind of hyper-urbanity. ‘City’ can be presented
here in a very compact form, with complex spaces and circulation figures, different programmes that coexist alongside and above each other, and in close
proximity to each other. Conglomerates develop that have different spatial grainings, load-bearing structures, jumps in scale and extremely deep floor plans.
Fig. 46: EM2N, Toni Site, Zurich, cross-sectional model of high-rise building
Fig. 47: EM2N, Aqui Park Hürlimann Site, Zurich, commissioned study 2004, sectional model
Fig. 48: Dankmar Adler, Louis Sullivan, Schiller Building, Chicago, 1892
Fig. 49: OMA Rem Koolhaas, Public Library, Seattle, 2004
Fig. 50: Hans Kollhoff, Atlanpole, Nantes, competition 1988
Fig. 51: Jean Nouvel, Opera House, Tokyo, 1986
Fig. 52: Peter Celsing, Kulturhuset, Stockholm, 1966–1971
Fig. 53: Renzo Piano, Richard Rogers, Gianfranco Franchini, Centre Georges Pompidou, 1977
Fig. 54: Paul Rudolph, Yale University, 1958–1961
M In this context and for many other reasons, John Soane’s Bank of England, which was unfortunately demolished, is one of our absolute favourite
projects, along with his own house in Lincoln’s Inn Fields in London. Both these buildings were or are bricolages of new and existing parts,
which he put together to form a new whole. The inner density of porous layers, sequences of spaces, precarious transitions, abrupt changes of scale,
absurd details or surprising turns is overwhelming. In the case of ‘sponges’ we often discover surprises in the interior, such as inner facades, strange
relationships between functions or objets trouvés that are morphologically completely foreign. The small bath house in the Rehabilitation Clinic by Herzog & de
Meuron is one example of a ‘thing within a thing’, to quote Venturi once again. The clinic is also wonderfully spongy and unmonumental.
the deep facades allow outside and inside to completely blend together. The building represents a kind of substitute world for the patients and it’s
important that this world should be rich in content. The Rehabilitation Clinic is an island that contains a whole variety of worlds in its
interior. Schools function in a similar way, actually. They are a section of the world in which pupils rehearse, in a safe setting, for
later life. To produce this section of a world the deep floor plan is perfect. There exist an incredible number of possible ways of
linking actions spatially, without ever softening up the spatial structure.
M But if you take the sponge too literally, you get lost in a mechanism
in which everything looks the same. Hertzberger’s structuralist Centraal Beheer is one such building, the ordering structure is lacking. As we were so fascinated
by sponge-like floor plans we started to research sponges and we discovered that the cellular ‘sponge principle’ that we know from 19th century apartments,
for example, is, in biological terms, not entirely correct. What we call a sponge is only the skeleton of a marine creature, without the
soft tissue. But naturally, sponges have internal organs. Applied to architecture this means that there is the structure and, embedded in it, the organs
that service this structure. In the case of Toni, the ‘organs’ are clearly the circulation spaces such as the cascade, the great hall, the
ramp and so forth.
D In the Toni Site these service structures are in the interior. On the outside, the generic layers are organised, the
Fig. 55: EM2N, Toni Site, Zurich, floor plan
Fig. 56: John Soane, House Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London, 1837
Fig. 57: EM2N, Weber Brunner, Thermal Baths, Schruns-Tschagguns, competition 2006
Fig. 58: Joseph Michael Gandy, Soane’s Dome, 1811
Fig. 59: Herman Hertzberger, Centraal Beheer Office Building, Apeldoorn, 1968–1972
Fig. 60: John Soane, Bank of England, London, 1833
Fig. 61: Herzog & de Meuron, REHAB, Basel, 1998–2001
Fig. 62: Peter Rentz, Archinect Archibots, 1999
Flexible versus iconic space
M A sizable part of these areas is essentially laid out as neutrally and as flexibly in terms of function as possible, like in
many banal office buildings. Generally speaking, how should one approach such unspecific programmes? The open office floor, Archizoom’s No-Stop City, the purely horizontal use
of the floor surface – for us this is spatially uninteresting, as these spaces tend to have no characteristics. We think spaces should be
recognisable as spaces.
Fig. 63: Archizoom, No Stop City, 1969
D On the other hand, Miesian space becomes interesting again when you combine it with ‘iconic space’, that is, when you inscribe something very
specific in flexible space or contrast something with it. Today, the term icon is used almost exclusively in reference to the external impact of
a building. We employ the term ‘iconic space’ as an attempt to attribute a similar potential to interior space. In the Toni Site we
contrasted the indeterminate space of the big functions with the specific circulation spaces as generators of identity, and married the two. OMA’s Universal Studios
project, in which the vertical core is completely programmed and thus forms a counterweight to the indeterminate large space of the offices, is an
interesting example of this. Or the Très Grande Bibliothèque, where the public programme is inscribed as a powerful spatial volume in a cube with
stacked flexible floor areas. Here space really becomes iconic – and it’s not understood as a sculpture with an outward effect but as (empty)
space. The principle of mixing the specific with the generic leads to a certain liberation in designing, as you focus energy on certain points.
In a building not every corner and area has to be perfect. It can happen that things begin to brew and bubble somewhere or
other and at that point things become very concrete and specific. And these focuses survive the period during which other, less determinate places in
the building change. A building like this can be appropriated.
Fig. 64: OMA Rem Koolhaas, Universal Studio Headquarters, Los Angeles, 1996
Fig. 65: OMA Rem Koolhaas, Très Grande Bibliothèque, Paris, 1989
M We’re interested in the idea of giving the load-bearing structure of the building a certain degree of autonomy. This means that the structure
acquires a certain architectural or spatial robustness, while other parts can retain more flexibility. But, of course things become problematic when buildings are deliberately
put together in such a way that you cannot rip out a wall in the future without having to check the structural stability of
the building in a roundabout way; a building like this resists every attempt at appropriation. As an architect you can, of course, use this
as a strategy: in the Hotel Hyatt in Zurich Meili, Peter deliberately made a structurally complex space consisting of pre-stressed panels that cannot be
changed later. They did this as a way of ensuring spatial quality and preventing a hotel architect coming along some time or other and
destroying the space.
D But now they themselves have doubts whether this strategy of a powerful ‘perception framework’ (Meili, Peter) is ultimately strong enough to
successfully defy the last centimetre of interior design or fitting-out. However, as a sole principle maximum flexibility is just as uninteresting as total control.
In designing the Hegianwandweg Housing Development we discussed at length how often users actually change the position of walls. We find the essential changeability
of spaces a good thing, but we believe that this flexibility should be spread out over longer periods – say twenty or thirty years,
so that the spaces can adapt to demographic shifts or changes in lifestyle. Generally speaking, existing building fabric from the 1950s and 1960s can
be changed only through massive interventions, as all the walls are load-bearing. Therefore in our Hegianwandweg Development only the cores and the facade are
load-bearing, the internal walls can be positioned wherever desired. This results in a relatively wide variety of types, even though the structure is essentially
quite simple, comparable, say, with Mies van der Rohe’s apartment block in the Weissenhofsiedlung.
Fig. 66: EM2N, Hegianwandweg Housing Development, Zurich, 1999–2003, apartment matrix
Fig. 67: Mies van der Rohe, Weissenhofsiedlung, Stuttgart, 1927
M Aldo Rossi believed in the idea of continuity of typologies, according to which programmes change far faster than building types. For instance the
basilica type has survived for centuries, even though the function for which it is used has changed dramatically: from a Roman market and court
basilica to an early Christian church, to use as a hospital for a period, and to the current interpretation of this type as an
educational institution, for example. Ultimately, the reason these typologies can adopt such very different functions is because they can be read in a variety
of ways in terms of both scale and spatial configuration. In his own architecture, above all his late work, Rossi often doesn’t have this
multiple legibility. Here we find the approach taken by Venturi more interesting; he called for the ‘wiggle room’ instead of ‘gloves’.
Fig. 68: Drawing ‘the glove and the
mitten’, in: Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, Architecture as Signs and
Systems, Cambridge 2004
D Essentially, the dispute between the representatives of an absolute architecture and a relational one revolves around the question which form of architecture is
better equipped to survive all the changes that occur over the course of time. Is it the architecture that attempts to respond to all
concrete, programmatic and contemporary aesthetic demands with tailor-made forms? Or is it the one that is less compliant, that partly refuses short-term demands in
order to create forms and structures that are inherently strong and are, in fact, more accommodating thanks to the different ways in which they
can be read? Despite how interesting and up-to-date Scharoun’s ideas about teaching and school practice were in the post-war years, they are probably outdated
today. In such cases architecture can only survive if its spatial structure is so stable that other scenarios of use are conceivable. In this
context one could ask how all the blob experiments will age. Sometimes I ask myself whether they aren’t already old before they are built.
They are kinetic events that have been frozen solid – without a hint of ‘wiggle room’.
M We found Jean Nouvel’s Nemausus an important reference
as regards this kind of practical flexibility in housing. There are two things in particular about this building that have always fascinated us: firstly
the fact that all the apartments are two-storey and have their own entrance, which gives social housing a rare generosity because it is not
just placed on a particular storey, but has the dignity of a proper house that has been stacked. Here Nouvel emulates Corbusier’s stacking of
single-family houses, but – and this is the other aspect of this project that fascinates us – in a far harder and far more
direct way, with a raw strength that comes rather from industrial or ship building than from the area of housing. Inside it functions like
a shelf that is divided up and used in different ways. The project hasthe directness of an industrial garage: dimension, size, changeability. Nevertheless it
is not softened into a participatory compromise architecture, as its very rawness means that it can take every kind of adaptation by the users.
I can easily imagine that it works really well when someone drags home things from the DIY market and then starts to completely change
Fig. 69: Jean Nouvel, Nemausus Housing Development, Nîmes, 1986
D Nouvel says: ‘A good apartment is a large apartment.’ And so he puts the money into the amount of square metres or the
space rather than the surfaces – that is, there are very clear priorities in the hierarchy of the different concerns. Lacaton & Vassal successfully
develop these strategies of maximising space in their projects. The use of industrial products and basic detailing are naturally a consequence of the incisive
economic circumstances. But at the same time this radical industrial aesthetic has an enormous atmospheric potential. It was exactly this affinity between modernism and
the symbolism of industrial architecture that was always a thorn in Venturi’s side (he called it ‘industrial vernacular’ or ‘industrial rocaille’). But we have
no problem with this …
Fig. 70: Lacaton & Vassal, Latapie House, Floriac, 1993
D Essentially, external and internal forces always work on all projects simultaneously and attempt to form the project morphologically, structurally and in terms of
construction. The façade is an interface that mediates in both directions. Koolhaas describes in Delirious New York how the skyscraper’s façades emancipate themselves from
their programmatic content, and he uses the medical term ‘lobotomy’ to describe this process. There are certainly parallels here to Rossi’s hypothesis of the
permanence of form. Ultimately, this is not far removed from classical or mannerist façades in which the interior often has little to do with
the exterior. Instead of using the façade to depict the function or construction of the building in the sense of the functionalist creed that
‘form follows function’, we often attempt to grant the façade an architectural independence, so that it can mediate between the building and the city.
M It is clear that the façade is also important in determining the visibility of a building. In the Community Centre Aussersihl, for example,
we wanted the building to vanish in the park as much as possible. And at all costs we wanted to avoid the image of
a box in a park with cleanly placed openings, as this would have seemed as if a little house had hopped into the park
from a row of other houses. Instead we strived for a paradoxical building that acts like an icon and yet wishes to remain invisible.
We attempted to achieve this with a membrane façade, in the first design (which wasn’t carried out) using the concept of a camouflage created
by a mirror and the glass envelope, in the building that was eventually carried with a façade of multiple layers that blurs the distinction
between outside and inside.
Fig. 71: EM2N, Community Centre
Aussersihl, Zurich, competition entry 1999
D The recessed windows sit behind a flush perspex panel that closes the hole in the facade and completes the body of the building
to form a membrane.
M As a result the sculpture of the building is more finely perforated than would be possible with
a ‘hole-in-the-wall’ facade. By suppressing the scale of the facade in a certain way, you can also navigate your way around the rhetorical codes
that symbolise ‘building’. This means that the building can develop a more ambivalent character. It is a green something in the greenery of the
park which we cannot immediately categorise, and for this reason it attracts us. In Flumserberg the typological disguising of the openings in the facade
functioned by distorting the scale. As the windows on the first floor are tiny, but those on the second floor are monstrously large, you
don’t see them as windows. The large windows above become eyes, whereas the small ones below almost disappear in the skin. What remains is
the house as a sculptural object.
D Our buildings rarely have composed hole-in-the-wall facades; they are equally seldom classically articulated. Often our facades are the
same from top to bottom. In Theater 11 the facade is an all-over envelope where the windows and the facade material effortlessly make the
jump from the vertical areas of the facade to the inclined roof surfaces. The skin becomes a shimmering, translucent piece of clothing, with the
according textile character. In Toni this interest in textile is further heightened by the folds of the perforated material. A grid facade, like the
one we are making in Prague, is essentially nothing other than a huge, inflated piece of expanded metal, an oversized membrane or an open-pored
skin that is simply scaled up until a pore has the dimensions of a room. Here the depth of the facade also plays a
decisive role. A conventionally layered facade with brick inside and insulation outside would be far too little here. In Prague we are making the
facade up to eighty centimetres thick, so that it becomes a space itself and not just an envelope for the space inside. The winery
by Herzog & de Meuron has this kind of deep facade, and it’s also intelligent. The architects make a solid building on account of
the storage mass and link that with an amazingly attractive effect. The wall becomes porous, shimmers through – the paradox of lightweight stone. That
a solid material like stone or concrete can seem so soft, so like a textile, is something that fascinates us about a number of
Renaissance buildings or, later, the work of Miguel Fisac, for instance. We have a weakness for deep surfaces!
Fig. 72: EM2N, Theater 11, Zurich, model 2006
Fig. 73: Miguel Fisac, Casilblanco de los Arroyos Culture Centre, Seville, 2000
M In my case, this distance to classic hole-in-the-wall façades and traditional façade articulation is certainly also a result of my biography. I grew
up in Nuremberg where, after the war, kilometres of theses façades with little windows were built to create street spaces. There is something incredibly
miserable, monotonous and sad about this for me. That you can use conventional fabric intelligently is something I first grasped from Roger Diener’s projects.
I initially found these things frightful, those dry façades with their cut-out window openings. Then I had a key experience with his Vogesen School.
At first glance this school has a perfectly normal hole-in-the-wall façade. When I saw the plans I found it boring. But when I visited
the building site I was struck by the tension and excitement that the special proportions of the windows give the façade – the windows
measure three by four metres! This change in scale alters the character of the windows completely.
D What’s interesting about Diener is that he managed
to make the windows so large that you can’t say any longer whether they represent holes in the wall or whether the remaining areas
of wall form a grid. The classic figure-ground logic of the façade is suspended, and it can be read in a variety of ways.
This strategy of working with very traditional means and creating a truly exceptional perception by means of carefully considered shifts or changes is something
we learned from Roger Diener’s work. You can’t just look at his architecture in a book. You have to experience this calm quality, allow
it to take effect on you at a scale of one to one. In contrast you can understand Libeskind, who uses far more spectacular
means, perfectly well from the photos. I probably never need to see the Gehry building in Bilbao in my life, because it’s clear to
me what it is about. But with a Diener building you have to go and visit it.
Fig. 74: Diener & Diener Architekten, Vogesen School Building, Basel, 1993/94
M The theme of ambivalence is one that occupies us intensively in our reconstruction projects. In our context, where in fact the city has
been completed, as an architect you have to develop an approach to the question of how to handle the existing fabric. This has always
been the case. St Peter’s in Rome, the Uffizi in Florence, in fact most of the well-known buildings of architecture history were all constantly
adapted and expanded. The Doge’s Palace was one huge conversion – everything pieced together, but never in a didactic, conservationist way. Or Diocletian’s Palace
in Split, for example, where over the course of centuries the antique Roman palace complex was appropriated by users, infiltrated and converted. The dialectical
separation between new and old doesn’t interest us. But we find the question of how old and new can become a new whole very
Fig. 75: Altered over a period of centuries: Roman Diocletian’s Palace, Split
D Frequently usable parts of a building that is to be extended are simply absorbed, and become part of the new organism in a
perfectly natural way. Plečnik’s church in Bogojina is a fantastic example of this. The overlaying or remodelling of the old chapel with the new
nave attached at right angles to it leads to an incredibly interesting and ambivalent space. Contradictory spaces and structures in this form are probably
inconceivable in a new building. It is the interaction with or the active resistance against existing structures that leads to such unexpected and unconventional
solutions. In Theater 11 for instance there was the fly tower that still functioned. We integrated it in our project in such a way
that it blends symbiotically with the new building to form a whole. It wasn’t necessary to declare it in architectural terms as ‘existing fabric’.
Fig. 76: Jože Plečnik, Renovation and Extension of the Church of the Ascension, Bogojina, 1925–1927
Fig. 77: EM2N, Theater 11, Zurich, the ‘freed’ fly tower of the earlier building
M With the Congress Centre Thun the situation was different. There we wanted to have nothing to do with the mediocre 1980s building. Quite
honestly, we wanted to demolish it, but the money for this wasn’t available. In this project, we chose the method of formal separation, so
as to distance ourselves from the existing building.
D Naturally, this separation is purely architectural, in functional terms the old and the new buildings are
connected to form an organism like in Asplund’s Court Building in Göteborg. From outside you see that dialectically it is made up of several
individual buildings. But in the floor plans you feel this far less. It is interesting to imagine how Asplund developed the project over a
period of more than a decade. The different stages of the plans are almost like textbooks that show possible ways of dealing with the
existing substance, from a complete enveloping and blending to the dialectic coexistence of old and new with a subtle tension between classical and modern.
This oscillating between opposites fascinates us. You can distinguish the different building parts from each other while at the same time reading them as
an overall space. In this context, Lina Bò Bardi’s Fábrica da Pompéia in São Paulo is absolutely brilliant. For a long time, I didn’t
realise that the tower is a new building. You have to imagine what a crazy undertaking this was for her. On the one hand
there is the expansiveness of this industrial site with the halls, which normally would be demolished. But she left everything standing and, because that
meant there was too little room for the sports halls, she stacked them on top of each other. This absurd hyper-concentration of the programme
on the one side corresponds with an absurd over-stretching of the programme on the other. This double portion of ‘craziness’ adds up to quality.
As a result of her decision tomove the circulation for the sports halls into a tower of its own, the vertical buildings read like
converted industrial silos.
Fig. 78: Lina Bò Bardi, Fábrica da Pompéia Culture and Sports Centre, São Paulo, 1977–1986
D The Gürzenich in Cologne by Rudolf Schwarz and Karl Band is another great example. It is dialectical in the sense that you see
what is old and what is new, but there are several layers of time. Schwarz programmed the space between the ruins of the Romanesque
church of Sankt Alban that was destroyed in the Second World War and the late Gothic ceremonial hall of the Gürzenich as a circulation
hall. It swings in a great movement from the west façade to the continuous apse of the choir of Sankt Alban. This entire new
space was articulated using the architecture vocabulary of the 1950s, but in terms of the circulation and its spatial development it seems virtually Baroque
– 1950s post-war reconstruction era Baroque. In formal terms all the layers can be read separately, but spatially they combine to form a single
Fig. 79: Karl Band, Rudolf Schwarz, Reconstruction and Extension of the Gürzenich, Cologne, 1952 –1955
M That is a strategy of infiltration in which two circulation systems are imperceptibly connected so that suddenly the same blood flows through both
of them. We often find it more exciting to extend or convert something existing than to design on a greenfield site. Perhaps this has
something to do with our preference for complex, multi-layered solutions, with our need to pack a maximum of references into a project. Often external
constraints lead us to specific, less obvious solutions. The architect becomes a kind of escape artist, as it were.
D Recently we looked at the
Aachen Cathedral and were fascinated by this bricolage of different spatial systems from various eras with, at places, abrupt breaks in the architectural vocabulary.
But the material is always stone and this is why it functions as a whole. If you were to add something to it today,
you would certainly have to use the same or a similar materiality. Glass would be absolutely taboo, as would any kind of multi-layered monstrosity
such as a rendered and thermally insulated façade or a hung stone façade. It would have to be a solid building, insulated concrete for
instance, raw, hard, archaic.
Fig. 80: Aachen Cathedral, 8th century onwards
M So, you would extend the cathedral in Aachen in insulated concrete?
D Yes, for example. The question is the same as with Zumthor’s Kolumba
Museum, this direct physical continuation of an existing building without major didactic recitation of the building’s history. The project is really interesting in terms
of its approach, but as regards material perhaps it is laid on a little too thick. The surface of the brick in the new
building is somehow or other too perfect for the ruin below. The fragment acquires a decorative quality. This is like a random rubble wall
in a pizzeria that you can’t believe is real.
M Okay, but what does ‘real’ mean? The question about ‘genuineness’ and ‘authenticity’ crops up time
and time again in many projects. The conservationists’ aim of allowing the next generation to read the past is naturally legitimate and important. But
logically it is countered by the demand of the present generation to establish itself in the world, to clear away the old or to
change it, so as to create something new. Whether the new should displace, alter, swallow up or remove the old must be newly considered
for each individual project. The question about what is correct in conservation terms often doesn’t help. For instance, what would be the ‘correct’ state
of Cologne Cathedral? With or without the 19th century completions? One or two centuries earlier the cathedral would probably have been completed in a
contemporary style instead of using the rediscovered façade plans. Similar questions also arise today, even where the existing fabric is of mediocre quality –
the Theater 11 for example, which had already been altered and corrupted in part. Should this be preserved? Can one cannibalise it or demolish
it – or must it be restored to its original condition? We think that in most cases this can only be clarified through a
discussion about quality that employs architectural criteria and also by taking into account the usability of the building.
Fig. 81: Cologne Cathedral, 13th century onwards
D However, I believe that the discussion about monument conservation will become relative, as buildings erected today will not survive for so long. In
contrast, the old ones will grow increasingly stronger, as in Europe they become more and more important as bearers of identity. In Asia, in
contrast, temples are often of wood. The Ise Shrine is demolished every twenty years and is re-erected identically on a neighbouring site. In Japan,
the authenticity of the temple is not a function of the continuity of the built space. Something like that would be inconceivable here; we
cling to the authenticity of the
M Of course, the term ‘authenticity’ is extremely ambivalent. When I look at the old town in Zurich, for
example, it seems to me like a huge shopping centre without a roof. What has that to do with authenticity? The original mixed-use city
can hardly be experienced any longer. To what extent is it more authentic or better than a shopping centre somewhere or other in the
world, with an interior designed to disguise it as a European city?
D It has the patina of history. Naturally in Zurich, a lot was
transformed, rebuilt, but the dimensions of the streets, the spaces, the atmosphere of the façades have survived. This is an atmosphere you can’t create
in a shopping centre – no matter how many Italian piazzas Jon Jerde imitates. A stone that is 2000 years old has a material
authenticity that cannot be reproduced in any other form. You can imitate or emulate history as an image, but not in its physical presence.
The whole papier-mâché is in the end lifeless and soulless. That’s why reconstructing buildings is far more difficult that preserving buildings still in existence.
Fig. 82: Jon Jerde, Newport Beach, 1989
M Last year, I was in Nuremberg again for the first time in twenty years. As a young person I spent a lot of
time in the city centre, ninety per cent of which was destroyed in the Second World War – almost nothing was left. I had
stored the city in my memory as a mediaeval city. Only on wandering through it again did I notice that almost all the buildings
had been erected after 1945 and many of them are clearly recognisable as modern buildings. Beside office buildings from the 1950s stands a Karstadt
department store with a metal facade from the 1980s. Nevertheless, in terms of its spatial mesh the town can be read as a mediaeval
town, although hardly any authentic substance has survived. Here it’s not the material continuity that produces a feeling of historical authenticity, but the continuity
of the street spaces and the squares and their proportions. When we work on urban planning we often produce density, narrowness, compactness. Essentially, we
act in a very conservative fashion, we appreciate traditional urban spaces.
D It is the oscillating between contrasts like archaic-traditional and modern that produces excitement
and tension, which neither of these principles could ever do alone. Only modern is just as boring as only traditional.
M We design buildings that
are clearly modern. We use modern materials and create modern moods, but we often design quasi premodern rooms in our buildings. The Flumserberg Holiday
Home for example is contemporary in terms of its materialization – concrete on the ground floor, OSB on the first floor and at the
very top the biggest windows we could get. But the spaces are more rustic, and it’s this difference that makes the house interesting.
you stand in front of an old building that still has a certain strength you begin to ponder. We visit buildings that have survived
centuries and look, sometimes enviously, back at the time when one could erect a building out of a single material. That’s no longer possible
today, for technical reasons we stick layers together, in order to solve ‘problems’ – energy here, fire safety regulations there. We sometimes ask ourselves
what circumstances are required today for a building to develop a permanent presence.
M I found experiencing Gaudi’s Casa Milà in Barcelona extremely exciting, this
piece of madness in stone. A large urban block, extremely stately, really high rooms, the facade made of massive blocks of rock that are
hung on a steel structure. Despite its animated facade, the building has an incredible presence, so light-heavy. The stone is hefty, weighs several tons,
massively mortared together. Somehow or other a Gehry, but genuine, with granite forty centimetres thick.
D It’s a permanent building and it will still be
standing on one hundred years time. When you look at all the buildings that are erected today using the latest technology, well, I honestly
don’t know what they are going to look like in ten or fifteen years time. How long will it be before all these rendered,
thermally insulated facades come down again? The question is under what circumstances can a building today develop a permanent presence? Or should we just
erect buildings to be used for a period of twenty or thirty years. With some building commissions this is certainly unavoidable, but I can’t
imagine this becoming standard practice.
Fig. 83: Antoni Gaudí, Casa Milà, Barcelona, 1906–1910
M So far we have never made a solid stone façade. The Vocational School in Hardau is made of fair-face concrete and it will
still be standing in fifty years time. The primary school beside it, which we built at the same time, has external insulation. For financial
reasons we couldn’t use another material. And this has been revenged: the area is socially quite tough and you could soon read this in
the building – the façade has scorch markes in several places. It is so soft that you can make a dent in it with
your foot. In the Vocational School beside it, the concrete goes cleanly into the ground, you can hammer away at it as much as
you like, nothing gets damaged.
(12) Christopher Alexander, A Pattern Language, New York 1977.
(13) ‘Frequently the purpose of a building is a very prosaic one, which means that many simple rooms of moderate height are arranged together
and perhaps must be repeated on several storeys. Here a faithful representation of the interior would inevitably result in an exterior that is prosaic
and tedious. In such a case it is therefore not only allowed but indeed necessary to deny the interior (…). Better an interesting and
prettily told fairy-tale than a completely faithful record of a boring collection of spaces!’ Adolf Göller, Was ist Wahrheit in der Architektur, Stuttgart 1887.
Copyrights for pictures and text are covered by the Publisher. All image credits can be looked up in EM2N – Both and on page 235.