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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 Albertis 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.

How We Became Who We Are

A professional biography of EM2N
Part II
Conceived by Ilka & Andreas Ruby
Told by Mathias Mller 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 Alexanders Pattern
Language from the shelf again. (12) Hes 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, Scharouns 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

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 Meurons 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 OMAs Kunsthal in Rotterdam,
where the route through the building doesnt 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
Eliassons 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 Eliassons gigantic space installations, too,
people didnt behave like normal museum visitors.

Fig. 42: EM2N, Toni Site, Zurich, concept model

Path through the building

Fig. 41: Hans Scharoun, Design for a Primary School in

Darmstadt, 1951

M We want Toni to be not just a school, but part of the

city. Perhaps this is a little nave, 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

Fig. 43: OMA Rem Koolhaas, Kunsthal, Rotterdam,



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 Corbusiers 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 Scharouns 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.

Hybrid houses:

Fig. 45: Hans Scharoun, Staatsbibliothek, Berlin, 1967

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.

Fig. 44: Le Corbusier, Carpenter Visual Center, Cambridge,


Fig. 48: Dankmar Adler, Louis Sullivan, Schiller Building,

Chicago, 1892
Fig. 46: EM2N, Toni Site, Zurich, cross-sectional model of
high-rise building

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. 49: OMA Rem Koolhaas, Public Library, Seattle, 2004
Fig. 47: EM2N, Aqui Park Hrlimann Site, Zurich, commissioned study 2004, sectional model


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.

Fig. 50: Hans Kollhoff, Atlanpole, Nantes, competition


Fig. 54: Paul Rudolph, Yale University, 1958 1961

Fig. 52: Peter Celsing, Kulturhuset, Stockholm, 19661971

Fig. 51: Jean Nouvel, Opera House, Tokyo, 1986

Fig. 53: Renzo Piano, Richard Rogers, Gianfranco Franchini, Centre Georges Pompidou, 1977

Sponge-like structures
M In this context and for many other reasons, John
Soanes Bank of England, which was unfortunately demolished, is one of our absolute favourite projects, along
with his own house in Lincolns 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 faades, strange relationships between functions
or objets trouvs 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.
D And the deep faades allow outside and inside to completely blend together. The building represents a kind of
substitute world for the patients and its important that
this world should be rich in content. The Rehabilitation
Clinic is an island that contains a whole variety of worlds

M But if you take the sponge too literally, you get lost in
a mechanism in which everything looks the same. Hertzbergers 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 fat.
Sponge-like structures:

Fig. 55: EM2N, Toni Site, Zurich, floor plan


Fig. 59: Herman Hertzberger, Centraal Beheer Office Building, Apeldoorn, 1968 1972

Fig. 56: John Soane, House Lincolns Inn Fields, London,


Fig. 60: John Soane, Bank of England, London, 1833

Fig. 58: Joseph Michael Gandy, Soanes Dome, 1811

Fig. 57: EM2N, Weber Brunner, Thermal Baths, SchrunsTschagguns, competition 2006

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, Archizooms 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.

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. OMAs 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 Trs Grande Bibliothque, 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 its 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

Fig. 64: OMA Rem Koolhaas, Universal Studio Headquarters, Los Angeles, 1996

Fig. 63: Archizoom, No Stop City, 1969

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 faade 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 Rohes
apartment block in the Weissenhofsiedlung.

Fig. 65: OMA Rem Koolhaas, Trs Grande Bibliothque,

Paris, 1989
M Were 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

Fig. 66: EM2N, Hegianwandweg Housing Development,

Zurich, 19992003, 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
doesnt 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 Scharouns 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 arent 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 Nouvels 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 Corbusiers 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 their apartment.

Fig. 69: Jean Nouvel, Nemausus Housing Development,

Nmes, 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 Venturis side (he
called it industrial vernacular or industrial rocaille). But
we have no problem with this

Fig. 70: Lacaton & Vassal, Latapie House, Floriac, 1993

Deep surfaces
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 faade is an interface that mediates in both
directions. Koolhaas describes in Delirious New York how
the skyscrapers faades emancipate themselves from
their programmatic content, and he uses the medical term
lobotomy to describe this process. There are certainly
parallels here to Rossis hypothesis of the permanence of
form. Ultimately, this is not far removed from classical or
mannerist faades in which the interior often has little to
do with the exterior. Instead of using the faade 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 faade an architectural independence, so that it can mediate between the building
and the city. (13)


M It is clear that the faade 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 faade, in
the first design (which wasnt 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 faade 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 faade 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-thewall faade. By suppressing the scale of the faade 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 faade functioned by distorting the
scale. As the windows on the first floor are tiny, but those
on the second floor are monstrously large, you dont 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
faades; they are equally seldom classically articulated.
Often our faades are the same from top to bottom. In
Theater 11 the faade is an all-over envelope where the
windows and the faade material effortlessly make the
jump from the vertical areas of the faade 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 faade, 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 faade also plays a decisive role. A conventionally
layered faade with brick inside and insulation outside
would be far too little here. In Prague we are making the
faade 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
faade, and its 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

M In my case, this distance to classic hole-in-the-wall

faades and traditional faade articulation is certainly
also a result of my biography. I grew up in Nuremberg
where, after the war, kilometres of theses faades 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 Dieners
projects. I initially found these things frightful, those dry
faades 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 faade.
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 faade the windows measure three by four metres!
This change in scale alters the character of the windows

Fig. 72: EM2N, Theater 11, Zurich, model 2006

D Whats interesting about Diener is that he managed to

make the windows so large that you cant say any longer
whether they represent holes in the wall or whether the
remaining areas of wall form a grid. The classic figureground logic of the faade 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 Dieners
work. You cant 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 its
clear to me what it is about. But with a Diener building
you have to go and visit it.

Fig. 73: Miguel Fisac, Casilblanco de los Arroyos Culture

Centre, Seville, 2000


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 Peters in Rome, the Uffizi in Florence, in fact most of
the well-known buildings of architecture history were all
constantly adapted and expanded. The Doges Palace was
one huge conversion everything pieced together, but
never in a didactic, conservationist way. Or Diocletians
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 doesnt interest us. But
we find the question of how old and new can become a
new whole very exciting.

Fig. 75: Altered over a period of centuries:

Roman Diocletians 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. Pleniks 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 wasnt necessary to
declare it in architectural terms as existing fabric.

Fig. 76: Joe Plenik, Renovation and Extension of the

Church of the Ascension, Bogojina, 19251927


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.

D The Grzenich 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 Grzenich as a circulation
hall. It swings in a great movement from the west faade
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 tissue.

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 monstrosit such
as a rendered and thermally insulated faade or a hung
stone faade. It would have to be a solid building, insulated concrete for instance, raw, hard, archaic.

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 wasnt 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 Asplunds Court Building in
Gteborg. 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.
M 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 B Bardis Fbrica da Pompia
in So Paulo is absolutely brilliant. For a long time, I didnt
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

Fig. 79: Karl Band, Rudolf Schwarz, Reconstruction and

Extension of the Grzenich, Cologne, 1952 1955
Fig. 78: Lina B Bardi, Fbrica da Pompia Culture and
Sports Centre, So Paulo, 19771986

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.

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
Zumthors Kolumba Museum, this direct physical continuation of an existing building without major didactic
recitation of the buildings 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 cant 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 doesnt 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 faade 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.

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 material.
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 faades have survived. This
is an atmosphere you cant 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-mch is in the end lifeless
and soulless. Thats why reconstructing buildings is far
more difficult that preserving buildings still in existence.

hefty, weighs several tons, massively mortared together.

Somehow or other a Gehry, but genuine, with granite
forty centimetres thick.
D Its 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 dont 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 faades 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 cant imagine this becoming
standard practice.

D It is the oscillating between contrasts like archaictraditional 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 its this difference that makes the house interesting.
D When 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. Thats 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

Fig. 82: Jon Jerde, Newport Beach, 1989

Fig. 81: Cologne Cathedral, 13th century onwards

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 faade 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 its 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.

M I found experiencing Gaudis Casa Mil in Barcelona

extremely exciting, this piece of madness in stone. A large
urban block, extremely stately, really high rooms, the
faade made of massive blocks of rock that are hung on a
steel structure. Despite its animated faade, the building
has an incredible presence, so light-heavy. The stone is

Fig. 83: Antoni Gaud, Casa Mil, Barcelona, 1906 1910

M So far we have never made a solid stone faade. 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 couldnt use
another material. And this has been revenged: the area is
socially quite tough and you could soon read this in the
building the faade 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.


M So far we have never made a solid stone faade. 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 couldnt use
another material. And this has been revenged: the area is
socially quite tough and you could soon read this in the
building the faade 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 Gller, Was ist Wahrheit in der Architektur,
Stuttgart 1887.
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