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In only two Days, Tomorrow will be Yesterday

Wolf D. Prix

In only two Days, Tomorrow will be Yesterday
By Wolf D. Prix -

In only two days, tomorrow will be yesterday. What does that mean? Very simply, it means that we architects have to think ahead at least three days, otherwise the past will catch up with us.
Recently I read the following quote by an architect in an Austrian newspaper: “We don’t want to build excited architecture.” I don’t know what that is supposed to mean - excited architecture. Those who get excited are usually only the observers. “We don’t want excited architecture but buildings that are timeless, classical and pragmatic.” If you think backwards in a timeless way, you will always be behind. Well, I think that we, the architects, have to think at least three years ahead. Usually - at least for us - projects of a certain size take between five and seven years. If the result happened yesterday, then this was wasted time.
When we speak about architecture nowadays, then we usually just talk about the visible building - similar to the tip of an iceberg, and we forget the invisible architecture, namely what is taking us to this tip. The discussion about exactly this invisible architecture is missing much too often, which is why edifices usually just remain buildings. Buildings only become architecture when the design touches at least one of the meta-levels.  Radical architecture doesn’t just mean drawing radically, thinking radically or using radical computer programs - instead architecture only becomes radical when it is implemented and executed radically. That sounds easier than it is. Future architects will experience the kind of resistance that politics - and I don’t mean politics in the sense of daily politics or party politics, but politics in general - will put up against us to prevent us from reaching alteration.
Visible architecture, meaning buildings or cities, is very heavy. And by this I mean that architecture has weight. Weight costs money - and wherever there is money, there are politics.  In other words, no architecture without politics.
Two examples of how politics of authorities prevent the achievement of goals that are actually implemented in the development of our humanity:
Firstly, Icarus, a character of the Greek mythology: The son flies higher towards the sun than his father permitted and as a result, he crashed.  But he also crashed because his wings were just attached with wax. If he had access to silicone, he would have been able to rise further and higher. Which means that we also need new modern materials to reach the goals of the architecture of change.
Secondly, the tower of Babel: It was prevented from completion - prohibited by an authority - otherwise humans would have been able to undermine authority, in this case a deity.
I think that the most elegant goal of an architect has to be the completion of this tower, in whatever way possible. We have kept trying this over and over again. It isn’t easy. That’s why we started with a detail - the cloud. That was in 1968.
That was more than forty years ago by now. It was at a time when architecture exploded.
We are building for an open society.
Jan Philipp Reemtsma, the writer, says that compared to a hunter in the stone age, who follows the tracks of a deer in the desert, a contemporary person who at the right time gets into the right plane at the airport that will take him to the right place acts in a much more complex way.
Of course open systems can also be described as follows: “Everyone is right, but nothing is correct.”
Or: “What is architecture?” Answer: “Yes.”

What is the difference?
As a result of nowadays fear of catastrophes, instead of continuing the generous building tradition of modernity - where space was still seen as space, not as an economically satisfiable obligation - we might just return to boxes without demand.
One possible solution would be the Himmelb(l)au meter: The meter is extended by 5 cm, i.e. the space would be increased by 10%. An apartment with 100 sq m would then have 110 sq m. The volume would increase by 15% and the budget too, of course. With an inflation of 5%, this building would just need to be built three years earlier. That isn’t so difficult. It can be done.
Another important topic in our studio is the discourse with private and public space, meaning privacy and public life and everything that is associated with this in architecture. Many of my young colleagues define public space through the network of media or the movements of planes. But I think it’s important that the physical address isn’t lost, namely the location where we can actually meet. If we just go without a real, physical placement and instead experience our adventures virtually, then we are placeless and timeless, then homeless and finally cluelessly lost in virtual space.
I think that we have to find or invent new methods particularly in urban planning, to master the future problems of cities that are not located in Europe but where the future of cities is being defined, namely in the Asian and Arabic regions, where there is still great economic power. The conventional methods of Camillo Sitte can’t achieve anything there, they don’t work anymore. I.e., we have to look for new methods and follow new parameters.  We are currently working on a study about cities: Building lines are replaced by energy lines. If the growth of the city is analogous with the growth of our brain, this means new attractors are found that will lead to new spaces. However, there are massive communication problems with our clients as soon as we start talking about these projects. Everyone just wants to see renderings, or images. Now and then I feel like a fish in an aquarium that speaks but isn’t heard.
Of course it’s possible to invent new types of presentation, but we always have to keep in mind that mediocrity has no respect for architects.
Especially when the architect appears as someone who aids a material constraint by piling one brick on another. An architect is only an architect, however, if his or her buildings achieve at least one of the meta-levels of architecture.

I think that like a cat, we would need seven lives to survive all of this.
1-     Enough isn’t enough. Architecture must blaze.
2-     Architecture isn’t surface - but content. Otherwise we become
    subject to “Lady Gaga aesthetics”. Lady Gaga is a great artist of
    the surface. But I can’t remember any of her song lyrics.
3-     Neither form follows function nor function follows form.
    Architecture is the synergy between form and content.
4-     Architecture is team play.

Breaking systems:
To get into the penalty area of the opponents’ team, FC Barcelona established a triangle game system with its moves. Unexpected opportunities arise when a player, usually Lionel Messi, breaks the system.
This strategy is very similar to the design system that we practice. I like comparing this triangular game with a computer system, with parametric figures. When the system breaks, something new is created, similar to evolution in nature - new developments are initiated by accident.

5-    The 5th life is about the complexities:
    Not complicatedness but complexity. We say that the ground plan
    is equal to the cross section, is equal to the perspective, is equal to
    the detail.
6-    By combining content and form we achieve structure, then the
    grid can disappear and the buildings stand in the city like chess
    figures. Tension is created by the power of virtual moves.
7-    Take your time, but not too long.

Closed systems impede free development. Shaped by selfishness, our society represses emotion - including in architecture - through building codes, rules and regulations.
That is why the impossible is possible.
Architecture looks different today than it did 2,500 years ago. This is not just about the form, however, but also the technology, about possibilities of generating these forms or implementing them from a building-engineering perspective. The Doric Temple in Paestum requires 36 pillars to carry a roof of 1,400 sq m. BMW Welt in Munich, in contrast, only needs eleven pillars to support ten times that much roof surface.

Form. Form and content give us shape.
The red dot on the butterfly was created by accident. If it stands the test, it stays. If it fails the test, it will vanish. Architecture could be conceived the same way.
Constantin Brancusi, a master of open forms. His sculptures are not a self-contained system. Many things flow together. The result originates from an open system. I think that identification is only created by the shape. This is one of the most important aspects of architecture. Only form, on the other hand - meaning an anonymous form - will never be able to create identification.
We have always liked dealing with the topic of roofs. Le Corbusier and Oscar Niemeyer have fundamentally changed the meaning of the roof. Le Corbusier’s roof garden on the Unité and Niemeyer, who used the roof in the Casa Canoas to create a framework for the surrounding landscape, have caused the roof to be raised from its sole function of protection. It was freed from the ground plan and charged with meaning.
We have been occupied with roofs in various forms since 1972. BMW Welt could also be read as an inverse roof landscape of a building by Le Corbusier - of course much improved in many respects.
I love it when the buildings and the images of a building are populated. Like the thoroughfare in the third dimension, the ramps and bridges are important for the overview and enable a liquid capturing of the room.

Busan Cinema Center, Busan, Korea, 2012
This roof - at 85 meters, the longest protruding roof according to the Guinness Book of World Records - was not easy to design.
When the roof was ready to be raised, we found out that the norm regarding wind had been changed. Since the typhoons are getting stronger, the roof now had to be able to withstand 250 km/h instead of the previous 200 km/h. We were faced with the question: take it apart, perform new calculations, rebuild it?
The solution was a hydraulic support that rises and prevents the roof from flying off as soon as the wind becomes stronger than initially calculated. The roof also functions as a horizontal projection area. Video artists will work on projections for the roof.
Dalian International Conference Center, Dalian, China, 2012
Now we’re going to China. The Dalian International Conference Center, a conference center for the World Economic Forum. The shape of the building is derived from several components. First, the extension of the two main urban axes result in a triangle. The sometimes very strong wind in Dalian made it possible to design a climate facade. The result is a naturally lit and energy-efficient building.
At the center of the building is an opera with 1,700 seats. The opera hall’s main wall - which weighs forty tons - can be moved so that the hall behind it opens. This way a peephole stage can be transformed into an arena stage.
The conference rooms are grouped around this cultural core like a pearl choker. This resulted in another formative aspect: The skin, or the facade, visibly reflects the conference rooms - in other words, the interior stretches the skin of the exterior. This makes the facade come alive, which is further reinforced by climate considerations and optimizations. We reach a three-dimensional layering through the ascent, bridges and ramps. What has been created is a structure that resembles a small city. To build - wonderful. Le Corbusier said that houses should be built like ships. We put this into practice. The knots of the opera were fabricated at a shipyard. This is where steel plates with a width of 10 cm can be welded professionally.
Part of the Groninger Museum in the Netherlands - 1993 - was built at a shipyard.

Martin Luther Church, Hainburg, Austria, 2011
Just like the roof of the church in Hainburg on the Danube, my home town. It was then transported to Austria in three parts, assembled, and raised up on the existing structure.
I was requested to design a devotion room plus community hall with side rooms for the priest. There is a medieval ossuary not far from the building lot. The curved roof of the Romanesque ossuary was adopted and converted into a contemporary form with the aid of modern digital means. The form in turn was transferred into an analog model and processed manually until achieving its final shape.  The play of light and transparency has a key significance in this project.
Three large openings in the roof that are shaped like snails direct the light towards the interior. The analogy of the number 3 for the trinity of Christian theology can be interpreted as a deliberate accident. We chose a traditional material - reeds - for the paneling of the roof’s underside. The altar represents a continued development of the roof shape.                               
The best description that I ever read about architecture can be found in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick: “I wish the wind had a body.”
I think this has to be the future of architecture. We don’t need any pillars since we have overcome gravity. Without gravity there is also no monocentric perspective. I also think that we have to incorporate compositions from other areas - such as music. That we pour music into a structure. In 1969/1970 I heard the song “Gimme Shelter” for the first time. It has a certain note that Keith Richards plays on a five-string, open guitar. Since then I have thought that this is a perfect material description. A material as hard as concrete and as supple as aspic. Aspic concrete: the material for the architecture of the future.
Not building lines, energy lines are the new paradigms for the three-dimensional zoning of the city of the future.

Wolf D. Prix



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