Give me Dirt - More Than This

Eva Munz talks to nOffice

The name of your office suggests on the one hand that it doesn’t exist and on the other that it is just like any other office. What was the true intention?
Truth does not exist. After spending far too much time wondering about a name, we decided to outsource the decision-making process. The Swiss curator Hans Ulrich Obrist then decided we should be nOffice.

You are located in Berlin, but it seems that the location is really random.
True. Apart from two small projects we aren’t currently working on any building projects here. In 2008, we decided that after living in London, we needed a location in which the office could grow. Architecture is a hara-kiri business: You work like crazy and produce only marginal economies. In Berlin at least there‘s flexibility in regards to an economy, in which you can live more comfortably. The decision to leave London did not change the way we work on international projects. Quite the contrary: We tend to waste less time in Berlin than we used to do in London.

You work with Ralf Pflugfelder and Magnus Nilsson. How do you split your work?
nOffice is what I would call a complementary practice: Each individual within the office has qualities that the others don’t have. However, there is no hierarchy in terms of decision-making at all. Each conceptual design is the result of a collaborative process. We tend to get our architectural commissions through this stream of parallel investigation.

What are you working on at the moment?
We are currently working on a series of archive and library projects–one in northeast Brazil and one in Switzerland–and we are about to embark on a long–term spatial project regarding archival practice in Berlin. For the last four years, we have been increasingly interested how knowledge can be accumulated, both physically and virtually. At the crossroads of those two domains, we are developing an archive and cultural center with Hans Ulrich Obrist.
We are also working on a pavilion for New York’s Performa Biennial, an exhibition of architecture for the Shenzhen Biennial (China) and a penthouse in Cologne. More interesting than the individual projects may be our obsession with the way in which knowledge production can influence spatial practice.
The Renaissance Man has been rendered passé, but the varied nature of projects, opportunities, and collaborations that arise through Edward Said’s notion of ‘the ideal intellectual who works from the margin’ allows for an architecture understood as a space that is constructed among political realities, social networks and physical structures. The demand to go beyond a certain field of knowledge inevitably makes the architectural practitioner a polymath by necessity. 

Is it frustrating as an architect as opposed to a fashion designer that the product of your profession has this inevitable permanence? That you cannot change a house every season? Put it somewhere else?

Architecture is a practice of continuous delay. Quite often projects take so long that, by the end, you cannot remember how they started. Architecture is certainly, as you mention, a profession of frustration. Projects often die and before you know it, you are looking at a mass grave of unfinished projects, or ‚unrealized projects‘ as Hans Ulrich Obrist would call them. On a more positive note, let’s talk about your point regarding permanence: not every architectural project necessarily has a conscious permanence. I would argue that the more interesting ones actually don’t, or at least they embody the potential for change over time and in terms of utility.

Are there strategies to avoid that stasis? Advantages?
Cedric Price was a master to circumvent stasis. However, I would never rule out either way. Practitioners tend to become very dogmatic. Their world turns into black and white, good and bad, aesthetically pleasing and goddamn ugly. Within this paradigm, the other’s position is always a priori ruled out. We don’t like to close doors. Every project is different. Every situation requires dissimilar approaches. We would get super-bored if every project were physical, had permanence, and an easy brief.

You are constantly travelling the globe, teaching, consulting, writing. Is theory a way–your way–out of this dilemma?
Theory should never be a way out, but maybe and hopefully a different way back in. Teaching tends to be a good testing ground for ideas that in reality would simply not work or that nobody would pay for. I am curious. If I am interested in something, I pursue it. My way out of a dilemma is precisely not to understand it as a dilemma but as an opportunity. We are working with the most interesting people in the arts, architecture, and cultural production globally. Beyond that, I don’t think I could live in Berlin if I had to be fully based here, it is too provincial.

When was the last time you were really excited about a piece of architecture?
There is a private residence, a house in Zürich, which was built in the sixties by the now 82-year old Swiss brutalist Hans Demarmels. In terms of a residential spatial experience this was truly one of the most interesting ones, as it takes the idea of open plan and flips it into the vertical. It is also intriguing, as it by now has been tarnished by a patina of more than 40 years of inhabitation. There was a great film produced about OMA’s Bordeaux House for last year’s Venice Architecture Biennial in which the cameraman follows the cleaning lady through the house, while she is commenting on the insufficiencies and lack of performance of the architecture. It is an utterly superb film. Everyone who is interested in design should watch it. I also loved the Palast der Republik before they disassembled it. There was something totally beautiful about the fact that the building wasn’t knocked down, but almost taken apart, like you would disassemble a tent. To be honest, I am more interested in urban experiences than in individual architectures. The most amazing ones for me so far have been Sao Paulo and Cairo.

When was the last time you were profoundly shocked?
When my doctor cut a cancerous growth out of my left arm last year.

What does the house you grew up in mean to you? Does the room in which you played as a kid still exist?
A lot. It has become a safe haven and retreat. It is home. My room still exists. And my parents are doing a good job making it more pleasurable every year. The most interesting moment was the time when my parents got a post-kids-leaving dog. It totally changed the architecture and spatial use of the entire house and garden.

Listen to „In Every Dream Home a Heartache“ by Roxy Music and tell me what you think.
There is something odd in the belief of newness. Last night when I walked my panther down Tottenham Court Road, I was wondering why the wheel needs to be reinvented over and over again. It reminds me that I cannot do architecture for architecture’s sake. It incredibly bores me when thinking of physical matter in space. Give me dirt. More Than This. Come with me in my Alfa Romeo Iguana.   ◊
More about the various Projects of nOffice:

No comments:

Post a Comment