During ART Basel, the Swiss bathroom specialist Laufen held a symposium at its corporate headquarters in Laufen/Switzerland on 14 June. In the presence of 120 participating architects, Tim Kammasch, Kurt W. Forster and the Swiss architects Gabrielle Hächler and Andreas Fuhrimann debated the concealed qualities of architecture in a lively panel discussion entitled: “Hidden truths of architecture”.
“We are delighted that the ‘Architecture during art’ symposium is taking place here at our premises in Laufen for the fifth time, and that we were able to organise this event again this year in cooperation with the Swiss Cultural Foundation Pro Helvetia.” With these words, Marc Viardot, Managing Director Central European BU and Director Marketing and Products, opened the event at the Laufen Forum. Marianne Burki, Head of Visual Arts at Pro Helvetia, expressed her gratitude for the partnership: “Laufen has already been cooperating with Pro Helvetia for seven years and supports us as a partner of the cultural foundation at the Salon Suisse, the accompanying programme of the Swiss pavilion at the Biennale in Venice.” With this cooperation, Laufen emphasises its commitment to art and culture in general and architecture in particular.
But how and when is good architecture created? Is there a special recipe? What part does empathy play? What are the drawbacks of standardisation and uniformity in contemporary architecture? And what potential can be unleashed by combining supposed opposites with each other, although they do not suggest absolute harmony at first glance?
To discuss this and many other questions, Pro Helvetia and Laufen had invited prominent personalities to form the panel: Tim Kammasch, Professor of Architectural Theory and responsible for the Salon Suisse at this year’s Biennale of Architecture in Venice, hosted the panel discussion and debated with the famous art historian Kurt W. Forster, Director and Professor Emeritus at the Yale School of Architecture, as well as the Swiss architects Gabrielle Hächler and Andreas Fuhrimann of AFGH Architekten, who were responsible for the Laufen stand at the Salone del Mobile in Milan earlier this year.
Architecture accompanies us subliminally
One thing became clear very quickly: The hidden qualities of architecture are not recognisable at first glance. Tim Kammasch explained this with the fact “that one of the essential qualities of architecture is that it recedes into the background and accompanies our daily lives from there imperceptibly, providing us with maximum comfort.” He added that even in architectural discourses, which are frequently very much dominated by pictures, these qualities often cannot be depicted. Thus, these qualities may be overlooked and the viewer’s attention focused exclusively on obvious architectural features, according to Kammasch. But what professional qualifications must a successful architect have in order to design good architecture?
Art historian Kurt W. Forster and architects Hächler and Fuhrimann were in agreement that there is no general recipe for good architecture. Good architecture includes many different aspects, which only come to full fruition in combination with each other. Architects should have travelled a lot and have seen much of the world, they should be interested in politics and social issues and have a cultural awareness grown over the years. According to Tim Kammasch, the combination of different fields of knowledge, such as history of art with physics in the case of Gabrielle Hächler and Andreas Fuhrimann, is certainly an advantage in developing an understanding of architecture.
The ability to empathise with specific localities and situations is another important aspect. “Empathic response is vital in architecture,” Gabrielle Hächler explains. The Swiss architect defines this not only as the empathic response to the environment and the feeling for spaces and atmospheres, but also empathic interaction with the client when it comes to project budgeting.
Empty space is the raw material for architects
As a basis for discussion, famous paintings and photographs of Venetian squares were shown, as well as buildings and projects designed by AFGH Architekten. Fuhrimann explained that tourists visiting Venice predominantly focus on famous buildings and objects, completely disregarding the spaces in between in the urban landscape, to the point of completely disregarding them.
But these spaces in between are what makes architecture really interesting. Andreas Fuhrimann firmly believes: “Only away from the confinement of Venice’s narrow lanes can spaces actually be perceived and felt.” Gabrielle Hächler adds: “Empty space is the raw material for architects.” However, architecture should not be geometrically over-analysed either, for every geometry-oriented, logical classification and abstraction ignores the actual qualities of the spaces.
In the second part of the discussion, the panel gave a critical review of modern architecture. “One modern craze is wanting everything to be standardised. Both indoors and outdoors,” says Kurt W. Forster.
Disharmony in architecture
Apartments, houses, cityscapes: these days, many things share a uniform design. Yet architects should attune their perception to the place where new architecture is to be created. The experts are sure about one thing: it is important not to focus just on eliminating problems all the time, but also to work and to enter into a dialogue with local settings and somewhat more challenging starting conditions. Since this is the only way to create new things and a complexity which would never have come about just by itself.
“If architects always proceed according to the same methods and everyone seeks to
eliminate more difficult local situations, we will end up with uniformity,” says Kammasch. The aim is not to avoid contrasts, but rather to unite polarities in a fruitful interplay. “For us as architects, it is a special challenge to reconcile such contrasts with each other. For example, the least expensive house we have ever designed has a spatial opulence like none of our other projects,” says Hächler.
To complement the symposium, Laufen had organised an interesting and diversified supporting programme. In addition to a guided tour especially for architects (RIBA-approved CPD) through the bathroom specialist’s fittings and ceramics production plant, the architects were invited to take a look at the multi-faceted new interpretation of the SaphirKeramik project “The new Classic” by Marcel Wanders in an exclusive preview. The event at the Laufen Forum was rounded off with the Smart Mobile Disco designed by Konstantin Grcic.