Anne Holtrop talks about architecture

Within the framework of the lecture series ‘TALKS about architecture’, on 5 October Anne Holtrop discussed his work, ‘a possible architecture’, and ‘material gestures’. ArchiNed put four questions to him. The recording of the lecture is now online.

This table stands in a room in a 120-year-old house. Because of the climate in Bahrain, the room has just one tiny window. The walls are made of coral stone. The white deposit is a thick layer of sea salt left behind over the years by the coral stone. Old limestone ornaments appeared when the plaster was removed.

1 – What is architecture?
Perhaps people have never seen or experienced the form before, but architecture is, in essence, walls, windows, doors, partitions, spaces ….

2 – Asked about your design method in an interview, you once answered: “I’m interested in a possible architecture.” This statement recurs in many forms in other interviews and in reflections on your work, but what do you mean with ‘a possible architecture’?
There is no idea, argument or reason in advance for making something. The form can be anything. It is derived from something outside of architecture and outside the logic of architecture. So the starting position of the form is independent of architecture. ‘A possible architecture’ is this confrontation with a form that does not yet have a relation with architecture. The logic of architecture is added to — or rather: inserted into — the borrowed form later.
Besides working from ‘a possible architecture’, I now also design from ‘material gestures’. When critic Roland Barthes wrote about the work of artist Cy Twombly, Barthes defined ‘gesture’ as a surplus of an action. With ‘material gestures’, the characteristics of a material are used for a form to which a ‘gesture’ is added.

3 – When do you know that a design is finished? And when is the programme added to the form?
A design develops through the subsequent steps that occur in each phase of the process. In addition, it doesn’t matter whether one is working with ‘a possible architecture’ or with ‘material gestures’. In both, subsequent steps are still taken. Why that one decision works and that one doesn’t is difficult to explain and express in words.
The German painter Gerard Richter said of his way of working that there comes a point when no subsequent steps can be imagined. That’s the moment that you can state that the work is good and finished. The time it takes to arrive at this point is uncertain. Architecture is not visual art; the construction and building materials guide me.
I like a certain abstraction in materials, simplicity and clarity. Programme is introduced somewhere in the process. I think it’s fine if the programme doesn’t fit perfectly. What’s essential for me is that my architecture remains open to interpretation; the built result should offer the user space to interpret the work on their own. I also want to contemplate my own work again and again.

4 – What can architecture do?
Umberto Eco wrote in Open Work that the maker does not determine everything in the work. This applies not only to literature and visual art but also to architecture. That creates space for interpretation. This space is important, because it relates to how the world works and our place in the world. We think that the world is static, but nothing is fixed. The way people view matters differs according to time, culture and gender. Creating space for interpretation is the most fascinating aspect of architecture.