Within the framework of the lecture series ‘TALKS about architecture’, on 24 November Christoph Gantenbein of the Swiss office Christ & Gantenbein will speak about their projects. ArchiNed asked him five questions.
1 – What is architecture?
Architecture has a complex character, because on the one hand it creates the physical world we live in. It’s an undeniable part of reality, manifests a physical presence, and shapes urban spaces. On the other hand, architecture, just like art, literature and cinema, has a strongly narrative character. As designers, we tell stories through space and material.
2 – How would you describe the handwriting or signature of your office?
We are interested in an architectural language that addresses architecture’s universal, general, and therefore anonymous character. Architecture cannot be solely the result of the radical assertion of an autonomous idea of the individual designer. Instead, we focus on fundamental forms of architecture. I think that our generation is tired of the ongoing production of star architecture, which has become meaningless and is more concerned with branding than with the architectural task itself.
Our journey through Italy is still an important reference for our work: eternally valid architecture, which was developed under changing political, cultural and technical conditions over time. It’s always about the task at hand and never about the personal aspirations of the designer. It’s about urban spaces and buildings and their expression. The instruments to achieve eternally valid architecture are always the same: the structure of the building, façade, space, dramaturgy, material and form. In every project we try to find a contemporary, specific expression of universal architecture.
3 – You said in an interview published in Architecture as a Craft: Architecture, Drawing, Model and Position (2010): ‘Whenever a design process gets methodical and automatic, I feel the need to react, to question it, to destroy it’. You and Emanuel Christ founded the office Christ & Gantenbein in 1998. In what way do your earlier projects differ in working process and outcome from more contemporary projects?
This statement addresses the fatal character of certainty. I am convinced that we can only progress through an ongoing questioning of assumed ‘certain beliefs’. This makes our profession a challenging, but at the same time fascinating, occupation. Our academic research into urban architecture has shaped the way we approach projects in our daily work. Over a span of six years we developed a typological collection of eight cities together with our students at ETH Zurich. The results of this research lead to two publications. More than ever, we are interested in universal architecture, which is not defined by the names of its authors, but has the power of an apodictic, timeless, almost archaic typology. We aim to create contemporary architecture that meets those standards. Our design process has since become more systematic and more focused on typology
4 – In that same interview you stressed, and now I simplify a little bit, the only one who can truly understand your architecture is you. Can you elaborate on this?
The process of developing a project is tremendously complex. The architect’s personal interests, practical constraints, requests of clients, economic conditions, etc., are deeply intertwined, and it’s the architect’s task to bring all these different and sometimes conflicting opinions and requirements together. I can’t remember the context of the statement you are referring to, but I sometimes find myself surprised by the comments about our work published in architecture magazines. Often, those interpretations start with a connotation or assumption about the building and then address the question of the architect’s intention. But this approach can’t capture the complex reality. A building’s qualities are not automatically part of a building’s narrative. The misconception lies in the idea of a mythical concept of authorship that might exist in the art world, but not in architecture.
5 – What would you love to design but haven’t had a commission for yet?
A new city.