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Since their start in 2000 KOKO Architects (Andrus Koresaar and RaivoKotov) have evolved on the tides of developments in Estonia, employing an intriguing combination of graphics and modest servitude, and literally building an identity for a new nation with new sense of self-esteem. It made them win the Young Estonian Architect Award 2015, but it didn’t make them conceited. ‘We believe in layers of time, and not so much in permanence.’

Between the KOKO office and the house of one of its partners is a tiny door. It’s invisible to who doesn’t know it, situated in the kitchen behind the dustbin. You have to bend deep to go through the door, designed to make it function like an Alice in Wonderland transformation. You enter from the one world to the other. ‘It’s so small on purpose, so that every time I enter it, I undergo some sort of transformation from private to work, from work to private life. As I do this 3 or 4 times a day, you understand how important it is.’ The story is illustrative of the way KOKO works. They feel comfortable in transforming big historical complexes, they have this way of adding something subtle and personal, and there is always a sense of relativity and humbleness. As if to illustrate that they are just one of the many tiny passers-by in many layers of time.

Having regained independency (as the Estonians like to put it, rather than having become independent) in 1991, the country was ready for its first appearance at the World Expo, the Hanover Expo in 2000. The commission was won by KOKO architects, formed by a recently graduated artist and an architect not even out of the Academy. For what is better for a young nation than to be represented by young talent? Now the country is preparing the celebration on a 100 years existence of the Estonian nation (ignoring the Russian and German supremacy between 1918 and 1991), while Russian pressure is again clearly sensible at the Baltic borders. KOKO is looking for ways to expand their practice outside Estonia, for example in Norway and Finland, both countries that have heavily influenced Estonian architecture. And to close the circle: they have just completed the interior of another national pavilion: at the EXPO Milan.

What made you win the World Expo competition in 2000, do you think?

We proposed a maritime theme to connect to the naval history of Estonia and maximum visibility so as to stand out between all the other countries. The result was a flowing movement high above the visitors’ heads, an undulating forest of fir trees, symbolizing both sea, woods and movement. The spectacular result was an instant success: 2.7 million came to visit the pavilion. For us ‘movement’ has become a recurring feature in our work. Not literally, but metaphorically. In this country every 30 years everything changes drastically. We don’t think that buildings or designs will keep their original functions for much longer than that.

(…)

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Excerpts from: Indira van’t Klooster: Temporal Layers – An Interview with KOKO Architects.  A10 Magazine #63. May/Jun 2015

 

 

 

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Pascale Dalix and Frédéric Chartier started their office 10 years ago. Coming from big offices like Herzog & De Meuron and Dominique Perrault it’s easy to recognize where they learned to play with surfaces and how to combine rationality and poetry. The shiny surfaces of the Young workers’ hostel, crèche and studios in Paris are quite different from the edgy facades of the Sciences and Biodiversity school in Boulogne-Billancourt (France), but the reasoning behind them is the same: ‘It’s the first question to ask and the last to answer, because we keep researching on better solutions during the process: ‘How can we enrich the program?’, say Frédéric Chartier and Pascale Dalix.

Since 2010 they have finished 10 projects with an office of 30 people. As such it is a fast growing office that likes to work in teams. Still, it’s a lot of buildings. One explanation is the way they like to collaborate with other architectural practices. Collaboration makes it possible to work on many buildings at the same time, as well as to experiment a bit with different styles and materials. Their oeuvre as such is not exactly homogeneous, but each building offers a fresh approach. What connects them is their fluidity of spaces: voids and floors interact of various functions and various scales.

How can you enrich the program?

We tend to treat our buildings as vertical micro-cities. French cities are so dense, we need to create valuable human living spaces in high quantities. This is only possible when we can also make a sort of recluse. A place that extends the city inside the building itself. To be able to do that within the strict budget limits we have learned to play with structures and spaces.

What’s the reason that you seldom use the ground floor for public amenities?

If all public functions are on the ground floor the rest of the program needs to come on top of that, which creates monocultures on the higher floors. And who has invented to put amenities on the ground floor? In the case of the 240 studios, we had a library, restaurant, a laundry and a fitness center for the young workers and a kindergarten to accommodate and we did not have enough place on the ground floor. By inserting extra program on the upper floors we bring life to all levels. Thus we have created public space that has more urban life than outside the building.

These topographical landscapes can also be created in schools. How do you manage that?

The limited available space in classrooms does not create proper learning environments. For example for the Sciences and Biodiversity school we have maximized the program to create space for a green roof. The green roof is not technological tour-de-force, but it’s also a pedagogic tool for the children. Did you know that 40% of the birds have been lost in the last decades in Paris? So we made an insect hotel and waterways for birds to hide, breed or sleep. Thus we add to the micro-climate of the whole building.It works like an ecosystem in itself. (…)

 

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Excerpts* from: Indira van’t Klooster: Fluidity of Spaces on All Scales– An Interview with Chartier-Dalix Architectes.  A10 Magazine #68. Mar/Apr 2016

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(*) As usual, there’s more to be found in the magazine itself.

NK 26 Robo Hunting_sm

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I’ve wanted to do one of these since I discovered Tom Gauld’s cultural cartoons for The Guardian. Of course, mine pales in the comparison, but still. check your robo-architectural skills!

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The original cartoon can be found as originally published in the “Klaus Kube” section of Uncube Magazine #36: Uncanny Valley, edited by Sophie Lovell, Florian Heilmeyer, Ron Wilson, Elvia Wilk et al.

NK 24 50 Years

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2014 marked the 50th anniversary of one of those ubiquitous landmarks of the 60s visionary scene, Amazing Archigram 4: The Science Fiction Issue, which saw a truncated attempt at a big-scale celebration on my part. Again, 2015 marked another 5-decade anniversary: this time, it was the publication of Reyner Banham’s ‘A Home is Not A House’ in the April 1965 of Art in America. ‘A home is not a House’ is an inevitable go-to place for any fan ´(I’m including architectural scholars here) of the capsule, expendable, or ephemeral architecture movement of the 1960-70s and beyond -and a nice counterpart to Banham’s own Megastructure.

Also, the article featured those simple-yet-captivating illustration/collages by François Dallegret (I mistyped ‘Dallegreat’ and was on the verge of leaving the typo as it worked so well) which have become a visual sine-qua-non of the time. Dallegret’s pictures were as much responsible for the success of the article as Banham’s always witty, subtly (and not so subtly) ironic and sometimes inflammatory prose. Another installation in Dallegret’s works dealing with complex machines (the article also featured some items of his ‘Automobiles Astrologiques’ series) and intricate detail, the ‘Environment Bubble‘ displayed an immediate, on-your-face rawness that contributed to its lasting appeal. The naked Dallegret and Banham clones inside the bubble were just the icing on the polemical cake. It is a pity that the ‘Banhams’ were just paste-ups of the writer’s head on the artist’s body, although, according to Mary Banham, it was the right choice -aesthetically speaking.

Anyone who’s been following this blog for a while has surely noticed I have a little more than a slight infatuation with Banham’s work and figure, in general, as well as for his collaboration with Dallegret -see ‘A Home Is Not A Mouse’ to ‘Full House vs. Full(er) House’, ‘Banham Style’, and several others published here and there. [‘There’ standing for architecture magazines not yet featured in the blog]. So, when I noticed an issue of Uncube entitled ‘Commune Revisited’ was in the works, I didn’t miss the occasion to fit in a little nod to Banham&Dallegret’s work before the year went by. [Another homage was included some months later in Arquine magazine, and it will show up here at some point, I guess]. I also contacted Mr. Dallegret at the time, and his response included some surrealistic talk about going to the supermarket and eating a banana. But I’m not going to comment on that.

For those interested in reading Dallegret’s actual thoughts, I’d strongly recommend revisiting this interview delivered on the occasion of the 2011 exhibition at the AA school of Architecture (curated by Thomas Weaver and Vanessa Norwood). ‘A Home is Not a House’ is all over the internet, and can be either checked online, or downloaded in pdf form. For those of you too lazy to click on links, you can find the full article below.

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The original cartoon can be found as originally published in the “Klaus Kube” section of Uncube Magazine #34: Commune Revisited, edited by Sophie Lovell, Florian Heilmeyer, Ron Wilson and Elvia Wilk et al. I’d check it right now, if I were you. Honest.

banham_home_not_house.pdf  banham_home_not_house.pdf  banham_home_not_house.pdfbanham_home_not_house.pdf banham_home_not_house.pdf banham_home_not_house.pdf

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Banham, Reyner, Dallegret, François: ‘A Home is Not a House’. Art in America, April 1965.

 

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So, It’s been half a year since I posted anything here. I’m not going to promise things will be different from now on, because it wouldn’t be the first (or nth) time I fail to keep that promise. In any case, for those who have stopped by here faithfully these last 6 months just to find there was nothing new, let’s dust off an old piece, published some time ago in A10 magazine.

As those among you who know me already know, I’m partially skeptical about the ‘new architectural collectives’ scene that has emerged with renewed strength in the last years, fueled by the crisis. Not that I have any problem with the concept per se, mind you: I am among those who think that the profession is in desperate need of change and diversification, on the one hand. We are not in Le Corbusier’s times anymore, and -maybe sadly, maybe fortunately- few of us will have the chance to be that kind of architect. Also, I certainly find it worthy that architects climb down from their ivory towers and talk face to face -and hopefully in the same language- to real people. You know, the ones who will use the buildings we design. More on this later.

However, even if I’m happy to see this change, I feel a little less enthused when I see it becoming just a trend, and when the much needed diversification of architectural practice(s) is substituted by a sameness of hipster poses. I’m all in for an putting an end to the ‘starchitect wannabe’ era. Let’s just not substitute it for a New Establishment of allegedly ‘committed’ architects… whose ultimate goal is, again, become famous in the architectural scene, just by using different means.

Amongst the maremagnum of ‘cool’ collectives, there are of course those who are genuinely interested in giving response to the architectural needs of today, and truly believe in collaborating with the public -or, what’s even better, in accepting members who are not architects themselves. Withing this last group, British collective Assemble has become a referent in its own right, even winning the Turner Prize in the process. The fact that some have declared the death of the famous award because of this only underscores that they’re doing the right thing.

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The Power of Many

Assemble are probably one of the most prolific and influential collective architecture practices nowadays in UK. Working on very different scale projects from public realm improvement strategies to building renovations or exhibition designs, their 18 members have a shared interest to create projects of real social value. They don’t usually self-start their own projects instead of waiting for commissions to come to them. The collective jointly work with communities, institutions and other clients to make projects happen, what in many cases means to build them in case it is necessary by themselves, learning as they go. From their working space SugarhHouse in London they are shaking up the architecture panorama in UK.

How did it all start?

It was in 2009 when the majority of people that later became Assemble were doing Part I architecture jobs working on small part of big projects, we all had some kind of collective desire to understand projects in a more holistic way and have hands on role and experiment and try things. There was a collective dissatisfaction. (…)

What is the leitmotiv for all your projects?

First that we all really want to do them. Secondly, Assemble is a broad church and people act here in many different ways and for many different reasons. We don’t try to push a manifesto but to give people as much freedom, resources and critical support to do the work that they want to do in the best way that they can and in the ways that this is necessarily possible within a traditional practice. It’s very important in Assemble that works as a horizontal structure where everyone’s got their responsibility for what they do and think. (…)

Do you think there is any shared philosophy in the collective practices?

From our experience talking to other practices or groups that are in a similar position and make similar things, we see that there’s a shared ambition and dissatisfaction that can probably be related with a lack of opportunities. When you talk to people they seem fairly to turn on innovation, they have a shared interest in making things differently, mixing life and work in a different way and have the control of your own and your projects. (…)

The project that encouraged your nomination is a project in collaboration with the residents of a rundown council housing estate. Can you explain this project into further detail?

The Granby Four Streets in Liverpool is a refurbishing project of a row of derelict terrace houses. These spaces have been abandoned for a number of years but used to be the nicest waterfront houses in the area. The council wanted to demolish them and build new ones from scratch, so we proposed to keep them and do them up. There we did design work but we mainly set up the conditions which enable design work to be done. We didn’t create a design brief with just drawings but designed a delivery method, closely working with the project manager, being on site every week and taking on an active role in the project. This also carried on hand-producing a lot of things working on very detailed scale. Our role there was not a traditional design role, it was a more expanded role, and we guess this is what is more interesting about this project and we guess this is also what the Turner Prize were interested in.

How do you see the architectural training scene?

It is worth to say that in Assemble we are not all architects and none of us is officially qualified as an architect and some of the people in the practice are teaching one to two days a week. We are very active and engaged with schools, many of us are currently teaching. The way we see the current training in UK is really good in preparing students for traditional practice. But in some way the training may be also limiting because this is a difficult job. The thing is that right now architecture schools have a much wider infrastructure and there are lots of people there doing a great job and finding pretty active back tools but only a few people are investing in what it means to teach, less concerned about re-examining this and make things better.

Excerpts* from: Gonzalo Herrero Delicado: The Power of Many– An Interview with Assemble.  A10 Magazine #66. Dec 2015

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(*) If you are interested in reading more, you’ll have to buy the magazine. They have bills to pay, too.

NK 23 -Pritzker 2015

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Back in March The Pritzker Award Committee announced that this year’s laureate would be Frei Otto. This was excellent news, especially for all megastructural-age nostalgics such as myself… if not for the unfortunate coincidence that Mr. Otto had sadly passed away a coupla days before that. Michael Graves, who passed away almost simultaneously, was not so lucky (I felt dirty I had done this some years earlier). Now, I’m not saying that Mr. (excuse me: Lord) Palumbo & friends changed their minds and tried to fix the mistake not to have awarded him a Pritzker in all these past occasions where they chose to reward today’s more popular and ‘kewl’ megastars… (I’m not saying it because I had actually drawn another cartoon just doing that -don’t look for it, it rests in one of my drawers). However, it would be nice if the Pritzker committee avoided pulling a Spencer Tracy and rushed a little to distribute those ones still missing. You’re running out of time, guys.

Here you have a few comments from other laureates praising Frei Otto. Please, try not to laugh at some of them.

Of course, the title is a pun on this.

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The original cartoon can be found as originally published in the “Klaus Kube” section of Uncube Magazine #33: Frei Otto, edited by Sophie Lovell, Florian Heilmeyer, Ron Wilson and Elvia Wilk et al. Worth checking, really.

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