A10 062_ALA-blog

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ALA is one of Finland’s success stories, winning a major competition at the age of 30, heading a 40+ employees’ office at 40 and now looking abroad for new opportunities. Besides redoing the Finnish embassy in New Delhi they are also working on the high profile new library in Helsinki. Still, they participate in both open and invited competitions. And now there looking for opportunities in America. But did they enter the Guggenheim competition? ‘That one did not meet our standards.’’

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Mahlamäki said that he appreciates the echo of Finnish Modernism in your work “with a touch of internationalism, mixing the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas with the Finnish Design-orientated approach.” Sounds like Kilden?

 We certainly like to rigorously analyze every situation we’re thrown into, still leaving room for intuitive results.

You have won several important commissions after Kilden, like Kuopio (A10#61) and the Helsinki New Library. Competitions are still an important part of your business strategy. How do you decide which competitions to take on and which you don’t?

We like competitions, both invited and open, that keep our minds and our presentational skills sharp. We set tight criteria as to which competitions to enter and which not (…).

Did you enter the Guggenheim competition?

No, it didn’t meet our criteria. […]

Mahlamäki also said, when I asked him: “I believe their skills and their ambition will carry them far. The Finns are normally shy, but ALA is not – they boldly show their passion and goals.” Do you?

I think we couldn’t possibly hide them if we tried.

What do you think about the younger generation of architects?

We are in a way old fashioned and middle aged. Who designs an opera building today or a metro station like we did? There are still competitions in Finland and abroad that can shape new offices. But the collaborative non-permanent approach of the younger generation is at odds with the more master plan-like projects coming up. We’ll see if it’s the architects shaping the system, or the other way around. Soon a competition for a large school will open and the winner will start a new office from that for sure, if they don’t already have it. It will be interesting to see whether it will be won by architects from a younger generation or by the older guys.

Excerpts* from: Indira van ‘t Klooster: Competitive spirit An Interview with ALA. A10 Magazine #62. March-April 2015

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(*) They aren’t really that laconic, these guys, as I made them look here. So, if you want to get a sense of what they sound like, I guess you’ll have no other option but buying the magazine (or googling other online interviews with them).

They still owe me a photo, though.

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Yes, unfortunately, this year’s scholarly life and my increasing committments with real publishing (aaahhh… money…) and its dreadful deadlines (ahhh…. my weekends…) has resulted in an almost total neglection of the blog. So, in order to catch up a little, let’s move on with the series of illustrations I’ve been doing for A10 magazine (@A10magazine) this past year. All of them were done to illustrate a still ongoing series of interviews with ‘young’ architects or architectural teams (because if you’re an architect under 40, you’re still young, you know? -suck that up, engineers!) conducted by A10’s editor, Indira van ‘t Klooster (@IndiraS). This one, from December 2014, featured NY-based firm SO-IL, run by Florian Idenburg, Jing Liu, and an old colleague from my Cambridge days, Ilias Papageorgoulias Papageorgiou. Dang, has it been so long already??

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Unlike most architects in Europe, you mainly work for private clients. Why is that?

In Europe, one thinks that governments take care of public space, but outside Europe it’s usually different. (…) It’s very usual for an architect there to be part of the funding efforts for his own design. To arrange for your own fee calls for a different mentality. (…) Personal contact with your client is more important, mutual appreciation is crucial. Also, with public funding, the most important thing is to deliver a building on time and within budget. Once those demands are secured, there is little debate about the design any longer. 

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What do you think would have happened if you had stayed in Europe?

My career would have been entirely different. It would have been harder, I believe, and I wouldn’t be where I am today. I learned the most by leaving the Netherlands, but I never intended to ‘escape’. We seek commissions in Europe (…).As an office, we are much more European than an average American practice, for example, when it comes to our attitude toward public space.

What would be your advice for young architects?

We are six years old now and have set the office on a track that currently allows us to work on a range of exciting projects around the world that engage culture and the public realm. The path of an architecture firm is inherently rocky. The people in our office are even younger than us. The new generation is much more flexible; it’s a more fluid generation. Traditional buildings will always be needed, but I think architects will find a wide range of new fields in which to work. Their skill set is ultimately suited for the demands of our time. Americans are unbeatable in their knowledge of computer coding, which is essential if you want to remain in control of your design. That’s something European architects should be concerned about—they know how to make a model, but very few have a clue about writing computer scripts.

Excerpts* from: Indira van ‘t Klooster: Reflections from overseas An Interview with SO-IL. A10 MAgazine #61. Jan-Feb 2015

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(*) For the rest you’ll have to buy the magazine. That’s the way it works. Toughen up.

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In your view, how do design and architecture relate?

It starts with architecture; that’s what I have been involved in the longest. MWA [Makers With Agendas] is an extension of that, but in some ways it goes further. It is easier distributed and available for more people. A building is a single event and is eventually only used by a few. It has a given set of users. MWA has extended our reach and our ideas to a larger population.

Ideas like obesity, education, areas of conflict… huge and complicated stuff.

If the issues are bigger, the products are smaller and more pervasive. We’re not trying to be freaks, but the reverse creation process we’re setting up is like an anomaly, if compared to the big brands. As we develop and extend our resources, we can make more complex products that need more research and thus more money, but are also more influential. The issues at stake sometimes lead to the conclusion that a real resolution would be a change in the law, but as far as our capacity goes now, it’s though the ingenuity of our designs that we aim to make life better. […] MWA derives from an urge to understand other forces that drive the world. My architecture goes in the same direction, but to really address societal issues one needs to utilize other tools and cover other topics.

Have you implemented ideas from MWA back into your architecture?

We have a project, a new mobile home. William Ravn asked me to design his summer house. So we discussed it as a general issue first. Consumption of land is becoming problematic. Small retreats are a big burden on the planet, and they are hardly used, they pollute the landscape and eventually contribute to the financial stress of a country. I wanted to challenge that typology and the mobile home typology. […] I would definitely apply MWA knowledge back into architecture when it makes sense. Before MWA, in 2005, we did the GANG School in Copenhagen, where we implemented a few ideas. It was a school for expelled kids, to keep them off the streets. It was a complete hybrid in that sense. […]

What innovation in architecture is most needed at the moment?

We need to increase urbanity and natural settings at the same time. The city needs to improve in its environment. In China, I never see the sun. It’s really spooky, because of the smog. If we could live and work in a city rethought as an ecosystem where biodiversity and density would cohabit, we would, for instance, massively reduce transportation while maintaining quality of living, which would make a huge difference.

Excerpts* from: Indira van ‘t Klooster: On a scale of hybrid – An Interview with Julien de Smedt. A10 MAgazine #60. Nov-Dec 2014

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(*) Yes, you’ll have to buy the magazine if you want to read the rest.

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(*I know there’s a Numerus Klausus Cartoon missing; I’m saving that one for later). You’ll excuse me if I don’t comment much, but I pulled an all-nighter yesterday. Now, plug your Tito and Tarantula’s ‘Greatest Hits’, and relax.

The original cartoon can be found as originally published in the “Klaus Kube” section of Uncube Magazine #25: Soft Machines, edited by Sophie Lovell, Florian Heilmeyer, Ron Wilson and Elvia Wilk et al., which is full with Luna Parks, neutrino detectors, night walkers in nocturnal london (this one’s particularly worth checking), an article on NY’s 1977 Blackout (which was also the sunject of the inaugural issue of The New City Reader), and a lot more…

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I used to have a blog, didn’t I?

Ok, so, now I got my life back, I’ll possibly be updating the blog with all the stuff which, forcefully, has kept being produced throughout all these months. And, for starters, a couple of takes on the cartoon produced for Uncube #25, ”Soft Machines’ (yes, we’re that behind), within the ‘Numerus Klausus series. A no-prize to anyone who finds all the nods to Ridley Scott’s Alien, Frank Miller’s Ronin, Tsutomu Nihei’s Blame!, Dave Taylor’s Big Robots (a great Judge Dredd story, by the way), Luc Schuiten, Neri Oxman, et al, which can be seen in the ‘cinemascope’ version below:

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The original cartoon can be found as originally published in the “Klaus Kube” section of Uncube Magazine #25: Soft Machines, edited by Sophie Lovell, Florian Heilmeyer, Ron Wilson and Elvia Wilk et al., which is full with bio-cities, microbial homes, micotecture, interactive edible products, etc.

klaus-JE SUIS CHARLIE

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Caught in the quiet desperation of my mundane daily tasks, which for the last 6 months have meant an interrupted 24/7 working routine, I had finally decided -‘given up’ would be a more suitable expression- not to comment on last Wednesday’s massacre. I would be too late, possibly too lame, and certainly redundant, in the wake of the massive, comforting response coming from voices everywhere out there. Anything I could offer would have to be rushed, and probably too banal. And if there’s something this doesn’t deserve is to be banalized –or to be instrumentalized as a way to self-promote oneself, which is also an inevitable side effect of those tragedies-gone-viral. I understand the power of ‘every little voice joining the chorus’ >insert proper English idiom here<, but when figures such as Albert Uderzo have already offered their own contribution, I’d rather back off and listen to them.

But then, this morning I came across David Brooks’ piece in yesterday’s edition of The New York Times, ‘I am not Charlie Hebdo’, which after consternating me with its deceptive title, stroke me as a particularly lucid comment on those who call themselves proponents of the freedom of speech… but just in the right amount, ok?

In his piece, Brooks rightly argues that

“…the journalists at Charlie Hebdo are now rightly being celebrated as martyrs on behalf of freedom of expression, but let’s face it: If they had tried to publish their satirical newspaper on any American university campus over the last two decades it wouldn’t have lasted 30 seconds. (…) Public reaction to the attack in Paris has revealed that there are a lot of people who are quick to lionize those who offend the views of Islamist terrorists in France but who are a lot less tolerant toward those who offend their own views at home.

So this might be a teachable moment. As we are mortified by the slaughter of those writers and editors in Paris, it’s a good time to come up with a less hypocritical approach to our own controversial figures, provocateurs and satirists.(…)

In most societies, there’s the adults’ table and there’s the kids’ table. The people who read Le Monde or the establishment organs are at the adults’ table. The jesters, the holy fools and people like Ann Coulter and Bill Maher are at the kids’ table. They’re not granted complete respectability, but they are heard because in their unguided missile manner, they sometimes say necessary things that no one else is saying.

Healthy societies, in other words (…) do grant different standing to different sorts of people. Wise and considerate scholars are heard with high respect. Satirists are heard with bemused semirespect (…). The massacre at Charlie Hebdo should be an occasion to end speech codes. And it should remind us to be legally tolerant toward offensive voices, even as we are socially discriminating.”

And that is precisely the point: Maybe Brooks ‘is not’ Charlie Hebdo. Maybe he doesn’t agree with their opinions, maybe he finds them unnecessarily harsh, occasionally puerile or offensive. I, myself, find some of their stuff amazingly clever, some other rather trite, some too gross, some directly unfunny. And, the point is: It doesn’t matter. You don’t have to like it. You don’t have to agree with it. You don’t have to buy the magazine, because whether you like it or not is ultimately irrelevant.

Some years ago, Stephen Fry, in one of his most (among his many) memorable quotes said “It’s now very common to hear people say, ‘I’m rather offended by that.’ As if that gives them certain rights. It’s actually nothing more… than a whine. ‘I find that offensive.’ It has no meaning; it has no purpose; it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. ‘I am offended by that.’ Well, so fucking what?” He couldn’t put it in a more eloquent way. People get offended. I get offended on a daily basis: By so-called politicians, by people who call themselves socialists as long as their money is safe -or, you know, those who believe in democracy as long as they are the ones who rule-, by TV programs where idiots are paid great sums for exhibiting their own idiocy, and become role models right away, by architects who think they can speak about anything art/philosophy/science-related -and people have to listen to them- because, you know, they practice Architecture (capital A here), by so-called academics who… the list is endless.

So, as Stephen Fry so aptly puts it, fucking what? The ability of human beings to be offended by the most diverse causes is infinite. Does this mean there are topics that shouldn’t be addressed? Are there things we shouldn’t be able to joke about? Why? Because they offend someone? Because they lack good taste? So what? Who defines good taste? Where are the guardians of good taste every time I turn on my TV set? You don’t like Howard Stern’s show? Ok, I can understand it: So don’t watch it.

So, you’re not Charlie Hebdo. That’s ok, it doesn’t matter. You don’t have to like it. Just be glad it can be published*.

[*With my apologies to David Brooks for my butchering of his much more complex article, to the followers of this blog for the lack of a cartoon, and to Simone Florena for my clumsy manipulation of his photograph]

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[…] The Polish pavilion in Shanghai is probably the most famous and also most evocative project of WWAA. How would you describe it? How does it relate to your other work?

I came through several different phases with this project; first is was like with your first newborn, a strange feeling of being in some movie, with a complete stranger sucking life from you :) Afterwards, I was briefly in love, proud that it had grown into such big and strong being. Then, I was for a few years a little bit ashamed of it, before finally, not long ago, being able to embrace this project fully, as a not perfect but most important achievement. I think also that it might be our big luck, that this very first project was temporary and does not have to stand the test of time – in terms of functionality and durability, because the aesthetics where meant to work in this very moment.

Expo Pavilion was no doubt very defining for the profile of our practice; many investors where expecting copy-cats of this project. I hope we managed to find a cross of what was expected of us and what felt genuine and inspired at the moment. I would like to say that our approach to each project is completely different, but obviously that would be completely false and naive; we do follow some well recognized paths and use shortcuts.

What are you working on now mostly?

We’re quite busy with some projects we’re doing in Qatar, recently we won a small competition there. Part of our team is almost daily on site, as we’re finishing two buildings in Warsaw. We’re also working on several really interesting exhibitions and one temporary pavilion. What’s new, we’re also involved in some urban scale projects; we just finished competition entry for public square in Warsaw, where involved in workshops concerning another one, and are preparing master plan for a post industrial district.  These projects kind of demand different set of skills, which is good, cause keeps us on guard.

What do you think about the position and attitude of young practices at the moment?

When we where at the starting point, there where many practices having nice websites with many impressive projects – but only in renderings. It felt somehow phony/artificial, and now I’m really happy to see that many young architects start with small scale projects, having them realized, thus showing through their work some special skills, such as being socially sensitive or having nice touch with materials, details, or any other. Of course I’m not opposed to doing competitions or study projects, but just feel that in our job it is so important to have frequent reality checks.

Indira van ‘t Klooster: Freedom of Flexibility – An Interview with Natalia Paszkowska, from WWAA Architects. A10 MAgazine #59. Sept-Oct 2014

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WWAA stands for Warsaw Architects, but a lot of their work currently takes place in Qatar. The office itself is located in KOMIN 73 (‘Factory Chimney 73′), a revitalized post-industrial complex, where activities ranging from design, graphic art, photography and fashion, to web and parametric design, 3D mapping and animation also reside. In the summer, an outdoor terrace hosts informal events. For a glimpse of what WWAA are producing, take a look at their website.

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