Peter Märkli, “My Profession, The Art of Building”


Good evening and welcome. Thank you all very
much for being here on this wonderful
Monday evening so close to the reviews and the
end of the semester. So we’re really appreciative. It’s an incredible treat to be
able to have Peter Markli here with us tonight. And I think it’s even
a very special honor that Peter is here
with his family, Elisabeth and Anna, that
have come from Zurich. I’ve been trying to get
Peter to come and give a talk for a few years. And it’s really wonderful
that he is here. I could say a lot
about him, and I won’t. But we have been friends
and collaborating. And it was a
wonderful thing for me to be able to work
with Peter on his book, his first book for
publication called Approximations, which happened
now about 15 or 16 years ago. And I think it took
us quite some time to get to the point
of having the book. And of course since then,
we’ve had many other encounters and conversations about
other projects, which we also hope that there would be
some other publications that will be happening. In addition to that book
Approximations, Peter has also had a number of
recent publications, one on drawings and another
monograph about his work called Everything
one invents is true, which was published
last year and is, in a sense, a sort of companion
publication to the book Approximations that
was done in 2002. Why call the book
Approximations? And in a way, in short,
part of the reason is because the way in
which Peter Markli works is always, in a sense, trying
to approach some version, if you like, of the concept of
the ideal, of ideality, and deliberately
not achieving it, not to try and do things
that essentially are perfect. So the concept of approximating
the ideal and the notion of approximation itself was
a very important, in a way, phenomenon to use as a
reference point for the book. The other thing that will
probably become quite apparent in the presentation is that
from the very beginning, from the very beginning
of his training, thinking, and practice, Peter
has had a number of very specific reference
points, where he lived, where he studied,
who he studied with. And I think from that early
stage, two figures, one Rudolf Olgiati, the father of Valerio
Olgiati that many of you know, and a sculptor called Hans
Josephsohn that he will show were, in a sense, two reference
points between architecture and sculpture. And the materiality of the
work of Hans Josephsohn is obviously a very important
presence in his work. The other thing is really the
constant reference to history and the way in which history
is very present in the project of contemporary architecture. And this is something
that many of us have been discussing about
the relevance of history and the manner in
which we might be able to refer or utilize or
make history something that is present. But it’s very difficult to speak
about those things and for you to imagine Peter’s practice as
something which in some form or fashion is conventional,
because it isn’t. I think that his
practice is very unconventional by
contemporary standards. And I want to just read
you a few lines from– because I was just
going through the book that we did and I did in 2002– and just for you to
capture something of the method or work. Because Peter basically
works by himself, even though he has
an office, which is an office that realizes
his work and his production. But he himself works alone. So in the context
of an institution, when someone like me constantly
talks about collaboration, he is someone who is
really, in some ways, very much working as an artist
in a studio producing work, not in constant
communication with others. So maybe these few lines
will give you a sense. It’s a longer piece,
so I won’t read it. But just because this
is the way that the book Approximation starts
about Peter’s work. It starts with a quote
from Paul Cezanne to Charles Camoin in
1902 where he says, “I have little to tell you. Indeed one says more
and perhaps better things about painting when
facing the motive than when discussing purely speculative
theories, in which, as often as not, one loses oneself.” Like Cezanne, Peter
Markli also believes that one can say better
things about one’s work when facing it,
addressing it directly. Perhaps that is why despite a
highly articulate formulation of his ideas, he
has spoken little during a 20-year
professional career that has produced some apparently
simple yet remarkable buildings. Even by the usually reticent
standards of Swiss architects, Markli has been more
self-reflective than most. He spends long periods
thinking through every aspect of his projects from
inception to realization, yet he has not previously
documented his work in a systematic fashion. This publication will
hopefully go some way towards remedying that
intentional neglect. In many respects, Markli
works in self-imposed exile from the normal conventions
of running a practice. He works alone, and
the studio where he spends most of the time
developing the initial drawings and models for projects is in
an anonymous, rundown, courtyard building close to the
periphery of Zurich. That’s how it used to be. That area has become
much more fashionable now in Zurich, so in
the last 15 years. But I’m saying these
things just for you to get a flavor of the
circumstance, the environment, the kind of conditions that
an architect uses in order to find the productive
conditions for his work and the way in which he
oscillates constantly between drawing in
a very direct way and how those drawings
then become really part of the material
of a building, an office building, an
institutional building, and so on. It’s a really incredible
dedication and devotion to architectural practice. There’s a lot more to
say, but we should really hear from Peter Markli. And as you know, we have
someone in San Francisco who’s doing this simultaneous
translation for us. It’s a first for us. So with best wishes
to Peter Markli, would you please welcome Peter. Thank you. [applause] [speaking german] I welcome you cordially
to this presentation. My profession was art of
buildings, which means that that became my language. Art of building means that
with your profession– that is, the art of
building, but there are also painters, moviemakers,
writers, and so on– that you try to express
your view of the world with your products,
with your buildings. This is a very early
building of mine. You can see it’s a
duplex residential house. I was very young at the time. I did have a language, but the
language was still very limited because I was young. But I didn’t have a small,
limited feeling, emotion. The emotion is there. You don’t need an education. My passion was
great at this time. And passion, emotion, and
language were still limited. And that was the building
that I built for two families. And what I always was interested
in was that the building has a mood, that it
exudes something, has an appeal which can give
the people some kind of dignity. This is the meaning of our
profession, the purpose of our profession, whether
it’s a single building or urban planning project. The floorplan of the two-family. And here you see these circular
elements which, for example, my students left out. But these are so-called columns. And when architects today
leave out the columns, it’s legitimate,
but they will have to be able to explain exactly
why they are omitting them. And the column,
in our profession, was the most expensive element
that you could possibly have. And they have to take
responsibility if they leave linguistic or language elements
in the art of the building out or if they retrieve them,
because some elements need to be retrieved, because the
classical modern age cannot represent the entire
future to come. But classical modernism has
to be reviewed critically. Next slide, please. The next, please. [speaking german] In the middle, you’ll
find this two-story hall. Then you have the
interior of one. Next, please. [speaking german] And a photograph of the outside. You can see there is
a little door frame. And I would like to explain
to you with these three photographs how I arrived
at this type of design. I was there visiting. And we mostly
discussed this area that I pointed out
in that building. This is a place where
much was invested in. And Rudolf Olgiati has
built in these areas where they had these
archaic columns. And about the
chapter structure, he said that there needed to
be an intermediate space between the columns
and what is behind. So it’s floating
over the columns. And every chapter structure
that has been built has this same function. It’s an architectural
element that will always produce shadow. And if a leaf is shown
on the chapter structure, then it is the element in a tree
that can carry the least load. So building does not always
mean to show how heavy a load is but to try to abstract from
the load to dematerialize. And this is what
I was using here. This model from Rudolf Olgiati. And the general model was
this Roman-style church. And you see that elements
were taken from there. And together with the columns,
it has gotten this design. It was said at the outset that
I got to know the sculptor Hans Josephsohn during my studies. And at that time, big
museums were built in Paris, for example. And we had these
fantastic discussions that we could actually make
a building, one specifically designed for his
works in Switzerland. And this was then
implemented in Ticino. In the north, you have the Alps. And in the south, to the south,
you have the Gotthard line. So this is a very small
place with a very nice Romance-style church. And the building is set in the
situation between the river there. Next, please. And the structure
of the building, the shape of the
building is such that you see the traces of work. These are side views here. And these sculptures were
suitable for being lined up in rows. We selected two types
of sculptures, reliefs and semi-sculptures. And we needed space
around these sculptures. Height was not the most
decisive element here. And as I said
before, this building was designed specifically
for these sculptures. And what I understand
by the art of building is actually expressed
in this area. The idea is the side
view of the building. And the question
when working on it was, can this narrow
lower part cooperate– can two parts cooperate to
create a joint impression? So these are traces of work. It’s the same thing as
when a writer starts to delete something. You see the variations here. Art of building means
you have an idea, but that does not
mean that you also are looking through
variants that might be totally different,
that you study variations. And this is how it
was eventually built. So there was a little recess
built in through which incident light comes in. So light from the top
asymmetrically placed. This is the ground plan,
a very simple plan. For me, the question
always is, what do you understand by imagination? What do you understand
by language? Architecture is a language. There are conventions
between people to be able to communicate. Or is language
privatized in a manner so that the next person
will not understand it? The art of building
is developed in a way that you definitely
have to create a relationship with the past. There has to be a
connection to the past. You cannot reinvent
or invent yourself. And what you do must
appear fresh and novel in terms of current conditions
but not detached from our past, from what has been there before. So we look into the past
and rebuild the future. So you have to decide for
yourself how much you allow of that to get into your work. So the ground floor
is really very simple. You have these various chambers. And you have a general
rectangular long stretch with two doors in the middle. And these are the spaces
in which these sculptures were exhibited. And this is the only
space, so the doors are of the same length. And the asymmetrical is
depending on the situation. So the access door is facing
away from the village. You will see that later. If that was a
supermarket, the door would be on the other side. And the spatial can show
you what my question always is when we discuss
about the language of the art of building. If I personally walk around a
building by, say, Frank Gehry, does it have various
different sides? Or are these sides all uniform? And does this overall plan
have more varied sides than the building by Gehry? The other question is– and I’m saying that because I
have traveled from far away– if I explain a language
as the constructs– I’m interested like
the deconstructivists in things like build
horizontally or not build horizontally. And language, of
course, is not complete. If I have to build horizontally
for various reasons, I can leave the language. And I have not met yet
any deconstructivist who would want to eat his food
from a table that is askance. And these are the
questions that you have to ask young people
from all the offers that are available today. What is the language
you wish to speak? The sectional view,
different room heights. And this is how you approach
the building from the village. You have the top light there. There’s just a transparent
plate with Japanese films. It lets diffused light into the
building and no shadows at all. Here you see this
small entrance. You have to get the key
down from the village, and then you can enter
the museum there. Can you go back one? One, one. Yeah. [speaking german] So that was the drawing. And this idea is not far away
from what was eventually built. These are early
works by Josephsohn created in the 1950s. In inverted commas,
abstract reliefs, then the deep space with
these plastic reliefs, this row of plastic reliefs. And here is the room
with the sculptures. They have to be away from
the wall and be on pedestals. So the spatial
reaction is important. Here it was a real
experiment, because there was no comparable building. So this is a fairly narrow room. Usually if you try to
place such sculptures, you will make the room wider. And what we wanted was that the
sculptures speak for themselves and are not arranged
within a space. These small chambers for
doing a 90-degree movement. It’s a very rough concrete. And we then got a contract
to build new headquarters building for Synthes company
on a former military premises. And this building is used
to produce surgical parts for all the bone fractures, like
screws and other parts needed to heal fractures. This is the former barracks, the
military object that was here. This first building is protected
under the Monument Act. The urban planning
situation is it’s close to a river outside
of the city of Solothurn. We designed this
building in connection with the Baroque city. This long building and
the arsenal were taken, and between the two,
a space was created. The contractor wanted an
underground parking space there. And we said, you
cannot do that here. We wanted to have
the parking space out here so that the
longitudinal building, this oblong building,
gets a specific design. We included parking decks
and extended the arsenal with these parking decks. So the entire area
was usually thought to be meant for the public. These are the sketches we made. This is the top view. They are different from the
drawings, because the drawings, they look into the
language, into the design of the building,
and these sketches, they capture such
different things, like the positioning,
this urban planning situation, the way the building
looks in its environment. And that was the
centerpoint first. And step by step, it was
moved closer towards the river to create an urban space
between the arsenal and the new building. And a large part of my work,
which I love very much, is the search for an idea
of a given spatial program that we translate
or have to transcend into what later will– yes, of course, will
fill the functions, but which also has a mood
that it reaches human beings, the soul of human beings. So these sketches,
these ideas are always made on smaller sheets
of paper, A4 letter size. You see the arsenal here
again, the parking decks, and this vertical element
of the new building and the driveway and the river. This is very economical as
far as cost is concerned. And I recommend that
you never forget about all these
offers that today that you need to draw
all by hand still. Economical means you can carry
it with you in your pocket. You can take it out in a cafe. And art in general is highly
economical and efficient. It is very important
to say different things with one and same element. If a building has
superfluous parts, then it’s no longer
art of the building. We have to look to what we
need to express our feelings and everything that
is too much has to be found and be left out. And that is the great art. It is not great
art to overdo it. To know what precisely expresses
my abilities, current abilities in the moment, and what
expresses the program, that is decisive. Here again you have a ground
floor plan of the arsenal. You see a high roof and
these super verticals. So this is now a project drawing
of the arsenal with the parking decks in the back. It was applied stones. It’s the same stones used to
build the Baroque city center. And also the new
building has parts of this typical material
of the town, together with other materials, of course. A sectional view here. And then these wonderful– for me– wonderful works
where you just have dots, nothing but dots. And these dots sometimes can
mean an architectural element or a tree. And when you look
through it in diagonal, these incredibly complex
structures are developed. This is the ground
floor of that building. Here we have the
parking structure. So the ground floor
is structured such that it has an
entrance into the yard. This is a
representative entrance. There is not a single
separation between these spaces. It’s just the way in which
the materials or stairs that were used inside, you
can see that you either come from one side to
the other or vice versa. There’s a formal
hall, a lecture hall. Yeah, this is the
lecture hall here. A room for practical
exercises and the workshop. So this is asymmetrically
styled along the river. In the upper stories,
we propose that this is the actual communication
surface, communication area. So you can create individual
office spaces up there. How do you arrive at the design? I think that’s the
story of our profession is that you prepare
for every day, and then you have some sort of
a vocabulary on which you can build and process a project. This is a very small sketch. But this sketch is
very important for me, because sketches can make
things that are of iron cast. If you draw them 100 times,
no longer that iron cast. And the same we
find in mathematics, if you know an equation, you
can derive others from it. And if you do not know the
equation and only a derivation, it is possible to
discover some way that hasn’t been seen before. And these sketches
are exactly the same. You have these clusters
here, and they’ve coincided in one point
from the vertical elements. And I made several sketches. Once again, you see
the chapter structure is in the horizontal plane. It starts with a
small relief here. And it optically guides
the eye very strongly into this horizontal play. And afterward, you find
nodes between elements. Here is everything in
the horizontal plane. And we submitted this
sheet for a competition. You see the ancient architects
looked at it this way. You have the column. You have the
superstructure reliefs. And we took all that that you
see on the left-hand side, and it was summarized
in this node here. And this is the consequence
of these drawings. The element in this building,
the vertical element, it was then split
up and the node. These are the parking decks. And if everything gets
these stone applications, then it will be more expensive. And so we just applied
them here and there. And these interspaces
emerged because they wanted to have a joint here. And so we left a
large interspace. The material from
this arsenal and then applied to this other
structure, applied to this concrete structure. And you see the pavement there. It is cobblestoned. You see the columns
here at some spacing. The new building is in
this big landscape area, so the spans are enormous. And what we thought is
the so-called facade is not that alone, but in
combination with this part. And this basically makes
up the general appearance. And so it’s bound back with
the help of this node there. Whether this is a residue
of a classic socket is a different question. And in this portion,
we address the scale of the people that are
moving about in here. These pillars were painted
with a color of white so that the gray color
can shine through. Next, please. Next, please [speaking german] Here you see these nodes again
moving all the way to the top. This is the entrance hall
with the main staircase on this side, very lofty
and a very bright atrium. And then these
corner rooms, where you have a number of
rooms to hold meetings in. And I was not just an architect. I had also friends
who were artists. I knew painting. I knew sculptures. And I had no difficulty to
work with these new conditions in architecture, because I
had very many language options that I discovered in
architecture from painting and from sculpturing,
sculpturing as far as joining things and as far as
painting is concerned, this wall, for example. Only half of the material
is on a gray priming. This is the portion
where the workshop is. This table and the workshop,
everything is open. And then we have
curtains as part of art elements in the building. Various students had
project proposals, and these are what they proposed
for these spatial curtains built like tubes. The lecture hall. Once again, curtains and rods. And the informal lecture
hall, where you come in. You find the textile
material here, a leather, incorporated here. The offices. And here you have a
view of the interspace. Back, the view towards
this Baroque city. And the view towards the river. It’s a column building. And now we are coming
to a studio house. We were asked to build
it by two musicians. And they were talking about a
spatial program, a house where the workplace formed the center
of the house and the rooms that you would normally
call your living rooms were organized
practically like the crust of a bread around the studio. This is the situation. Very modest buildings,
very beautiful landscape. This is sketch showing the
height lines, the entrance. And number one
would be the studio. Another sketch of
how you approach this structure and the facade
for this entrance situation. And in this section, you can
see it was important to me that the roof did not have
exactly the same inclination as the slope had but went
into the same direction. And then there is a basement
only here in the front. Otherwise, we would have to
dig out material at the back. And the side facing the
valley is open, very open with these layered, fragmented
walls that create shadows. So the actually surrounding
wall that goes around here is not repeated in
the upper story, because that would
have a dramatic effect. This is a ground floor plan. There’s a very small
curvature here. And the entrance goes directly
into the studio, or this way. Here is a narrow room,
living room and kitchen. And upstairs, where you have a
bathroom, a toilet, very narrow rooms for the children. And it was built in this
manner and integrated. It fits into this landscape. And you can see
these layered walls. Otherwise, it looks very much
like a conventional building. So what we [inaudible]
here most of all is this wall that
faces the valley. You see a very big gutter,
and the wooden structures between these concrete
wall elements. This is the building where
the people lived in– had a budget. The budget has nothing
to do, in my view, with the art of the building. The question is if an architect
can handle a budget or not. If you have a smaller budget,
that doesn’t mean you cannot create any art, and it doesn’t
automatically mean that the spaces have to be small. But the main topic is the people
in Switzerland, [inaudible] people in Switzerland,
have this idea. And what I know, that for
some of them, the toilet bowl or a golden
water tap is more important than the actual space. But these owners of the building
were very open to any ideas. And I made a drawing of the
house and met with the owners. And then it was too
expensive for them. And then we just sat
together at the table and talked about places
where we can save money. And we did not give up
any square foot of space. So it’s a bituminous roof. It has electrical bottom. And the walls were protected
because they were not– they’re just walls, not visible,
and painted a little bit. And we used a type
of insulation called foam glass, which is black. And we left these black parts
of the insulation deliberately visible. So we have bricks, white
collar, red outlets, and black insulation. This is the kitchen. It is mobile, so you
can move it around. This is a gas range and oven. The bricks here are painted
up to a certain height, also not all the way down. And you see the wall
is a little rougher, and the gray color
shines through. The gray from the concrete
can be an element, and the red of the brick
can be part of the design, and the black of the insulation
can be part of the design. So all together, if it works,
is essential and very beautiful house built with very
simple materials. And another building
can be as beautiful using more exclusive materials. And both can have the
same level of art in them. Here you see the
furnishings, a floor lamp and various instruments,
a big table, a fireplace. Working and living area
completely unified. There’s the insulation. And they happen to have
a closet like that. The shower and bathroom. And so this light up there,
we made a frame, a white frame so that we could put
the electric cable down. And we knew we would make
this type of framework. So this is the
general light, not the vanity light or intimate
light that you sometimes also have in a bathroom. Next is the film, please [speaking german] For the first time in my life,
I had a video camera in my hand and did something. And an employee of mine
actually made it visible what I did there. [music playing] And put music to it. That was the [inaudible]. [music playing] And then we had dinner in there
together with the musicians. The last person you
saw is the composer. Many thanks for your attention. [applause] I hope you have some
questions for Peter. There’s so many issues that
are raised in the work. And I’d rather we devote
the time to your questions. I’m always happy,
as you know, to be the person asking questions. We already have a hand out here. Could we get a mike here? And you can use– This? Yeah. Thank you so much
for the lecture. Can you hear in German? I have a few questions
about your relationship with Hans Josephsohn. Wait, wait, [inaudible]. So one of the work
that you showed, the museum for his sculpture,
the proportion to me, the sculpture, the
proportion of sculpture inside of the building– the proportion of the
building, they somehow match together very perfectly. But because the works,
the sculptures are old, they’re not going to shrink– but I wonder if you would
have another museum for him of relatively new
works and the works are going to shrink, I
assume, then how do you– I’m just curious how important
the dimension of the sculpture is to your building. And if the sculpture shrinks,
then would you be irritated? [music playing] I’m sorry. First of all, these
sculptures can be exchanged, can be moved around. The second is its typologies. And the typologies range
from 1950 to the year 2000. So there are reliefs from the
1950s and reliefs from 2000. The third, the building, the
entire structure and campus, is the most favorable house
you can see for 40 sculptures. The question is if
it’s effective or not. And if it is effective. Now I know, well, I was
about 30 years old back then. Then I today don’t know if
I had another opportunity to create a place for this
sculptor Josephsohn, what this would look like. I have no idea. But I do have ideas to
answer your question how I would build museums. But we all lose
these competitions when we propose these, because
they are nonconformist. And you will actually
make a statement what is decisive and
important for the future. And if you talk about
art, art basically belongs to the people. And I am asking myself, I’m
wondering why all our museums are so bunker-like,
why they are– I know about insurance
issues and this and that. But one could
create a more open, or at least the appearance of
a more open and more inviting design. And I find it quite
questionable how they’re designed
towards the outside, towards the audience,
the visitors. I would be very interested
to exhibit [inaudible] where a farmer goes by with his truck. And I have made this proposal,
but it was not accepted. And once again, Alberto
Giacometti would also be great. So there’s many great things. But if I ever were to build
something again for Josephsohn, I think I would be most
intrigued by needing even less money but be as good. That would be my incitement
for the next project. And with these
bronze sculptures, it’s not difficult with
the air of the climate in the room, the air
conditioning of the room. It is the humidity that
is damaging to paintings. If you have low humidity, you
see paintings in old buildings and churches that survive. What I didn’t quite understand
is what you’re shrinking, but you– plastics? If you reduce the scale. So the art is dependent
on the scale, right? So not shrinking. But if Josephsohn’s
sculptures are very big, if you were dealing
with sculpture that was smaller-scale, would the scale
of art and the architecture– OK, yeah. That’s not the
question of the size, never, never, because
if you will give me a sculpture like
that, I will build you a sock, enormous sock, that
the sculpture became very big. And you can [german]. And you can save a lot
of money in doing so. [laughter] And if Josephsohn had very
large or very tall sculptures– but this is a theoretical
question which you actually are not allowed to ask,
because if you see his reliefs and his references
to human figure, his sculptures are just barely
larger than a regular human being would be. I don’t know. I cannot imagine if he had
made monumental works of art. It’s simply– but
as an architect, I could also accommodate
a very large sculpture. Please. Hello. I would like to
ask you in the way that history is important
to you in context, as we saw in your lecture, how do
you go about using history and not fall in the trap of
using it just as an image but actually as the very
complex thing that it is? How do you use the essence
of history in your project? Thank you. [speaking german] We have an advantage
compared to art historians. We have to perceive
history with our eyes and not by reading books. We are not bound
to a chronology, but we are required. For our question, our things
we need in the present, we have to look into the past
to find potential answers. And art always means to build
on previous art, previous work, and to transform it into
present-day and future meanings. That is the process. And because our present
in social matters as well as in building
physical matters has completely new
issues and questions, it is impossible to
build in a retro style, because we have
completely new questions that we need to answer. And if you take these
seriously, every time has two, three very
important issues which are answered in
a sovereign manner when you accept the content
of these issues as issues and do not create
readymade sculptures and transport them
into the present. Form has to find itself
in a new way every time. Otherwise, it is not
topical, not current. If you have the
American Expressionists, there’s no need to paint
them a second time, because the very
specific conditions they had to get to their works. Do you know the article
Barnett Newman in 1948 that he wrote in The Nation? It’s very beautiful
how he worded it. I don’t even know
if I can get it right from the top of my head. You want me to quote him? He said, based on the historical
situation where he was and where the Europeans were,
he also knew European art very well, that the Europeans
always stick to the motive and the subject and
cannot get away from it, not even Mondrian. And the Europeans
were capable of taking these subjects and to transcend
them into a spiritual world. The American Expressionists had
taken pure ideas, no subject, no topic, just a pure idea. And if it comes to transcending
that into a spiritual world, they can transcend
their abstract the world into a very real and
perceivable world. And you as an architect always
have a job, a program, that is, always try certain parameters. And you have to
just take it as it is without whining
about the budget or because there
were parasites there and there are these
problems, those problems with the electricity and
because the craftsmen don’t know what they’re doing. Stop whining about
all these issues. If you want to be an architect,
take this dry program and translate it into an
emotional, perceivable world. That is your job,
simply speaking. And that’s how you
find your language. This means we have a
subjective choice from history. Egypt, Renaissance, many
thousands of years back, Renaissance, 500 years back,
are much more current for me– I could talk about
it for two hours– than the classical modernism is. I find much more material for
answering our today’s questions back there. Thank you for your lecture. I was hoping that you could
expand a bit upon the way that materiality
and budget, what you spoke about both multiple
times in the lecture, both inform the
way that you design and how you approach a project. [speaking german] I can only talk
about it in this way because I can only work when
I am happy and work with joy. That the creation of
material basically is not the first one in the
hierarchy, hierarchy up there. The urban planning
answer in conjunction with a program,
that is at the top. And these decisions are
made at an artistic level, but equivalent to that is a
politically active person as well. And if you don’t know anything
about life and are not politically engaged, you will
not be able to create potential beauty, because beauty cannot
be consumed like a piece of pie. And what motivates me is beauty. And I keep thinking, oh, I would
like to be able to do that. This means I have an idea,
an urban planning concept, a spatial structure
that comes together without a surroundings,
and then I have a budget. And if the principle
lets me select materials, and it’s not even many, it’s
the same to me, as beautiful as something else. So first, something
has to be created. An idea has to come. And the idea does not
come through the material, but the urban planning situation
and the spatial situation. When you have an idea, it is
small without any variation. But when you start
working on it, it’s like a character
in a novel, that right of determined, but
it gets its own life. You cannot see all
its traits yet. But then in the history
that is playing out, the character in the novel must
add new traits of character. And we have to work in constant
communication with our plan. And the more we
have on this plan, the more it speaks to you. And it’s important to me that– and you apply two things at the
same level, the being in love with your plan and an
incredible distance to it that does not make you a
slave of your plan, that lets you look at it from afar
and see something like, wait, you have to move in this
direction or in that. And as far as a plan has
developed, the less free you will be. You will have to
communicate on the way. This is the most
important thing. And then you discover the
more and more you work on it, you find ways and
directions where to go. And unless you just
have an ideology or pattern, rigid
pattern how to build, this will create things, because
you also change in the process. You will create things
that you might not have been able to
create two years ago, because you didn’t
have the calmness. And now you’re capable
of using this material and can produce just
as beautiful things that you thought two
years ago that material is unsuitable for your work. And this is the way how
you have to address it, and you know that the world
is open towards the top. And you can piece by piece
add and approximate whatever you would like to achieve. If you achieve something
100%, your world becomes limited or you’re just
at the target close to the sun. You’ve reached your goal. The point is something you
do not quite achieve 100%. And that’s the nature of things. And I do not know an
absolute masterpiece at all. I know wonderful
masterpieces only. Well, I didn’t say
much about material. But I accept every material
that you would give me. And then I say, well, let’s see. Maybe we’ll find something. We can do something with it. And I would be open. I would always compare it
to sculptures, sculpting and painting. Look at painters or sculptors. A sculpture by that
sculptor, it could have been said that he wasn’t
able to show sensuality of the body. He had this motive in the face
and the body of his main model who had a sensual model. He did not have a
real subject there. And then he invented
this wonderful foot. He knew everything
about history. He knew about
Etruscan sculptures. And he made these
wonderful sculptures. And if you cut out a piece, this
small piece of this sculpture, will be very different
from an archaic sculpture of the Greeks, because here
even a fragment contains a little bit of a substance. That’s our novel, our new times. We can reach the
same level in art, but we have become
way more vulnerable, much more vulnerable, I say. But we can create
participation in art. So we heard you speak of
proportion before, but– [speaking german] Yeah, sure. I’d like to do that. I could talk until tomorrow, if
you have that many questions. If one has to say
things in one hour– and proportion has
always something to do with measurements
and dimensions. Like back then when
I was a young man, these proportions
and measurements are an important
element, to give an idea, substantial and
indestructible content. My drafts have a basic
stability that is indestructible and cannot be destroyed
at the building site. For example, if the foreman is
in a bad mood because he has– whatever the design
is, the proportions provide stability to the house. And they go way over the
question of materials used. And what systems you
need, proportions, dimensional systems in
numbers, that is open. You have to decide for
yourself how this all works. You can write the numbers
down in the plans. But if you have this basic
stability in your draft, in your design, the house, the
building, or the urban space will always be good. Whether a simple material is
used and it’s correctly built or an inexpensive
material is used, the most tragic
buildings for me are those that have bad
dimensions and want to cover it up with very
expensive applications of materials. I’m sorry for these buildings. The dimensional design is much
farther up in the hierarchy. So when you determine
your dimensions, no one will talk you out of it. No one will even
interfere with you, and it doesn’t cost any money. And this is the area where the
main stability of a building comes from. And therefore I
recommend that you deal with the
measurements, dimensions, and seek to implement that. I don’t know a nice beautiful
German word about the teaching. Our architectural profession
works via emptiness and not via the fullness. We think the first
draft is empty at first. Between two elements
there’s space, empty space. The empty space in
between our elements can build an almost
electrical tension. The air in between can be
just normal, commonplace, or it can be exciting. And the dimension,
the measurement between, if there’s no
tension, the building will have less constant appeal. But whatever we
do, it’s always how we handle the emptiness between
the spaces and the stability. To provide tension
to the empty spaces is what you determine
by giving measurements to both the material elements
as well as the emptiness. And you have to measure
out so many sketches and translate it
into dimensions. And if you work with
a proportion system, and if you have
an accurate line, you can make an approximation
to the left or right, and in our system even,
at the center once again. And that’s where the tension is. And the deceitful
thing of a sketch is is that it deviates
from the orthogonal. And that’s why I sometimes
say, in a facade, should we move the
line a little bit inward or outwards to provide
tension to the overall facade? And this is something
that takes a lot of work, a long period of work
where you have to find out where these dimensions are and
how they relate to one another to create this tension
that you need to achieve. And that costs. That is work. That takes a lot of time. And because I was a
dropout during my studies, I couldn’t make the drawings. And therefore I
dealt with it later and found a dimensional
system, which is basically based in very simple geometric
shapes, the triangulum, the golden section
as the main ratio. And from there you
go to 1/8, 1/16. And people keep asking me,
does this have something to do with music? And I’m saying no,
not with music. It’s just simple
what I’ve found. The triangulum is
very close to 7/8, and the golden section
is very close to 5/8. And because I’m combining the
discussions about these two concepts, the triangulum
and the golden sections, I said I combine
these to some extent. I work with these. And division is only allowed
by even numbers, so 8, 16, and so on, never 3, 5. And the computer loves it
when it gets integral figures. Computer likes precise numbers. A computer is a very good tool. It’s an instrument. Sorry, the dimensions I
meant, not the computer. They’re an instrument to use. So can the computer. Peter, thank you very much. [speaking german] Thank you very much
for a great lecture. Thank you very much to our
translator in San Francisco. [applause] Thank you. As you can tell,
this conversation can go on for quite some time. I think Peter just mentioned the
word computer at the very end. And the relationship between the
hand drawing and the computer could be, of course, the subject
of a much longer discourse and discussion. But what I hope
has been made clear is way in which Peter works
is really very, very different than so many other
experiences that we see today. And his relationship just to
the drawing, the thickness of the pencil, the
relationship between the body and the drawing itself
that really produces the final outcome is all
part of a longer conversation around this question of
precision and clarity and the way in which the
ambiguity of the line itself is actually part of the
procedures of thinking and revealing. And there’s a lot
more about history and his love of the Romanesque
and things like that. But hopefully he’ll
come back and he’ll spend more time with all of
us and discuss these things. Really, thank you all very much. And I hope that you found
the conversation productive. Thank you, Peter,
for everything. Thank you. [applause]

8 Replies to “Peter Märkli, “My Profession, The Art of Building””

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *