the harmony of differences
Quality is the sole criterion. First of all, there is no such thing as formal solutions that are, from the very outset, unsuitable for a certain building task or site. The issue is always the “how” of the proposed solution. In the course of their development both architects have discovered their goals: the necessity for corporeality in their buildings, for their layers, the materials, the relationship to the place and the development out of the given context, the importance of atmosphere. Where these factors are implemented in an optimal way, one can safely speak of the beauty of the result. Beauty is more than the right scale and good proportions; beauty has nothing to do with perfection. When a building or a space is beautiful this does not mean something unequivocal, explicit, but the interaction of different elements and a harmony of differences. Beautiful refers not only to forms and design but also to a piece of experienced freedom of the person who speaks of the beautiful. Beauty in architecture and the quality of a space are not exclusively dependent on styles, techniques, materials, contents and functions but also on intellectual freedom and a wealth of perceptions. Hermann Hesse once described this as follows: “Everything alive is a becoming, not being. And so what we call culture is not something fixed or concluded that one can […] inherit or discard. Instead the amount of a culture that remains alive and continues to exert its effect is the amount that the generations can make their own and can fill with life.” HVP defined their goal in building as a structure that responds to its context. A good building always derives its shape from its surroundings and their proportions, forms, materials. It does not adapt itself so as to fit in but takes its appropriate place, even where this is understood in terms of creating a contrast. In architecture of this kind memories and experiences are condensed. But just deriving stimuli from the existing fabric is not enough to create a good building. The aroma of the present and the confrontation with the world must be added. Peter Zumthor describes this process as follows: “I concentrate on a certain place for which I have been asked to provide a design, I try to sound its depths, to grasp its form, its history and its sensual characteristics. And then, within this process of analytical observation, images of other places start to intrude, places that I know, that at some time or other impressed me, places whose form I carry inside myself as the embodiment of certain moods. It is only when I look at something that exists in a particular way through something that exists differently, when I allow something similar or entirely different to flow into the concrete place, that this complex and individual view into its depths develops, which then exposes references, reveals lines of forces and establishes connections.” The wealth of new projects by HVP means that they regularly encounter their own buildings. In the metropolis Vienna, in the density of urban development, their buildings are inevitably exposed to a far greater pressure to assert themselves. In contrast, in the small country of Luxembourg one is faced at every turn with one’s own work. In these buildings one recognises one’s own development, like taking a look in a mirror. Karljosef Schattner, for many years head of the diocesan building office in Eichstätt, once described this to me as follows: “There is no better feeling. I see myself constantly being embraced by myself.” François Valentiny expresses this somewhat differently: “Ten years ago this was still a problem. I regarded my buildings critically and attempted to overlook them. Today I accept them as my life. Where a new building is made it is for me like being in an expanded office. I have learned to accept mistakes, while a good building can fill me with delight, every day. I attempt to make my buildings in such a way that a mistake in the execution, or minor formal decisions, do not detract from the powerful structure.” How we feel, whether well or poorly, cheerful or tense, architecture influences us in everything that we do. Although it cannot be directly planned this influence exists. As architecture is space for people to live and play, it is the architect’s task to design and to build for people’s measurable and immeasurable wishes and longings. The architect not only designs for functions such as living and working, but also creates spaces for play and for dreams. We perceive architectural space with our senses. There are spaces that crush you, make you small and there are others that support you, make you proud, and allow you to grow. The demand that good architecture should be sensuous therefore seems an obvious one. In their buildings HVP look for visual and haptic antitheses. Their materials alternate between soft and hard, cool and warm, shiny and dull, smooth and rough; bright is often confronted with dark. They confront people with sensual experiences.