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The Architecture as a Choreography


Roman Delugan

ROMAN DELUGAN AND ELKE DELUGANMEISSL HAVE BEEN RUNNING THEIR OWN STUDIO SINCE 1993, EXPANDING IN 2004 BY ACQUIRING NEW PARTNERS AND, SINCE THEN, HAVE BEEN KNOWN AS DELUGAN MEISSL ASSOCIATED ARCHITECTS. Their most prominent buildings are, among others, the Porsche Museum (inaugurated in 2009) in Stuttgart, the EYE Film Institute in Amsterdam and the Winterfestspielhaus in Erl (both opened in 2012). DMAA conceive space not only as an unmoving entity but primarily as a ‘dynamic and variable interaction between man and his surroundings.’ In 2015, the internationally renowned architecture studio won the Grand Austrian State Prize.

We met Roman Delugan for an interview in Vienna and talked about the relationship between architecture and art.

Delugan & Meissl was founded in 1993 in Vienna. Were you following a specific vision back then?

Obviously, an important element was to stand out from the previous generation and the established players: we looked for new access points to architecture, but also presented our studio in a completely different way. Technology lent us a helping hand back then. The idea of breaching unchartered territory with every new project is what drives us to this very day. We don’t go for novelty just for novelty’s sake, but we want to create better and modern answers based on the scenario we encounter.

Has this idea changed over the course of the years?

No, exactly the opposite: you can see how vital our own demand for constant innovation is by how we’re investing more than ever in ‘research’. We’re researching new types of architecture, new technologies, and new content. Within the studio we’ve also considerably developed our research plans.

In average, how many planned projects by architecture studios of your size are actually built? Is there a benchmark in the industry, or is the planning process sufficient for architects?

Looking back at our history over the years, then I believe we’ve implemented around one fifth out of all our projects. There’s no benchmark, as every studio works differently leading to a different behaviour. Our strength relies in planning and, therefore, we work on a very risky domain. If a project is implemented, planning details are just as important.

Does art play a role in your buildings or is it all about functionality?

Art plays an important role for us, as seen by how many of our projects rely on a collaboration with artists. ‘Functionality’ is a seemingly easy concept, yet in reality it’s extremely complex and embraces various elements. We work with such a diverse understanding of functionality to such an extent that art also has its place as a standalone element as well as possessing sensorial and environmental qualities.

Your buildings are described as monumental sculptures that are, however, inserted dynamically into the landscape. Could you tell us a bit more about that? What is the role of design and the materials you employ?

What we see here is a widespread misunderstanding: we develop our projects by embracing the genius loci, for practical and different purposes. Our buildings are closely connected with the respective surroundings and aren’t autonomous sculptures. Our buildings are no dead ‘drop sculptures’ but function like living organisms that unite the inner and outer worlds. To us, architecture succeeds when we increase the existing qualities of a location thanks to our newly built space. The art market is hard and follows clear-cut business rules. The main criticism is that artists, for the most part, only function as stooges for gallery owners.

The art market is hard and follows clear-cut business rules. The main criticism is that artists, for the most part, only function as stooges for gallery owners. How does it work in architecture?

Clients normally get in touch with us because they value our work and process. For this reason, they want us to exploit our strengths. If we ever get the opposite impression, we won’t start a collaboration because it would be frustrating for both sides.

How would you describe the distinctive feature of your architecture? Do you have the Delugan-Meissl trait?

Over the course of the years, we’ve developed our own method and perfected it. This very specific process is typical of DMAA. You can, to a certain extent, read it from our buildings, but it doesn’t reflect a specific, exterior criterion with our name all over it. All our buildings have physiological aspects embodying our experience of space which plays an important role.

As an architecture studio, you haven’t specialised in one specific type of building – is that a strategic decision?

No, it wasn’t, at least insofar as we didn’t want to specialise because that would have allowed us to work in as many fields as possible. Today, we carry out projects of variable sizes from urban development to industrial design. We don’t only build hardware: we also develop software only indirectly connected with architecture.

In art, envy is a big topic and often destroys promising joint projects. What about envy and architects?

Contrary to art, today team work is at the heart of architecture. Luckily enough, there’s no space for envy in such a setting. We already work with experts from the most diverse areas before even starting a project. When it comes to large building projects we now and again collaborate with colleagues who, sooner or later, we may have to contend with when submitting a tender. Everything works without a glitch if our cooperation is based on respect.

You have made international projects but, in the last years, your share of Austrian projects has grown exponentially. How open is Austria when it comes to architecture? Have you registered a positive development?

Austria has an above average rate of good architects and, consequently, architecture is a competitive field that engenders top-notch professionals. Unfortunately, I believe the international positioning of these architects is completely ignored by politics or other institutions. ‘Refurbishment’ is the next big thing on the international market. Thanks to our high rate of architects, Austrian professionals have been forced to engage with this field. Austria could play an important role in this area in the world, too.

The Porsche museum in Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen is one of your reference projects. What was so enticing about this project besides working for a renowned client?

Porsche is an international brand with a great emotional charge. Regardless of this, the special element about this project was that we had direct contact with the only decisionmaker: CEO Wendelin Wiedeking. He was 100% involved in the individual decisions and, at the same time, had the pouvoir to stand his ground. We normally don’t have similar big projects where the client is with us from start to end.

How much do the view of the beholder and the perspective of the users influence your planning?

Our architecture can be aptly described by the term ‘choreography’. The users are also central part of the project as well as the viewers from outside. The physiological dimension also plays an important role: it can move or calm the user.

The Festspielhaus in Erl is another of your milestones. Which architectural aspects are the most important when planning a music hall?

Just like for the concert hall, optimal acoustics were at the centre of our project. What was really exciting was our approach to the topography, the pure natural landscape, and the existing Passionsspielhaus. The result is two buildings taking part in a pas de deux. Playing with physiological functionality was central as well, based on the room blueprint.

What about the ‘Casa invisibile’? We came across it during our research…

The theme of the prefabricated home with green aspirations and a minimal footprint has been part of our work for quite some time. As we couldn’t find an adequate home for our own personal needs on the market, we chose to develop and produce one. The home, created by List, is now available in three sizes: small, medium, and large.

The HYUNDAI MOTORSTUDIO GOYANG was completed today in South Korea – a building divided into different units: Sales, Brand Centre, Automotive Theme Park, Offices and Services. Are you happy with the result?

Yes, we are. Similarly to the Porsche-Museum, we tried to translate the Hyundai brand into architectural terms. When you leave the building you know what Hyundai is all about. It isn’t a building that primarily tells Hyundai’s story, rather it tells a story about contemporary and future mobility. Of course, whether we like it or not also plays a part but, in the end, the client has the final say. So far, we’ve only received positive feedback about it.

What will the architecture of the future look like? Which great challenges will we have to overcome? Are there specific developments that allow us to catch a glimpse of the future?

Themes such as the environment and sustainability are becoming ever more important. A huge challenge is to find answers for the global raging rural exodus and the exponential growth of cities. The whole ‘refurbishment’ areas and new mobility will become of growing significance. As architects, we have to engage intensively with these phenomena if we want to be relevant in the future.

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