My name is Christian Kerez. I am an architect from Zürich.
What comes first: form? shape? function? What are the key informations that you take into consideration when you draw first sketch?
Well, for me – none of these! I always imagine space – my design starts with looking for reason to define space in a specific way. Program is just like the lines, you know, the lines in music script. They have no meaning solely for themself. Only if architects imagine the space, program becomes meaningful.
Very often, if you do a competition, you have a program and it’s just a list of square-meter. The square meter doesn’t mean anything! Only if you have an idea what happens, what should be in the space, or what should be meaning of the space, only than this quantities become architecture.
Is shape more capable to deliver message than program itself?
I always try to destroy shape. In the sense of a form which is covered by the skin. I imagine the building as a organism which has an interior – like the human body, the bone structure – which has many other elements that define this interior.
Very often, I try to expose this elements to the outside, to destroy the shape in the sense of smooth surface. Of course, you could also talk of these buildings as a shape, because they create a sculptoral appearance.
What goal does architects (arhistars) have to achieve today? What is the main task of todays architecture?
I think we live at the time when everything is possible, and this makes everything much more difficult! Because – whatever you do, you have first of all to look for the reason, for the meaning, otherwise your work is only kind of incarnation of the personal taste or style.
I try to start every project again with the same questions: “what is the purpose, what is the meaning of a specific building?”. For me, this can never come from, let’s say, formal aspects of architecture.
Does contemporary architecture have answers to changes which are imposed by increased digital communication in every form?
I use whatever I can to create a building. In my office, models done by hand have the same value as the models done on the computer. Very often, a project changes from physical to digital and back again. I have no preferences, for me – every tool is just serving a purpose; and this purpose is to find expresion of a extract of idea, and whatever is useful in these design proces – I take and use and I’m quite happy about all these possibilities that we have nowadays, working with computers. But, I’m not computer fetishist. Otherwise, my work as an architect would only be an illustration of computer capacity. For me, a computer is just a slave, kind of instrument.
Is your architecture pure art? Your creations – are they to be judged solely as a work of art?
Well, I would say: my understanding of architecture is close to the understanding of art, in the sense that I consider architecture as being a media; like – music defined by noises, like culture defined by volumes, and architecture is defined by the space. And think that whatever you do as an architect is first consideration of this definition of space. But, on the other hand, architecture can never be as pure and as autonomous as a work of art is. When I work as an architect, I have to take into consideration much more restrictions, than I would if I write a book. And these restrictions, they are crucial for the design process. And if an idea in architecture is not able to survive all this requirements and restrictions, that are like the second nature of the media of architecture, than these ideas have no meaning. Even if they maybe are, in their pure, not functional way, beautiful.
Constructive part of your projects are of the most importance; does that fact make them more expensive and/or problematic for building construction?
For me, budget is never an issue! If you make a movie in Hollywood (and you have 16 millions of dollars), or if you make a movie with a hand camera (and have just 16 000 dollars to make it), it’s not that much restriction or blessing. It is rather an aesthetical kind of requirement, or basic tool to work with.
I love to work for rich people in Switzerland, and do buildings that would not be possible anywhere else than in Switzerland – because they are so expensive, but also because you wouldn’t find engineers, you wouldn’t find undertaker who would be able to build them. But, at the same moment, I love to work for people that are living in poor area – favelas in Sao Paolo (and they had to move out because they live in unbearable and risky situations). I respect and I treat all clients with the same respect, I take all the commissions with the same carefulness and the same passion, because they help me to develop ideas in two different, in two opposite directions.
Is it true that big ideas collapse due to compromise? Is it possible to make great architecture and compromise at the same time? Do you compromise, ever?
No. Never. And I also don’t want my clients to compromise. I also don’t want that engineer that I work with compromises, I also don’t want that undertaker that work with me compromises. I think what is absolutely important is that everybody involved in design process learns from each other and accepts the point of view from one another and changes its own position due to entity which is much more profound and complex when everybody has an impact on that. So, in this sense, if I say “I never compromise”, it is not arrogance, because I expect every other people involved in project, to do the same.
It’s curiosity: if you look how people in favela live – they are not poor people, it’s sometimes hard, certain things are hard but certain things are beautiful. There is so much quality of life also, in favela. I don’t do it by pity, you know? I don’t pity this people. I respect them.
I could also pity rich people. Sometimes they have more menthal problems…
Where would you place your work at the timeline of architecture?
This is important question. It’s very important to have historical notion of the present. I think without that you can not do anything which has any relevance in architecture. My understanding is: we still work under postmodern conditions; but the first notion of the postmodernism was too easy. What Ventury, Rossi and others did just to kind of break with modernism, to go further back in the past and in the end didn’t reach much complexity.
I think: to respond to this postmodern conditions is not anymore possible with an apriory position, with a position which is a starting point; but it’s much more that you have in each project to look again for the evidence that give you legitimization for what you’re doing, that give you a reason why your project looks like this and not like that. And I try to circumscribe this kind of historic condition with the title on certain certainty, you know – with the last book on my work, published last year in Japan; and because I think you start each project with uncertainty and effort and the work you have to do, you have to achieve (or you’re traying to achieve) is to end-up with certainty.
In this sense, for me, doing a project still starts in the negative void. Postmodernism is defined by something which is already gone, but it doesn’t tell you where are you now. Even today, you still have to look each project again, and where does the arguments, the logic come from, for the project.
The last one: how do you define your ego, your selfconcept? What’s the more important: your work or your (private) life?
For me, my work is specific experience of life. My life would be much easier without architecture, but also much more boring!
Happiness is only one aspect in life. Life would be quite poor if you could be 24/7 happy. So, I think life is like package… passion, despair, sadness, ecstasy, frustration… only by knowing all of these emotions makes life interesting. I would be terribly bored if I’m just happy.
Photos: portraits Ljubomir Jankovic, 2-11Guangzhou cultural district, Chirstian Kerez