Please, introduce yourself.
Sure! My name is Sofia Borges, I’m the architecture editor at Gestalten and I’m also one of the founding partners of Affect studio, a design practice I started with Bjørn Hoffmann a few years ago.
What is Gestalten?
Well, it’s quickly becoming many things, but – Gestalten began as a publishing house. We make books that explore visual culture, but we also have an art gallery in one of our spaces in Berlin, and we also have different locations for curating art and various products.
There is a Gestalten gallery at Bikini Center?
Yeah, we’ve just opened a new space at Bikini Center in Berlin. This one is more focused on lifestyle branding. We are reaching for a new audience.
25hours Hotel is realized in a very popular architectural language?
It seems very popular, especially Monkey bar, but actually – I think that the Gestalten cafe has a better view!
Please, explain the reasons for Your visit, is this Your first time in Belgrade?
This is my first time in Belgrade. People from BINA reached out to Gestalten initially. They came across the book Going Public and wanted to do an exhibition about it. We are very excited about the theme because it seems to match with this year’s Architecture week. So – I’m here to talk about the exhibition that they made about the book; they curated a selection of projects. I’ll be giving a talk about both – the exhibition and ideas about public space.
People are using more and more gadgets. How do You see changes in communication reflected at contemporary public spaces?
I think that people are communicating in a much more detached way, and I think that’s why public spaces can and should inspire much more meaningful connections and why they are so important. There is a growing desire to reconnect, not only with our landscape, but also with one another. That’s why this topic is becoming so important.
Even if we don’t act that way all the time, we do still desire meaningful connection.
How can we make a physical border between real space and virtual space at public places?
I think the real challenge is to make people look at each other again, to make them see what is around them, not to look at the screen but to actually experience.
In a way, the new public space has a higher goal to achieve, because it has to do more to have a bigger emotional impact.
You are an expert for trends. How do You see the next three to five years?
Maybe I’m too romantic at heart, but I think as we are moving more towards technology, a backlash against that trend is also developing. Everyone is becoming so saturated, it’s just – media everywhere! And so – what I’m seeing, especially within the retail environment, is the creation of much more intimate, bespoke, handcrafted ways of creating spatial experience. It gets people off of their phones, off of their tablets, and leads them back to a space with a much more sensorial quality.
I think the idea of the “limited edition” is becoming much more popular – those objects of desire and these spaces of desire. In the future it’s not about having the generic application stamped on to every space. It’s about each one being very unique and hidden and by exploring it you find a new way – not only of looking at the space, but also understanding yourself.
Which materials will be popular in the future?
I think that what is interesting is: you don’t need expensive materials to create really amazing effects. You can use very simple elements like recycled shipping boxes, paper bags, straw… you can take something ordinary and turn it into something truly extraordinary, when you just reframe it in a simple way!
To give different meaning by using familiar shape?
You work in LA and Berlin, and You are very skilled in various computer drawing programs – in which direction do you see architecture developing?
Well, I think that there is global crisis in architecture, especially in places like LA – it’s saturated with architects – there are so many good schools and so many people graduating every year, but there are not that many jobs. It’s becoming better, but to have your own practice, and to do something unique is much harder.
How is this affecting the social status of architects in today’s society?
I did a workshop at Tianjin, China, at the University there. And they still have this very classical way of looking at architecture, where it was one of great arts – you know – there was: philosophy, science, architecture… this elevated way of looking at it. But now, the only thing left about being an architect seems to be the mystique!
But, there is still this stereotype, at least in the US, that the architect is this fancy, well paid, well dressed person. People still have this idea, especially in movies. It’s a totally fantasy, it has little to do with struggles that the architectural profession is going through right now.
It is very hard out there. Many of my colleagues have been unemployed for long periods of time. There might be more opportunities in places like Dubai and China, but you may not work for yourself. It depends…
What kind of architect is most wanted on the market?
I suppose – people with lots of experience in building, with construction, who can do it very quickly (that is the bottom line). There is less desire for artistry in architecture. The majority of people that want a building, want a building and not a peace of art! It’s also a bit of a problem between how we are trained at school and what happens outside of school. Because we’re trained to be these very passionate, driven artists that have this one singular vision, and then you get outside and nobody needs that “one thing”!
It’s interesting because, you see – when there is a real work of art in architecture, people are moved by it; but that’s no longer what businessmen prioritize, that’s not part of their bottom line, that’s not what they want to invest time in.
So, it’s a bit of a trade-off.
Yeah, but on the other hand, there is Morphosis working in the USA, building one house that has so many details you could build 5 facades out of that one…
I don’t mind being experimental. That’s how the profession moves forward. The important thing is to always stay objective with these experiments and be honest when they don’t work. The trouble comes with the “perfect architectural mind”, the one that never compromises, never gives up the idea, even if it doesn’t make any sense, even if it doesn’t work! So, in a way, I think that in the future of architecture, the only way we can survive is to find a way to make a dialogue with the people we work for!
Do You believe in a democratic solution?
I have to! Otherwise, I don’t think we’re gonna make it.
I’ve just been looking at these pictures of Beijing and you can’t see the sky anymore, it’s completely dark. So – you can build blindly, but if it’s not sustainable – it’ll catch up to you. It’s catching up to them much faster than they thought – they can’t see the sun anymore! So something will have to change.
It works for now. But it’s just like when we had that great architectural bubble – when everyone was building an icon, everything was booming and Dubai came out of nowhere… it sounds good, but…
Do You like Dubai architecture?
I think it’s a fascinating experiment – a very dense microcosm in the middle of the desert. You can see where the sand stops and the city starts. It’s very clear, you’re not fooling anybody – everything is temporary, nothing lasts. That’s it for now, maybe there will be another boom in fifteen years, but everything has its limits, even the Palm tree islands.
But everything depends on money flow, nothing is sustainable?
One of the big differences between the artist and the architect is that architect’s can’t just work for themselves and do their own personal work. Architects are supposed to be responsible to the people and that means that when there is no client – there is no work! That also relates to the global market. That is why architecture was one of the slowest professions to recover after the economic collapse.
How do You see the architecture of Berlin?
I probably won’t be popular for saying this, but I find Berlin, at least architecturally, to be one of the least inspiring cities I can think of! So much of what I love about Europe, especially being American, is how much amazing history there is, and how much beautiful architecture still stands in so many places, and – don’t get me wrong – there is still some left, especially on the east side of Berlin, but so much got lost in the war and replaced by this sort of clean German efficiency model for architecture…even Bikini Berlin uses this model. I don’t know, I don’t find Berlin (at least visually), to be very moving. I don’t look at it and feel that great love for the buildings that surround me. I find it quite cold and sterile.
… well, Paris is much more successful…
Paris? Oh, I love Paris! (sigh, laughter)
And here too, this city is charming…
Yeah, we are very poor and very charming…
But, the key is the charm, and there is lots of it!
Which of your drawing skills do You use more often to visualize ideas, which computer programs?
Definitely Rhino and Maya, and then Illustrator and all of the Adobe Creative Suite for nice presentations and drawings.
Can You make a living (earn enough money) just with those drawing skills?
I suppose one could… it’s funny – one of the first things you said to me is that I’m a kind of Renaissance woman – I think that I was lucky enough to manage to support myself since school, but – that’s what it takes: you have to be a Renaissance man or Renaissance woman! Architecture is very tough right now. One of the keys of surviving is to diversify as much as possible. I’m fortunate enough to have lots of interests, so it wasn’t so hard for me. It’s about finding a new way to apply architecture.
You are also experienced in interior design: Affect Studio realized Hashi Mori Izakaya Japanese Restaurant in the heart of Berlin?
Hashi Mori means chopsticks forest in Japanese. The feature that is most memorable is the ceiling installation, which is made of 14,000 chopsticks that were hand stained and hung by hand (one by one) by me and my partner and 13 diligent craftspeople!
So, yeah, we not only did the ceiling, but the entire interior design for the restaurant and the branding. We also created a programmed wallpaper for the space, as well as custom furniture.
How did you two come up with the idea to use chopsticks for the ceiling: was your intention to make an art installation or some sort of acoustic installation?
That’s one of the nicest things about it: it didn’t start as some kind of static installation. It has a lot to do with movement, when wind passes through – how it sounds. In the end, it had a lot of unexpected effects. But we were thinking about what is associated with Japanese food. What are the symbols. Sushi? Sure, but also how do you eat sushi? What is the key utensil? Chopsticks! And that’s what we took for the branding basis: how to use an ordinary object and transform it into something extraordinary and unexpected.
The result is quite unusual for Berlin, Hashi Mori really differs from other, mainly calculated interiors.
Thank you! I think that the only reason we were able to do this was because we had this young, Chinese client who was raised in Germany and had spent a lot of time in Asia, LA, and Vancouver, so he was much more open and experimental.
Oh, another everyday item that we transformed was the restaurant’s façade. We created a façade out of rice, that we then backlit. It makes you take a second look and see this everyday element in a new way, because you wouldn’t necessarily think of rice as not only a partition, but also as a way of reflecting light!
Can You please tell us something about the different aesthetics that dominate newspapers and magazines that You work for and have been published in?
It’s really about finding likeminded people. I don’t know if my style works for everyone, so it’s about finding where it does, nurturing those relationships and building from there. But, actually, now that I think about it, I don’t work with that many American publications, so that is kind of funny. I might start changing my focus a little bit?
How would You define Your self concept, Your EGO?
Can I ask what you mean by that, can you elaborate a little bit?
Every architect is unique for his/hers creative methods, approach to media, public relations, way of handling clients… Could You, please, describe yours?
I find it, actually, funny that your magazine is called EGO, because I find that is so much of what architecture is about, even though it should not be necessarily – this invaluable architectural mind. But I strive to do more of the opposite, I’m really looking for more opportunities to find fresh ways to think not only about spaces, but design in general, and – let me rephrase it: to find new ways of listening to those we work with and find new opportunities to bridge those connections and not only compromise, but find new ways to talk to them so they become more comfortable with the kinds of ideas that we work on.
So, I guess, my main interest is the design and curation of all things relating to visual culture, and finding ways to bring together seemingly unrelated aspects of arts, because in my mind they are all connected. I began as a photographer and I ended up here, so – I’m interested in what fashion designers have to say, and working with filmmakers, and interviewing musicians…we gain so much by talking to each other. I really worry about what’s happening with our profession because we are becoming so insular, we’re only talking to each other, and I am much more interested in hearing what everyone else has to say!