Ralf Pasel lecture at Latvian Architecture Awards, May 2014

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Ralf Pasel lecture at Latvian Architecture Awards, May 2014

so I think it is the idea that i’m going to hide a little bit after the screen maybe can I have one of these yeah thanks well first of all thank you very much for having headers the last two days and for still having us today and after yesterday we were actually doubting a little bit whether we would be welcome today or not because we had a long day and very hard discussions and and we were really working on on the project let’s say so in a different way than you did as the architect but but for us it was a new world opening over the last two days and I’m not going to take everything away from this evening but I think I’m I’m talking for all of us in one way or the other we were really really touched by the things that are going on in this country so that was really moving in one side but on the other side we come of course from a different background from a different country in my case or two countries to be honest and I want to give you a little a little view into the kitchen of our architecture and into the kitchen of our work and maybe let you be part of the recipe and speaking about the title prototypes and series I after the last two days would rather call it may be strategic aspects in design well what’s interesting us is that everything we do in the office is not only practical work for us it’s important that we somehow connected to a theoretical background to an academic research two topics we are interested in to make it very simple we do study that at University on one side in a broader field and then try to translate this in the office work into practice so whenever we do a project we of course do the project we have a client and a brief but on the other hand we have a social context we have a spatial context we are not independent option being guided by client we are architects and we are able and responsible for taking certain decisions and avoiding others now in that sense we work in the office on a lot of different subjects on all scales and all fields and with various methods depending on the context of course as you may imagine as long and that is really the most important criteria it somehow challenging our discourse in the office and at the University to kind of discover new things and keeping that in mind the last two days where a brilliant widening of that experience now in times of rapid urbanisation housing yet again ever and never over and over again is one of the biggest global challenges we are facing as the profession that is producing space today and also in Riga and other cities in Latvia the question yet again has to be an ask about the state of housing in terms of collectivity in terms of privacy individual developments versus top-down big developments with and after the background of the mass housing that which you could say to be provocative maybe failed over the last 50 years in that respect I do honestly believe that we have to find mechanisms and tools and develop strategies how we can actually respond to the new urban generation to new urban constellations and how we can react on the different actors that are composing our urban life and that are kind of part of that of well of that life and that has a to do with it’s a bit of an unusual word maybe to use an architecture today but it has a lot to do with the dignity of the people with the dignity of life it

has to do with the quality of housing and the living standards obviously so in that respect looking to riga maybe the density issue is not the issue here and what I’m saying you may laugh at me now because I’m only been here for two days but maybe I have the fresh naive I think this is a positive thing to be naive view from an outsider and I noticed some things right I noticed the spatial programming the coding of the urban structure here is very different to other cities very different to Dutch cities which is my background or even Berlin which I’m teaching now so the programming of the of this code you know there’s the hardware but what is the software is going to be like which are the actors are involved here and how it’s the houses mechanism going to work this is a big question to me and a big it seems to me that there is a big challenge in in Riga especially at the moment and obviously we are talking about connecting architectural program on one side and generating a social diversity on the other side creating what I would call an open City a city that is accessible to all people nevermind their cultural background nevermind their ethnical better on their religious background whatever backgrounds they have we as a city I’d strongly believe in that organism we have to define how are we going to address this and what are we going to do with this and in that respect I think there’s a big a big topic here and I’m not going to show you like 20 20 projects of the office because I think there’s only 20 minutes of time and it’s it’s going to bore everyone to death I want to pay I picked out one project which is a very small project but it’s it tries 22 kind of support this attitude that actually maybe the design isn’t so important in the first place but it’s about the strategic approach that’s behind the design and that actually makes a design happening so the design is more or less a byproduct of the strategy behind it and of the social context against this background there some the ever and ever ongoing question is the city an individual achievement and a number of individual achievements floating islands in a big pancake or is it actually something like a collective good right and this has a lot to do with custom-made versus mass customization we all drive our cars we all think this is our car it’s my car my individual car but actually it’s a serial number 1 million 589 so actually there’s 1,000,000 our driving the same car and still it somehow feels individual so it’s not so easy to say collective housing is zero number and I’m apartment 2418 and down here something else happening it’s much more complex on the other hand how much individuality do we accept in the city how far can everyone push it ? the project I’m going to introduce you to is put in the Dutch context it is and I’m happy to have seen this in the last two days as romantic as Latvia but then in a Dutch context you see the typical typical old city old town layout you have the old fortification walls of the Dutch medieval cities the golden age when all the sailors were conquering the world the world and then just outside that city wall that fortification piece of infrastructure really there were these areas everything that was sturdy smelling disgusting in one way or the other something that didn’t really fit the civic life the cultural achievement was just pushed outside the city borders right outside the city wall and there they kept whatever do you know they can follow their own business basically now by now you knew you know these areas of Docklands in London stood got 21 train tracks become abundant all of a sudden in the middle in the middle of the center because but hundred fifty years later the city has like included incorporated almost these areas now this is one of the typical transition projects where this old slaughterhouse area was given a new programming and you coding as I would call it in order to be

a new kind of sort of acupuncture to the city and to the old traditional university city of Leiden which is like generally a city which you are not allowed to touch her to change in any way because of for many monumental reasons and there was given an urban plan by a friend of mine NVR TV and they come up with this typical Dutch structure right I mean we are living in the Netherlands in the densest country in Europe I would guess the country is even smaller than that Leah we have a population of 16 or 16 and a half million people and if you now take into consideration that eighty percent of the people live along the coast from Rotterdam Delft The Hague utrecht Leiden amsterdam that takes up eighty percent there’s a sort of a city emerging which we call the runts dot the the border city which is actually not a city in the traditional sense it’s more like a network of cities and in that Network the spatial characteristics is that everything is flattened out it’s a pancake three stories high some high-rise buildings but not important every city is more or less the same scale the same size there’s not a million two million city in the Netherlands they’re all like between two hundred and five six hundred thousand inhabitants and we have this tendency of high dense low-rise buildings so this is a typical floor plan of this attitude the street patterns are taken over from the traditional city of Leiden 8 meters wide 8 meters high a square in section and from there you get another roof 45 degree angle and you feel that envelope this is what was happening here and very traditionally every architect by competitions got a piece and we said okay hang on what are we actually doing here are we going on and on and on with the same pattern or is this location not the moment where we have to stop this right we step back and we say okay as architects we divide the plot differently so rather than saying yours is that side minus this side you go on with your business I don’t mind you know we kind of mixed it we mix program we mixed architects we mixed clients to generate something that was pretty hard to achieve in terms of policies but that squaring that was a response to the to the urge of dealing with public space in a different way and then the 11 the projects are actually one project or are they 11 I don’t know they are process related obviously we have a strategic points we followed concentrating on standard in between houses but also concentrating or we would call the cornerstones and then we work with a sort of cattle Lucas idea with a sort of structural symbiosis that goes hand in hand with the individual needs and and dreams maybe as well of the people living there or using it as an office or as a housing and maybe go back one step as you can imagine back to back next to each other 18 squeeze together on a footprint of 90 square meter this is the achievement of a dense country that every square meter is so expensive that nobody else can afford it anymore so you have to be compact and kind of optimized the little space you have in that sense and that optimization is maybe something that might be bit odd to you you have this fantastic wild and never-ending landscape I mean this is really something that is different in the context i’m working in at the moment so we had to kind of come up with a we had to deal with this ambiguity of cereal housing on one side and the taylormade architecture and the taylormade spaces actually try to avoid the word architect in this context on the other side so what is actually the common structural principle and what are what are the strong individual expressions how far do we go and where’s that balance and obviously it’s it’s a process it’s not something you sit down and you decide in the first day and everyone’s going to follow it it’s it’s kind of evolving whilst doing it’s learning by doing and one of the learning curve was that we are of course generating an architectural zoo if we split 20 architects and everyone does another building so we were kind of

stepping back using one material nor to her house and trying to go on with a simplicity in it that was correspond to the principal idea of that floor plan and that floor of that of that envelope and that envelope is is very hard to work with because back-to-back next to each other there’s only one facade left so out of that urgent need to bring light in and I mean you have a lot of light here but believe me in the Netherlands we have ninety percent of grey rain and so light is really a big issue and a big value as well we we kind of try to figure out sort of an idea how we could actually correspond to that to the technical problem of bringing light in on one side and the way of having a backyard of Ronda yard some outdoor space on the other side which the structure of the project wouldn’t allow in the first place so this was the project we won the competition with actually a prototype that is exactly dealing with these two consequent ideas and if you look at the floor plan then you see that actually some things get lost you on the way but never mind you see the principal maybe this is the most clear simple thing to explain it in order to achieve this and to get the light deepen and then kind of make make this more less transparent houses we had in mind we pushed everything we didn’t want to have in the way to the side it’s very simply take a broom when you clean up the mess and you gotta you know you put it is stick it in the wall in this cupboard and that cover it is a piece of infrastructure to us it kind of contains everything that’s important no cables doctors wiring stairs kitchen bathroom everything you you know the mess let’s say and that leaves you with just three spaces living working whatever you want to fill it with a private floor and an outdoor floor and actually talking about the the funny part of it we were awarded with the sustainability of what of this without ever having thought about a sustainable issue here when designing it but the fact that we were actually tilting the roof a little bit um here well actually here we have an east-west orientation which means the Sun comes in longer every day that led to the fact that we were enhancing the thickness of that floor in order to get the energy stored over day and released overnight so we cut the energy Peaks basically and also the side effect on the other side was that the backyard which was on our roof is a very exhibitionist space in the first place now maybe you’re sickening there and everyone’s thing hi how are you oh great this is the last thing you want when you come home from work you know like chatting with the neighbors about the weather so basically by twisting or by by folding that roof we cut the sidelines to the streets to generate a space that is not visible from the street right nobody knows I mean not unlike unless you’re inside the building that there’s a roof garden on it and all this goes through these ideas they go from the big conceptual ideas down to the minute of the junction some of the details and of the production process so back from the individual needs and wishes of the client to what are we actually dealing with a big structure of in total for 245 houses you know we had to find a constructing method that would apply to all of them a prefab concrete system the Netherlands have no craftsmanship left I’m sorry to say this is terrible we are the worst craftsman’s in the whole world probably but we do have a highly standardized and technically advanced building the system so we integrated that in the building process in order to have in that simplicity of the structure of a righty civilians now this is the the view from the inside out you see the double-height space in the fraud bit allows the Sun to come further in but also the materialization of it like the stretch metal is a product that I mean you seed sometimes in housing it’s coming more and more but we know it from the port

Rotterdam refineries factories just the cheapest there is right just collided with it just just hiding screaming off the technical instruments behind it and this is actually a very very inexpensive product so we choose a stretch metal with a little glim we found that in Italy in all to reflect the light further inside the building of course the acoustic problems can easily be solved alright you just put a soft shell behind it and you’re done so also from that aspect we are kind of trying to double program everything we do because we have I mean the whole building was which is lower than social building standards the square meter building cost per thousand fifty euros which is nothing in that sector and we had to be forced somehow to kind of simplify minimize reduce and just concentrate on the important things and everything else we skip we leave out we don’t do so the cupboards in there how do we reach them the client has been given a ladder from his grandfather when he died an orchard ladder to pick apples and pears obviously there’s no trees on the roof so that ladder came abandoned somehow there was no use for that anymore but he can’t throw it away right so we integrated it in the design process saving a stairs or a ladder to the higher cupboards we introduced this and all of a sudden it became a new programming and you use if you want inside outside the same material protecting mechanical damage on the outside allows you to have a very cheap rain protection under it just epdm foil and on the other hand kind of the experience that you can actually bring the material in which is maybe strange in the first place but actually makes it very comfortable as well on another sense and this goes through from big-scale to small scale from from the first idea to the detailing was one detail that can be applied all over and be repeated all over again but the fact that it’s kind of made for this house and the high reputation made it possible in the end and this fascination about how the beauty of tectonics into weaves with this asus created is something we always try to achieve in the project whether they are done out of timber or whether they done load off of other materials so the method we’re using say it’s the same we can choose parts of it but we’re still in the same kitchen we’re still cooking out of the same fridge just instead of tomatoes we are using maybe cucumbers or other ingredients so this in the dependency of construction and architecture is something that is coherent and when I started teaching in Berlin the first thing I did was actually I got rid of the classical duration of the subject design and architecture and construction architecture so I have a double chair and I integrated this into one and the students say I mean if you don’t know how to construct a space how the hell can you design it and if you don’t know how to design the space you don’t even have to start thinking about construction so there’s a there’s a there’s an immediate interaction here between all these and I think they come back in these buildings the simplicity of it and always again these these questions how do you go from inside to outside the thresholds the the well the zoning in it the amount of private privacy the amount of public space are we exhibitionist like here hide expose what are we actually dealing with what context are we in what program are we in who are the people inhabiting this space and I’m particularly proud about this image because it shows so in a very simple way the failure of an architect right we were thinking about this porch sort of space as an empty space for months and months a month redesigning it redesigning is simplifying simplifying singular redesigning and then we had a solution we thought actually works quite well and out of this intense obsession with this threshold between outside and inside we totally forgot about the user and what did the user do he added the most beautiful detail in the whole house he put a swing right and actually if you look very carefully there another hooks here so actually the friend of the kid can come and swing as well they can swing parallel they can

bump their heads so you know it’s it’s a social interaction which may end in hospital but also it could make friends and we could it’s sort of a bow of a bonding somehow now so actually it’s one of the most embarrassing pictures we have to be honest because the beauty is not done by us but by the owner itself and well this story about the interaction between the architect and the owner beat one person or be a bigger group like in this setting it was like a huge group of 18 families we had to deal with at the same time corresponding to all individual needs and one side then to the collectivity of the whole is really something that is absolutely fascinating us and this interaction which is not only in the architecture but it really starts in the very beginning in the dirty work which has an amazing beauty as as you asked me if you ask me you know being out there with the rubber boots and kind of pouring the concrete is the most amazing thing because it’s the moment when you actually start creating your ideas and translating it into a spatial well constellation if you want it may end us a house it may end us as something else it doesn’t matter it’s something that is called a place it’s called a home if you want so um I think I’m more or less five minutes over probably or ten even I’m going to stop thanks very much and yeah thank you for your presentation and we have another microphone and other opposite point to the hall do we have any questions about this sort of approach where individual individual to meet or other issues hi family family a question about program how do you consider the option to have this underground garages or not because suppose they were not there whatever their potential to create maybe small garden everywhere yeah yeah well actually the garage where do I start there’s a lot of things coming together in this project and what I was talking about is the view of an architect but there was a clear approach from the infrastructure side as well this area I’m talking about was mean forty six centimeters below sea level which is totally normal to us but in that particular case they have a very old pumping system to keep that dry so twice a year the whole area is flooded and people live with it you know they put some sex outside the doors no problem two days later it’s gone again it’s a sort of a you know an interaction with your neighbors it’s almost like a party oh the world is coming let’s let’s go home early we’ve got to save our kitchen on one side but actually as a long-term perspective it’s not very smart as a city you know so the city actually was was kind of clever in that way that they said okay if we rise the floor by one meter we are almost out of the water we’re always out of the water so that was obviously considering the whole surface of it was not feasible at all so there were kind of co-financing models and thinking okay how can we do get one benefit added with another benefit and this is when the garage were introduced because they are actually they’re not underground not even half on the ground there on the ground of the of the former ground so they were put and then just the roads need to be risen a little bit with sand and filled up so that was one of the reasons why the garage was actually in the hole process of the project something that was crucial to the to everything the garden yeah in relation with puns and fish would have been feasible but you know and growing vegetables depending on the season when it’s flooded or not so yeah I mean there are blocks I have to say that do not have a garage yeah but I don’t think there’s any having a real garden there for for that reason that answer is a bit yeah okay good any questions short question about tenants did they

take part financially from the early stages of the project did they finance the approach of themselves on where the stages or call you door because neither okay yeah they did absolutely they did but it’s a it’s very hard air saver it’s a very complicated setting because not every client is there as an individual they had to be as a group so actually one block functions as a financial unit they have one what we would call a shared ownership of the common ground and only the parts on top that the feelings they’re like individualized yeah and this is a typical Dutch thing I don’t know whether you have this here I mean you cannot buy land you know you can only lease rent it for 99 years and then you’re gonna your children are going to need to go she ate again of the land you’re building on so in that constellation they were integrated from the first part they’re crucial part of it on one side but not as individuals right they’re like little entities little well it’s actually if you want they started their own real estate unit know as 18 families of friends together and they they try to get it feasible and what’s important in this is that we are in the north of the city which is a quite a poor area and obviously in the Netherlands we’re really concerned about if we do new developments that we only have the new people from Amsterdam double income no kids in there so in order to avoid this people from that area have been given the financial support of let me think about a five to ten percent of the total and construction work by the municipality because they were really concerned in keeping as many people off that area in that area right so there was no interest in changing the population at all but the population we’re dealing with is not the most you know there I mean they’re they’re normal people you know like they don’t have a huge Aang income and this is also are we reducing the things to somewhat do this to that that’s it though or we can afford yeah so getting here oh thanks a lot yeah