ARCH+ features 13: FAT Koehl, John Bock, Nikolai von Rosen
For the first time under an open sky: The 13th event of the series was part of the "Great World Fair 2012“, staged by the Theatre Hebbel am Ufer and raumlaborberlin (Arch+ features 3) on the site of the Tempelhofer Feld disused airport in Berlin. The distances between the exhibits on the enormous open space of what used to be an airport is a deliberate part of the exhibition concept. A visit soon turns out to be a lengthy stroll from one art installation to the next. No wonder the organizers recommend bringing a bike.
A part of the exhibition site is made up of an amphitheatre made from recycled materials by the “Umschichten” Group. On this stage, the ARCH+ features 13 participants not only decided to forego a roof over their heads, but also dispensed with the customary multimedia support. Instead of video projectors and screens, a specially carpentered revolving stage, posters and models were used.
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If you are going to build, then make it a challenge
Architect Florian Köhl, artist and architectural theoretician Nikolai von Rosen and performance artist John Bock took turns to make use of this platform to present a joint project: A building community house in which the architect has implemented highly individual homes for the artists. For them? Or rather with them? Or was it the other way around - the owners implementing their own ideas with the help of an architect?
The language reflects the relationship; Nikolai von Rosen explores the evolution of the conditional form, the language of possibilities, in conversion between architect and client: How would it be if? This unlocks whole new perspectives for the realm of the indicative, of the factual and the prescribed. He envisages his home not as a series of rooms but as a “reference machine” whose planning is a process of jostling for position between semantic structures, meanings, references and viewpoints. What concerns the architect first and foremost is a staircase, while the owner and future occupier is preoccupied by the concept of the staircase, what it means, what it does in the space and how it relates to the people who live there. Rosen summarizes his role as a building owner: “If you are going to build, than at least make it a challenge”.

Wo Lüstelei entsteht
This type of viewpoint is undoubtedly a challenge for architects too. Are they “already there and only squeezed out as the process evolves”? John Bock, in a performance which reflects this process of squeezing out in a way which is both visual and enjoyable, also holds a very unique view of community building. He portrays the artist as a parasite which docks onto its host wherever there is an encounter between “beings present in the regulatory system”. The parasite draws out fragments from this encounter, preferably around its boundaries, at the “undulating edges”: „Wo Lüstelei entsteht, that’s where you will find me!” The parasite digests the fragments, transforms them and spits them out. This is how he impacts on his surroundings, setting other changes in motion which should ideally result in “revolution and social optimization”.

Building owners with a co-architectural role
As entertaining as the performance is, it does precisely describe the process of appropriation, of transformation and new evolution. In the words of moderator Anh-Linh Ngo: “The addition of more authors will change the assignment. The house would never have evolved like this without the artists.”
“A new relationship between architect and owner with a co-architectural role”, observes Nikolaus Kuhnert from ARCH+, pointing out that the architect has yet to define his own role and his self-conception within this division of authorship: “Who has pulled all the architect’s teeth”, is his provocative question, as clients, in particular artists, speak up clearly in the first person singular. Conversely, the architect Köhl prefers semi-anonymity, the returning “we” suppressing his individuality and referring sometimes to his bureau, sometimes to the collective of authors which he forms with his clients.

Users with the status of experts
Architectural theoretician Felix Stalder from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich has recognized a trend, a movement which shifts the relationship between client and service provider. Both meet eye to eye as authors, with the user claiming and being granted expert status, which was previously the sole province of the architect.

Is this new divided authorship due to special circumstances, is it the sole preserve of private clients or afforded only to the creative powers of artists? Is it possible to transpose this to large-scale projects, to institutional clients, where there is far greater emphasis on efficiency and profitability? The debate which ensued in front of and with the involvement of the audience examined the transferability of these special circumstances to other projects. This turned the debate to a continuation of the theme of the last ARCH+ features: On this occasion, Jan and Tim Edler of realities:united called for the concept of authorship to be defined beyond the constrictions of the all-dominating celebrity architect. While the Edlers were directing their thoughts primarily towards professional planners and trades, holding up their own work as an example, the discussion held at the site of the Tempelhofer Feld disused airport in Berlin moved on to the far more broad-based issue of the “architectural” layman.

Allowing things to evolve
The provisional conclusion drawn was that the concept of authorship has been called into question in more than one area, and with it the clear-cut separation of disciplines and competences. The presented community building project is an example on a small scale, while the “Great World Fair” staged as a joint effort by theatrical directors and architects, is an upscaled example. In his concluding remarks, Anh-Linh Ngo emphasized that these dimensions are just the beginning. Continuing the model through consistently, the participative principle can assume urban architectural proportions: “How is it possible to permit free spaces in an urban setting and so allow their natural evolution?” Or, in the eyes of John Bock, revolution and social optimization.

In the picture from top to bottom:
Florian Köhl, Nikolai von Rosen, John Bock, Matthias Lilienthal (Theatre Hebbel am Ufer)
All pictures courtesy of: Carl Christian Schmidt
© 2020 S. Siedle & Söhne OHG