Guardian of the threshold: Gabriele Siedle talks to Nikolaus Kuhnert
Nikolaus Kuhnert is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of the magazine ARCH+. Since 2009, Siedle and ARCH+ have built up a close association borne out of their joint interest in the architecture of the threshold. Their cooperative journey began with the Threshold Atlas. It was in this Atlas that ARCH+ first published a comprehensive survey of threshold elements in architecture, which was based on the results of research carried out by the scientists of ETH Zurich. Since 2010, Siedle has been an initiative partner of and contributor to a discussion platform ARCH+ features which showcases young and innovative architectural bureaus.
Nikolaus Kuhnert: Ms. Siedle, we have one enduring love in common: Our love of the threshold. This transition phenomenon is one which largely goes unnoticed, whether we are talking about thresholds to architectural spaces or those of a more social or cultural nature. Implicitly, it also always embodies control, inclusion or exclusion, the relationship between security and accessibility, and finally also the big issue of communication. With the Threshold Atlas, ARCH+ turned its attention to an issue whose material potential you recognized and personally supported without hesitation. You took part in the symposium at the ETH Zurich and were instrumental in making the ARCH+ features series happen. This strong underlying thematic interest is something that has always struck me about you. Where do you think it comes from? From my observation of the corporate world, this is something very unusual.

Gabriele Siedle: Sometimes, too, fateful encounters happen which cannot be planned for. In fact, just around the time we were entering into discussion together, we had taken the decision at Siedle to engage more intensively with this issue and to underpin our role as the "guardian of the threshold". I was keen to drive forward this positioning process with a view to developing an awareness of the cultural dimension of our work both inside and outside the company. We wanted to find out what cultural and historical significance the threshold possesses and how this is likely to change in the future.

Nikolaus Kuhnert: What happens once the age of digitization has totally transformed the role of communication and also the role of the threshold itself? Just think back to the development of the duplex intercom system at the beginning of the 20th Century. Today, we have the ability to monitor entrances from anywhere using a smartphone. Siedle has also just developed an IP system which basically allows you to monitor the threshold over the internet. So your world in Furtwangen is also a high-tech world. You are now attending a series of events in which architects are commenting on the topic of the threshold not from a technical perspective, but rather a social and cultural one: We have staged different events about alternative forms of building development such as group construction schemes and building cooperatives and so on. But we have also invited designers such as KRAM/WEISSHAAR or the Munich-based designer Konstantin Grcic, who designed the German Pavilion at this year's Architecture Biennale with Muck Petzet. So you are a driver of innovation in your product segment. On the other hand, you are receptive in the wider context and with this joint series of events you are on a mission to seek out cultural and social innovation.

Gabriele Siedle: This is precisely what makes our cooperation so important and so immensely interesting. Siedle has created a technological foundation which actually makes everything possible. But technical expertise cannot ever replace a corporate strategy. What we have to ask ourselves is: What is the right way forward on the basis of this technology? What does society consider to be the threshold of the future? Does it really only start at the front door, or is it rather to be found in communication? What is outside, what is inside, what is private and what public? Against this backdrop, we need to take the discussion beyond the purely technical. Even the latest, most up-to-date technologies are of no use to me if I am lacking in ideas for products which are in tune with our needs. With ARCH+ features, a whole discussion series has evolved in which architects and designers not only discuss architectural thresholds but in which the debate has also focused on thresholds in society and in urban development policy. We have had the opportunity to be intensively involved with the series so far and I can confirm that the outcome has been far more rewarding for us than I had dared to hope. Looking back, we have stumbled upon a number of issues which have extended our horizons and enriched our innovation processes: What is the significance of thresholds in a rapidly changing society which is throwing up whole new forms of living together?
The way all of these ideas were dealt with in the Features was excellent, we were able to approach the topic from totally different perspectives. Nowadays, the discussion of technologies and future products is about far more than simply looking at the market and asking ourselves where developments might lead. Our cooperation with you has meant that we now also consider social and cultural aspects in this discussion, and also issues surrounding how we have to react to ecological and social conditions. I am thinking here of the 15th edition with Arno Brandlhuber and June 14 which I recently attended in Berlin. Within the context of the sustainability debate, the architects threw down the gauntlet: reduce back to basics, learn to do without cherished standards, build in the interests of the climate, build to foster communication.

Nikolaus Kuhnert: Let us turn to the topic of communal construction, because this is an area which ideally illustrates the whole issue of the threshold. In this context, it is not just the classical transitional space between the front door and the street which plays a role. Generally speaking this type of building group will attempt to extend the communal portion of the building, which gives rise to other types of threshold area.

Gabriele Siedle: In this context, the kick-off event with the BARarchitects and their Oderberger Straße project made a deep impression on me. The architects got to grips with the ins and outs of socio-political developments unfolding in urban conurbations such as Berlin. Here, factors such as a garage or the car as a status symbol no longer have any part to play whatsoever. Instead, they should turn their attention to the needs of working single mothers. What matter here are very pragmatic considerations such as spaces to accommodate prams or receiving post and other deliveries where no one is home. This calls for new forms of threshold elements such as letterboxes which can be opened using codes, or storage compartments permitting deliveries to be left when the occupant is out. These areas form an intermediate threshold between public, semi-public and private spaces. I saw the fantastic BARarchitects project as further confirmation of my determination to do a lot more to support the concept of serving working men and women.
This affects solutions for communal areas which entail the necessity for communication between residents. These areas could, for instance, be reserved over a communicative interface. In this case, what we need may no longer be the classical camera at the front door, but other, differently graded thresholds which provide a better way of intermeshing the new spatial transitions between private, communal and public.

Nikolaus Kuhnert: So we are moving away from the traditional door threshold towards issues of organization and the virtual world. What remains the same is people's underlying need for security.

Gabriele Siedle: Our company is synonymous with security. It is our task to guarantee that our products allow only authorized users to cross the threshold. The big challenge here is ensuring that technology does not come to dominate people. This is another thing we learnt from Arno Brandlhuber at the St. Agnes Church event. He said it is time to stop forever trying to go one better with ever more complex technology. Transferring his message to our work, this means: Go back and reflect on the underlying functions. Today we have the technology to implement virtual, non-contact thresholds, but in reality this is not what people want. They simply want to shut a door. Staging these events together with you gives us the opportunity to consider, discuss and assess all of these aspects. Then we go back home to the Black Forest and try to integrate these various considerations into our process of innovation.
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