During the month of June, the Architecture on Stage programme curated by the Architecture Foundation in partnership with Barbican Centre welcomed five emerging Swiss practices, whose lectures were presented as a series called afterFORM. Each of the practices, 8000 agency, Bessire Winter, Schneider Türtscher, Truwant+Rodet+ and Parity Group is representative of a growing tendency in Swiss architecture to embrace topics including the reuse of existing fabric, urban policy and civil action.
The design of new buildings is much less central to the work of these firms than was the case with Swiss architects of the preceding generations, reflecting a change in political priorities around the climate and biodiversity crises. Each of the talks concluded in a conversation chaired by a British architect with the aim of finding common ground between the situations young practices are facing in both countries.
The series has been delivered in partnership with the architecture department of London’s Royal Academy of Arts, where the visitors can now enjoy a free exhibition staged in the RA’s McAulay Gallery and profiling the work of 8000.Agency, Bessire Winter, Schneider Türtscher and Truwant+Rodet+ and Parity Group.
"Drawing New Lines - Voices in Swiss Architecture" is on diplay until the 19th of November 2023. To have a better insight of the practices' work we have asked them a few questions...
Claudio Schneider and Michaela Tuertscher, you founded Schneider Tuertscher in 2013. How did you come to join forces?
We were able to test our compatibility while studying architecture. The common interests, but also the friction caused by different points of view, were very inspiring and enriching. So it was not a big step to set up a joint practice, and so far our collaboration has worked very well.
Your realized projects starting with residential housing and your latest conception is a ‘gentle’ renovation. What brought you to scale down and work with already existing structures?
Our projects are indeed getting smaller and smaller. Even our first - our largest - project was a rather modest intervention with its six flats. And to be honest, the current reduction in the intensity of our interventions is only partly in our hands.
Regardless of size, we believe it is important to find ways to achieve the maximum with the minimum intervention. That is why the existing, in all its dimensions, plays a crucial role, because that is what we base our work on.
In the very small conversion projects we work on, this fact is of course more central. We believe that we can learn a lot from this and perhaps apply this knowledge to larger projects in the future. Because there are issues, for instance the shortage of affordable housing in Zurich, that need to be tackled on a different scale, but with the same care for the existing.
How do you integrate improvisation in your compositions?
We see every project as a collaboration of different actors, beyond our profession. And we realised relatively early on that, as architects, our influence on the outcome is limited. Of course, with good organization a lot can be anticipated, but there is always the spontaneous and the unpredictable. And these forces become stronger the smaller the projects become and the more they work with what already exists.
We are therefore forced to improvise again and again, and at some point we decided not to regard this as a necessary evil. Instead, we are looking for methods that allow improvisation to unfold in a positive way within a network of precise decisions. An open structure that cultivates these moments, so to speak. And we approach this structure with compositional means, very concentrated and deliberately isolated from the omnipresent external voices.
What is your relationship with proportions?
When dealing with architecture, one cannot avoid dimensions and the relationships between them. Proportions are everywhere, and we should be aware of their effects. If we are not, we are wasting a great potential of our profession.
Now, of course, we can ask ourselves whether the theory of proportion, as taught to us by the history of architecture, is still relevant today or not. We personally believe that we can learn from it and train our eye, so to speak. But we also think that the pursuit of perfection, which is only possible on a white sheet of paper, is unproductive and has nothing to do with our reality.
What tip would you give to young architecture practitioners in the early days of their career?
Try to keep the joy and optimism in your work. And to do that you also have to learn to say "no".