In 2019, however, we are working on a number of projects – such as Althan Quarter in Vienna or the Staatstheater in Karlsruhe – which are part of the revolution that I mentioned above.
Firstly, because these are refurbishment projects in which our role is not to create showcase objects but to analyse and understand the existing as a prequel to remodelling it into the new. At Althan Quarter many see a dinosaur, an introverted mirror-glazed monument to the forgettable 1970s. We see an exciting infrastructure hub with an ideal structural grid (horizontal and vertical) and our task is to reshape this into a new, appropriate, extroverted piece of the city. Not by demolishing and ‘building new’ but by accepting and ‘building further’.
Secondly, such projects also exemplify the new procurement process. Our partners are no longer just clients with their (legitimate) commercial agendas but a multitude of stakeholders – politicians, planners, neighbours, conservationists – each with their own (usually equally legitimate but often wholly incompatible) demands.
But this is not a lament. Quite the opposite! These are no longer projects but processes – and every process needs a leader. Shouldn’t we architects, who were trained to believe that we are ‘renaissance women and men’, capable of everything, be best placed to occupy this role?
Rather than looking for incremental differences between architecture in 2018 and 2019 I will address the ongoing revolution in how projects emerge. This revolution has two key components: a shift from newbuild towards refurbishment and the replacement of the traditional architect – client relationship by a multidimensional procurement process that is full of threats – and opportunities.
The status quo is embodied by several projects that we were building in China in 2018. Such projects as the Foshan Paradise Mountain or the Taiyuan Botanical Garden are state-of-the-art in terms of design (structural timber domes with a span of 100 metres) and political agenda (putting climate change on the map in the world’s biggest economy). But they emerge traditionally: an architect with a vision teams up with a client with a vision to find a common solution that represents the ‘best of both worlds’.