AA IN CONVERSATION WITH OSNAP
OSNAP continuously works in two different context: BiH and Austria. When everyone wants to leave, what is your professional interest to come here?
Christoph: There are strong ties between Austria and BiH: the presence of the Austro – Hungarian period, the presence of the German language, emigration from BiH to Austria, economic relations etc. Connections with positive connotation in either direction. BiH neither is too foreign, although most people in Austria don’t have any perception of how life in BiH may look. On the other hand, people from BiH have a rather good understanding of Austria, they strongly relate to it. That was very nice to discover. Here, I learned something about Austria that I was not aware of. Another thing is coming from a rather stable and homogenous society to this fragmented one, that is in transition and trying to find new common values. By these similarities and differences I find possibilities to engage professionally.
Can you be more precise what are professional interesting aspects working in this “in transition” society? Are there some potentials we don’t see it in this situation?
Christoph: Here, a lot of things have to be negotiated in daily life. Obviously the public administration fails to provide for its citizens. Citizens have to make continuous independent and practical decisions to make their lives work. They have to take their lives in their hands and I have huge respect for that. One might call it improvisation. If you give that dynamic a positive spin, if you are able to channel this energy in more productive ways, one might be able to create some real powerful and sustainable projects.
But regarding this context as it is, could our unregulated architectural market, be a chance to experiment and try something new?
Christoph: Let’s have a look at competitions. In Austria competition briefs mainly describe limitations. There are so many limitations at a meta-level. One should be creative in a very defined framework. This strong framework does not exist in BiH. That implies a certain liberty. Another example is maybe our design for the sports hall at the Franciscan Gymnasium in Visoko. If this was to be built in Austria it would look very different. There are very strict laws and regulations how sport hall for school purpose have to function. At the Franciscan Gymnasium we managed to make a real multifunctional space, whose main purpose is sport, but also offers different qualities and one can use it in different ways. I am convinced that there are chances in a lesser framework but it also means more responsibilities for all involved.
You mentioned at your blog Arno Brandlhuber, don’t you think here in BiH could be chance to do such projects?
Christoph: Brandlhuber is a very refreshing architect and specific character. You can’t reduce his work to commonly accepted standards and aesthetics. He imagines and builds alternatives. But, he is not an architect that tries to be politically correct. It is rather his architecture that is political. E.g. a façade is for Brandlhuber not only an aesthetic matter, but as well a social one. He is very critical to high-end building standards that he believes are contributing to the segregating model of the modernist city.
If one is critical towards the status quo and comes up with alternative models, he or she might create architecture that really matters, that creates new qualities. If the status quo is over regulation or deregulation does not matter I guess. Mostly deregulation has a negative connotation, which is also very justified. The same can also be said about overregulation. And that is maybe the crazy thing here in BiH. It is an extreme mix of over- and deregulation. Administrative wise there is almost no difference if you build Sarajevo City Center or 5m2 balcony.
Ulrich: The city of Vienna defines specific standards for social housing. This pushes economy to meet these targets, on the long run the people living in the city benefit from the regulations.
In this process we need to recognize tools of regulation, and maybe avoid some mistake others make in Europe?
Ulrich: Regulations are designed by committees which are in most cases enforced by political parties. In Austria on the local level political parties tend to empower the city administration alone. That is not clever. That does not lead to an open discussion. Some Austrian small villages came up with something interesting. In the province Vorarlberg the villages Krumbach and Zwischenwasser established a board of advisers. In these villages the design of every project is discussed with the board of advisers. This does not only have an effect on the discussed projects. The inhabitants of the villages are quite proud about their discussion based approach to design and in general think that they live an environment where it is worth living at. They have the feeling that they can participate at designing future of their village.
Did you ever have dialog with authorities about architecture here? There is committee in municipality of Centar, and committee of Mayor Of the city? They discuss some investment proposals, and existing plans?
Christoph: I did not participate in any of these committees.
What do you see as the biggest difference in the position of the profession, here and in Austria?
Christoph: In Austria there is a chamber of architects. There is a positive and negative side to it. On one hand, the chamber is like an authority that controls and defines the legal framework we architects have to operate in. On other hand the chamber protects the interests of architects and functions like a lobbyist. The chamber also provides legal and logistical support. E.g. it negotiates better fees with insurance providers and lobbies for a fair competition system. There is more leverage then when we together.
Chamber is dealing with legal issues, and association is NGO which tries to find solutions for some of the profession’s challenges?
Christoph: If there is no chamber, the association can take over some of these functions, to advocate and to lobby. Beside that, it should function as platform to discuss and to formulate common goals.
That’s why we have “newborn” association of architects AABH?
Christoph: Congratulations to Vedad and his team. Something similar happened in Austria a couple of years ago with “IG Architektur”. The old chamber was apparently not very supportive to the younger generation. There was an idea for a new platform to lobby for change and over the years “IG Architektur” became an important group within the chamber. They run their own lists at the chamber elections. They gained more and more votes and things started to change. The revival of AABH is in all our interest. If we want to be heard as a profession we need a common voice. AABH can be such a voice, that represents the interest of all architects, that educates and that advocates better ways for the sustainable development of the built environment.
Let’s go back to OSNAP, and talk more about workflow and how you deal with starting brief?
Christoph: We have mainly private clients and there is often no brief. We mostly develop it together with the client. We try to get involved in building projects at very early stages. It’s important because architects mainly come too late into projects, when most important decisions such as choosing a location or deciding about a building typology are already made. Architects have much more expertise than making nice designs. If you look at our expertise more holistically, architects can be partners from the very beginning till the very end of a building project and not e.g. lawyers. A project might start before the brief and does not necessary end with the technical acceptance.
Ulrich: Starting a project before the brief and e.g. without a client opens up the opportunity to experiment with new conditions. By doing so we cover a field which is not our core competence. This is where we bring in external experts. Currently we have a collaboration with a real estate manager. This enables us to design housing under different conditions and to include issues an ordinary investor would not be interested in. When it comes to construction, we like to work with a partner who is expert in cost estimation and supervision. We don’t want to cover all issues ourselves. We think within our network.
Do you ever propose project to possible investors, before the ”idea of the project“ is there?
Ulrich: Yes, this enables us to lead an open discussion. We think that is makes sense to start with the mayor of a village a discussion on possible developments of this village. As outsiders to the specific local setting we get the chance to bring in fresh ideas. In the end it is the decision of the local administration as well as the inhabitants whether the new ideas are convincing or not.
That is start of a project. Here in Sarajevo it’s in a way controversial. For example some of the local famous architects suggest projects to the city. It just appears in newspapers as a possible thing. It is a chance to discuss and think about the space. At the same time, there is a perception that it is controversial, and that someone is already preparing ground for future project. Question is, how do you make these kind of decisions?
Christoph: Every building project should serve its client and the community it is situated in. There needs to be a certain balance. If this balance is not guaranteed one should be very critical what happens around us. On the other hand architects are maybe the most able professionals to envision new infrastructure projects for a community.
Ulrich: In principle it is the mayor’s responsibility to bring the community forward. I tend to trust in democratically legitimized representatives. At least the older democracies of Europe are based on quite stabile democratic structures. That is the best we can have. As voters and as members of the civil society we can elect the representatives. If a mayor is committed and is open to think beyond the normal there is a chance to envision something new and to bring the community forward. On the local level there should be an open discussion on the framework of a brief.
What do you think, who would be ideal client for OSNAP? Maybe OSNAP as developer?
Ulrich: Every client is different. Every client is represented by a specific person. Besides my interest for architecture I am as well driven by my curiosity for the people I work on a project together with. We build our architecture around the question what needs our client have or represent. If in this process of working together we come up with questions and ideas the client so far never thought off we are well on the way to design a convincing scheme.
The way you present Zinshaus, for example, with these diagrammatic graphics, more like a scheme, you suggest it’s open for future designing? You don’t want to predefine too much? Situation is an open future?
Urlich: We are not only interested in the design of the building, we are as well interested in the content, the brief, the needs of the people and how people who live or work in a building use the building. On what extend the building might be open for future use we don’t know today as we do not know what the future will bring, but we can think within an openness towards the future.
Christoph: A certain degree of openness and indecisiveness is important to us. We want to create generous spaces that are open for appropriation. Contemporary society is less homogenous. We need to create architecture that allows difference to take places while providing for the whole. We mostly talk about cultural and ethical differences, but there is another difference. It is a social one, social segregation which happens between low and high income. This is where Austria and BiH faces similar challenges. This is all about Zinshaus.
In the residential project ODVOR in Marijin Dvor we proposed urban units that can be used in very luxury ways, almost decadent ways, but one can also divide them up and turn them into very efficient four bedroom apartments. These units can exist side by side. A chance for social mixture is at least opened. A degree of openness allows us to connect social and architecture matters.
Zinshaus 3.0 was a competition?
Ulrich: The competition was launched by the investor jp Immobilien. Once a year they call young offices for tenders on contemporary theoretical issues. They are interested in making a difference to other investors on the market.
Christoph: The competition was about future urban living and working in Vienna. One does not have to respect current building regulations.
Topic of the reconstruction of the old object is very important, since it consumes large part of the building market, in both BiH and Austria. How to install new understanding of hierarchies in existing structures?
Christoph: Zinshaus is rather radical when it comes to needs. Normally a need is defined and the architect provides the form for it to take place and to express it. In this project we turned it around. We asked ourselves who are we to define the needs of the urban generation of tomorrow? We developed spaces that offer a different urban scale, different relationships and that can be occupied in different ways. These openness was then illustrated with different scenarios.
Sometimes classical buildings are more open to new appropriations, than modernist, supposedly, open structures. You can put any institution in it. Even this flat with equal sizes of room gives you a chance to do so.
Ulrich: Contemporary housing often cannot be transferred to different needs. These houses are mostly built in reinforced concrete. By establishing a new connection, e.g. by demolishing a part of a wall you question the statical system of building. The buildings of the 19th century were build in bricks and can be transformed quite easily as the load transfer only happens vertically and beams can be added. Moreover, they are flexible in their arrangement of the rooms. The rooms are not specific, they are quite big and high and can be adjusted to different needs. We try to design structures with a similar openness but under current economic circumstances.
Christoph: These buildings are flexible to a certain extent but for sure not efficient. Rooms are always too small or too large compared with today´s standards. Their quality is that they are rather generic. Their urban scale, typology and room sizes are open for different usages. The problem starts when one tries to break them down to today’s efficiency standards.
Ulrich: The price of housing is defined by the size of the flats. The price of a square meter produces the price of the flat. This is true if you rent or buy. Many flats from the 19th century are simply too big, and only people with a decent income can afford them. When it comes to social housing, you live on a dense floorplan.
You are being engaged in competitions,here in Tuzla, Mostar, Bihac, mostly as a participant, but lately also as a member of jury. We are waiting for the competition, but when it happens it can become total disappointment?
Christoph: The competition in Tuzla was a very frustrating experience. We said let’s do it, because the association of architects is co-organizer. The jury gave us an honorable mention. We didn’t win, I’m ok with it. But then some lawyers took over the competition and dismissed us because of some missing page numbers. We were wondering, how those lawyers were dismissing a concept, for most probably the most important development of Tuzla for the next 100 years, because of missing page numbers! There is no relation to it. We filed a complain, but you fast realize you are chanceless against bureaucracy. There are obviously systematic problems: inadequate legal framework for the implementation of competitions, lack of political will to protect and develop the local building culture … As jury member, for the Tunnel museum, we invested a lot of time to help the organizer to define the needs and to develop a somehow detailed competition brief to receive realistic and comparable proposals.
Looks like everyone accepts this, as a way of doing things.
Christoph: Most probably as well a result of lack of knowledge, integrity and lobbyism in our profession. And it is not only the public BiHn administration that fails. Also international organizations do not acknowledge the positive role of competitions in the qualitative development of the built environment. Huge amount of money is spent in the re/construction of infrastructure by the EU, Worldbank, etc. Sometimes we are hired to review project documentation for the re/construction of public judicial buildings. These are mostly major public buildings in central locations, often based on modernist /socialist template design for court houses etc. (Prijedor, Bijeljina…). Nice modernist buildings spread all over the country. During the re/construction these buildings are mainly being wrapped with plastic windows, Alucobond facades etc. The modernist herniate is being destroyed and replaced with meaningless buildings. The reconstruction of these major public buildings should be done with competitions.
For example Strossmayerova competition. Everyone is just pretending this did not happen, although it is the most valuable part of the city.
Christoph: The brief was very imprecise and the jury mainly composed by municipal staff. That was the reason why we didn’t participate. Once we saw the winning proposal we published a critical commentary and developed an alternative project.
Many time we see that, we don’t like the jury, we don’t like the task, the program and so on and the question is, do you participate or not? It’s easy not to participate, and it’s stupid to participate. Some of the architects here are gloriously not participating. What does it mean?
Christoph: We listened yesterday to the lecture of Bernard Khoury. He did participate in a competition for a museum of contemporary art (Beirut Museum of Art), which according to him was a stupid idea. To build a Western European model of museum, in a city like Beirut. He participated anyway and pitched a totally different approach. Sometimes the importance of a building or site transcends the limitations of the brief. In addition competitions are the architect’s lab. With competitions we do research, develop new concepts and also ´can´ fail.
Ulrich: And you get a chance to think about topics you don’t deal with usually. You benefit from it.
When would you have been thinking about 10.000m2 public library, beside competitions, probably never? But if you get a chance, you are prepared because of those competitions.
Christoph: I guess concepts developed for a library can be used as well in other projects. Maybe not the project as a whole but aspects of it. Most probably you refer to the competition for the Varna library in Bulgaria. I must say though that till now we did not participate in large global competitions. We rather engage in local ones, where we understand the context. North-South, Vienna-Sarajevo is sufficient for us.
It’s important because of the education. As an employer, how do you see problem of education of young professionals, who are coming to work in your office? How are they prepared?
Christoph: We try to recruit talented and motivated students straight from the university. Students who studied abroad have a more diverse portfolio.
Ulrich: We went abroad as students, to Great Britain. That was very beneficial for our work.
It’s more about experience, curriculum?
Ulrich: Just to get different point of view in your head. Different teaching, different context and people around you.
Christoph: To us it’s important to get architects who have a certain theoretical knowledge, who can think in concepts. Technical education is important, but one also learns the technical aspects by doing projects and with the help of collaborators. To obtain cultural competence is much more difficult. Students should be equipped with the basic cultural and architectural concepts to better understand the contemporary society we have to operate in.
You mean Faculty of Sarajevo, is too technical?
Christoph: Seems like. I have seen many portfolios that are very form driven and technical but lacked content. The architect’s power lies in the creation of meaningful spaces that can surprise and that empower. To do that one needs to possess the necessary conceptual tools.
That is why this year’s Days of Architecture was very interesting and successful I guess. It’s the first time in the fifteen years I live and work in Sarajevo, that architecture is being discussed at such a conceptual level.
At the end, can you reflect upon the finished Days of the architecture? A special energy was present there.
Ulrich: It’s great that a group of people do it on voluntary basis, in order to promote architecture. I don’t know that there is something like that in Austria. I have the impression that here some people see the need to bring architecture forward. In Austria some partly subsidized institutions do the promotion.
I was impressed by the audience. There were really good questions, I enjoyed that.
Christoph: I find it fantastic and unique what Idis and the organizers of Days of Architecture did this year. Days of the architecture is special because of its annual focus. But 2017 was very special. Days of Oris has no topic. Great architects come to present their work. If you go to conferences, it is always about certain aspects such as social housing and so on. And now there was DA 2017 asking this ridiculously large questions? What is the role of architecture in our present time, how can we produce meaningful interaction with contemporary society …? It was a brave and important thing to do.
This kind of question is needed here in Sarajevo. Idis Turato put it in more general global terms. We need this report what is going on around us?
Christoph: Break it down to the local conditions. The Balkans and BiH are often described as societies in transition. It’s seems like an eternal transition. Where do we transition to when there are no ISMEN anymore? Concepts of the past are still more present than common ideas about possible futures. At a meta-level it is important for architects to discuss possible futures, while at a daily level we need to identify meaningful ways to engage in the current dynamics.