CHITCHAT with | francescaVENIER _TOPOTEK1

We would like to ask you what is the condition that determines the concept of beauty for you? What is the element that we need to put in place when we think about a project for people?

I think the most beautiful spaces for me are the non-codable ones or the multi-codable ones. I don't believe in absolute beauty. The concept of beauty is a largely subjective fact, it is based on a series of cultural elements, it transforms hand in hand with changes in thought and customs.

I could cite for example one of our projects: Superkilen , in my opinion one of the most successful projects of the studio, awarded among the various awards with the Aga Khan Award and nominated for the Mies van der Rohe Award (for the first time a public space) . An openly ambivalent project from an aesthetic point of view, which pursues a social sustainability based on the democracy and durability of the project itself but also of its own creative process. Starting from a context of multiculturalism and not always peaceful coexistence, a city park is proposed in which to re-propose the personal stories and realities of the inhabitants of the neighborhood, who are asked specifically to suggest surprising objects to be integrated in the park. A place is born that is able to involve different identities. The park was born from a reflection on the concept of integration, not as assimilation but more closely related to the idea of ​​translation. The objects, taken from their reality and introduced into a new context cannot but require a translation operation, giving life to a new "Landscape", a strange combination of objects, halfway between two worlds, capable of generating "Playfulness" .

The color and graphics, typical of many of our projects, here tie the objects together, shape the space and serve as a chromatic background for the elements and trees. They are able to immediately communicate the three different vocations of the spaces in which the project is divided: the red square, foyer and access to the park, stage for contemporary and urban life in the Nørrebro district with coffee, music and sport; the black market, conceived as an “urban living room”, a space for families and neighborhood meetings, a connecting element between the ends of the park; the green park designed for picnics, sports and free time.

Almost everything plays on the process of giving people a sense of belonging and ownership.

Sure. What makes Superkilen beautiful is the fact that it works perfectly, its beauty is given by the possibility for everyone to rediscover their own personal history, to see themselves in their own aesthetics and to personally appropriate at least one corner of this park, arousing a sense of belonging and sharing responsibility.

Coming from Italy, and having then lived in Berlin in the 90s, at the time a vibrant city, the perfect theater for experimentation, no longer respectful of the old dogmas but still not underlying new rules, even my perception and conception of beauty has undergone great transformations. Berlin was not a “beautiful” city but malleable and in constant transformation, extremely open to interpretation, aggressive and perhaps even a little rude, not everyone has been fascinated for a long time, I fell completely in love.

Do you have a more pushed approach to unsolved places, perhaps?

Perhaps more than unresolved I would say synchronous and heterogeneous, it is no coincidence that since its inception Topotek 1 has cultivated the "aesthetics of conflict" in its projects. The projects promote a conception of public space in which multiple forms of coexistence are negotiated, allowing various types of appropriation, function and history to collide with each other. The result is dramaturgically well thought out hybrid spaces that go beyond the traditional idea of ​​what spatial design and its aesthetic conception can be. They create situations of discomfort, irritation, allowing the user a change of perspective, to then be able to put him in a position to ask himself more and to explore a new way of experiencing space. I also find the typological ambiguity of spaces like Superkilen extremely interesting. Linear park or urban square? Or are we perhaps facing a new urban typology?

We saw a few photos where the locals also made murals. Perhaps this "bastardization" of the project makes it more true.

That's right, the murals were later made spontaneously. After all, it is almost the natural continuation of the project which, from its earliest stages, makes the inhabitants and users protagonists. It is a place to use, to appropriate, and it is in its nature not to consider itself finished as it is, it does not ask to be photographed without anyone in the scene. In this lies its beauty.

However, the issue of WOO does not aim to give a definition of beauty. What you say is what I find myself in, because it makes me think of the real use of places, beyond the glossy magazine.

If we really have to define a space starting from the concept of beauty, perhaps for me the beautiful space is the living space, a space that is flexible, that can be appropriated, malleable, in continuous transformation.

In Topotek1's projects, color seems to represent an important element of the design. Is that so? With what criteria do the choices take place?

Topotek 1 is certainly considered one of the forerunners in the use of graphics and color in his projects. In addition to having a surprising impact in particular in purely landscape projects, color and graphics support the communication of the concept. An integral part of the project is its communication, which is relevant to us both during the internal creative process and in its communication to the outside and in its realization.

Often graphics and color actively participate in the definition of projects, in particular those played on the ambiguity of information and use (spontaneous / programmed). For example, think of one of the first projects of Topotek 1 , Flämingstrasse (with Gabriele Kiefer) where the signs of the parking lot are superimposed on that of a playground composed of the combination of different playgrounds. The intertwining of signs, colors and codes typical of the road lexicon gives life to an unprecedented graphic landscape, generating a complex system full of new interpretations. The project for the former Hanover freight station also uses graphic means to multi-code the existing site. The black and white graphics combine exteriors and interiors, business, leisure and infrastructures, following that strategy of "curated meetings" extensively developed in the Superkilen project.

In the end, even your publication is very focused on the graphic study as a communication but also ambiguity and apparent dysfunction. It seems very beautiful to me, I think it's also fun to work on it.

Graphics is also texture, materiality, as in the Spreehafen project created in Hamburg on the occasion of the IBA (Internationale Bauausstellung, International Architecture Exhibition ) 2013 where a staircase, originally used as a simple infrastructural crossing of the city's protection bank from the tides, becomes idea to amplify a public space in direct contact with water and to improve its usability. The ambiguity, the break with clear limits, the space intentionally left free for interpretation and the playful aspect is also reflected in the use of materials, where often “what seems is not always what it is”. In Munich, the Bahndeckel project develops an entire playground, above a railway tunnel (hence the name), for a new residential district conceived as a sequence of spaces inspired by different German landscapes. The project emphasizes the extraordinary and artificial quality of the place. In a hypothetical journey from the Alps to the North Sea, the different landscapes follow one another in an abstraction, on the one hand the beaches, re-proposed with sand play areas contained in hills of rubber surfaces, and on the other the grassy hills in artificial grass, with grazing animals played by horses with handles.

Who was your teacher?

I do not recognize myself in a teacher, I have met several people during my academic and professional training who have certainly strongly influenced my design approach.

During my studies, being of the old system, I had the opportunity to range in my training from urban planning to architectural design, passing from industrial design. Then in Berlin I happened almost by chance to be involved in the international competition of ideas for a "Falk urban park in Sesto S.Giovanni" (1998) for the landscape study of Stefan Tischer , currently professor in Alghero, an experience that I certainly opened the path then followed with the studio.eu of which I was a founding partner (together with Paola Cannavò and Maria Ippolita Nicotera from 2000 to 2010 approx.). Inevitably, the possibility of collaborating with large international studios has certainly influenced the ability to accept different approaches that are sometimes antithetical and often at first sight not immediate and helped to affirm my interest in the landscape and public space.

Finally, with Topotek 1 , with whom I have been collaborating since 2006 and with which I have been associated since 2014, with Martin Rein-Cano , founding partner and creative director of the studio, and Lorenz Dexler , head of the design department, urban space, research supported by an even wider spectrum of international projects and collaborations. A new professional aspect that becomes part of my work, mainly due to the size of the studio, is the management of both projects (in my case competitions and preliminary stages of projects) and human resources.

Well in Italy it is not so obvious, there are not many landscape architects.

Historically, Germany has a long past linked to landscape schools, with us specific training is more recent. At the beginning of my professional career, with studio.eu , we mainly dealt with what at the time was called Landscape Urbanism , "taking advantage" of the opportunity given to us by our academic training which, being still organized according to the so-called old system, ranged in the various design disciplines from urban planning to architectural design, including open and built spaces. An approach that I still find very interesting… ..there is always time to specialize.

For two years now, Topotek 1 has also included an architecture department, which is atypical for a studio historically strictly linked to the landscape, but basically it has always cost us hard to stay within our "borders".

At this moment, climate change is a central topic worldwide. The coastal landscape of some cities and islands in the world is at risk of being compromised by the progressive rise of the seas, just as the increase in temperatures increases the risk of fires in the wooded areas in the hinterland. How can landscape design limit and / or prevent this danger?

Thinking about the landscape project, and not only, in an integrated way with the variables necessary to manage and prevent the problems linked to climate change is certainly a duty and inevitable. However, these variables should be conceived as tools to be used to develop the project itself. A non-additive approach. We must take this opportunity to enrich our projects starting exactly from considerations such as water management, biodiversity support, etc. without necessarily having to follow a naturalistic-environmental aesthetic.

What are the necessary elements so that the architectures are inscribed harmoniously in the landscape?

The careful analysis of the context is a "sine qua non" condition for conceiving a harmonious and functioning project.

What is a project for you that best interprets the relationship between architecture and happiness? Are there happy architectures? From what is this bond sealed?

I don't want to repeat myself, but a happy space is a flexible space that you can take possession of, malleable, in continuous transformation. Happy space is beautiful space.