Interviewed in London on 12 January 2016
Stephen Bates, an architect and an educator who primarily deals with architecture as a city-making tissue, in practical as well as in theoretical a spects, leads the London office of the studio Sergison Bates architects. From the very entry into this space, the key determinants of their work become clear – focus and an almost rigorous dedication inhabit the shelves together with material samples and numerous iterations of models of their projects. Their works are research oriented and stem from the local context in order to offer a response to real social needs. Sergison Bates architects are not interested in the spectacular nor the luxurious but in the ordinary and the everyday elevated into an experientially rich encounter.
ORIS — I would like to start this conversation by talking about cities. You are very critical towards the so-called smart city. In your opinion, what makes the city of today? Is a city simply a place to live or can it be a home?
Stephen Bates — I still very much believe in the 19th century European city as an idea – that it is possible to make communities to live and to work within those bounds, within a civic structure. That might seem a bit conservative, but it is still difficult to imagine an alternative. From our point of view, we consistently understand architecture within its history, which is 2500 years of development in which the notion of urbs is always that. Digital technology and the rapid transformations it has brought about, together with environmental concerns are not enough to make us think that the way of life of the city is no longer relevant. In fact, in my opinion, both could inform a sort of reformation of the city as opposed to creating an alternative city. I think that the so-called smart city, which no one can really define, is just a brand attack. It is what you choose it to be, but in the extreme situations where it really seems to remove the humanity and turn everything into a digitally directed construct, it seems like a fantasy, it does not seem real to me. I find the project for the new Aspern Smart City in Vienna problematic, in that it seems more a brand than a real place, and it is talked about in the language of developers – and we all know that has little to do with reality.