Interviewed in Zürich 8 May 2012
A professor at the best schools – Harvard and ETH Zurich – the author of works already deemed anthological – the chapel in Oberralta, the house in Försterstrasse, the Single-Wall House, the school in Leutschenbach – Christian Kerez has built his own position that is independent of the currently prevalent discussions and trends. He considers that for architecture space has the same meaning as does sound for music, so he always begins with an abstract concept, never with narrative images. The apparent simplicity and reduction are the result of Kerez’s attitude that ‘reduction makes architectural elements more radical and visible’. For Kerez there is neither the hierarchy of materials, nor space – each element supports all the others. In the ambiguous architectural process simplicity is turned into complexity.
ORIS: The process of thinking and designing is always led by a certain idea connecting disparate and very different things into a whole. This may resemble mathematical operations also containing some poetic and irrational potential. Perhaps I may quote something from the novel The Confusions of Young Torless (Die Verwirrungen des Zöglings Törleß). Torless speaks of mathematical calculations with the imaginary number i, that should not exist, because the square root of a negative number does not exist, but nevertheless achieves results: ‘Isn’t that like a bridge where the posts are there only at the beginning and at the end, with none in the middle, and yet one crosses it just as surely and safely as if the whole of it were there? That sort of operation makes me feel a bit giddy,’ still we have such a firm hold.
Kerez: I am very interested in Robert Musil; I have read The Man Without Qualities (Mann ohne Eigenschaften), The Confusions of Young Torless, and Three Women (Drei Frauen). What interests me in relation to his writing, but also his person, is the fact that he was a scientist, he comes from the realm of science, but in a sense strived to describe the world as a whole (without the specialization often inherent in scientists). He did not retreat to a restricted area to affirm himself, but claimed universality. He actually abandoned science since he abandoned the rational as one of the possibilities of the world view. Still, this attempt to encompass the totality of the world had to fail; the novel was never finished, and the rational effort to take the world as a whole inevitable lead to irrationality, which is also part of that world. This fascinates me because in architecture, when we combine various elements, we tend to create the whole. But this imaginary whole does not represent a simple truce between things that do not interfere with each other, obediently and agreeably standing hand in hand, just as the practice of numerous representatives of Swiss minimalism was. Dealing with principal architectural means leads to simple questions: what is architecture, how to understand it, how to comprehend it? In the sense of reduction I am interested in just the opposite, to find an open, fragile system that simultaneously represents a large window open to the world, in no way a kind of a haven to retreat to where everything is nicely and neatly harmonized. On the contrary, contradictions also characterize the world, as in a Mondrian painting where things are sharply confronted in principle, because this is how true harmony is created, as Mondrian said.