The Starting Point of Everything is Intuition

architects Iva Letilović, igor Pedišić
interviewed by Ante Nikša Bilić, idis Turato

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Interviewed in Zagreb 30 January 2014


Having realized a respectable oeuvre individually (Igor Pedišić independently, Iva Letilović in partnership with Morana Vlahović), Letilović and Pedišić now work as a team based on intergenerational dialogue leading to a creative synthesis. Their prominent projects, such as the adaptation of the Rector's Palace in Zadar into an exhibition area, extension of their vacation home in Silba or the renovation of the Memorial Museum in Lipa, are of a conceptual character.


Projects of the Letilović-Pedišić team relate to the location and are anchored in analysis and rationality. At the same time their aim is to provoke an emotional reaction of the observers/users, as well as an awareness of the place and time and one’s own position within these coordinates.


ORIS:You both had an independent career in architecture. How did you begin collaborating?


Iva Letilović: Our collaboration arose from the context that is not architectural, but this context put us into the same architectural space. Our collaboration is not a project and has no goal; it is a continuous working process that produces projects. It gets its shape from duration and not from a program.


ORIS:Since my student days, I have mostly worked with different partners, collaborators, strong individuals and I generally do not like to work alone. I do not insist that you should evaluate precisely what was before and what is now, but to describe briefly the difference between working then and now. As far as the feeling and methods are concerned.


Iva Letilović: The meaning of collaboration is not just adding quality or drawbacks that people who work together share. Collaboration is supposed to produce a new energy, create an added value. Together the collaborators create their own distinctive principles and working frameworks. With Morana Vlahović, the working tool was mainly a conversation, with Igor it is a sketch, by computer or hand.


Igor Pedišić: For me who used to work alone for many years, the beginning of our team work was a kind of a shock. I had to overcome a dose of egocentrism inside myself and learn how to design in a dialogue. Luckily, this period of adjustment lasted for a short period of time and the collaboration turned out to be a much better and incomparably faster way for reaching the final project. It is ungrateful to be the judge in the clash of your intuition and your ratio, which is why the participation of others is priceless. When we talk about male/female collaboration, I believe there has to be a certain dose of Eros, and if it disappears, the collaboration becomes pointless.


ORIS:Let us return to the question of authorship. I divide today’s designers into two groups of people: those who do sketches and those who sample the sketching generation and the younger collaging generation. What is your approach?


Iva Letilović: Today the question of authorship in architecture is taking up completely new forms. Projects are growingly based on team work and less author-based. As a result, we see most often perfectly designed, generic architecture. Even though there are still prominent stars in architecture, they are to a certain degree perfectly created brands backed up by very sophisticated and precisely structured manufacturing plants. The number of employees in such offices, the dispersion of offices to more locations in the world, definitely weakens the author’s segment. Offices structured in that manner open new work processes based on the quantity, and the principal method is selection. Everything is large in their working process: the number of people included in the project, the number of various professions and the number of variations to choose from, the scales of the models for examining projects. It is no longer important whether those variations are reached by sketching or sampling. In this context, our work seems very anachronic and ultimately arises from the office structure, which supposedly arises from our approach to architecture.


Igor Pedišić: A drawing, a sketch, is only one of the stages on the way to the end, which is to build a house. A house does not originally arise from the drawing, because the starting point of everything is intuition, at least when it comes to me, which is not an image but an emotional state, the excitement that slowly takes up the shape of the material and translates into a drawing. Intuition is, in my opinion, mostly good, and what follows later may be a bad translation. Authorship in architecture undoubtedly exists, but whether it is more or less important in our times is quite another issue. Regarding the sampling and quoting, it may also have the author’s charge if it is the result of the designer’s attitude.


ORIS: It seems that these two realizations of yours, Duke’s Cages and Silba, were actually first precisely and intelligently conceived, and then drawn. I believe this is a form of scripting a project, of a diagrammed thought, a programming calculation. It seems to me that these two projects do not fit into some of your other projects. This is why I honestly believe you have two kinds of projects, two work methods. These two projects are conceived and then realized and have this strong contemporariness in this sense of designing without drawing. The form and the material as the consequence of programming.


Iva Letilović: If the characteristic of contemporariness is that the thought, a concept, is above the form, than those two projects are contemporary. What they have in common is that both are realized upon our initiative, that they are realized in our organization, and that they had to be designed and constructed in a very short time with a small or next to nothing budget. Leaving out became more important than what was introduced in the projects. They were built around this void, canceling the form, relying upon the thought. The difference between these two projects is that the Cages have an additional level, that of social engagement. Namely, the space of the Rector’s Palace was separated from the life of the city for almost a decade. This architectural, perhaps even artistic, intervention, realized by donations in the form of labor and materials of local firms, as well as the work of civilian groups, even supporters’ clubs, created an urban pocket of a very intensive life. The Cages promoted the process of further settlement of the Rector’s Palace, so that two more exhibition spaces exist there at the moment. It may sound conceited, but I believe that this creative impulse also created a new energy that enticed further processes that are still active.


Igor Pedišić: Silba and the Cages are projects per se, without a model or previous experience. I would agree that these projects are the result of thinking, that they are a materialized thought. Their conceptual particularity is the reason they could not be done by sketching, not even as a result of intuitive imagination. Rector’s Cages represent a materialized motion in time. They are realized with castoff materials from the construction site and arranged into narrower or wider lines of motion; the skeleton was built from scaffolding pipes, and everything was coated in wire. There were not many sketches; the construction began and the project was fine-tuned on the spot with a significant participation of carpenters and non-qualified workers from the construction site. We improvised. I always feel the excitement with these two projects, Silba and the Cages, and for me this means that the projects are good. Generally, I think that architecture should provoke emotions in observers or users. Moreover, its excellence should be measured according to its ability to provoke emotions in observers and users, and it shouldn’t be exhausted in mere descriptions.


ORIS:I honestly believe it is not important what something or someone looks like. Those concrete little houses on Silba might have looked differently, might have been made of corten, brick, sheet metal, be roofless or flat-roofed, wooden, plastic... But the idea is so clear that it is stronger than any sketch, much stronger than any material and stronger than manifestation itself. I believe that such projects should not and cannot, even must not come from a sketch or drawing. The projects are so precisely conceived that it does not matter what they look like.


Iva Letilović: Yes, you are absolutely right. Little houses on Silba are not determined by materials or form: they are determined by the idea. Likewise, the Cages could exist in this way in some technologically sophisticated museum as, for instance, glass rooms connected with black metal tunnels. As in life, if the idea is clear, it may exist in various forms. I do not think I am an exceptionally skilled architect and I consider problems not quite architecturally, that is, sometimes I exclude many layers that a serious architect should include. Sometimes this is my fault, sometimes an advantage. Perhaps it is because of my faultiness that I love projects that do not need many details designed, where the thought or the concept covers and makes up for all the weaknesses and faults.


ORIS:In regard to Silba, we should note that you were the designer and the investor.


Igor Pedišić: We bought an old captain’s house, the last in a row of houses, which had several rooms and a small courtyard. There was no plumbing, no sewage, no bathroom, kitchen, no basic amenities for housing and it required a thorough reconstruction for which there was no time or money. The five missing functions necessary for a normal life were built in a free part of the courtyard, creating a new spatial relationship towards the neighboring house and protecting the intimacy of our life in the open. Every function got its volume, unlike the usual concept of a house in architecture, when a house is a sum of different functions under one roof. The noun roof is here used symbolically. The spatial dispersion of functions in the courtyard is not a handicap for everyday use, but gives a certain flair to otherwise monotonous rituals.


Iva Letilović: The approach to the pre-existing structure is the same as in many other in our projects where we intervene into the existing structure. In the Cages, the Archeological Museum, the Two Palaces Museum Project, we barely touched upon the existing structure, and left everything as it was, as a specific fossilized remain of the past lives, with all its faults and imperfections. On Silba we inserted small houses, cages into the Rector’s Palace, a steel raft with cabinets on the first floor of the Museum designed by Kauzlarić. We placed a technological and communicational glass hallway through the roofs of the Governor-General’s Palace; even in the project of the King Tomislav Square in Pula we inserted a totally divergent element into the existing context. The pre-existing and the new are independent and complete wholes entering into a dialogue on equal terms with the existing elements thus creating, I hope, a certain new value. This approach reminds me of Dalibor Martinis’s work dm 1978 Talks to dm 2010, where the author responded to his own questions after some three decades. In our case, various authors talk about the same topics from a long temporal distance.


ORIS:I would never redecorate this Captain’s House. It has to stay like this. This is my opinion. You did a programmatic intervention, so I do not regard it as a house. It seems to me like a device, an architectural apparatus defining what I think is the most important in architecture, namely, the process and the event. With five elements you redefined all possible combinations, infinite life iterations. It is clear you did this for yourself without any compromise. This is a house for a man who understands the processes, the space and the elements that we use to build life. Cognition of life processes as the ultimate satisfaction in architecture. Do you think this project would be possible for a regular client? I honestly wonder whether that type of client would be able to understand it.


Iva Letilović: It almost sounds paradoxical, but this project reinterprets the ancient, very physical and life-like construction principles in this area, when the courtyards were mercilessly being constructed, rebuilt and expanded with serving spaces for the main housing unit. I believe that any client would find a mere thought of this archetype repulsive. In the end, we have totally dadaistically put a lavatory amidst the courtyard and now we are here discussing it very seriously. But, in the summer, when the sun moves across the sky towards the night turning these static concrete blocks into a dynamic mobile, when we live under the open sky and when the sounds of life from nearby courtyards intertwine, these five little houses are an organic and inseparable part of the whole, and this is felt also by people who are not architects.


Igor Pedišić: When you are your own investor, you avoid all the traps appearing in the client-architect relationship and you begin a project you believe in no strings attached. When the project is realized, you check it in vivo, and this is a feeling you never quite experience in the classic client-architect relationship. In this case, the realized project of five little houses in the synergy with the old house resulted in the almost ludic joy in everyday use. Had this been a mere adaptation of the Captain’s House, the concept would lose its strength and meaning, it would become a surrogate.


ORIS:Do you think that the Rector’s Palace and your Cagesa is a finished story? I think it is done, the final solution, la storia finita. This is in effect a devastated, seriously wounded house with a rich history that will be difficult to revive, a life story forever lost in time, bombing and fires of war. Your intervention reveals what it is and should be now: a clear and precisely inserted new framework for a new life and events. On the other hand, I am also aware that along with my opinion, there is a clear, nostalgic, historical and artistic view to the life of thought, and I realize that this is just a temporary solution. What do you think? Will artificial decoration, ceilings, arches, pillars, stucco return one day with a clear scientific explanation?


Iva Letilović: Death is also a new life. The history of Zadar is marked by devastation, interruptions of continuity. During the devastation in 1991 and 1992, the Rector’s Palace was hit by eight projectiles of a large caliber and its life ended. After the wwii, when Zadar was reconstructed, it was decided not to use the principle of facsimile renovation, but to construct new buildings on the existing urban matrix. Almost seven decades later a facsimile renovation of the classicistic layer of the palace from the 13th century was required. At the moment the Rector’s Palace is a construction skeleton showing very vividly its rich history that is far more powerful and interesting than any of its layers alone. The pre-existing naked condition and the lucid architectural intervention would create a far more exciting space than a second class classicistic interior.


Igor Pedišić: If we take the Cages as a performance, then the intervention has a limited duration, without material traces. Photographs will remain, a booklet and a list of activities from the origin of the Cages to their demolition, something that is common for conceptual art.


When the renovation of the Rector’s Palace is realized, the records shall remain stating that its construction lasted for more than 700 years, it will be written somewhere as a number on a board, while the dramatic passage of time is at the moment read on its currently visible foundations and walls – it can be touched, it is possible to physically feel time. This is an immeasurable experience which provokes special emotions in observers. Unfortunately, the term of creative conservation never took hold, and, accordingly it is not present on the example of the Rector’s Palace, and all these now easily accessible historical layers will be covered with cardboard and plaster.


ORIS:Could you explain the genesis of the project Lipa Remembers?


Igor Pedišić: To make a museum in the memory of the tragedy of all the inhabitants of the little village of Lipa in 1944, in the blackness of the wwii, without any material traces of war crimes except two grainy black and white photographs and two half-collapsed village houses, is a very difficult but also a challenging project. The museum is dedicated to the victims who we know only by name and their number, 296. Within the existing building of the museum we planned a combination of dark and prepped hallways with occasional flickering monitors showing the universal story about war and war crimes. The essence of our project Lipa Remembers is a two-storey steel hedgehog leaning against the museum’s building, a sign in space which makes a plain village house special. The black steel structure has two levels, the entrance level overhanging the entrance, and the upper level where visitors come out after seeing the museum’s interior. The sense of uncertainty after the visit to the museum and exiting on the upper floor of the steel hedgehog becomes instantly tangible as a sense of anxiety and discomfort, even claustrophobia. Wriggling through 296 vertical steel rods in a regular raster, the visitor metaphorically meets the victims, that is, the number 296 that seems terrifying in this collision. The number of victims is a materialized plural whose blackness blocks our view of the green landscape, but also makes the descent to the lower floor of the structure more difficult.


Iva Letilović: Actually, the anonymity of the existing building is invalidated by this steel construction, the hedgehog structure on the cistern with a symbolic and monumental charge, but is at the same time the space before the museum, the beginning and the end of the exhibition tunnels, shaping its interior and overcoming its spatial disadvantages. The new overhung square is simultaneously a spatial crossroad, the catalyst of this new public space, connecting like an octopus the handball court and the children’s playground with the social spaces within the museum.


ORIS:Your project of the exhibition in the Archeological Museum in Zadar is intriguing. I feel you are entering an old building with great respect. You bow before these old walls, then you step back, enter and set up your construction.


Igor Pedišić: The conceptually pure idea of introducing a steel structure in the empty space of the first floor of the Museum represents an example of a respectful relationship with the pre-existing structure, without intervening into the finished architectural elements, even without preparing them to adapt the space to the valid museological principles and standards. The simplicity of the concept is upgraded with the repetition of elements identical in design: the steel shelves placed in a regular rhythm from the beginning to the end of the available space. We created a three-dimensional line of motion, that is, directed a mise-en-scène on the steel stage, leading the visitors from the introductory sequences of the permanent exhibition of the Antiquity to the dramatically most impressive moment, the so-called Nin Group of oversized imperial statues. The peculiarity of those three statues is that the visitors are free to circle around them because they haven’t been placed on the pedestals which would reduce their effect. The steel shelves as the inconspicuous packaging, are strong enough to accept heavy stone artifacts, but also gems the size of a human nail, which requires a magnifying glass to enjoy their beauty.


ORIS:We would like to know how the project Cromaris came about and why all this brushwood?


Iva Letilović: The fishery’s husbandry and hatchery are at an extremely sensitive location: next to the very walls of Nin, at the same time at the edge of the artificial landscape of the salt evaporation ponds. This was the reason why this project was so specifically complex. We tried to find a concept that would enable these three factors to live together: the salt fields, the town of Nin and a quiet industry. By the method of non-literal mimicry, the hall should become one of the flickering lines on the horizon.


ORIS:There is an intrinsic mimicry... Brushwood is dynamic. It creates a mirage.


Igor Pedišić: The Cromaris Project is a giant mobile driven by sun and wind. The entire mantle of the hall is coated in three rows of metal rods fixed at the half of their height. The sun and its changes create an illusion of motion that depends on the time of day, while the wind literally moves the façade. Each pipe in its lower or upper part is moved according to the strength and direction of the wind, whether the southern or northern one. We wanted to build a house that flutters in the wind, that is crisscrossed with shadows of numerous pipes at a given moment in the day, reflects the sunshine or a cloudy sky, and thus tests your eyes. After all, we designed a house and not a landscape, unlike Curzio Malaparte who says for his villa that he has not created a house but a landscape.


ORIS:Let me take back to the questions and claims from the beginning of the conversation. It seems to me that you clearly differentiate between two kinds of projects and thinking. First we have those diagrams, programmatic projects, and, on the other hand, we have Lipa and Cromaris, a kind of spatial-design, sculptural and scenographic interventions. With due respect to latter, they do seem different. It seems those two methods are completely separate and very different.


Igor Pedišić: The fact that these projects are seemingly very divergent is not the result of our inconsistency in design, but rather the examples of two opposing approaches in solving architectural tasks.


Iva Letilović: I believe that Lipa and Cromaris are less architectural projects than any we have done so far. They contain many scenographic elements: the steel construction in the form of a hedgehog vividly describes the terror of devastation and they are the last, somewhat pathetic, stop of the precisely directed motion through the exhibition space, while the Cromaris’s mantle is in effect a fake scenery hiding a sophisticated industrial plant. Lipa and Cromaris are directly opposed to the Cages and Silba, and the rest of our architectural work stands suspended between these two poles.


ORIS:It is a kind of a parallelism, a graphical clarity of idea and an almost romantic, artistic way of forming lines, planes, rhythms. This other, parallel, equally legitimate approach contains another powerful dimension. This other parallel one is an equally legitimate approach which includes another important dimension. As in the case of Lipa, those bars, that large pavilion located, in my opinion, somewhere between a scenography and a powerful physical experience of the spatial gesture, which ultimately creates a sense of primeval architecture, an architecture free of content and purpose. On the other hand, there is this first method, a sincere, pure architectural thought. The Lipa competition could have been done also in this way. It just seems to me that there is a very clear division inside you. The decisions in what direction to go: towards the diagram or the gesture.


Igor Pedišić: In one of your previous questions you posed the rhetorical question whether the client would understand, and it concerned one of the two projects you labeled as a pure architectural thought. This is not an irrelevant question, because our work should have some amount of responsibility towards the client, in this case the museum’s visitors and all those concerned. Although Lipa has scenographic elements, it does not end there, you have to enter the structure to feel it, which is not the case with classical scenography that is mostly passive. We tried to give the third dimension to a number, in this case the number of victims. The steel structure does not talk if you just look at it, it only seems a bit enigmatic. Lipa is not a spatial gesture enough for its own sake, which, as such, can be superficial, or at least banal.


Iva Letilović: It is not required, nor is it possible for all projects to have the same discourse. On the poetic location in Nin, the triple border of the sea, salt fields and medieval walls, one well-designed hall was more necessary than a pure architectural thought. Perhaps it was more important in Lipa to create this feeling of discomfort and a strong physical experience in visitors. When we design, the selected direction seems to be the best possible response we are able to give at the time to a given problem, and somehow it feels good to stretch between these two poles. Nevertheless, despite this underlined bipolarity, these projects still have something in common. I think there is an inherent ideogrammatic clarity of idea, regardless of whether it is devised or sketched first.


ORIS:De facto, when you have your own office, you do not choose what you do, but simply you adjust to all possible demands. This may be an interesting thing for architects here, that is, in transition, that at some point we build, let’s say, a path, then an airport or a kindergarten. In principle, this is the difference between the architects of the 50s, 60s or today, in that market space. Because we are managers as well as visionaries, unlike the 60s when work was done in large studios. This is the complexity of today’s work. And I would like to ask Iva something, about your pedagogical career. What do you think about this part of your work?


Iva Letilović: As this daily intensive dealing with architectural practice is one part of the experience, so is this pedagogical work. Working with students is my gain. My goal is not to teach them how wide a road is, which construction system is best to apply. I want to teach them that architecture requires time, patience and stamina. As André Gide said, those who are not ready to swim for a long time will never reach the mainland. I do not believe students need to be taught that when they end their studies, they would immediately be usable architects that you can take into your studio and tell them to draw formworks. They should be made ambitious. They will have to face real life the moment they graduate and they will have to learn all the skills required for survival. My task is to raise the bar so that they try to jump over it and make the world better.


ORIS:In the end, another question for you, Iva. I am very much interested why in this contemporary, globally cross-linked open world, women in architecture are still not significantly on the front line and still have not taken up the leading positions in architectural production. From my everyday practical experience, I would say that the female approach to architecture is often far better in quality, more complex and more inspired that the male one. I still see a totally senseless lack of emancipation in this, still, man’s world.


Iva Letilović: To practice architecture you have to acquire skills natural to the male archetype, especially in the works before the beginning of a project, but also in its end. The female approach to architecture begins with design and ends with the beginning of realization. Before and after stages require another type of intelligence, savvy and social skills women usually lack. Besides that, women have their strong biological determination that becomes a limitation in some stages of life. But, beauty lies exactly in this difference, and evoking emancipation is evoking total unification, which means erasing differences, which means that not much would be left of the female approach. Regardless of individual sensibilities, art and therefore, architecture, knows no gender, so in the end, from the artistic standpoint, the author’s sex is totally irrelevant.