Projects Nobody Asked For

Exhibition: 18 December – 16 January 2016


Answers to Questions Nobody Asked

Making architecture means to design in shackles, in the service of clients, constricted by a corset of social, economic, and legal parameters. Built architecture therefore always represents a compromise of the planning process: negotiating, challenging, creating, cost-optimizing.

In the end, the quality of the space is what matters – and it cannot be quantifiably measured with tools or clever tables. One cannot put a price tag on the tangible spirit of a space, nor on its stunningly beautiful proportions, or the dynamic tension it can evoke. Therefore, the question of the value of ‘good’ architecture is irrelevant, at the very least since the discussion of how the ‘Bilbao Effect’ can valorize a physical location. What matters is not the value, but the meaning of architecture itself.

Contributions to the exhibition “Projects Nobody Asked For” yield no return-on-investment – and in this sense have no value. However, they are not meaningless, because both unrealized and unbuildable projects are architecture, even in their prenatal stages. They point to a more or less stark abstraction of ideas that speak for themselves; monetary value clearly cannot pose the core of their investigation. They developed haphazardly during the course of conceptual design, without a client, chance of realization, or remuneration: these architectural ideas are neither science nor art, which is why they are not supported by the private sector nor a consortium of stipends and prizes.

Why, despite economic prosperity and ample building contracts, would one brood over representational methods to depict the forces that impact the city? Why was it necessary to covertly photograph a plaster model of a killer rabbit, cast by some unsuspecting architecture student, time and time again in secret? Even the authors themselves may not know the answer with certainty. The history of architecture reveals that designs born of ‘self-initiative’ – a pleonasm that graces the websites of self-declared innovative architectural offices – are as old as architecture itself. They are theoretical exercises – flights of fancy uncoupled from the complexities of everyday life. Or are they?

In this lies a parallel to science, occupying the space between basic and applied research. Basic research cannot be utilized, yet is not without purpose; while the consequences of the newly acquired knowledge are unpredictable, based on an understanding of scientific history, it is implied that it will be possible to extract some form of concrete application from the results. Items that continually influence our everyday lives, such as the Internet or lasers, have evolved according to this process of projects without concrete clients. As such, “Projects Nobody Asked For” serves as a body of new information, the determination of potentially universally applicable concepts. Because good ideas are a prerequisite for good architecture: ideas which cannot be replaced by monetary compensation or countless hours of meticulous diligence.

What so often transpired late at night in the back rooms of architectural offices has now become a visible inventory.

If one attempted to categorize the selected projects, hypothetical houses envisioned in a landscape are represented by Pascal Flammer, smarch, Kawahara Krause Architects, and Philipp Schärer – although the latter has invented the landscape depicted in his design, in the finest of utopian traditions (“ou-topos” meaning placeless).

Anchored in an urban or municipal context are the dramatic village silhouettes by mazzapokoras, as well as Frei + Saarinen’s mosque that addresses the Swiss ban on the building of minarets. Religion and the representation thereof is also the topic of Philip Loskant’s sacred space – a Chimera-like kit of parts from various scale models.

Staging found micro-spaces – whether composed of everyday objects or ‘squatting’ plaster models of unsuspecting architecture students – are the subject of contributions by Atelier Scheidegger Keller and Kasia Jackowska. Jackowska shows in a second work an ideal design for a night club. In the exhibition this work faces the ideal city of the 21st century by MyriamBönninghausen.

Comparatively contemporary are Mikel Martinez and Alain Roserens’s proposals, which stimulate social interaction and a density of activities within a specific context – a Swiss National Railway train car and the suburban space of the Zurich metropolitan area.

The isolated examination of spatially unique phenomena, structural principles, and building elements is conducted by Bojana Miskelijn, Club Club, and WALDRAP, whose Ultimate Schoolhouse embodies an obsessive, cross-project search for the ideal constructive node of columns and girders.

Retro-Futurism lives on in the inflatable Project Fortress by wojr, which is the only project in the series that was eventually realized. Construction of the project for a Swiss National Library by smarch and Christian Waldvogel, in contrast, is not likely to be granted any time in the near future.

While further formalistic-aesthetic experiments utilizing inchoate technologies were deliberately excluded from the selection as ‘science fiction’, the contributions by Camenzind and Foreign Architects Switzerland represent intelligent and provocative efforts motivated neither by costs nor travails, in order to discuss and communicate architecture.

Sergej Klammer’s work conveys the idea of answering questions nobody asked, posed in the context of the BALTSprojects Gallery: when asked if he would contribute spatial-architectonic projects to the exhibition, he delivered apparatuses instead – veritable “Projects the Curators Didn’t Ask For.”

Martin Saarinen, 2015