How to hit the nail on the head (an interview with the architects from Atrium)
The Architectural Studio Atrium was founded in year 1991 with the goal of integrating architecture, interior, design and other features of work into one single space. Atrium Architects are the winners of a variety of international and national awards for architecture and urbanism. You can find more on www.atrium-archstudio.sk. We have talked about the present state of the Slovak architecture and more with the Atrium core – Ing. arch. Dušan Burák, Csc. and Ing. Michal Burák.
You are the winners of the 2004 Dušan Jurkovič award. There has been written quite a lot about your winning project – Art Elementary School Smižany. How did you benefit from it? How do you perceive this event when looking back?
Appreciation as this means a kind of obligation, a shift away from certain paths and a feeling of greater responsibility. In the professional dimension such as architecture beside deadlines and ensuring the functionality of the structure there simply is not always enough time and energy to produce responsible architecture. During the Art Elementary School project we were granted a constellation of favourable events. From the bizarre idea through provocative and bold project which we handed to the investor and to which he reacted. The result of receiving such an award is that we cannot hide, make excuses due to lack of time. There is no other way, just responsible architecture.
I have a feeling that we moved somewhere else, not only because the Jurkovič Award. I remember that after a year the building began to feel alien. I realized that something has ended and is no longer ours. But I am glad that it is this way because otherwise we would be standing on the same place. We have learned a lesson about investors though. I have realized that we should not make compromises but that we should pursue our goal. Otherwise it does not need to end successfully.
Do you think that similar competitions make sense? Can they contribute towards increasing the architectural standard?
The Dušan Jurkovič Award is something like the Martin Benka Award in creative art in the eyes of media. Not many people know about it. The Building Of The Year Award is much more popular.
When we talk about the Building Of The Year we must say that there it depends on the individual supplier which have the interest in supporting this competition. But let us get back to the question. I think that a person is born with a certain degree of exhibitionism. It is only natural. There is a percipient here. I am not creating something that will be viewed by me alone. I am happy to see a certain feedback. Evermore when we are trying a more complex formulation and we feel the feedback afterwards. I believe that such awards are useful and necessary but they must not judge on the basis of superficial criteria.
What can we imagine under the notion “present Slovak architecture”?
I do not know in what way a layperson imagines it. It depends on his knowledge. If he has no information he may even imagine a catalogue family house in the business baroque style. I personally imagine a number of good and quality building which were constructed in recent time.
Our old socialistic functionalism is now getting popular in the world. Old and important buildings are being documented and mapped on web pages. For example the www.ostmoderne.com project. Holland architecture now discovers that which was here 25 years ago.
The main feature of the socialist buildings was the minimum, not minimalism, in which they found their image, typification by which they were resisting technocracy and economism. They were quality structures of 60's and 70's and of cultural or research character for which there were more funds at that time. To address the light irony of the question: there are isles of positive deviation, there is hunger for good and bold architecture is getting bigger but those thought are rough on the edges, too romantic and they are not reflecting the age that we live in. The thing is, that we did not believe in our own strength. But I think that these are personal and authentic confessions.
It is difficult to remain non-conformist nowadays? We live in pseudo-capitalism in which the one with the most money is considered the expert. How do you deal with this problem in the field of architecture?
Architecture must serve, therefore making compromises is the main perplexity. We awe able to make the architecture functional and thus acquire the true form or we can implement ideas which are not of primary function but people need them. It is a problem of creation. Architecture is not only art. Personally I have the feeling that we are lucky with our investors since they trust us and desire quality architecture.
We indeed are lucky with investors. Most of them understand us. You do not need to meed an investor more than twice to figure out if you are willing to go with him or not. You can not reason with some of the investors since they live in the previous century.
Wright's thought: “No house should ever be on a hill or on anything. It should be of the hill. Belonging to it." is still dominant especially in the organic architecture – considering the environment and the following play of form and specific tectonics. In general the type of urban architecture is often uniformal even impersonal. What determines the quality of architectural work in your opinion?
I value my colleague Mr. Wright. The notion of organic architecture is related to the works of the previous century. The connection between the building and nature and intersections of civilized and natural elements in interiors may be considered as a criteria of quality architecture. We feel close to such notions. Wright applies very simple forms in communication with the nature. It's therefore a question of form than scaling, typology, materials and philosophy of the approach – whether I kick the nature away or bring it closer. Also the question if I am too servile to the environment, too bold or even arrogant are just different attitudes. Quality architecture can be easily decoded. The person will either accept it or reject it. Sometimes you need to lead people to the nature to let him experience it. Quality architecture is like hitting the nail on its head, the more accurately you hit it the more deeply it touches the person's soul.
In my opinion the quality of urban architecture is set by diversity. People would go crazy if the whole city would be done in organic style or fully in glass. We need to capture the detail but then we need something, some space where you can rest your sight.
What is the current thinking of a present architect? Is it more space-oriented? Just imagine the Chops Pyramid or the Apollo's Pantheon in Rome… Is the dependence on computer CAD systems not holding back our intuitive sense?
You can get easily lost in it. You can find yourself fascinated by what you have created to an extend when you forget what were you trying to say in the first place. I value the old architects. They were able to create amazing structures even without these systems. I believe though that the present CAF systems are important for us. Sometimes, for example while dealing with detail you may have many opportunities and by projecting it with the computer you get immediate answer. Some of our colleagues deal with visualizations of the finished realization plans and it can show us the flaws.
During the times when people did not use computers the architect could hold his line which other people might not have understood. These abstract codes may have meant a good result. The question was always formulated in a way asking if I had enough experience and if I have the ability to learn from my mistakes. And there were a lot of mistakes. Today I am able to check the correctness of my result in an animation. CAD systems are the other players in the process of creation. Sometimes they provide a random thought which no one requested and sometimes they even become co-authors.
Last year you participated in a competitionon to design the Hejce Air-crash tragedy memorial (after viewing the winner project I had a feeling than another tragedoccurreded). What does such project mean for an architect? Is this not more of a sculptor's line of work?
Personally I believe that these is where the architecture begins here. During these type of spiritual projects you are able to meditate and think in full extent. I believe that it is a type of work for them both. I have observed a strange phenomena during this competition. Many artists took part in it. I was shocked how low we got. It was as if the knowledge that it is a competition blocked them. I can not understand a sculptor who chooses a compromise. If someone does not like my work than I will transform in into something else and change the name?
It was a tragedy. It was necessary to understand what has happened and adjust the tools of expression to it. It is not possible to make a Dukla Memorial from a tragedy like this… An excellent communication with the artist Peter Valach has pushed us into different directions. We felt that “it” cannot dominate, that a person should search for “it”. We have seen the opportunity in a dialogue and in keeping the local park and a “penetration” and remembering this event without exhibition. I must say that the winning project, particularly from the architectural point of view was a great disappointment, while not taking our position in the competition into account.
What new production can we expect in the close future?
We are projecting huge cities, large residencies, couple of sky-scrappers (hahaha)… I cannot wait for the two or three family houses which are already being finished. We are also finishinglibrary in Košice and rest home in Spišská Nová Ves. We should be able to finish a military cemetery in Bodružal. Personally I enjoy the family houses the most as it is a never-ending process…
We have a number of interesting projects. I mean from the thematic point of view. Recently we deal with objects intended for the older population – rest homes, etc. In general, that which is not confrontational is attractive to us.
An interview with Rišo Kitta, internet magazine Fuzine