Francesco Veenstra, one of six partners at the Dutch practice Mecanoo and Lead Architect on a number of major projects in the United Kingdom, recently spoke to Mies. UK about the practice's approach to design and their unique take on sustainability. Having recently completed a major public building in Birmingham (which was put to the vote and won the AJ's 2013 Building of the Year), and with more in the pipeline, the practice's international outlook is growing. How has the practice's design methodology and core ideas influenced this success? Read more after the break.
Composition, Contrast, Complexity
"In general, the way in which we develop the design method is something which we all do together. Our design philosophy started with the idea of designing something nice during a period when all cities, especially in Holland, were under development and being tortured by architects with very low budget housing projects which dominated the inner cities of Holland."
"In the early 1980s, we came up with an approach of not only rebuilding the inner cities, but also doing it in a very human way. This is something which has evolved over the years and is very much about the fact that architecture is not only about creating something theoretical, or trying to design architectural purity, but more about the use of space and trying to be very contextual: not always in shape, but always in the way buildings will be used by visitors. We have a very strong focus on designing for people."
Sustainability as Social Responsibility
"For ten to fifteen years sustainability has been associated with the use of energy. Many architects come up with a solution using a set of architectural ingredients to make a design sustainable, meaning that sustainability really becomes a part of that particular building's identity." This is a methodology that Mecanoo do not follow. "We try to come up with a very integrated solution where architecture, comfort, mechanical and electrical installations are all brought together into one very sustainable model. It's an integrated design philosophy."
"We also believe in the fact that sustainability is also about embracing a project. It does not only start with energy models, or with the orientation a building has in terms of preventing daylight or too much energy coming in, but also in trying to create buildings which people will love to go to and which make the existence of it worthwhile."
Where do you see the profession in twenty years time?
"I don’t think [the profession] will be so far away from where we are today: the construction process is evolving, slowly. Architects don’t deal with the fastness you find in the automotive industry, for example - it takes a lot more time to develop the architectural product. In twenty years time it still will be about designing for a very specific purpose, though I think it will definitely move away (and already has started to) from large developments around the world."
Advice for students?
"An architect has the ability against all other 'consultants' to think very broadly. We always overarch the whole process of designing a product - which could be a building or interior design, landscape or organisation - by always trying to search for new solutions and be creative. Everybody’s different and everyone has different skills. Within our practice we have a total of 120 people from more than 20 countries meaning we have a lot of different cultures. By bringing these cultures together we gain new energy for new projects."
Mies. UK is a student founded and student led project aiming to bring informal and uninhibited filmed interviews with architects (both large and small) to a wider audience through publicly available films. You can download their portfolio or find out more about their Austrian partners, Mies. Magazin.