Experimental architect and psychologist Margot Krasojevic has been designing literally in-credible structures for her entire career. Starting with more conceptual designs, her parametric and outlandish forms are becoming increasingly buildable, and several, including her Jetway Hotel, are under construction. Following on from her latest project, an artificial snow cave which functions as an emergency shelter, ArchDaily was able to talk to Krasojevic about what goes into her work, how she designs and how she feels about the current architectural media - us included.
ArchDaily: Looking through your material, I noticed a lot of your images are layered on each other like a form of montage, often with text layered on top of that. Was there a particular reasoning behind this?
Margot Krasojevic: The fractal tower project [Lebbeus Woods, Krasojevic Unbound] employs a superimposed technique in order to explore the dynamic and vibrant site in Manhattan. The project developed from this, using the architecture and its surface scale transitions to animate fragments and snapshots of the surrounding context; the entire scheme dislocates us from our prophetic relationship with spatial recognition using geometry and scale. Both the project's design criteria and representation used the montage superimposition of surface and space, creating an illusion of self-referential surface geometry and dimension (the fractal) in this case.
With regards to my earlier work and books, the layering technique demonstrated my main interests whilst working with Lebbeus Woods and my post doctoral research regarding subjectivity, perception and appropriation of space in urbanism and architecture. I focused on stressing the importance of redundant typologies under the influence of technology, affecting not only our habits but the way we interpret and relate to our surroundings. We have much shorter attention spans and live in an ever increasing rate of change and information exchange. This has always influenced my design thinking, the impermanence of environments and the manner in which we immerse ourselves within them.
We have more methods of capturing the identity of a place, subject or space as a result of drone photography, artificial lighting sequences, time-lapse photography, real-time editing and publishing accessibility, dominating the manner in which we perceive, are inspired and in turn how we respond as architects. Insisting on this immediacy further defines my design criteria; the layering technique in both "Spatial Pathologies" and "Dynamics & De-realisation" attempts to relate to the overwhelming information we are exposed to on a daily basis and the manner in which we edit in order to understand, appreciate or dismiss; thoughts are not as linear, distractions encouraged by technology affect the way we understand our context(s): my work has been about choreographing this multi-layered and subjective perception of the built environment.
AD: How do you feel about the way your work, and other work similar to yours, is presented in the media?
MK: It varies from journalist to magazine to blog. Mostly people have forejudged or presumed to understand the work because of the simulation and digital graphic and we tend to be grouped as "parametric futurist crap architects" which is fair enough. It is always frustrating when someone you have never met and knows little about your work, hasn't read your books or attended your lectures dismisses the projects as an "ism." It's easier, I suppose, to do this, as the alternative would be to re-edit your own framework of familiarity and reference.
Every project I am involved with is communicated in multiple ways. For example, my recent projects are extensions of my post-doctoral research with more of a tangible/obvious nature to them while my clients see a more pragmatic series of working drawings and renders that break down the project in a relatable manner. Similarly, when I collaborate with other disciplines in order to build, the project is not represented in the same way as it would be for a short piece in a design magazine or blog. However, I acknowledge that it is easy to make a project out of a computational software technique which is content-less, an empty vessel, and I have always been aware of this even as a student or when running my teaching studio at the Bartlett. I have stressed the importance of the role of computers and technology and how it affects our perception and appropriation of the built environment. As important as it is to have projects published, it can be a challenge to understand them as an exhibition of work. It functions more as a snapshot than a detailed exploration of the design and identity of the work itself, which may be more evident in my books. We presuppose taking all of 30 seconds to construct an opinion, juggling with fragments of information and imagery exposure all day long.
This can make it even harder for people to want to be more objective, as technology has catered to our individual whims on a daily basis - be it through apps, language, sexuality, or accessibility. We are defining ourselves more and as a result, learning to edit and compartmentalize at a faster pace, which is why we are divorcing ourselves more from "architectural movements." They reduce people to a false accessibility in the light of the technology we use which gives us the opportunity to be more individual, although whether it's authentic or not is another story. I personally believe that regardless of how many social networking sites there are, they divorce us from a group mentality and instead we have become the selfie generation that focuses on our own constructive character editing.
Many of these projects, mine included, show a fragment of how we reached this point and what our influences are. To suggest that these are image-based projects is incorrect: the artificial snow cave project, for example, was designed thinking about the tools and equipment climbers use in extreme climate conditions. The immediate context and nature of the terrain is reflected and mimicked in the design, a platform for a climber to work into and under to prevent freezing and suffocation which is a problem for climbers in sub-zero conditions. Snow caves have been a type of emergency shelter for a long while. The layering representation technique is simply in this case a presentation board for ideas already thought through and designed. My work is becoming more build-able, but the reasoning stays the same, requiring different methods to communicate my intentions.
I think there is a backlash to experimental architectural projects, especially in blogs, whereby people immediately compartmentalize and pre-judge instead of taking the time to read the project, and perhaps I do myself no favors with the images and renders I choose to have published. In a way, I understand the animosity. A wave of digital representation like mine can seem arbitrary, and in some cases it is, but it is very rare that mainstream blogs and architectural magazines give projects similar to mine a chance to be fully understood. You guys prefer the tangible, the understood. There is no mainstream support for the alternative architectural message at the scale of ArchDaily.
AD: Do you feel like we really understand what you're doing, or do we get things wrong?
MK: You would think that because our means of representation and communicating are immediate, particularly with drone/satellite/aerial/time lapse photography and video accessibility, we are more bound to represent a degree of accuracy, a truth to understanding what we see. However, we relate to space and imagery not only with visual impressions but with the idea or concept, constantly adding to our own individual schematic network and classifying what we see to fit into some sort of familiar reference frame: a short cut to interpreting that space, that drawing, idea etc. The familiar is always a starting point for people to understand or want to even try. This influences a relationship with the unfamiliar (the artificial snow cave is a bad example of this; I refer more to my previous projects with Lebbeus Woods with regards to who does and does not understand my work or who doesn't even bother, which is all good).
So I guess what I am saying is that we relate to projects in a personal and subjective manner and sometimes this reduces the need to fully understand something. I too am guilty of this; whenever I see minimalist architecture I don't bother reading the scheme and just see it as another reconfigured spatial sequence of something already built, whereby its overall style predominates any architectural intention. Perhaps because it has a strong identity, I assume there is never anything different or new about the approach, it is an "ism."
However, I believe it is important that the form my representation and my architecture's design criteria takes cannot be divorced from its purpose and the requirements of the society in which the given language gains currency and legitimacy. The hardest thing is trying to associate my earlier work with this sentiment as I am now in the process of building, where I was not too concerned about building in my earlier projects.
To summarize, we are constantly exposed to different views and interpretations of familiar environments and designs, and it is up to the individual to want to embrace it or dismiss different approaches to their own set of familiar interpretative references. This forms the basis of whether a project is given the time to be understood or not, after which if the work is disliked then okay, as long as there is a dialogue then it's good enough for me; the hydroelectric tidal house, piezoelectric playground, Fresnel yacht and artificial snow cave are difficult projects to understand. My earlier work does not place the same importance in being a readable architecture as it was in more of an academic framework, I was establishing my research and design direction.
AD: Adding to that, should your work be considered strictly alone, or as part of a philosophical lineage?
MK: I don't really think in those terms, I am not part of a coterie and don't regard myself as being completely isolated. Most designers and architects evolve, innovate and adapt and none of us live in a bubble: architectural style should not restrict its intention for the sake of a type of architecture. Since my monographs, I have worked across disciplines regarding the environment and typology but this is different to my publications which relate architecture to philosophy as an ongoing questioning of which direction I am headed in and why. A lot of my earlier work focuses on the redundancy of building and programmatic type as a result of technologies affecting behavior, perception, reality and the manner in which we engage with the built environment.
ArchDaily: Your books talk a lot about the role of philosophy - do you think your work is closer to philosophical thought or to architecture?
My books were published as part of my postdoctoral research when I was running architectural design studios at The Bartlett, University of Greenwich and the University of Washington. I was involved more in academia and lecturing at the time of publication, so the philosophy behind the projects is something that has helped me define an architectural design approach. It is still a way for me to understand why I am interested in time-sequence, simulation, non-static and dynamic designs that use technology, renewable energy and question the relevance of building typologies. The Belgrade Piezoelectric playground project, for example, used semi-conductors to generate electricity, and light up the pavilion with the children's movements. Since then I have been interested in renewable energy and the manner in which this will affect not just an architectural language but create a cross disciplinary dialogue and a superimpose a typology in light of the ever-evolving technological era. We're altering digital, analogue and privacy boundaries, creating invisible identities and an anonymous world, a disintegration of authenticity and information (for example, Wikipedia) walks alongside the visible, accessible and obvious social conditioning. Why should architecture cater to this camouflaged existence when there is a more prominent shadow whose definitions are forever shifting, herding us along with it? I would be interested to see how future historians regard this time; how authentic will our future past be regarded as? What would even be considered real?
AD: Lebbeus Woods, in his article about your work within parametricism, said that he didn't think your work was Utopian or based around a vision that you'd like to see built - are your buildings purely thought experiments or do you think your work could genuinely become real, or even a recognised architectural language?
MK: When I worked with Lebbeus Woods I was more involved in an experimental architecture; whether it was to be built or not was not an issue for me. It was a series of projects that questioned how I read and understand reality, from the very hyper-reflexed world of gaming to personality orders and disorders. I researched how our relationship with the real and how we interpret it continuously changes, which is why I looked into philosophy and Kant, in particular the intuitive nature of design and subjectivity, what provokes us to take the first step into designing a building. I never fooled myself into understanding Utopian values in architecture. I wouldn't know where to begin or whether I believe in the idea of a perfect society or an ideal vision of the built environment; I prefer our clumsy stumbling through social graces and disgraces, giving us room to breath and respond. I detest the notion of a Tabula rasa or a social planning exercise where every area is designed and thought through with no room to adapt or interpret.
Currently I am working with renewable energy which is still not an inherent part of most design processes. It is used as a polite afterthought at best, and I believe by working more closely with engineers and scientists we can define new categories within architecture, a new language of architecture.
My work is becoming more dual. The experimental theoretical/philosophical work has influenced the more socially acceptable or mass orientated definition of what architecture is: i.e. "real" projects, the ones easier to account/determine and package, with less room to interpret, manipulate or reshape, so definitely I shall continue to and am currently building. The building work focuses on depleted non-renewable resources, a synthesis between large scale infrastructures, environmental engineering, hydraulic engineering, marine and hydro-kinetic engineering. Technology is important to learning how to re-appropriate and define inhabitable space. Yet again the relationship between technology and typology is questioned, a new functionality, a new approach bridging possibilities with surprise, divorcing us from what we expect. I don't believe that architecture should patronize us anymore. The struggle to communicate earlier ideas is still present.
AD: More broadly, is Woods right? Are your works architecture for architecture's sake?
MK: Lebbeus Woods knew I wasn't designing as a self indulgent exercise, but understood that projects about self-referential scale (the Fractal tower he writes about in Krasojevic Unbound, for example) refer to not only fractal geometry but explain parametricisim, multiple programs, typologies and fabrication. The multi-layering in this case is seeing the conversation applied to the design process itself. With regards to my first monograph, "Spatial Pathology-Floating Realities," which was edited by Lebbeus Woods, he supported a shared interest in the notion of "reforming" an artificial landscape. Architecture being a method of reforming surface. Reshaping of both the literal and abstract thought process which gave the ideas a starting point; there was never a pre-determined end goal but a progression, an animation of thoughts. We understood and shared this approach, reforming the manner in which we interpret, manifest and appropriate.
"If there is no idea in the drawing, there is no idea in the constructed project. That’s the expression of the idea. Architects make drawings that other people build. I make the drawings. If someone wants to build from those, that’s up to them. I feel I’m making architecture. I believe the building comes into being as soon as it’s drawn. Obviously, every architect would like to see most of their designs built, including me."
- Professor Lebbeus Woods
AD: What do you think wider architecture should take from your work?
MK: If anything the importance of new typologies and the redundancy of some existing ones. I don't think I offer anything that hasn't already been researched and questioned: we all manifest these ideas using a different architectural identity. Also; impermanence, shorter building lives (once again nothing new). I, personally, prefer the influences on a design that other disciplines will have during a project, for example the Jetway Hotel and Hydroelectric Tidal House. The better the dialogue with marine, aviation and hydro-kinetic engineers, the broader the design possibilities.
AD: And finally, to use that terrible journalistic cliché - is there a question that you'd like the ask you or something you think I've missed?
Only a couple of comments to add:
I don't believe in an eclectic architecture isolating people who have, for example, never used the computer as part of a design process, or a particular building technique; I don't strive to broaden the existing disparity between building and academia. In all sincerity, I am wondering not how to be accepted, for the sake of it, by an architectural community but instead to further define what I am investigating in relationship to both practice and research. This divergence is still evident and unfortunately stifles what is being built and what is being explored. Can there not be a shared platform to vent as a constructive critique bringing together different disciplines without smothering one another? A gathering of resources that aren't dismissing each other but willing to share ideals, goals, methodologies and beliefs - if anything this is the Utopian thought I am willing to support and believe in. Not just an individual's proposal but a collaborative, cross-disciplinary approach. Amputees of architectural discourse are more common, and I have yet to see a building of ideas, a construction of possibilities and a collaboration of individuals from more of a diverse experiential background without the noticeable cavalier attitude that runs between academia and practice, or its chronic celebrity architect twitter-scape whipping self-admiration into a digital frenzy. Less ego more collaboration.
See more of Margot Krasojevic's projects at her website here.