Established in 2004, Spanish studio Barozzi/Veiga have become known for their intellectual approach to design and their precise solutions which draw on both local conditions and a sense of uniqueness - an approach which recently won them the Mies van der Rohe Award for their Philharmonic Hall Szczecin. In this interview, originally published in the August issue of Indian Architect & Builder under the title "Script of Simplicity," Fabrizio Barozzi speaks about the award-winning Philharmonic Hall Szczecin, the connection Barozzi/Veiga keeps between research and design, and how they avoid the generic in their architecture.
Indian Architect & Builder: Tell us a little about Barozzi/Veiga; the ideas, principles and core philosophies of your practice.
Fabrizio Barozzi: We always try to create an "essential" architecture. We understand essential architecture as a public architecture, an architecture that intends to generate some positive changes in the community for which it is built. An architecture that arises in a context without harshness, specific and inspired by its environment. We believe that this kind of approach to architecture is what brings out the characteristics of each site and therefore the diversity of ideas that exist in the world.
To achieve this, starting from our first projects, the idea of specificity has been a central issue in our reflections. We understand specificity as that which is inextricably able to relate atmosphere with architecture.
Specificity represents a way to escape from the generic, which we think has uniformed and stagnated the current architectural thinking. Finding the "specific" in architecture means reviving the uniqueness of things, to re-encounter and to preserve the diversity and culture of each place. This is the key to join together what starts out as an autonomous approach—the abstract idea behind a project—with the contingencies and the tangible reality of a place.
IA&B: In your several years in practice, what are the major changes contemporary architectural practice has witnessed? How have these changes impacted architecture in Spain?
FB: The most important change in the current architectural practice has been the change from a local to a global environment. There is clearly a bigger internationalization, mostly between young professionals. The economic framework, especially in Spain, has been compromised; therefore we had to look for other destinations and resources.
On the other hand, keeping the quality of a project against some increasingly technical requests is also an ongoing challenge for the sector. The technical requirements should not be converted into a key element of the project but rather contribute to its poetry. The main elements of architecture should remain the city, the public space, the specificity, etc. Something similar happens with sustainability which is of course a very important issue to consider for each project, but we have to strive to integrate it in the architecture and avoid that it will end up being a fashionable term which relegates architecture to the background.
IA&B: You are constantly associated with academics – how does your teaching and your practice overlap? What is the common ground?
FB: For us the academic world, both teaching and giving lectures, is key to follow the path of research. Being in touch with the academic world allows us to distill all our reflections that occur in the process of the different projects. We take this kind of work very seriously because if you want to explain something or prepare a lecture, you need to clarify and synthesize your work in advance.
Rather than overlap our practice and teaching we could say, in our case, they reinforced each other, a kind of synergy is created between them. Our work is based on a continuous research about why we do what, and this reflects in all the projects from our office.
IA&B: Your built work encompasses many typologies, situations and contexts while addressing many issues – of architecture and society. Can you tell us about your most significant project?
FB: Perhaps the new Cantonal Museum of Fine Arts in Lausanne is the most complex project we are developing because it combines social, urban, cultural issues, etc. All of them are on a large scale. It is really difficult but at the same time extremely stimulating to deal with a project with so many inputs. You have to continually make an effort to essentialize any situation, because any little issue, that in other kind of projects should not affect so much, in this case tends to magnify just because of the scale and the amount of people involved in it.
Of course, other smaller projects involve as well certain complexity, but in these cases more in an intellectual way. For us there are no small projects when we talk about thought and reflection.
FB: The new Philharmonic Hall of Szczecin is located (arises) on the historical site of the “Konzerthaus”, which was destroyed during Second World War. The building houses a symphony hall for 1000 spectators, a hall for chamber music for 200 spectators, a multifunctional space for exhibitions and conferences, and a wide foyer, which can also be used to host events.
The building is configured by a synthetic, but at the same time complex volume, which is resolved through a continuous promenade, which connects all these functions along a single public path through all the levels of the building. Externally, as in the adjacent preexistence, the verticality and geometry of the roof prevail. These characteristics identify the Philharmonic Hall with its surrounding context.
The plan composition is defined by a perimetral ring. This element mostly hosts service spaces. On one hand this allows to define a large void within which the symphony hall and the hall for chamber music gravitate, on the other hand to shape the relationship of the building with its surroundings. The serial modulation of the roof represents the only other expressive element that permits the integration of the new building within the fragmented urban profile of the city.
In its materiality, the building is perceived as a light element: the glass façade, illuminated from inside, depending on the use, allows different perceptions. The exterior austerity and the simple composition of the interior circulation spaces contrast with the expressiveness of the main hall. In accordance with the central European tradition of the classical concert halls, decoration becomes ornament and function. The hall is composed following a Fibonacci sequence whose fragmentation increases with the distance from the scene, and gives shape to an ornamental space which reminds of the classical tradition through its gold-leaf covering.
IA&B: Barozzi / Veiga participated in the exhibition “Innesti / Grafting” at the 14th International Architecture Exhibition at the Venice Biennale. Can you share the important elements of this exhibition?
FB: We were in the Italian pavilion. In this pavilion the recent works of a new generation of Italian architects was exhibited and what we could see was very encouraging. Italian architecture has been in a deep crisis for the latest twenty years and in the exhibition at the Venice Biennale we could see new ideas from young talented architects and professionals with a theoretical discourse. It is a great novelty for Italy and its architecture! Moreover it is great news because Italy is a country with a substantial architectural history and now it can again become a benchmark in the architectural world.
IA&B: In terms of a formal office and in terms of a studio that constantly engages in research – how does your multi-dimensional practice function?
FB: In our office we try not to segregate research and practice, both are intermixed and that is the way we work. Our office has no specialized departments; all issues can be attended by some of our collaborators. In fact, the moments of reflection can be more intense in the initial phases of a project, but that does not mean that there are no reflections during the rest of the project.
In reality, the way we specify these reflections in a lecture or in a lesson is very similar as for a project. We approach a lesson or a lecture in the same way as a project, as I said before: our works are based on a continuous research and reflections.