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Franz Füeg ​​on architecture, research and design

Translucent marble slabs surround the church of Pius Church in Meggen, the most famous work of Franz Füeg. (Photo: Ralph hat)

To advance in the technical progress, it is also to push its limits. This experience has repeatedly made Franz Füeg; He is one of the Swiss pioneers of standardized construction.

Sabine de Fischer

Virtually no architect of his generation has thought so much about systems and standardization and has remained as free to think as Franz Füeg ​​from Solothurn. With only a few buildings and a few sentences, the architect, publisher and university professor has shaped Swiss post-war architecture and discussions about it for four generations.

Systems continue to interest it, in all its facets, from the proportions of parts to standard positions. The arc of aesthetics to the technique forms the basis of an architecture serving the man in his thinking. Standardization aims to open the freedom of design, not to limit it. "A standardization of components tends to end states," he argued at a conference of industrial construction architects in 1959 as part of his vote in favor of a streamlining differentiated, thus criticizing prima facie the narrow use of efficiency.

For him, the interaction of the elements has always been in the foreground, never the increase in production. The question of technology is also necessarily an aesthetic issue in his thinking and therefore goes hand in hand with the search for the basic principles of space. With this conviction, he met resistance. And today, this 98-year-old is talking about the problems of the present and critics of climate change.

Mr Füeg, you were a founding member of the central office responsible for the rationalization of buildings. Their research was also controversial: why did you want to standardize construction processes in the 1960s?

The architect Franz Füeg ​​(Image: Cyril Thurston)

Construction has undergone a fundamental and rapid change during this period. When I started building, sometimes men wearing a hat on their head were pulling the soil off the ground next to a small cement mixer. Next to it was a horse-drawn vehicle ready to be transported. Suddenly, concrete mixers rolled in the streets, and there were construction machinery and other construction equipment from the war that the Americans were selling on construction sites.

Machines have replaced people and what has happened on the other?

Suddenly, the Sicilians found themselves in front of the stations at night, the boom requiring seasonal help. Sleeping mothers had their AVS and no longer rented vacant rooms; the boys had to regroup in apartments. Especially the real estate boom was huge. Not to the extent of today, but with tremendous momentum: The changes happened quickly and dramatically. It is easy to understand that "fast" and "rationalize" have become difficult keywords. The idea of ​​rationalization was obvious.

And then, as an architect, you've been looking for a system that can quickly and quickly respond to all requests.

Nobody thought of a system. Jean-Pierre Vouga, the Vaud cantonal architect, gave the impetus to do something. In 1960, we sat together for the first time. We were at the beginning of one thing. – How did we come to rationalize the texts of construction contracts? Every offer from a contractor is based on a text. This was written by the contractor or the engineer or the architect. It consists of phrases describing the required performance of the entrepreneur. For a build of over a thousand pages may be necessary. Instead of writing these texts themselves, and often in a subjective way, they are now selling the Zentralstelle fur Baurationalisierung as standard text elements. If these elements are correctly grouped together, the building owner, the architects, the engineers and the operating contractor possess the texts of the construction contract relating to the state of the art.

Do you want to do it again?

Of course, very little is what was created with her. But the workload of architects is therefore considerably reduced, standardized language and legal certainty improved significantly. – Would I do it again? Some things you do spontaneously in life. It was like this: if I had a bite, I stayed there.

And then you pleaded in the midst of the construction boom of the 1960s for a research in the field of construction, which also includes methods of cognitive science and the theory of science. At that time, they wrote: "A complete system of research on the building exists if it also includes the components of the man."

Architecture means a service to people, which is also important for our vision of modernity: modern architecture has not only introduced new techniques, it has also found a conception of space that is not closed, but outside and inside, above and outside. flows down. The space has fluid transitions to other spaces and does not exclude the concentrated space towards the interior.

They have thought a lot about the perception and fundamental phenomena of space. In the current perspective, this connection surprises us by the fact that technology and aesthetics go hand in hand so naturally.

Some are interested in football, they find the systematic. I found them in the design of space and creating a dignified existence. In architecture, the way of life and the relationship to the environment must also be taken into account.

They say that space is not something complete, but a field of space and a flow of space. How are you doing?

You need eyes that see. You must educate those eyes, you must train your vision. I like simple proportions, 1: 2: 4, like 60 × 120 × 240 centimeters. But even more I like the proportions after the English foot, they are still a little better. Why, I can not say exactly.

The "Musician's House" in Solothurn (1956) with floor-to-ceiling openings and the Pius window-less church in Meggen (1966): both are formally and technically thought out to the last detail. (Photos: Ralph Hut)

The Pius Church in Meggen is your most famous building. The interior is lit only by the shimmering marble walls, there are no windows. Why was there no one else?

You can not just repeat something like that, and I could not find builders who would accept such ideas again. Powerful voices among the architects strongly criticized the project. But the building has become famous. The supporting frame is a steel structure incorporating translucent marble slabs through which the ocher light enters the room in many shades.

They pledged to systematize construction processes and then defended against the codification and standardization of architecture. Did you come into conflict with colleagues?

We had different points of view. Most thought: we rationalize because we want to build faster. I disagree. If it's faster, it's fine – but the goal should be to build better! That's what I said at the time, in 1967, before any assembly of the Swiss Association of Architects. The same goes for the whole professional association that overthrows the opinion. When I realized how one can reject opinions by word, with so many intelligent people, I'm scared. I will never do it again.

So tonight, the majority was for quality in relation to quantity. How long is that? stopped?

Not at all. – See, in other words, only one can not do that. Quality can not simply be created in an organizational way. The speed can be organized, the slowness too. But not quality, that's another category in our reality.

How have the processes of architecture changed since?

The questions have remained essentially the same: construction is construction.

Today, however, construction processes are almost entirely computer controlled, something that could not even be dreamed of in the sixties. These computers change the architecture.

The question is: the calculation of what? Quality is not an invoice, it can not be drawn from it. I often ask my colleagues why such miserable and often inhumane architecture is done today. The answer often comes from certain situations. For example, I published an article in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung on this topic.

Do you mean "managed architecture" from 1975?

Yes, and I have also written other lyric lyrics, even very angry. In the Bauzeitung, for example, against a very high-ranking president, because he had degraded civil engineers into mere agents. And then, also in the NZZ, against the characteristics of management in public buildings administrations.

How did people react to your objections?

There were many different reactions, including a very direct one: "Look, if you write such things in the , you can not expect that you will always receive orders. "The Warner was unfortunately right, I got this job .. No. For others, because not in all the administrations of The buildings in Switzerland read the NZZ, there was resistance, but also opportunities.

The Institute of Natural Sciences of Franz Füeg ​​(1968), which was realized jointly with Jean Pythoud, was also a test object of the standardized construction. (Photos: Ralph Hut)