Where will we live together? Interview with Matthias Sauerbruch and Louisa Hutton
In particularly sensitive places in several European cities, where finding evident solutions seemed almost impossible, Berlin-based Matthias Sauerbruch’s and Louisa Hutton’s studio showed that what exists may be allowed to keep existing – it is the case with the M9 Museum in Mestre.
In over thirty years, the studio realized a large number of projects that were able to mediate the functional aspects, sustainability, and design with the most advanced building technologies. DRAW LOVE BUILD, opening on September 3 at M9 Museum in Mestre, is an in-depth investigation on the architectural DNA at Sauerbruch Hutton. We asked them to guide us through the exhibition.
We do want to provide a spatial, technical, cultural and, most importantly, an emotionally loaded infrastructure that will hopefully be flexible and sustainable enough to react to the needs of the generations to come.
DRAW LOVE BUILD: three essential actions in the history and work of Sauerbruch Hutton, so much so that you named your first monographic exhibition in Italy after them. How and why are these three words synonymous with your idea of architecture?
The three terms can be taken literally: even though we have been teaching at universities for decades, we have always been predominantly interested in practice, i.e., ultimately, we are interested to build our designs and so to get physically involved in the cities in which we work and live. Practicing architecture cannot be done well unless you really love the discipline. It is often an arduous way to the result that is often peppered with many disappointments and frustrations. You really have to be passionate about what you do, and you have to be determined to improve the situations that you find in your various assignments. Drawing, finally, is what we do all the time. The drawings and models are our means of expression, they are the language we use to communicate our ideas both to ourselves as well as to others, both in the design process and afterwards. On a more metaphorical level we also use these three words of the exhibition title to distinguish three main aspects of our work: drawing stands for the conceptual aspects of architecture; love for foresight and the care that is needed to address the challenges of our time while build may signify both the playful instinct of the child stacking his or her building blocks in the nursery as well as the emotional attachment that we feel in the physical presence of something that has been (thoughtfully) constructed by humans.
The exhibition showcases your professional activity over thirty years in 50 designs. What essential features do we find in your work and how did they evolve over the years? Who and what have been, and are now, your mentors or models?
Every project has its own history, its own client, its own site, its own production team and therefore they are all completely different. However, the catalogue has three chapters called city, sustainability, and sensuality – these address the three overarching themes that thematically tie the works together. Most of our projects are located in what we call the post-industrial city, in many cases sites that are characterized by infrastructure and industries, whether abandoned or not. The re-urbanization of these originally functional elements is one of the huge tasks facing our generation. Sustainability is an issue that we pioneered already in the early ‘90s, long before it became the mainstream concern that it is today, and we do not stop looking for an architecture that is genuinely carbon neutral. There are, however, no real models for this but we are generally inspired by an architecture that is aware of the importance of its sensual aura, as we believe that emotion probably plays the most important role in the way we decide to live our lives.
A special space at the exhibition is dedicated to the M9 design, which we followed very closely. What are the unique features of this particular project?
We are very happy to be able to exhibit in the M9 Museum, not just because we like Mestre and, of course, the M9 museum district, but also because there is the very rare opportunity to present an actual piece of architecture within our exhibition. Normally architecture exhibitions are about things that are absent and must be represented by photographs, models, drawings and films or other media that aim to simulate reality. Also, in the M9 project, all the above themes come together in a natural way. It is a project of urban regeneration that has opened a part of the city that had been hitherto used by the armed forces. It densifies the city, re-uses existing structures and draws its energy from solar and geothermal sources. Most of all though it contributes to the public realm, helping to make the city center livable and enjoyable, providing amenity – as well as a certain new aura – for every citizen of Mestre and indeed the whole of Venice.
Besides this project, what other designs do you think are the cornerstones of your professional career?
Every project is new, and every project (together with its particular challenges) form part of the horizon of our experience. As they are also spread across several countries in Europe, we are very lucky to be exposed to so many different situations, people, programmes, and cultural contexts. All the 50 projects on show have contributed to our understanding of architecture and the way we address the challenges of our time
Your exhibition takes place concurrently with the 17th Venice Architecture Biennale. What is your answer to the question asked by Hashim Sarkis, How will we live together?
Our exhibition is perhaps more directed to the question Where will we live together? That is not to say that we cannot see the connection between built space and social constellations, and we obviously take many decisions with the intention of affecting the well-being of current and future generations. However, we are also aware that – in the end – architects can only construct locations that hopefully will, in turn, engender specific situations. How these situations may directly affect future users is of course beyond our control. Social relations are changing drastically, globalization has affected the lives of almost everybody on the planet, climate change is threatening the very basis of our existence, democracy is being attacked – there are many phenomena that can worry one into a state of paralysis. In any case we cannot, and do not want to, anticipate the life of the individual, but we do want to provide a spatial, technical, cultural and, most importantly, an emotionally loaded infrastructure that will hopefully be flexible and sustainable enough to react to the needs of the generations to come.
Visiting the Biennale, a number of themes are apparent: researching new materials, sustainability, urban transformation – we can find these throughout your oeuvre. What direction is architecture following?
Obviously, we are facing a situation now that requires revolutionary change. According to the latest predictions we have only four years until global carbon emissions must peak to finally be in a position from which one might be able to reach the Paris commitments. The ecological turn is now – finally – the ultimate driver of all architectural efforts and we all must fire our imaginations to significantly reduce carbon emission to zero in everything we do. In this we must critically employ all available technologies and techniques to sustain livable – and as we would say: loveable – conditions in a habitat that one would generally describe as urban.
draw love build. l’architettura di sauerbruch hutton
3 September-9 January, 2022
M9 – Museo del ‘900 via Giovanni Pascoli 11, Mestre