Interview: In conversation with Jurgen Mayer H, Founder of Design Studio J Mayer H

Tete-A-Tete with Experts Dated:  Aug. 20, 2015
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J Mayer H

‘The updated Architect’, who majorly works towards the intersection of Architecture, Communication and New technology. Having studied at Stuttgart University, The Cooper Union and Princeton University, Jürgen Mayer H. founded his studio J MAYER H in Berlin in 1996. Awards include Mies-van-der-Rohe-Award-Emerging-Architect-Special-Mention-2003, Winner Holcim Award Bronze 2005 and Winner Audi Urban Future Award 2010. Jürgen Mayer H. has taught at Princeton University, University of the Arts Berlin, Harvard University, Kunsthochschule Berlin, the Architectural Association in London, the Columbia University, New York and at the University of Toronto, Canada.

Could you tell us about the man behind this German Architect and the Artist?

I grew up in the 80s and 90s and it was a moment where we were surrounded with a lot of critical discussions about architecture. My generation went through the 80s with a somber outlook on the future. In the shadow of the Cold War, we were talking about anti-nuclear demonstrations, dying forests under acid rain, and Pershing Rockets in Germany. It was all about fear and protection. I wanted to reclaim a future that was taken away when we were young, and I was glad to witness a wide range of people in our generation trying to catch that moment of curiosity about the future. I guess all this lead me to become so interested in our built environment.

When was your firm set up and what was the driving factor back then?

In 1996 I came to Berlin after graduating in Princeton and living in New York for a while, especially to confront a critical architectural education with a quite charged and vivid cultural urban condition. Parallel to establishing a practice, I started teaching, and since then teaching is a major factor in testing the architectural condensations of cultural phenomena. Competitions and smaller art installation projects became the laboratories to make certain assumptions about the production and performance of the architecture operative. Winning the Stadthaus competition in 1996 became the driving factor to set up my own company.    We grew very gradually, and now we are a team of about 20 people working on a highly exciting set of projects nationally and internationally.

You have designed the temporary pavilion KA300 in Karlsruhe to celebrate the three hundred year anniversary of the founding of the city of Karlsruhe. If given an opportunity to design a pavilion for a city in India, which city would you choose and what would be your design?

Note: In this temporary pavilion, during the festival summer, various concerts, theatre performances, readings, film screenings, and exhibitions will be held in the open structure. The pavilion offers a large auditorium with a stage: it is the center of the jubilee activities around the city and a meeting point with a café. The twisted pattern of the pavilion refers to the strictly geometric, radial layout of the Baroque planned city of Karlsruhe with the palace as the focal point, transforming it into a spatial field of lines. On several layers in and on the structure, exhibition platforms, resting spaces, and viewing platforms emerge.

This would be a fantastic project and the design would be something we develop specifically for the location. I am curious which city will be the one.

Our readers would want to know about the conceptualization of ADIDAS World of Sports building.

The World of Sports in Herzogenaurach is designed as a campus in which various architecturally striking buildings provide workspaces for the employees of Adidas and make the Adidas brand palpable for visitors and business partners. The individual buildings are grouped loosely in the landscape as striking unique structures; the landscaping and the attractive surroundings form the linking element. The design includes a striking star-shaped floor plan. This floor plan links the building in several ways to its surroundings, the landscape of the campus, designed accordingly, is thus drawn inside the core of the building. At the same time, a view of the landscape is possible from each workstation. The floor plan reduces distances within the building, both of the central hubs and communication zones in the respective areas of the office, as well as from department to department. The striking building shape promotes identification of the employees with the company, creating a central space of communication and thus contributing to motivation and productivity.

A few words about your philosophy of design?

Each projects is a unique research into context and culture, and we always develop individual designs for specific programs, sites and clients. Our architecture is developed during the design process based on a repertoire of strategic explorations that we developed over the years, on pushing limits and being driven by the curiousity for the new. Some conceptual approaches are based on our research by architectural projects and art installations. We look closely at the site, critically rethink the program and try to extract something that is special to the specific site. We establish parameters as a skeleton or framework for each project. These are conceptual conditions rather than design driven compositions, based on a clients brief, contextual references and programmatic logistics.

You said, “Now the time has come to fall back on the architecture of the 60s and 70s and to integrate it into today's architecture”. Could you explain if this is any different with respect to the architecture styles in India?

I am talking specifically about the context in Europe, but in general all over the world there was a dynamic and a curiosity about the future that got lost in the following decades.

It is a matter of pride to have received the ‘Mies-van-der-Rohe’ award for emerging architects for the designing of Stadthaus Ostfildern, Germany. How important is this award and project for you?

Note:  It is a multi-functional public building unifying municipal administration, civic services, a public library, an art gallery, classrooms for music lessons and evening school, a wedding room, office space, sports facilities and a multipurpose hall. This combination of different public services generates synergetic effects provoking programmatic and visual transparency.

The Stadthaus is our first project and to receive the Mies Award was such a stimulating and supporting recognition and exposes our work to the world.

As a designer, how would you define an installation and what is your approach towards installation designs?

Our exhibition and installation designs are exploring the subject of presenting projects in a novel manner. The mobile and changeable exhibitions with sculptural elements are engaging one another in spatial dialogue by integrating presentations of various. The order in which the sculptures are set up within the exhibition are deliberately left open, the exhibitors are given a « space for opportunity » allowing for flexible adaptation to unforeseen demands on utilization or changing locations. The exhibition's changeability opens up intriguing constellations and invites the visitor to think over the conventions of customary presentation in a static context while exploring new ways of exhibition presentation.

Your works have been published and exhibited all over the world and is also a part of the international collections including the Museum of Modern Art, New York. This is highly inspiring and could you tell us how you made it there?

Museums are serious collections that describe what is or was considered an important contribution to a specific field in time. There your projects become part of a discourse on politics of collecting which is the curators choice.

Teaching has become a part of your life and as an educationist, how do you look at the architectural education in India?

I am not familiar with architecture schools in India, but we receive many applications from Indian students in our office with fantastic projects and great enthusiasm about architecture.

Do you have a count of the number of projects you have carried out (Because there are so many ! )?

If you number all projects ever designed its impossible to count it . If I check our archive I can see we have designed more than 200 projects since 1996, and some of them got built!

What kind of work culture exists in your office and what is expected from an Architect who wishes to work with you?

Our offices has many international people working together on projects all over the world. Communication is important, and a versatile ability to work in various media.

This interview is contributed by ‘ The Economic Times Architecture & Design Summit'.

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