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With the whole in Mind

Wilfried Wang / Havard Design Magazine / Summer 1999

Hotel in Arraiolos, Housing in Athens, House in Vienna, Museum in Uppsala

selection and commentary by Wilfried Wang

The concept of the Gesamtkunstwerk or "total work of art", as understood in German discourse from the mid 19th to the mid-20th century, has lost much credibility in the view of contemporary practitioners. In his satirical essay "The Poor Little Rich Man", Adolf Loos ridiculed his counterpart Josef Hoffmann: in Loos’s tale, an obsessive architect objects when his client wears a pair of slippers given to him by his daughter, because they do not meet his exacting standards. But the swing of the pendulum is once again producing environments that combine ready-mades with seeming chance. Indeed, to reveal a particularly fine sense of coherence vis-à-vis the assembly of materials, furnishings, lighting, and so on, is criticized by someone as disclosing a latent obsession with the Gesamtkunstwerk.

The following projects from Vienna; Arraiolos, Portugal; Athens; and Uppsala, Sweden, represent a position in architecture increasingly hard to find. The reasons for this lie in the reluctance of many clients to commission architects to specify anything beyond the shell and core of a building, and in the reluctance of many architects to take on small tasks that are not properly compensated. Designing or even choosing special furniture for a client can take much time.

But what happens when buildings have no strong relation to their furnishings? What indignities can the hotel, museum, or house suffer in the absence when buildings have no strong relation to their furnishings? What indignities can the hotel, museum, or house suffer in the absence of guiding hands and eyes ? Imagine Richard Meier’s Museum for Arts and Crafts in Frankfurt or Daniel Libeskind’s Jewish Museum in Berlin with standard-issue exhibition vitrines. Any architect who has designed a hotel will know too well the specious logic that justifies this unfortunate division of labor – of design skills.

given the complicated contexts of most new architecture – in many cases historical contexts-the knowledge and formal sensibilities required of architects are, ironically, extensive; I say "ironically" considering that in many instance such knowledge and sensibility are not demanded. Thus most buildings must absorb those by now equally normative furnishings – the Thonet of Barcelona chairs, the Le Corbusier cubes, the Vola tapy, the Starck wash basins- irrespective of their fit. too many architects seem to have lost interest of sensibility, or lack the time, or do not get paid enough to care, or do not know any better. hence we seem to be entering another period of symbolism and ornamentation, in which Modernist icons have become the uneasy arbiters of irreconcilable formal, cultural, and professional forces.

Given the ongoing and worsening schism between those who espouse a comprehensive approach to design and those who denounce such a stance , few architects can be surprised that the public looks to other purveyors of design to achieve a look-to successful lifestyle retailers ranging from Calvin Klein to Martha Stewart. In the absence of catholic inclusiveness, wherein seasoned clients and designers could gather many things of different origins in a complementary manner, impatient consumers obtain everything with gratifying immediacy from global design outlets. The specific context, however, recedes further into oblivion.

Dubke House, Vienna, 1993 – 1996

Gustav Pichelmann, with Peter di Carlo

On a narrow sloping site, the house establishes a rotational sequence of spaces around the stairway, which connects a guest apartment with the study on the second floor. The house’s non – orthogonal geometry, coupled with various throughviews, extends the spatial occupation of the site.

Wood cabinetry such as shutters, wardrobes, and furnishings render this a tailor-made house in which proximate and extensive patterns of use have been carefully considered.

Harward Design Magazine / Summer 1999 / Prof. Wilfried Wang

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