On the roof of the former Köngstadt brewery, and the newest LAVA office in Berlin, Tobias Wallisser reflects on the path he walked to this point with his partners, Chris Bosse and Alexander Rieck. Architect, Designer, Lecturer, Teacher and Vice-president of the Academy of Fine Arts in Stuttgart, Tobias is a creative mind in the creative collaboration of the LAVA visionary agency.
Tobias, thank you for accepting to be part of our MiND Magazine and answer our questions. Tell us, how did you meet your partners and how did LAVA happen?
TOBIAS WALLISSER: Chris Bosse and I met at the Venice Architecture Biennale in 2004 where the two projects we had worked on were exhibited: the Mercedes-Benz Museum and the Beijing Watercube. Alexander and I had first met as interns in an office in Stuttgart. Later, we collaborated on the ZVE project, where Alexander was client representative and I was the responsible architect at UNStudio. We discovered that we had a lot in common and kept in contact until the right project opportunity came along. Right from the beginning the target was to embark on a new architectural approach whilst learning from each other’s experience and expertise.
You don’t work like any other team, even if you’re all sharing the same passion for your work, you do not share the same office. The time difference must be an issue, but your projects remain successful. How does that affect the process of your projects and what does it take for someone to be part of the LAVA team?
TOBIAS WALLISSER: The main difference is that when we get up we have 20 emails from the other members of the practice. We are a virtual office, which means that not everyone who works for and with us is in the same place. I work with people I have never seen. The biggest challenge is to make sure that the offices in Sydney, Stuttgart and Berlin are synchronized where necessary. You always have to bear in mind that you have a 24/7 office: around midnight our time Sydney starts working, and that means that a day and night division no longer exists which means no time is wasted; architecture has to be quick. The work that LAVA does is really to unite all the parts involved in the process. We are not suggesting new roles for architects, we are just rethinking our position in the whole.
“Architecture has always been a mirror of society.”
The biggest advantage of our collaboration is our diversity of backgrounds and experience. Each one of us has had ten years of different professional experience before starting together. For instance, Alexander was formerly a researcher at Fraunhofer Corporation and also completed his doctorate there. His area of interest is ‘Soft Factors,’ defined as the influence of built environments, for instance on the creativity of people who work within the structures.
We have a common understanding of what is important to us and how things should come together. However, each of us approaches the projects differently and have a different focus so we are able to cover a large spectrum. That is because of our professional origins and locations. Environments always influence the themes you are concerned with.
In any case, the time difference is a challenge. When we work a lot and don’t have enough time, we can always say that we work 24 hours. A positive aspect would be our different influences and inspirations. (Chris’s philosophy in Australia would be: “Australian lifestyle, German engineering.” That sounds better in Australia than in Germany – looking through my window right now, I can’t really imagine the Australian lifestyle amongst all this greyness.)
“We analyze and experiment”
You did not call LAVA an architecture office, but a Laboratory, a creative space where technology reaches a different level and collaborates so creatively with nature. Applying innovative working methods is the ticket to your success as a team. What is your view upon architecture and what are your never-missing tools when working?
TOBIAS WALLISSER: The idea is to bring together different things and apply innovative working methods. Instead of a studio or an office, we call ourselves a ‘laboratory’ in order to show that we analyze and experiment. We are very technical, but we also have a distinct ecological awareness. We are concerned with bringing nature and technology together. Humans naturally stand in the middle between nature and technology. We consider the natural factors humans need to feel good and examine how technology can improve this well-being.
Architecture has always been a mirror of society. Our projects illustrate these aspects in different ways for the present and into the future, for example in 2050. All these visions are particularly important to us when working with a lot of projects in the Middle East and China.
We are always online – digitally connected with each other and the teams in the offices.
One of your guiding principles is “green is the new black”. What role does nature play in your work or what does it teach you?
TOBIAS WALLISSER: We ultimately have to turn to nature to learn. The vision is to achieve more quality with less quantity, more creativity with less resources. Adaptive new structures which will not only be based on efficiency but allow for responsiveness in order to withstand more unpredictable events. We should design and live in harmony with nature rather than feeling superior. New technology does not mean we have to take unpredictable risks. Rethinking constructions that are inspired by nature will help to make the necessary steps forwards towards a more socially and environmentally sustainable future.
It is often misunderstood as superficial mimicry, but the potential is in understanding the principles behind nature, not only the appearance. We must build sustainable structures using the very same energy that is abundant in nature. We believe that combining digital workflow, nature’s principles and the latest digital fabrication technologies will result in achieving MORE WITH LESS: more (architecture) with less (material/ energy/ time/ cost). My vision is to have opportunities to demonstrate how sustainable design is beautiful, efficient and contemporary. We love the contrast and synergies of mankind, nature and technology that we try to fuse in all our projects.
What would you say that you’ve learned from your Abu Dhabi experience and what would you want Berlin, and why not the world, to learn from you and your work?
TOBIAS WALLISSER: Back in 2009 LAVA won an international design competition for the heart of Masdar, world’s first sustainable city in Abu Dhabi. It’s the world’s most prestigious project focusing on sustainable energy design. Giant umbrellas, with a design based on the principles of sunflowers, were to provide moveable shade in the day, store heat, then close and release the heat at night in Masdar’s central plaza. It was an idea for a sustainable city of the future and a global benchmark. I personally believe in the goals put forward, although we are not sure if they will come true at Masdar.
“Berlin as a laboratory of modernity”
When I studied in Berlin in the beginning of the 90s, I was fascinated by the idea of Berlin as a laboratory of modernity based on the understanding that Berlin is a city continuously in the process of becoming. Compared to other cities there is a lot of free space in Berlin. Today the city is even less populated than it was in the 1920ies. The infrastructure is actually suitable for a much larger and more dense population.
The key topics of the day have to be addressed. Returning to the example of Masdar again from a Berlin perspective, for us it was an icon of the ‘health age’ that we are currently living in. Nowadays people have a need for a healthy environment, a healthy life. It is independent of the location, it is a contemporary need. City planning has to react to this and concern itself with tackling how to create decentralized energy supplies, how to create mobility for everyone and how to use less energy.
There are good opportunities in Berlin, hopefully architects can embrace them and get a chance to showcase contemporary ideas rather than trying to revive the past.
If you would change a building what would that be?
TOBIAS WALLISSER: Berlin has many buildings, good and less successful, beautiful and less pleasant to look at. What it really needs is a new strategy for Alexanderplatz, the square at the heart of the eastern centre of Berlin. I would love to design some high-rise structures for that location – just to contribute to the discussion about its future and the future of high rise in the city of Berlin. With our project THE.SQUARE3 in Berlin-Lichtenberg, we could already show that buildings could be different in Berlin, more mixed use and formally more contemporary.
How do cities, these conglomerations of buildings filled with life, look like through the lens of Tobias Wallisser, the architect?
TOBIAS WALLISSER: A city has always represented man’s attempt to create paradise. The city offers things nature can only offer during specific seasons. When we need light, we switch it on. When we need water, we turn on the tap. Cities are shaped in accordance to humanity’s wishes. We pose questions like “what do human beings need for their well-being?” and “how do we want to live?” (We used Karl-Marx-Allee as a case study because it embodies a past vision of the city. It is the modern ideal: a big axis, a lot of space for cars and properly structured houses. Everything follows a master plan.) We wanted to move away from this stiffness with a multi-layered vision that embraces nature.
Your work covers retail, residential, offices, leisure. What prediction would you make for their development in terms of design?
TOBIAS WALLISSER: Why are cities so grey? How can we transform them? We wanted to move away from this grey stiffness with a multi-layered and multi-use vision that embraces nature. The world’s future depends on the ingenuity of its inhabitants.
We, at LAVA, see this clearly and aspire to form the architecture of tomorrow. We are convinced that tomorrow’s society seeks its own, individualistic architecture. The future foresees in structures with a low environmental impact but a high architectural and sculptural quality, that’s LAVA “pur sang”!
“A project where nature is integrating into the city to form a fresh cohesion of landscape and technology.”
You’re participating at “Space and Possiblities” in Istanbul, what should we expect from you there and what is your vision for the Turkish market?
TOBIAS WALLISSER: I am very excited to participate in the conference. Unbelievable, but this is my first time in Istanbul! As I just came back from MIPIM in Cannes, where Turkey was one of the featured markets, I am aware of the dynamics of the market and the incredible changes it undergoes. The possibilities seems to be outstanding! Still, I think the philosophy of LAVA could add a new element, some cool contemporary sustainability – a project where nature is integrating into the city to form a fresh cohesion of landscape and technology.
Photos courtesy of LAVA