Undisciplinary is the personal wiki of Martin Zemlicka.

Ákos Moravánskzy and Günther Vogt

05.06.2014, Kino Světozor, Prague

A double lecture organised by KRUH as part of their ETH themed lecture series. Each presenter spoke for about an hour, with, surprising, no questions at the end.


Ákos Moravánskzy - Constructing Clouds: Atmospheres in Swiss Architecture

  1. Starting off: the Blur Building by D+S (now DS+R). During design the blur building was thought of as anti-spectacle, yet, it became the biggest success of the 2002 Yverdon expo.
  2. Originally, the building was to be tied much closer to media. Visitors were to be given «smart» rain jackets which would display and simulate the emotions of their wearers based on defined criteria. For example, a raincoat would blush while being approached by a member of the opposite sex. The raincoats never happened.
  3. (Showing The Weather Project) Olafur Eliasson uses empathy as it links the sensual to the spiritual.
  4. After Rossi’s stint at ETH, Swiss architects started to consciously think beyond semiotics.
  5. Atmospheric tendencies in Swiss architecture were not a response to environmental thinking, but a change in architectural theory. A turn to beyond the signs.
  6. Zumthor does not like signs because they are a messy, virtual and impermanent. Zumthor often talks about the «real thing» beyond the semiotic experience.

Günther Vogt - The Nature of Cities

  1. Günther starts off by talking about how nice it is to teach landscape to architecture students, mainly because when they first show up they know nothing at all about environment. Many students come from the Zurich suburbs with very provincial views of architecture and the environment.
  2. Key differentiator that he has to teach architects: architecture is much more universal (global) in the sense that when you see, for example, an office building, it could feasibly be built anywhere in the world. However, landscape is much more context dependent. Oak trees don’t grow in Hong Kong (Günther uses this as an example after he saw oak trees in a competition entry for Hong Kong).
  3. Landscape in Switzerland: The Swiss Alps are a British idea. Historically the Alps were seen as something slightly dangerous, Switzerland needed to wait for the British to discover the Alps to romanticise them.
  4. The Swiss National Park was created by people living in Basel. The creation of a National Park is a fundamentally urban idea.
  5. When Günther was a student in the 80’s the motto and fear was that by 2014 Europe would have 50% less forests. The reality is the opposite: 50% more forests. The un-urban is being abandoned. (Günther showed a very nice map sowing future hotspots of abandoned landscapes in Europe, sadly I can’t find it online).
  6. Often we hear worries about sprawl. Sprawl is not the biggest problem, as it can be regulated. A much bigger problem is the space between sprawl, the infrastructure, the dead zones, &c, which can’t be controlled. Especially in Switzerland where the communal decision making is quite strong.
  7. In Switzerland, everything is built on top of a parking, Günther is glad for this as it means that what is above will not be destroyed, as happened to a few of his parks that did not have anything below them.
  8. Final statement: “Recently, wherever I go I am shocked by the scale”. Regardless of where it is, Rio, London, Istanbul, &c, the scale of what is being done nowadays seems way beyond the human scale.


During the first lecture, at the beginning I was strongly reminded of David Heymann’s articles on landscape published at Design Observer

In Ákos’ lecture, the word “atmosphere” was mentioned often. It showed a tendency in Swiss architecture away from strictly iconic/semiotic thinking; more towards an expression based less on intellectual/historic references and more on physical immediacy. It could be seen as a quest for less mediated encounters with architecture. The question is what to make of this tendency, and how strong of generalisations are possible. It seems to me that “atmosphere” is an approach, a tool, a means. Different architects use them to different ends.

The juxtaposition of the Blur Building and works of Zumthor or Eliasson shows, to me, the very clear difference between them much more so than any similarities.

The Blur building is fundamentally about ambiguity. It raises all sorts of questions, provides no answers, no index or indicators about how to read it. You can’t tell where it begins or ends, what it’s for, who made it, even if it is about architecture. It is disorientating, shifting, escaping you and your attempts at concretion.

Compare with Zumthor, who, at lest in the manner presented by Ákos, is getting at something concrete. At the truth beyond the signs. He wants the real to be revealed, bracketing out that which is not. The Serpentine pavilion completely cuts itself off from it’s surroundings to show you something it’s protecting. In Zumthor’s buildings, you have to get away from the «out there» to allow the truth to be revealed. The Blur building is inseparable from the «out there», not allowing you to say where the surroundings end and the building begins, in certain conditions you can’t even tell it’s there, it’s impossible to have clarity about it.

In my view, it seems that Zumthor attempts to use (create) atmospheres to communicate something real. The Blur building says it’s impossible.