There are very few young architects that can confidently articulate
their architectural or social agenda, if they have one at all. Yet
Matthias Hollwich, young by architect standards is already at the head
of a number of different architectural discourses.
As well as a
retrospect on Bauhaus and Modernism, Hollwich has been putting forward
his manifesto for reinventing the aging experience, named “New Aging.”
His ideas focus on a greater acceptance of the process of aging, and
planning early for the needs of the future, both physical and social.
Although he is only 42, he already calls himself old because he believes
that the earlier we realize that we are all aging from birth, the
better prepared we will be.
His approach is refreshing by
contrast to the Western obsession with perfection, replacing it with the
notion of faults, imperfections, and change as a commodity. There are
parallels in Japanese thought and design philosophy, especially Wabi
Sabi, which goes as far as to actively highlight and celebrate the
erosive and destructive effects of time. According to Wabi Sabi, faults
and imperfections, whether from an object's inception or throughout its
lifespan, are a sign of character and should be celebrated.
It is fitting therefore that Hollwich is these days interested in talking about "personality."
“We really like to break down a building into a personality”, he explains.
idea resonates quite clearly in HWKN’s winning design for the Museum of
Modern Art’s Young Architect’s Program. The angular sky-blue pavilion
held up by a scaffolding grid was named Wendy by its designers. Its
naming suggests endearment, and in its making and intentions Wendy is a
friendly creature. Her fabric is treated with a spray that neutralizes
airborne pollutants, cleaning the air to the equivalent of taking 260
cars off the road. Wendy also blasts out cool air, mist and water to
create a more comfortable environment for visitors in the New York (and
now Abu Dhabi’s) summer heat.
just love the project, it looks aggressive and spiky, but it’s also
very relatable because of the familiarity of its scaffolding and because
it has good intentions towards its surroundings,” Hollwich says.
suggests the same could be said for HWKN’s new Pines Pavilion on Fire
Island, the culture and nightlife hub in the primarily gay Pines
community in Long Island. “It’s very modest and down to earth, but it
has a very strong identity. It empowers people and makes them
comfortable.” Hollwich can list a number of the building’s “components
geared towards socializing attributes,” for example, a jagged bar to
encourage strangers to socialise instead of sitting in a straight line.
both projects, Hollowich embraces imperfections as a bi-product of the
building process. It is these faults that he believes contribute to the
personality of a building. In the Pines Pavillion, the economized
structural system emerged, quite expectedly, with some aesthetic
One cannot ignore the fact that despite this, the
images available of the pavilion so far portray a rather immaculate
appearance. Hollwich agrees but is going to change that: “We’ve planned
another photo shoot to capture the all the interesting details that
emerged throughout the building process. There are many that the client
and us decided were good to keep as is, without further treatment.”
explains his approach to these flaws. “I could start a lecture with a
photograph of a woman in a beauty pageant, and say to the crowd ‘yes I
know you would like to date her, but do you think she would in the end
be your perfect partner?’.” He begs to differ. “You can find somebody
who is maybe a little bit quirky, a little bit weird. Then you actually
fall in love with the weirdness, and not just the beauty”.
wants to continue designing buildings that aren’t driven just by
beauty, but also by other aspects that encourage visitors to invest in
them emotionally. He believes relatability is key, drawing from his
evident interest in a building’s personality.
HWKN are now also
working on a hotel in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It will have a structure
made of Corten steel that will quickly acquire a layer of rust, playing
on people’s perception of its presence and age over time. “We believe
that people will embrace it from the first day on because it won’t feel
so new and alienating.” He mentions that, like the Fire Island pavilion,
the building process has to be partly intuitive, so that it doesn’t
take on the aesthetics of a perfect rendering from a 3D modelling
Hollwich hopes to apply the successes of his previous
work to HWKN's current project in Jerusalem where they are now designing
the new building for the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance.
finds the challenges of building in a such a setting an interesting
opportunity to explore further the potential of his approach. With the
complexities of the surrounding, having to clad the building in
Jerusalem stone (per regulations) and security considerations, it will
be interesting to see what kind of personality the building will adopt
with the help of its designers and client.
It is perhaps
Hollwich's strength in compacting complex concepts into easily
understood ideas that places him in a good position to succeed in
Jerusalem. In a city where complexity is the norm, it's likely to be
refreshing to find a personality more accepting of its surroundings and
at ease with change.
the July 19, Hollwich, as well as five other international architects,
will be talking at the Symposium "Aftermath," a year end event of the
Architecture department at the old building at 1 Bezalel st. , Bezalel
Academy of Art and Design Jerusalem.
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