An interview with the tutors of the new Intermediate Unit 1: Lara Lesmes and Fredrik Hellberg
11 November 2016 Architectural Association   AA Conversations caught up with AA Graduates and new unit Intermediate 1 tutors Lara Lesmes and Fredrik Hellberg to discuss their intriguing new brief ‘Tools for Architecture:Visceral Spaces' and see what their plans are for the year ahead. [caption id="attachment_6380" align="alignnone" width="360"]Frank-Quek-Yu-Hong Current work, by Frank Quek Yu Hong[/caption] Q: What are the main ambitions of your brief this year?   To broaden the impact of perception and psychology in architectural design.  We believe that architecture ultimately exists in our minds as an experience, therefore we are interested in developing methods where a designed experience informs the architecture and not the other way around. We are developing ways to discuss architecture in isolation, meaning: without site, program, or context. When all external agents are removed we are left solely with the dialogue between the human and the space. The aim is to become capable of evaluating space based on how it serves the human mind, this is what we understand as the purpose of architecture beyond physical protection. To do so constructively, we need to get past the poetic and often cryptic descriptions of space and develop logical and concise definitions of the architectural experience that apply to any format of reality: physical, digital, or whatever is yet to come.   Q: In what ways does the unit hope to tackle these challenges?   Removing site, program, and context has been our key strategy to concentrate on designing spatial experiences. These are conceived first through a combination of images and words, then we require a high level of technical definition to ensure that the architecture will deliver what was promised.   We are interested in the versatility of building systems: construction models that can suit multiple programs or can be used in different sites whilst still delivering the intended spatial qualities. This is how the projects in our unit are delivered, as tools or models rather than buildings.   Lastly, we ask for speculation and forecasting on the potential applications and implications of such systems-considering both its goods and evils- to encourage self-criticism and further learning from one's own work.   Q: Does your unit wish to question the ‘what is’, ‘what was’, or ‘what may be’?   No doubt we think a lot about “what may be”, with a pinch of “what is” and loads of “what was”, but our approach to architecture in isolation leaves us also slightly outside of time. Contemporary cultural, political, or social conditions certainly influence the way we experience space, but not necessarily the way we design it. Our postmodern society tends to label optimistic views of the future as naive or ingenuous but we are not interested in the apocalyptic approach, so we try to stay away from context. We also prefer to develop projects that are propositions rather than commentaries and, in this sense, a certain level of de-contextualisation helps.
  [caption id="attachment_6382" align="alignnone" width="360"]Yana-Kushpitovska Current work, by Yana Kushpitovska[/caption] Q: Can you tell us who your favourite architect is?   We have an eclectic pool of favorites from the past with people like Paul Rudolph, Victor Horta, Peter Behrens, FLW, Miguel Fisac, Fernando Higueras, Imre Makovecz, and many many others. We also closely follow some of our contemporaries, as we like to think that we are part of a developing current. [caption id="attachment_6381" align="alignnone" width="360"]Tammy-Thanaporn-Amornkasemwong Current work, by Tammy Thanaporn Amornkasemwong[/caption] We very much admire people like Adam Nathaniel Furman for his vision, determination, and style; StudioMake for their exquisite details; Andrés Jaque for his cultural insight; the Jerde Partnership for their spatial magic and immunity to trends; Wolfgang Tschapeller for his monumentality; Elsewhere for their fantasy worlds; Design with Company for their bold forms and colors; Penda for their structures; The Block Research Group for their mindblowing use of technology; and the list goes on. However, if you ask us tomorrow, we would likely give you a completely different one.
Q: As previous students of the AA, how does it feel now the tables have turned, being tutors?   Natural. Students and tutors have a unique relationship at the AA and we always felt that we were partly learning and partly teaching even when we were students. We feel the same way now as tutors: teaching to learn and learning to teach. We were both very lucky to always have wonderful tutors whilst we were studying at the AA so we have formed an amalgam of role models to pull from. At the same time ‘we’ve been there’, so we find it quite easy to empathise and communicate with the students.   Q) The unit's aim of investigating the lesser-explored 'internality' of a building's components (namely, its walls) is very intriguing. In what ways do you envisage this unique approach to challenge our learning and perceptions of architecture?   This goes back to the understanding of architecture as the entity that delivers an embodied experience. There is a lot going on within the fat of modern buildings, both walls and floors, and the purpose of it all is to deliver very particular conditions in the spaces we inhabit. We see an enormous potential in all the qualities of architecture, not only the visual ones, and we want the projects in the unit to address them all. If the Romans were designing entire floors for open fires so that people could gather in public heated pools on the spaces above, what could we do with the technology at hand today? [caption id="attachment_6383" align="alignnone" width="360"]Yewen-Jin Current work, by Yewen Jin[/caption] For more information: Inter 1 Brief Inter 1 Extended Brief Inter 1 Tools for Architecture brand website Inter 1 Tools for Architecture on Facebook