Chatting with us: Florian Walter, architect of the Heidelberg Congress Center
Identifying developments, creating scenarios. And shaping them into a sustainable form. Sounds sporty. In a digital world where everything is possible and only few things last. Florian Walter from Degelo Architects in Basel about new liberties, human needs and the narrative power of space. An interview by Caroline Föhlisch.
Grüezi Florian, since we are online: there are plenty of blogs and Instagram accounts on architecture. We like
Are you following influencers?
Good day. I am not on Instagram, Twitter and Co.. A little bit old fashioned: I have a newsletter. It’s inspiring: a daily dose of architecture. instagram.com/dailydosearchive
How important is digital connectivity for your work by now? Impulses, sparring partners, maybe even collaborations.
We have always moved a lot in networks. Preferably interdisciplinary. Digitalization rather changed the method or the tool. Exchange is essential. Whether digital or real life does not really make a difference.
More connected, more individual, healthier, greener. The big transformation. Everywhere. Is there something like a paradigm shift in architecture?
Healthier and greener could be summarized under sustainability…material and energy saving for new constructions. Sure! In the future we need good strategies for “healthy” cities. How can existing buildings be repurposed and reused? Reuse and recycle. It won’t matter any more how many square meters are available, while the quality of neighborhood and the offer of shared spaces will count. I think there is a lot developing in this regard right now.
Absolutely. Circular economy, new coexistence. Super important issues. But how do you feel about this as an architect – are hypes and innovations not often in contrast to your own ideologies and aesthetic views? Don’t you feel ambilvalent?
Questioning conventions and standards is quite an interesting field. This promotes your own ideology. We have built an exciting project:
This is an inspiring topic we are very interested in. We are developing something together with the cooperative HomeBase here. Maybe this article is better:
A maximum of opportunities to create for inhabitants, financially and creatively, up to heating and cooling. An impressive concept, Florian. And two megatrends practically implemented. Integrating current developments and timeless architecture, isn’t this a contradiction?
I think, it depends on the trends. Surely it is wrong to run after any short-term trend. But individualization and digitalization are considered megatrends. Aren’t megatrends defined to bring long-term change and involve more than just some groups, countries and branches?
You tell. Let’s stay with the global trends. Everyone twitters, streams and zooms. Even before Corona. You are constructing an event location. Irony of fate? Or now more than ever?
Maybe our event location will be so good, that everyone will forget about twitter :-) the future of events is not questioned in the end…the nature of events will change. But people will love to meet despite digitalization. Or don’t you think so?
Nope, personal encounters will surely remain an important motivation. But not as an emotional parallel world to constructed digital spaces. Videos, audios and games mean seeing, listening, feeling, interacting, too. Physical and virtual – does this fit together in your opinion?
Basically: yes. Both are experiences. I can see both working quite well even separately. An interesting video (about the overlap between physical and virtual):
Blatant vision by Keiichi Matsuda. Every interaction as a multi-immersive experience. Probably meant provocatively by the Londoner filmmaker. But quite inspiring as well. Do you know Es Devlin? She designs stage designs for Miley Cyrus, Kanye West, Lady Gaga or the Metropolitan Opera New York. And catwalks for Luis Vuitton. Her idea: architecture as stimulation of synaptic connections.
What do architects have to do to bring people together? Can buildings encourage exchange and promote creativity?
Es Devlin: super exciting. I am convinced that buildings and spaces can encourage exchange and creativity. Spaces and furniture should not dictate everything. And thus, enable a less rigid use of the rooms. As you always say so beautifully: FREESPACE FIRST!
Self-determination is booming. Commands and hierarchies are outdated. These are important aspects for Heidelberg Congress when it comes to developing innovation. Everything can happen, nothing must happen. What does this mean for you as an architect? Can spontaneity be planned?
Good question. Can spontaneity be planned after all? Or is this a contradiction? But I think that buildings can allow impulsiveness. Visual connections are crucial here. And the thresholds to the rooms must be considered. They can be inviting and open. The threshold to a room shall not be an inhibition threshold. Through open, light rooms you can see who is in there. This enables unplanned dialogue.
Representing less but making opportunities visible. If this is what events are about today, what is the role of aesthetics in architecture then? Balance, rhythm, style as an intellectual home of the community?
Difficult. Aesthetics is about the perception of space…with all senses. We can create a framework for this. With materials, visual signs, light and proportions. The building should create a surrounding that allows or enables appropriation. The use is important, too. What is defined by the building itself or by seating. If this is flexible, rooms can work quite well. And get along with new trends.
Referring to the congress center, the spatial understanding and the defined use also has changed significantly during our collaboration with Heidelberg Congress. The use of the building is less restrictive and spaces flow into each other functionally.
The spaces of the Heidelberg Congress Center should encourage exchange and communication to empower innovation. How important are concentration and contemplation for new ideas? The event location as a place for meeting and retreat area?
I think, this is important. There must be a balance between collaboration, concentration and contemplation…on top creativity and communication. You also read a lot about this in the context of coworking and new work. I find there should be various gradations of retreat in a building. When every room looks the same, it’s boring. Precisely creativity is not always and permanently available. A change of scenery can be quite helpful (at least to me).
Big Challenge! Stimulating, activating, connecting, encouraging, liberating. Everything about ground plans, shapes, materials, light, sound. Or through integration of movement in the space concept. Series of views, scenarios, the timely dimension. Florian, is experience architecture storystelling?
I find a story important (not only when it comes to public buildings). It accompanies the drafting process. Based on this story you can interconnect the single elements and create intentional contrasts. A “red thread” that leads through the design. Just like in a good book…the red thread can have many twists (without tearing). That creates suspense.
You are writing a book on the magic of encounters. What’s your narrative for the Heidelberg Congress Center?
This question keeps me quite busy and giving an answer (a narrative) is really hard. Maybe because we are still inside the process. We are still writing this story. Can we skip this question until 2023?
Ok, deal! Maybe the plot will be continuously developed, on and on, after the start. Plenty of surprising twists. Permanently triggered by innovation, trends, Zeitgeist. More like Netlix than a novel. But you must tell us one thing. Now. Something personal. With the Heidelberg Congress Center we want to rethink the format of events. Make experiences possible, that are cool and important to people and communities. When you participate at an event, hand on heart, how does that feel?
The tight schedule of meetings with coffee breaks and a bad buffet is difficult. In between, you stay seated and follow random presentations. Do these events even exist anymore?
Events should surprise (me)…with great catering, with various space experiences, with a well thought out program, places of retreat. Event should be experience.