It was an opening at the Berlinische Galerie four years ago. No sooner did I enter the gallery, I was struck by a giant walk-in installation. Walls and floor were clad in carpeting, upon which data security patterns were printed in black and grey. The work’s space-consuming concept negated the strict geometry of the entrance hall. The enlarged, repeating patterns generated a flickering impression and transformed the white cube exhibition space into a playful scenario of mutually permeating forms and structures. In another exhibition space adjacent were 3D models that translated these two-dimensional patterns into concrete forms. Since then, I could not forget the name of the creator of this work and that of his team: J. MAYER. H.
Eventually I was able to see him lecture in the gallery, full of ideas and motivation upon his return from a client meeting. After mutual friends introduced us, finally we enjoyed a lunch together during which I was able to learn about J.MAYER.H’s designs and history.
I was still curious about where those security pattern ideas came from. Jürgen brought me back to his Housewarming exhibition in Chicago in 1995. He developed a guest book for Housewarming, and at the same time, he also wanted to work with temperature sensitive paint. All of sudden the security patterns which we get through the daily mails came to his mind. If the guestbook is completely printed with the patterns, and we write amid the patterns, people can’t read our writing. But with temperature sensitive surfaces, when we touch the guestbook, the pattern disappears and thereby reveals the writing that remains, but which had been camouflaged by the patterns. The guestbook becomes like the guests: the guests come and go; their writing on the guestbook appears and disappears. It reminded me of how double agents conducted espionage in old war movies. “It’s about every aspect of writing.” Jürgen said,”We all have the experience of having to write in a guestbook: we want to make something amusing, but sometimes don’t know how. And sometimes we don’t want others to read it. It’s a kind of ambivalence.”
Since then, Jürgen started to collect all these kinds of patterns. For him, they are an appropriate metaphor for a society obsessed with data and data access ability, an obsession that co-exists with our natural yearning for privacy and intimacy.
In the years since his initial preoccupation with such themes, recent events have made them ever more urgent. Now we discuss how to protect private information every day. And, correspondingly, Jürgen’s work has evolved from the installation work of the guestbook project to the fully realized architectural space— that which I had seen in the walk-in installation and 3D models of security patterns at Rapport in the Berlinische Galerie.
Architects very often call themselves artists. But making genuine art works distinct from works of design, with sustained participation in art events as in Jürgen’s case, is very rare in the architecture world. Jürgen has said that he never wished to limit his life to a single discipline. Exploring this category, what technology can do for our lives or to our lives, not only the graphic patterns, but also our lives’ patterns, obsessions, etc. These definitions also help us to identify ourselves.
He began with small-scale works, and made art installations and art works already from an early age. And he has been interested in large-scale work ever since—artists like Richard Serra who make sculpture one can walk around, and the economy of its relation to the body. In order to research such questions, he thought it would be most useful to study architecture. These origins invest J.MAYER. H’s work with a distinctly sculptural disposition.
With the inevitable budgeting constraints of architecture projects, J.MAYER.H’s team invariably must face the matter of materials. Metropol Parasol inhabits an art context as much as a one of architecture. Here, it is the context that determines the discipline that characterizes the work, rather than any a priori criteria. The interesting thing is J. MAYER.H’s team regularly receives a diversity of feedback by respondents from numerous disciplines. Reactions are not limited to the single discourse of architecture. After all, the main question is the human body’s relationship to space, and how the body is communicated is a defining category of our cultural context.
In this sense Jürgen’s work has the advantage of a scale so large that it is beyond that to which most artists reasonably can aspire. At the same time, he does not think architecture inherently is more important than drawing or collage.
Jürgen first arrived in Berlin in 1994, shortly after the heady transformations following the fall of the Wall. Many of his friends came, too. They tried competitions, but the building culture in Berlin at the time emphasized restoration of old structures much more than new architecture. They barely won any Berlin projects. But luckily, after three years of competition submissions, they won the competition in Stuttgart. In 2004, after six years of practice, the office won Metropol Parasol in Seville. This work is about several things that we can explore from earlier projects: the nature of a public space; decisions about role of digital technologies in architecture; how we generate and build architecture; how one communicates a project to the audience.
After running the office for sixteen years, the range of research has tested J.MAYER.H in many directions. Some projects have been successful, others less so. Jürgen himself is always happy to see how the whole team works together. It’s fantastic network to work in, natural and with a good atmosphere. 2004 was the year of their first project abroad, in Poland, and the beginning of their international efforts.
“We [architects] are to identify the city for the future,” Jürgen says with conviction. “The question is how to translate our ideas and projects to the people, and let them understand what’s going to happen. They are curious about the projects and want to learn the process of it.”
When he started the Dupli Casa near Ludwigsburg in 2003, the couple were living in the house they originally built in 1986, where they had made many additions and modifications: “When they chose us, they wanted to rebuild the house. They didn’t like their old one anymore, but we had to keep lots of concrete in the basement.” So Jürgen’s team designed a base on the footprint of the old house. The new building thereby echoes the “family archaeology”. It inherited the DNA of the old house. When Jürgen presented the project with the maquette, and talked about this “family archaeology,” at first the clients were shocked. They had no idea what the result would be. Step by step, Jürgen and his team explained why they made certain decisions. Gradually, he saw their faces light up. At the end of the presentation, they both smiled. The lady told Jürgen that’s exactly how she dreamed it would be all the time. To guide the clients through the design process, and develop the architecture to become a truly unique site was an unforgettable moment for the architect.
“This whole process of understanding and to witness the understanding through their eyes was really touching.”
And Jürgen was smiling too, with emotion in his eyes.
Written By: 嘉 Jia