Q. Your architecture discourse covers a range of tipping points for the realms of - cultural philosophy, environmental psychology theories of architecture and the arts- how would you define the practice of architecture today?
A. I have always been interested in different things and I am unwilling to acknowledge or fear boundaries; usually the most interesting new things emerge at the boundaries. This overall interest in phenomena of life and knowledge arise from my childhood experiences at my farmer grandfather’s solitary and humble farm in Finland during the war years in the 1940s. In those days every farmer had to know a lot of things and master numerous skills in order to survive – the only specialists were the priest and the black smith. My sense of curiosity is a farmer’s interest in the land, weather and the incredible richness of life and besides, maintaining your sense of curiosity is probably the best way of fighting the negative consequences of aging.
In today’s world, architectural practice has broken into countless specializations and turned into a professionalist business. I personally continue to see architecture in wide humanistic and non-professionalist terms, as a rewarding journey through life. For me, architecture is still a means of confronting the great enigma of human existence. Of course, on a practical level, the task of architecture is to create places and spaces for specific purposes, but more importantly, architecture creates frames and horizons of perception and understanding, the understanding of the historicity and continuity of culture and things, human institutions, relationships, and finally, understanding oneself.
Q. Continuing on the similar thread, with your double edged exposure to academics and practice please share the importance in taking detours in earning/ experience process. Is there a role play of architectural pedagogy in architectural development?
A. I have always found it important to learn from other disciplines: the visual arts, sciences, cinema, literature, poetry, philosophy etc. This is my personal “paracentric” understanding of architecture. Architecture and arts are primarily about human life and there is no better education for that dimension than reading novels.
In my role as a teacher, I am primarily concerned with the self-awareness and self-identity of each individual student. The primary role of education is to set the student’s soul on fire and to evoke a sense of curiosity and responsibility. The task of education is to teach the student to see, experience and think. Most of the professional skills are achieved later through professional practice. Without the appropriate mind-set and horizon, professionalist education is useless.
Q. How important are detours in the shaping of a practice. Please share with us experiences and some significant practices that exemplify them.
A. Architecture is, of course, practiced in a multitude of ways, particularly if you consider cultural differences. The colleagues of mine around the world that I mostly admire, such as Glenn Murcutt, Renzo Piano, Sverre Fehn, Colin St.John Wison, Peter Zumthor, Steven Holl, Frank Gehry etc. are/were all very widely interested in the entire spectrum of human culture. Particularly the interaction of arts and architecture, the role of the crafts and the art of clear thinking are important.
Q. Do share the essence of the ‘Global’ Practice today...
A. I do not consider my practice at all a “global practice”, although I have done some projects in various countries. I have never been interested to expand my practice beyond my own country and the studio size of my office. My writings seem to have found a surprisingly wide readership, but that is another matter. I never sought to have a wide readership, either, I just write what and when I am asked to. As I am writing, I am thinking of some of my wisest and most critical friends; they are my imaginary readers and public – I write for my friends in my imagination.
Q. How does patronage play a role in the evolution of architecture? What takes priority at the time of decision making - a client’s priority or an architects’ ambition from the project. Especially in the context of detours and experiments in design it would be wonderful if you could examine the above with project experiences?
A. As the American poet Walt Whitman said: “Great poetry is possible only if there are great readers”. In architecture, likewise, enlightened clients and occupants have an equally important role. However, a profound architect needs to identify himself fully with his/her client/user and design for this internalised other. It is the architect’s duty to project a vision of a better world and make the client understand and desire this vision. Profound architecture arises from ideals of a better world and more responsible, sensitive, perceptive and compassionate humankind. A profound design process eventually makes the patron, the architect and every occasional visitor in the building a slightly better human being. “Be like me”, is the subliminal ethical message of every great piece of poetry, as Joseph Brodsky, the Nobel laureate poet argues, and the same applies to architecture. Or, as another master poet, Rainer
Maria Rilke writes: “Art is not only a little selective sample of the world; it is a transforming of the world, an endless transformation towards the good”.
Q. Any other directions and advice that you would like to exemplify for “Paracentric Practices” for our readers. .
A. At the same time that we need to expand the realm of architecture, we need to focus on its very cultural and mental essence, the existential core of the art of architecture. At times when architecture or any art form, looses its meaning and emotive power, one must go back to the origins, the source of mental meaning. Architecture must have a double focus: it is about the world and life, but it is simultaneously about the eternal essence of architecture itself.