Happiness is the only requirementby Ségolène Pérennes-Poncet
Conversation with Irina Cristea and Grégoire Zündel around the theme: Happiness as a program. Interview by Ségolène Pérennes-Poncet on the occasion of the preface of the book "Time for Play: Why Architecture Should Take Happiness Seriously".
This book, Time for Play, is the first in a collection that will be published in 2015 and 2016… What does the title refer to?
Irina Cristea: For the last 15 years our practice has worked on projects of all sizes, which demand very different time-frames. Time is an important factor in our work. The design that emerges from each study phase is determined by the time allocated to it, from the initial ideas to going on site, through all the various intermediary stages. Some projects are completed very quickly, in a burst of concentrated energy, whereas others are real marathons and require huge endurance.
Grégoire Zündel: We have worked on many building projects, each of which has gone its own way: the intensity of the design stage, unforeseeable hold-ups, accelerations, schedules for building and the different contractors and time to talk with the client. For example, with the metro stations we are designing for the extension of line 14 in Paris or for the line B in Rennes, we have encountered a whole new idea of temporality. These major projects are planned well in advance, their technical and urban constraints have a powerful impact on the design, and their decision-making processes are complex and so much slower. On the other hand, temporary architectural projects engender an extremely rapid and concentrated way of working. There is very little time between the idea and its realisation. The studies and building of the Peace Pavilion took only six weeks before it was installed in Bethnal Green in London.
IC: These different experiences gave us the idea of presenting our work in separate books, which refer to the different lengths of time the projects need. But time intervenes in many other ways. Projects for urban installations such as Bouncing Bridge, Peace Pavilion or Water Invaders, prompted us to think, for example, about the timescale of urban intervention. How can we make a mark on a city with a project that has a small budget and, specifically, a much shorter schedule, which responds to a need within a limited time, and gives meaning to, or opens up a site without undertaking a lengthy construction or development process? Architects can and must be able to work with this reactivity, because times are changing, the expectations, the budgets, are not always those of a traditional project.
GZ: Our work is also strongly defined by the risk of obsolescence. A notion that is often given inadequate consideration is that of ‘durability’. We aspire to design timeless architecture. We can suppose that our buildings will be faced with changes in users, in use, or in environmental and energy-related expectations, but we cannot predict the future. And so it is a question of putting in place not customised buildings, but mechanisms. The intelligence of the mechanism will dictate the durability of the building.
In this first book you present projects designed within limited timeframes, either because they were for temporary and fun use, or because they were sketch design entries for competitions. What is their particularity, and in what way do they represent your work?
IC: They are snapshots, like photographs or freeze-frames of our work. Whereas a building project has to take into account maintenance, changes of use and users, installations are concerned only with the present. These projects are all about how the public will appropriate them. Because the energy we put into them is very concentrated, we choose not to restrain our imagination, but rather to take the opportunity to explore new ideas. We like to say to ourselves at the start of each new project: “Let’s do something extraordinary!”. Take the Flower Pavilion, for example, which was a design for temporary exhibition pavilions for an international garden festival in Berlin. The objective that we set ourselves was to capture people’s attention. We wanted the pavilions to both set off the park in which the exhibition was sited, and to give a sense of peace. The image of the flower speaks so powerfully of carefree days and pleasure, that we couldn’t convince ourselves to do anything else. We wanted visitors to marvel, instantly, almost naively, using the simplest of means.
GZ: This kind of project brings out the purest expression of our thinking. Like small, simple ideas that appear all by themselves. And yet our way of working remains the same: we never stop questioning what we are doing. In our building projects we are always looking for the best solution. This is how we came to design the trampoline bridge, by calling everything into question. It was this exercise in detaching ourselves from what is expected of a bridge that enabled us to stumble across another function, a wholly unexpected way of using it. A certain strength is required to find new ways.
IC: The scale and temporary nature of projects like those presented in this book give us the freedom to question the way a design might be used. Indeed when we worked on the bridge competition, we questioned the very nature of the bridge. This exercise allows us to remain open minded and fresh. Like children, we want to hold on to the feeling that anything is possible, that everything can be done differently, even radically differently, and that there are times when we can dare to do anything. There are so many subjects that we think of as closed, but in fact there is enormous potential for exploration. Changing the rules is one way of revealing the areas where things can be changed. It is a matter of finding fresh answers that open up the range of possibilities.
So is it fair to say that you use these projects for experimenting?
IC: Yes, but it is not like experimenting with a particular material in a small project and then using it in a large project. It is more a question of experimenting with thought, widening the spectrum: being able to think freely.
GZ: We want to get better at what we do, to progress. Why bother otherwise to continue practising this profession? Small projects present huge opportunities! Mainly because of their time-scale and their size: they are small, only a few materials are used, they have a limited number of functional requirements, whereas a more traditional building project superimposes a large number of different ideas.
IC: And constraints!
GZ: Let’s say a superimposition of ideas! For each subject, an idea responds to a question. Even the functional or regulatory aspects require some imagination. In a building project, 10, 20 or 30 ideas are superimposed and so are not all immediately obvious. They are revealed through the resulting experience of occupying the building. In the projects presented in this book, these layers of ideas are much more obvious, much more conspicuous. These periods of exploration enable us to find new ideas for each one of the multiple domaines to be treated in complex projects. They are training exercises for the production of ideas; like a sportsman who, in preparation for an event, takes more intense exercise. With scale, comes the multiplication of the number of questions, each needing a response, an idea. For example, for the metro projects there are layers and layers of very different subjects, for each of which we need to provide an idea, sometimes simple, sometimes functional, sometimes very pragmatic, but in the end there must be a consistent idea. A project is a logical sequencing of ideas.
IC: Questions is the right word. The projects put forward questions that we have to resolve, all the while keeping in mind the bigger picture. There is more to a project than just piling up answers; you have to ensure its overall coherence.
Questioning the use, changing the rules, is this also a reaction to the increasing levels of regulations and consequent constraints with which you need to work on architectural programmes?
GZ: Everything is accelerating exponentially: technology, what is possible, and consequently people’s expectations. In parallel, things very quickly become obsolete. In the face of this, new regulations attempt to resolve certain problems, but they are often a bit rough and ready. They can provide clumsy responses to valid questions, or respond too quickly to questions that have not been properly formulated. Being able to digest all the information, having the necessary resilience, is difficult – there is a lot to be absorbed in one career. In the future, this information will have become second nature but for the moment the results are sometimes a bit peculiar. But if more ambitious goals are set in terms of quality of life, preservation of our natural resources, and environment, it is vital that the whole industry follows – architects, but also manufacturers, engineers, the whole way in which we think about the city or politics.
IC: Building has become highly regulated, which adds to the lengthening list of specialists and consultants. Architects, with their capacity to listen and to summarise are the real conductors of these orchestras of participants. We need to think about our role in the construction of cities.
GZ: We don’t want to become the victims of regulations. Rather than complaining, we need to be able to have a precise and sophisticated understanding of these constraints so that we can design within them, reinterpret them and, when it’s for the good of the project, even ultimately circumvent them. When we say that we question a brief, or the rules, it’s not simply to please ourselves, but to avoid being subject to them.
The detachment that you talk about is not only in relation to architectural standards; it seems to have a broader sense. For example you cite few architectural or artistic references, you don’t make any link between your projects and the utopias of the 20th century.
GZ: Which is precisely what allows us to do these projects, by approaching them without preconceptions. Of course we have our experience and our cultural references, but we want to remain spontaneous.
IC: That the whole world is now accessible via networks of communication makes for the greatest laboratory for experimentation, where one can find freedom from fixed ideas. Every day people invent things that overthrow the status quo and cross the borders between disciplines. The amateur enthusiasts’ revolution is underway, and some of their DIY creations are great!
GZ: No longer write things off as impossible! We give equal attention to each solution as an opportunity to discover new potential. Because they are born of competitions for ideas or because they are temporary, these projects are a good way of pushing the exercise to its limits.
IC: With no preconceived position, we want to give serious consideration to ideas linked to happiness. For some of them we have been guided by our children. The West Kowloon Arts Pavilion or the roller coaster at Battersea are first-hand transcriptions of our own family visits to museums. Our private life is a huge source of inspiration for us.
How do you transpose this way of working onto your building projects?
IC: At the end of the day, it’s all a question of creativity. Without being exercised, passion and creativity can slow down. We have talked about detachment as a state of mind propitious to creativity, but there is also the importance of maintaining an interest in others and in the world around us. Creativity is also expressed in our interpretation of the priorities in a project. Optimism and confidence are visible in our projects.
GZ: Take as an example the highly regulated brief for a clinic. How can we begin to express our creativity here? The various regulations amount to an unmovable equation. It might sound pretentious to say it, but here, creativity means thinking intelligently. You can be creative in the way you deal with constraints. It is combinatorial creativity. We could decide that it was all too complicated and content ourselves with simply choosing the colour of the tiling. But for us this level of detail is secondary, what interests us is the whole project, the complicated production full of opposing factions…. Our work is about giving order to these contradictions, and then taking a step beyond. That is where imagination lies!
IC: An architect’s work is very specific: it is as much about intuition as it is about very precise technical knowledge. Creativity runs right through the chain of organisation in our studio.
GZ: You need to be imaginative to free yourself. When we find ourselves confronted by the brief for a building, faced with the complexity of all the various subjects to be considered, large numbers of different team members and tight schedules, it is often impossible to be creative for each of the solutions. So the danger is to fall into always applying the same formulas, re-using solutions without re-thinking them. This is why it is so important that we have moments of independent exploration that enable us to think up new kinds of solutions. For us it is a vital exercise, and if then some of them get built, it is just a collateral consequence.
You mean to say that there is a temptation to specialise, and that it represents a risk?
GZ: We are organisms genetically made to reproduce ourselves. How does evolution work? It is a repetitive process in which the occasional bug may prove itself to be more efficient, and that will in turn be repeated. This is what evolution produces: a great mass of repetition, and suddenly something goes off on a tangent. This is also true in architecture, in the evolution of ideas. We want to contribute to the production of incidents, so that progressively new opportunities emerge.
IC: It is true that these projects show our ability to have 360° vision, to manage all the questions, all the programmes. Detachment is an exercise in giving creativity a boost of fresh energy. Taking a new route might well lead nowhere, but it is the only means of giving oneself the chance of inventing new things. It is down to us to reinvent the profession of architect, to demonstrate its raisons d’être and its possibilities.
How did the trampoline bridge come about, what were the ‘questions’ here?
IC: The competition wording was quite open, there was not really a brief, nor a site. But a bridge is a serious thing. It is a major intervention, its installation requires in-depth studies, works to the banks, modified traffic. We wanted to come up with a different scale of project, to change the timeframe, overthrow the questions of schedule, budget, material and urban impact.
GZ: We went in a completely different direction from the anticipated responses, by rethinking use. We couldn’t see the need for another crossing in Paris to connect the two banks. So our first question was: what do we need a bridge for?
IC: This provided us with the occasion to give greater thought to the notion of urban happiness. We were interested in ideas about the city, the major urban events such as the Nuit Blanche or Paris Plage, the need to occupy a site quickly, with a small budget. It was the first time that we had thought of temporary architecture, and it opened our eyes to all sorts of possibilities.
GZ: Temporary and fun architecture! We wanted to come up with a project that was dedicated purely to pleasure. We were thinking about how one gets pleasure from the city.
IC: The questions that we asked ourselves were just human: What do people like doing in town? Can you do anything other than shop? Can you behave like a child in town? In French there is a saying “le bonheur est dans le pré”, happiness is in the meadow; we wanted to make the argument that happiness could also be in the city. Contemporary architecture can be entertaining and can bring people together.
GZ: When we entered the competition, the feasibility of the project was only an intuition. We wanted to rethink received ideas about use and structure. We began talking to engineers and inflatables manufacturers, but without success. Then TP Arquitectura, a specialist in tensile and inflatable structures, got in touch with us offering to build the bridge. They work with Ramon Sastre, an architect who has spent the last 20 years working on specialised software for the production of textile structures. TP and Ramon Sastre were the dream team that enabled us to demonstrate the feasibility of the project!
In what way did working with inflatables change your approach?
IC: We had never thought of working with inflatables, it came about as a solution because we wanted to span 90 metres over the Seine without altering the banks, without concrete foundations, for a project that was quick and inexpensive. We never begin our projects with a preconceived idea.
GZ: The issues surrounding the bridge related specifically to the bridge, but they introduced us to new ways of working and, above all, a new partner. TP and Ramon know their field so thoroughly that they provide a direct link between idea and production. For the Peace Pavilion the competition requested an engineering consultant on the team, so it was the perfect opportunity to explore inflatable structures. Particularly as it gave us experience not only of the material, but also of the engineering and manufacturing prowess that goes with it. It is a valuable opportunity for architects to have such a close link between design and manufacture.
IC: When we are looking for partners to work with, it is important that we sense the same enthusiasm and passion for the profession before we commit to anything. Anton and Adria Miserachs of TP are happy to go out on a limb and push back the limits of the impossible.
In this book you propose, not without humour, installing your temporary projects in different spots around the world. What are your thoughts behind this?Conversation with Irina Cristea and Grégoire Zündel around the theme: Happiness as a program. Interview by Ségolène Pérennes-Poncet on the occasion of the preface of the book "Time for Play: Why Architecture Should Take Happiness Seriously".
GZ: Although we came third in the competition, the Bouncing Bridge met with enormous success, particularly via the internet and social networks. We received multiple requests, some more serious than others, from local authorities, from private companies or from theme parks wanting to install the bridge all over the world. They asked very specific questions about weight, dimensions, cost of hire, etc.
IC: The bridge, the pavilions and the Space Invaders projects are temporary installations, lightweight and inexpensive. They can easily be transported around the world, taken to other communities. In terms of impact, there are no small projects or big projects. Architecture in general has the ability to capture people’s attention, it can embellish our lives, make our surroundings more attractive, buildings more desirable, spaces more efficient, without necessarily being expensive or permanent.
GZ: By coming into public spaces, temporary architecture creates a new cartography. Sites are revealed and take on new meaning, enabling new uses.
The projects proposed for three competitions, Battersea, Kowloon and Adidas are slightly different. They add an unexpected way of use on to the anticipated programme, for sport or for fun, based on solid architectural decisions.
IC: Our concern is people’s happiness – those who live in the cities and apartment buildings, who use public spaces and public transport, and who work in the office buildings that we design. For each and every project we think about how a building is used. The energy put into bringing a project to fruition must ensure that the building is readily flexible and transformable for changing requirements over time.
For the Bouncing Bridge project we detached ourselves from the question of the site itself, but for the Battersea project the site was primordial. The redevelopment of this vast industrial site poses questions of scale and time and the effort required to get around this gigantic building in order to ensure a pleasurable experience for everyone.
GZ: By proposing a motorised tour that revolutionises the viewpoints and the length of a visit in comparison with a walking tour, our proposal is a rewriting of the architectural promenade.
IC: It is also a means of questioning the attraction of museums. Should culture and entertainment necessarily be treated as two separate worlds? Isn’t it possible to marry the two? If the project for Battersea’s disused power station is eccentric, the project for the exhibition pavilion in Hong Kong’s new West Kowloon Cultural District is perfectly realistic. We proposed encircling the pavilion with a merry-go-round of wooden horses. The position of the site is fantastic, right on the sea-front overlooking the bay – our project allowed 360° views.
You have explained where your architecture comes from, the similarity in your approach to the design of a project like the Bouncing Bridge and a building project. However, the stylistic differences between these different types of projects are sometimes surprising. Why is that?
IC: Architecture that is too expressive, too involved in relating to its time, takes aesthetics hostage and risks creating architectural and urban dead-ends. Our cities shouldn’t be turned into architectural catalogues. We push ourselves to design buildings that are beautifully built and that are efficient and pragmatic, that create a background for unforeseen events, whether temporary or more permanent. Architecture must leave room for a bit of freedom, a degree of incompletion. Architectural gestures don’t interest us, we are more interested in, for example, an inflatable pavilion in the courtyard of a very simple building. We want to make architecture that allows for collisions, unexpected combinations, rather than imposing our mark.
GZ: The competition for the new office building for the Adidas headquarters is a perfect example of this. In truth, office buildings tend to be intentionally banal. We took our inspiration from industrial buildings, which create spaces that are luminous and very flexible in the way they can be used. But the subject of the competition was also to attract the most talented and creative spirits from around the world to the Adidas campus in Herzogenaurauch, far from a capital city. And so we imagined this ramp at the heart of the project, with perhaps a skate park and trampolines, to create a surprising spatial sequence in the way the building was used.
You have talked about three unbuilt proposals; do you think you will use this kind of installation in your built projects?
IC: At the beginning of this year we completed a project for the new headquarters of Louis Dreyful Armateurs in Suresnes, on the banks of the Seine. The project was the renovation of a late 1980s building. In one of the two new atria that help to organise the building, we have designed a long ramp that, as well as encouraging strolling, creates a spectacular space at the heart of the building; it encourages using the lifts less often, interaction between colleagues, a new way of looking the building, taking your time. It is always a question of time!
Inflatable structures: the new playground for architects – Lily in the 20hby TF1
It is a monument able to rise in seconds, thanks to a simple fan. A refectory, an artist's studio or even a golf practice, the inflatable structures are rediscovering a new life. The details in picture in the video below. This topic was broadcast in the television news of 20H of 22/06/2019 presented by Anne-Claire Coudray on TF1.
Technical creativityby Anton Miserachs et Pilar Navarro
TP Architectura i Construccio Tèxtil is a company that has been exploring for 30 years the technical possibilities of inflatable and textile architectures. Companies at the origin of the manufacture of inflatable projects AZC, they tell us their evolutions and their rejection of standardized projects in favor of a "technical creativity".
TP Arquitectura i Construcció Tèxtil is a family business specialising in textile constructions. We were set up 30 years ago by Ton Miserachs and Pilar Navarro in Catalonia. Our aim has always been to offer a personalised service. By refusing to manufacture in series and turning down projects for standardised constructions, we have been free to concentrate on technical creativity, with each new project a new challenge.
We are constantly looking for new materials and technical innovations that allow us to respect architects’ and designers’ designs while proposing technical improvements. From the outset we have worked closely with Professor Ramon Sastre, PhD, Architect, and the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya. These relationships allowed us to benefit from the very first software for the calculation of tensile and inflatable structures, WinTess, developed by Ramon Sastre. As the software has been improved and refined, he has involved us in every stage of its development. From being a system that required new calculations for every stage of the process, WinTess has become a genuine design and construction tool (CAD/CAM) providing support for our skills.
With the benefit of experience, technical improvements and an increasingly qualified team, we have been able to diversify our activity. Now working alongside some of our children, we began developing a series of renewable energy solutions in 2009, specifically in the biogas sector under the brand Upbiogas. Once again we recognised the importance of innovation and, in collaboration with the university and Ramon Sastre, have developed the world’s first software for calculating roof structures for biogas digesters. We have managed to rationalise and reduce risk in the calculation and dimensioning of every element for the development of single- or double-membrane roofs for digesters. The software is very complete, offering calculations based on stresses, anchorage, storage volume, gas pressure and pattern-cutting for particular roof geometries.
As the company has developed, our research has particularly concentrated on managing the energy consumption of the pumps used for inflation. As a result, we have rejected stitching in favour of high-frequency welding, often double welding. A testing system currently under construction will allow us to test resistance and air-tightness before installing a roof. This process will enable us to increase the resistance and durability of the welding, but also to control internal pressure because there will no longer be any air lost via the holes made by stitching. So we are producing inflatable structures that are more or less airtight, with pressure control. Air pumps will function only when necessary. In this way, the volume of air inside the structure is not affected by external loads and tension, which is essential for withstanding wind or snow. Being able to control all these parameters means that we can precisely define coefficients and the limits of resistance and establish a security protocol. We work with textiles that are 100% recyclable, even at the end of their life. Following the establishment of the Texyloop system, even the smallest pieces can now be recycled. What motivates us at TP Arquitectura i Construcció Tèxtil is the creation of one-off pieces that are lasting and safe, the product of our long years of experience.
We originally came across pictures of the Bouncing Bridge on social media. We were really impressed with AZC’s project and naturally wanted to track them down to congratulate them and to propose our collaboration. It is unusual for people outside of the world of textile constructions to conceive a project that is striking in its design and almost entirely realisable. AZC’s reply was immediate and we quickly got to work making a first prototype at 1:10 to test the behaviour of the inflatable structure and the trampoline mesh. A second model at 1:3, produced thanks to updates to WinTess, confirmed the viability of the project.From the first picture we saw of the Bouncing Bridge we were certain that this project was realisable. There was plenty of work to do and technical issues that needed resolving before that could happen, but most importantly the design fitted with the materials to be used. The Bouncing Bridge adventure has introduced us to two architects who, in their experience and professionalism, share our attitude to life and work. They are in touch with the child in us all. They’re driven by their emotions, which allows them to listen to their craziest ideas – like the one to build a bridge for bouncing on. A trampoline bridge? Why not!
The Peace Pavilion
The Peace Pavilion benefitted greatly from the tests carried out for the Bouncing Bridge. We were already aware of the capabilities of each of the project’s participants. That allowed for a real dialogue to be established: the designs were developed as the technical team modified and checked them. This time we knew that we wouldn’t be able to make any test models. WinTess was very useful for conceiving this project. Following his experiences on the Bouncing Bridge, Ramon Sastre developed the software’s capabilities, tailoring it to requirements. Despite its apparent simplicity, the Peace Pavilion demanded a rigorous approach because the beauty of its shape stems from the infinite variety of perspectives it offers. One never knows with an inflatable structure whether one has succeeded until it is inflated. During manufacture it is little more than a pile of fabric. Once the design is defined, we have to be meticulous in the organisation at each stage of the manufacturing process. The roof of the Peace Pavilion, a surface area of 49.8 sq m, was made from 132 pieces. It was a real challenge to calculate this canopy, made in pre-tensioned PVC. The shape’s complexity required precision to the millimetre to avoid any folds. Thanks to the performance of the pattern-cutting software, the precise cutting by numerical control and the quality of the welding, we achieved the perfect dimensions. In textile architecture, pre-tensioned PVC usually deviates by 0.5%. That means that the roof needs to be 0.5% smaller than the structure so that it will attain the correct dimensions when it is under the necessary tension. Unfortunately, at the pressure required for the structure, the diameter of the tube increased by 1% and required us to modify the dimensions of the roof. Using the final dimensions, we tested various loads in order to verify rigidity and define the dimensions of the roof in pre-tensioned textile. The Peace Pavilion is a jewel. Its design is very beautiful, very simple, and very delicate. Realising it required the most advanced technologies and all the skill that comes from many years of experience.
The Flower Pavilion
The Bouncing Bridge and the Peace Pavilion are both integral objects. To build them requires the assembly of a number of different pieces but once constructed they become one single element – an inflated tube – that is both horizontal and vertical, wall and roof. The unity and apparent simplicity of the object make both these projects very appealing. The Flower Pavilion is a more architectural project. It takes its inspiration from nature – a flower – to which it adds a material dimension while maintaining the feeling of a natural shelter. Our design needed to be stable, easily disassembled and transportable. To convince the client of the project’s feasibility, we decided to make a prototype. The project’s complexity derived in part from the assembly of the vertical posts with the horizontal roof, each having a different function in terms of forces, and in part in designing the metal structures that encircle the inflatable modules of the roof. Curved structures, like the petals of the pavilion roof, require a particular level of precision because the deformation forces they are subject to are more complex. Plus we had to consider the affect of air pressure on the petals when they are inflated, particularly because the climate in Berlin would require a high-level of air pressure. In order to be able to fit the different petals together and anticipate water run-off, we had to minimise any deformation. Although the shape of the petals themselves was good for working in compression, we nonetheless planned for a thick frame to ensure minimum deformation. When we inflated the various petals, the forces were incredible and we had to reinforce the metal joints that linked the frames because they were deforming by several millimetres more than anticipated. Following adjustments to the pressure and the thickness of the frames, we were able to get the roof right.
In addition to its technical success, the project generated immediate enthusiasm. During testing near our premises, the children of the neighbouring village, intrigued by this flower, quickly came to join us. We made the most of their energy to test the solidity of the pavilion by getting them to bounce on its inflatable roof. And an engineer friend who teaches agronomy at the Institut la Garrotxa in Olot, wanted to use the project for the Temps de Flors festival, which each year fills the city of Girona with flowers.