Interview „The Plan“

The Plan 05/2015

Alessandra Orlandoni – You graduated in architecture in 1989 in Sarajevo, then got involved in the war in Bosnia from 1992 to 1995. Did the political situation have any repercussions on your career as an architect?

Mladen Jadric – 1989 was a very special year. Everyone believed the fall of the “Iron Curtain” would lead to a better world. How naïve we were! Today, looking back, I realize how that unacknowledged trauma marked whole generations and created ‘cultural refugees’. I came out openly against the war and its destruction and used architecture as the language to say so, creating temporary installations. Among them was “The Sign of the Future”, also known as “Sarajevo Crossing”, a manifesto- installation of 1995. Backed by the House of Architecture and as part of a wider project to raise public awareness about the Bosnian conflict, I was invited to several different cities – Graz, Vienna, Klagenfurt, Salzburg. “The Sign of the Future” mainly expressed the general inability to resolve any emerging conflict.

A.O. – You moved to Vienna and got your doctorate at the Faculty of Architecture and Planning at Vienna’s University of Technology with Will Alsop as your mentor. How important is it for an architect’s development to choose the right mentor?

M. J. – I worked for CoopHimmelb(L)au in Vienna from 1990 to 1991. I then applied to the Vienna University for a job as an assistant. Will Alsop chose me from among the other candidates, so the mentoring came afterwards. His teaching was fundamental. It opened my eyes to the deep relationship between art and architecture, and encouraged me to pursue my own curiosity and critical sense and focus on a ‘primary generator’ concept.

A.O. – You have taught and lectured around the world, and so have got a real feel for the architecture of various places. How would you describe the state of contemporary international architecture, in terms of quality, experimentation and design?

M. J. – I believe today’s world is divided into two parallel universes. Henry Kissinger called them “contradictory realities.” There are 2.8 billion people living on $ 2 a day or less. The common theme for these two parallel universes is the need to rapidly urbanize the world. By 2030 the entire world population will be 8 billion; two thirds will live in cities. Personally, I am rather pessimistic about the visions that promise easy solutions to improve the quality of architecture and urban planning in the short term.

A.O. – Since 1997 you have been a member of the Künstlerhaus,Vienna’s oldest art and architecture association that had Otto Wagner as one of its members. Does architecture have to be “contaminated” with the art to give design that added ‘plus’? What does ‘artistic sensitivity’ mean to you?

M. J. – I’m not an artist, but I think architecture and art have much in common. Architecture must always be posited on an idea. Without a “generator concept” buildings are just constructions, not architecture. At the same time, the architecture is a discipline with rules, just like music or mathematics. It’s like a highway leading from the abstract world of ideas to the real world, and vice versa. If you have something to say or want to respond proactively to the environment around you, the medium is irrelevant. It could be a written text, a painting or a work of architecture.

A.O. – Among the awards that you have received and the international competitions you have entered, there is one, “Dangerous Architecture”, that you won in 1992 when you were just 28. Generally speaking, what is “Dangerous Architecture” to your mind?

M. J. – My project expressed and reflected a “state of catastrophe”. It was extreme architecture for situations of emergency. In critical situations like war, we realize what architecture’s main task should be: to provide protection, shelter and hope. Today, more than in other periods, many architects are determined to take responsibility for the social role of architecture. This ranges from various organizations such as “Architecture sans Frontières” that builds schools in desperately poor areas, to the people who operate in the Favelas or in complex logistical conditions such as refugee camps for the victims of natural disasters such as the New Orleans flooding, etc. The world political scenario and climate change are making these issues a priority.

A.O. – GO EAST is a very colourful informal bar where the soft, sinuous ‘sausage’ shaped seating also defines space. Changing the relationship between space, object and the individual is a crosscutting theme for art and design. To what extent does this approach influence your design choices?

M. J. – The project was part of GO EAST, an economic and cultural exchange between Vienna and Sarajevo. I wanted to create a “place of the East” that adopted “western” habits to express dialogue between diversities. In Vienna, as in Italy, coffee is always a good excuse to arrange a meeting, either professional or personal – or to take a break. I wanted to create a continuous space for relaxing, sitting or lying down, cancelling out the physical positions imposed by classical seating. The pattern takes its cue from the Kilim, and was produced by a 7-metre long printer 7, the largest in Austria! The “sausage’ seating is just like a tyre whose air chamber has been covered with a printed oriental patterned skin. The floor is in elastic material and soft since in the east – from Sarajevo to Japan – it’s customary to remove your shoes when you go into a place whether it’s a house or a restaurant. The whole project is designed to increase and facilitate easy communication between people.

A.O. – At the Vienna University of Technology, where you teach, I noticed that students use a variety of media for their work: technical drawings on the computer, new IPad Apps, but also traditional techniques such as collage, painting and photography. I was surprised. I expected digital to be king. Hard copy magazines, digital publications, technical monographs and refined “coffee table books”, social media, and video: how is architecture best disseminated? Are printed magazines still important or are digital technology and video more effective? As a teacher, what sort of material do you advise?

M. J. – You’ve included several questions there on the various aspects of architecture: information, education, motivation and promotion of one’s work, to name a few! We still think in categories: digital and analog, youth and adults, digital or hard copy information etc.
At the moment believe that digital media are simply one more tool to help us express ourselves, just like I-Tunes, CD-ROMs, tapes and disks all exist in parallel. The main issue concerns the conservation and storage of information, not only in terms of gigabytes but its accessibility and long-term preservation for future generations. Print still has a certain advantage – otherwise libraries would have been abolished. As to education, I still believe in the “print culture”. Good books on architecture are still irreplaceable, and I continue to recommend them. But you don’t learn your trade at school: students have to ‘open their eyes’ and learn to learn from reality. They’ve got to get a backpack on and travel to see, feel, and touch architecture, and understand the environment around them.
The social media question is even more complicated and dispersive. Today the simple presence of digital technology isn’t enough. The constant demand for “likes” takes up time; self-promotion requires a commitment and takes up a lot of time as well as requiring considerable ability to navigates these new media. Certainly, in this world of “parallel universes”, the “blog culture” has contributed to the growth of some powerful digital communities, especially in Asia and South America, followed by Europe and North America.