"Open for the Unforeseen"
An Interview with
Graft Architect Thomas Willemeit
They are Germany's most
glamorous architects. Even Hollywood star Brad Pitt was thrilled about Graft's
inventive designs, and he had the trio from Germany design a guesthouse
for him. As part of the program around Phoebe Washburn's architectural
Fool's Milk Meadow, Thomas Willemeit, one of the three founders of
the architectural firm (which has branches in Los Angeles, Peking, and
Berlin), held a lecture on the close connections between sculpture and
architecture and Graft's innovative architecture.
Stack Restaurant, Las Vegas 2007,
Ricky Ridecos, courtesy Graft
Drucks: What links do you see between Phoebe Washburn's works and
work incorporates a lot of things we deal with, for example ecological
architecture. In addition, she installed a carpentered booth in a Deutsche
Bank building, producing a relationship of tension. Then there's the
connection between landscape and architecture. But her house is of course
not just a house. It possesses a sculptural power which cannot be
described in purely architectural discourse. This is a topic we are very
interested in. That architecture can have a powerful message, which is
communicated and transferred to the viewer or user as strong energy. In
other words, we believe architecture can also have sculptural qualities,
and ideally, always will.
Entwurf Kirche Wünsdorf, 2006, courtesy Graft
is your view of the relationship between architecture and sculpture?
believe that architecture and sculpture overlap strongly. They can never
be completely separated from one another but are different facets of one
and the same thing. Gothic cathedrals, for example, definitely have
sculptural qualities. As regards some modern architecture, on the other
hand, there is at least the theoretical view that the architecture is
primarily derived from the function, from practical use. Modern theories
express the desire that architecture should be perceived as an independent
discipline with its own rules. In direct connection with art, for
instance, it should provide a neutral background for an important artwork.
We take a very different position from this modern stance and divorce
ourselves from it – at least from this aspect.
Hotel Q, Bar, Berlin 2004,
hiepler brunier architekturfotografie, courtesy Graft
Some of your designs resemble sculptures that could be
encountered in a gallery. Could you imagine them on show?
have no difficulty imagining that. But of course our top priority is not
to exhibit our architecture as a purely sculptural object. Most of our
architecture is developed for a specific use and can be explained as such.
We never view it as a pure object. In this respect these figures differ
strongly from what is generally regarded as sculpture. Sculpture possesses
a power which transfers to the space and relates to it. Nor is there any
architecture that exists in a neutral space, in a vacuum. If you take our
designs out of their context, it would surely be a sign of quality if they
still possessed such sculptural power. But then we would expect an
exhibition maker to invent a dramatic context for this architectural
object, which would then have a relationship of tension with the object.
design Knothouse, courtesy Graft
special qualities of your designs are indebted, among other things, to the
possibilities afforded by computers.
computer has had an enormous influence on the development of parts of our
formal vocabulary. Suddenly entirely new forms could be conceived and
built, and could be communicated. When we were studying, the boundaries
between architecture and sculpture lay in two-dimensional sketches. As
soon as you could transfer a form to two-dimensional drawings and then
give these drawings to someone to build in line with the intentions, it
was architecture. As long as personal manual work was needed to produce a
figure, it was sculpture. With the computer you can now communicate much
more complex forms and thus the boundary-line between manual procedure and
built object disappears. These complex figures cannot only be read from
the four points of the compass, but also from a perspective of 360
degrees, and they look different from every perspective.
dental practice, Berlin 2005,
hiepler brunier architekturfotografie, Courtesy Graft
a short period of time Graft has developed from a three-man operation to a
company with almost 90 employees. What has made you so successful?
us, the important aspect is that we always have a very special
relationship to our clients. We’re very curious about why a particular
client is different from all the rest. We derive childish joy from
confronting clients with something they probably didn’t expect at all.
Which, however, has a lot to do with aspects of this special building task
that are different from comparable projects. We always try to encourage
our clients to let themselves in for something that is still unknown along
with us. And when we then arrive at an unforeseen result, this makes all
of us happy. It makes us happy because we’ve discovered something new
again. And it makes our client happy because he or she – perhaps after an
initial shock – has something which others can’t say looks like this or