GAM 09


Roger Riewe

Today, potential limitations to structural realization rarely confine architecture’s power of imagination: almost all of our conceptual designs are translatable into architectural form. A range of professionals makes this possible: architects and structural engineers, as well as engineers specialized in infrastructure, building technology, and energy. In so doing, they depend on a seemingly immeasurable selection of material constellations and a multitude of traditional and innovative processing technologies. Combined with a generous budget, this configuration lays the framework for turning plans and designs of all kinds into structural reality.

The euphoria elicited by this richness of options puts all classic architectural elements—most especially the wall—up for renegotiation as features inherent to architecture. The current issue of Graz Architecture Magazine seizes on this space of potentiality to scrutinize the wall as an element—in terms of both structure and function—while placing special focus on walls as spatial stratifications. GAM.09 wonders whether it is possible to complement the traditional separation of external form and inner function, when it comes to walls, with another perspective that articulates the wall function of lending support, securing, and retaining, together with qualities of an associative exchange between inside and outside.

Two essential threads of discourse are currently influencing this issue: on the one hand, an approach focused on achieving actopological repositioning founded on a perspective of tectonics and, on the other, one intending to undertake a technological exploration of the wall’s functions, likewise from a tectonic perspective.

Ever since the wall became focal to architectural discourse, endeavors have been made, at the same time, to get rid of it again, to achieve its dematerialization. Yet when it becomes relieved of its construction-related functions—for such functionality may also be assumed by supports and beams—then, instead of surrendering meaning, the wall actually becomes capable of experiencing new thematic facets instead. Even its utter dematerialization serves to distinguish the design by the absence of this central element— the now nonexistent wall, in a material sense, lends architectural credence and becomes more important than ever before!

What is more, contemporary technological innovations and developments related to the wall lead to a broadening of its function and significance, whereby this is to be viewed neither from a purely tectonic perspective, nor from a topological one. GAM.09 is interested in such new conceptions of walls, both in terms of the impact they have on architectural space and in reference to the related criticism of the traditional function of walls as a basic architectural element.

“Walls may seem merely to be customary structural components, but they are in fact distinguished by a wealth of potential. Walls can carry, they can separate and protect, yet they can also connect, can create space and rooms, can regulate room temperature, can assume certain functionality. Their materiality and their composition are experienceable as structure, rhythm, and tectonics. Walls can be used for the conservation or generation of energy, and most recently they have increasingly become dynamically responsive, active elements.”

This is the phrasing we chose in our Call for Papers, which elicited numerous proposals for approaching this topic in the most varied of ways. We have compiled the most fascinating contributions here in GAM.09. Moreover, we have asked two photographers, Hélène Binet and Paolo Rosselli, to visually explore this theme. A small, unmissable selection of their pictures is printed in this issue of GAM.

GAM.09 organizes walls as spatial sequences according to the following three core themes: DISSOLUTIONS, TRANSITIONS, and CORRELATIONS. The first section—DISSOLUTIONS—sheds light on the dissolution of the conventional meaning of walls in terms of their origins, manifestations, and ramifications. Adrian Forty’s “A Life after Death” analyzes this process and concentrates on the future of the wall, although it has often been written off. Bernhard Siegert’s “After the Wall: Interferences among Grids and Veils” explores postparietal architecture, while he places special emphasis on the deconstruction and recodification of the wall as seen in installations by Veronika Kellndorfer. Ivica Brnić, in turn, analyzes the “diaphanous walls” of the St. Pius Church designed by Franz Fueg in Meggen, Switzerland, as to their impact on the translucent interior space and the sacral spatial experience. Till Lensing takes up the topic of wall dissolution in his essay “Absent Walls” by example of two holiday houses designed by Silvia Gmür and Livio Vacchini on Paros Island. Sabine Zierold examines the “Mediatic Stratifications of the Wall” and fathoms their function as media-induced carriers of meaning. This first section is concluded with George Teyssot’s text “Architecture as Topological Operator,” where he appropriates and fundamentally contemplates the wall as a topological element, besides its relevance to tectonics.

The second section of GAM.09—titled TRANSITIONS—discusses ways of transgressing the classic separation between inside and outside, thus framing walls as architectures of transition. Eduardo Meissner introduces Poli House, a building realized in Chile by Pezo von Ellrichshausen: a function-bearing shell as residential home, with its walls forming complex layers. The subsequent photo series by Hélène Binet explores the haptic dimensions of the walls of famous architectural structures in an incredibly subtle way. Barry Bergdoll dedicates his text to the wall as transition, citing the Iglesia del Santísimo Redentor by Fernando Menis in St. Cruz, Tenerife, whose walls foster a complex dialogue with the topography of the island and, despite their massivity, render interior spaces flooded with light possible. Joost Meuwissen’s “Walls and Dreams of Incarceration around 1980” discusses the importance of Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish in the case of two prison projects by Rem Koolhaas and Carel Weeber respectively. The photo series by Paolo Rosselli that follows departs from the perfectionism of architectural photography and shows various manifestations of walls, thus playfully querying the boundary between form and function.

The third section—CORRELATIONS—is dedicated to the correlations between form and function as apparent in walls. Laurent Stalder’s “Wall, Machine, Milieu” questions the technological charge of the wall and positions it as “mi-lieux,” while Tim Lüking, in his contribution, advocates giving a new chance to single-layer walls in the context of contemporary technological developments. In conclusion, Ferdinand Oswald argues the case for a wall, in subtropical climates, whose separating function between interior and exterior space is expanded to include use as a climate-regulating element.

The review segment of GAM.09 presents, alongside numerous book discussions, George Baird’s very personal and also tremendously profound assessment of two icons of contemporary architecture: the Berlin Philharmonie by Hans Scharoun and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles by Frank Gehry. Finally, the Faculty News offers insight into projects and events going on in the Faculty of Architecture at Graz University of Technology. ■