Critical Spatial Design,
Architecture, Art & Discourse
At intervals we like to interrogate ourselves, to pause and take stock of where we stand at a specific moment in time - a Momentaufnahme.
Our practice has an ongoing obsession with the idea of archives and - more specifically - how virtual and physical knowledge can be prevented from entering the realm of the forgotten and instead be turned into something visible, present and productive. Thus, the archive is not necessarily understood purely as an archive, but more as a propositional working method which we call Archival Praxis: a form of machine or operation that formalises (i.e. makes tangible and visible) what is unseen.
Like Cedric Price, we believe that ideas have a best-before-date; we retain the option to change and contradict ourselves.
Although we tend to merge different and even contradicting themes within one project, we are not interested in the fragment per se but in the complete assemblage. Our projects are spatial constructs that overlap, dissect and frictionally flatten several usually distinct programs into one coherent gesture.
In a novel called Correction (Korrektur) by the Austrian writer Thomas Bernhard, a theme is retold, like a fugue, over and over again in order to attain a sense of precision, which of course is an elusive act. We are compelled by the idea of thematic repetition and see our projects as an extended family of, more or less, distant relatives.
The opposite of Enable.
Architecture as a means to produce effect.
We have an interest in program and functionality, but not necessarily as something efficient and expedient, but as something that is more frictional and, by extension, engaging. Opposed to a more modernist and literal flexibility of free open space and movable parts, the notion of enabling is a suggestive, built-in, seemingly static form of flexibility.
At the core of most things there is dialogue. Architecture is not different in that it speaks and suggests certain uses and forms of behaviour. If a relation between two entities is too smooth there can be no dialogue, only mute agreement. We strive for both conceptual and programmatic friction.
Our approach is distinctly different from post-modernist strategies as we are not using past information as a legible or ironic quotation. Likewise, the practice is set apart from modernist and current neo-modernist tendencies as we see no opposition between past, present and future that didactically needs to be rendered visible. As a practice we believe that we are situated in a historical continuum, a lineage where a multitude of ideas - perhaps conflicting - productively clash.
The practice is understood as an inherent hybrid, situated between two different characters, between different professional protocols, whereby the multiplicity, in various forms and formats, is reflected in each project. We firmly reject a universal one-size-fits-all methodology that can be applied to any project. Instead, we believe that each process needs to be designed anew. That is not to say that each project starts from scratch in a tabula-rasa-like condition. Instead, we consciously mine history as a form of archive. We retrieve usable information which then is rendered operative as a form of tentative assemblage.
In a Bergsonian sense we see memory as an interface between internal and external worlds. Like humans, institutions are also bodies with accumulated memory (i.e. an archive of information). Memory is a resource that can act as a self-reflective critical feedback-loop ensuring that the institution is constantly moving forward by (re-)staging its own institutional memory. Thus, it could become the autobiographical consciousness of the institution. In addition, by making the archival content accessible, our proposition could function as an interface between the amassed material of the institution and the public. Like archival psychiatrists we like to interrogate the memory.
Do more with less. Elements that form an assemblage should be able to perform in more than one way. We are maximalists, not minimalists.
Faced with the infinity of possibilities that the archive is offering, we use narratives as a means to situate our work and practice within a larger context. The narrative can be seen as a parallel dialogue. Sometimes it is the result; at other times it is the driver. Narratives are a tool to connect time: past, present, and future.
The practice was founded by Magnus Nilsson and Ralf Pflugfelder and is based in London and Berlin. The practice is situated on the intersection of critical spatial design, architecture, art and discourse.
No project is an absolute or ideal manifestation of one’s thoughts. Each project is simply a part of an ongoing process that moves along several trajectories. Without self-criticality there can be no explorative excitement. In other words, without doubt there can be little or no delight.
In many of our projects, the staging may at first glance appear somewhat static, perhaps even archaic in its axiality and symmetry. The setting is, however, an intrinsically flexible space: a space that through its specific choreography enables a number of discursive forms and formats to unfold. As communication overlaps and bifurcates across overlapping spaces, a multi-tasking stage for discourse is generated - a dormant enabler activated through action.
grids / modules/ self-similarity / proportions / dictionaries / archives / ordering devices / narratives
With an interest in historical continuity, we have an affinity for typologies. We do not, however, see them as eternal and static entities, but as something that can be moulded, corrupted and merged.
Within the field of architecture, Robert Venturi’s book Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture is an example of a potential mode for non-dichotic praxis. Within the realm of architectural thinking this book is possibly one of the most misunderstood, even by Venturi himself.
Often dismissed as a vulgar post-modern formalist argument, embracing random whim devoid of any content beyond pointless historicist form, the book is actually arguing for exactly the opposite - namely design praxis generated through the research of a specific informational setting.
As the archive is a productive way of dealing with history and existing information, the Wunderkammer is perhaps more of a useful framework to think of design in that it is a looser and more suggestive metaphor - a disparate collection of elements held together as one tentative assemblage.
Nilsson Pflugfelder, December 2012
Practice Inventory #2
Berlin / London