Conversation with FRIEDRICH LUDEWIG, ACME Architecture 2 of 2

Blog, CCAD, Conversations
This is the second and last part of the first CCAD interview to Friedrich Ludewig:
CCAD- You studied at the AA, and you’ve lectured in many universities around the world. What makes the AA different?
FL-The AA was founded by students, and has remained a private institution, unconnected to any university. In that regard, it has retained a flexibility and open-mindedness that is quiet unique and something I greatly appreciated when I was there. There are no tenure professors, no laurels to rest on, which create a unique restlessness. The second quality that I cherished most at my time at the AA was its internal diversity of architectural directions; there are few places where so many different voices are allowed to say so diverging things to each other.
CCAD- Now let’s speak a little of your work. Most of your projects are far from being simple boxes. How do you think of shape in architecture? What happens in the “skin” of your buildings?
FL-Some of our projects are ‘shell and core’ projects, meaning that we are not allowed to get involved in the interior but are limited to external skin and frame. Creating architecture if you are only allowed to work with the skin is a heavy constraint. When faced with this challenge, we often try to increase the thickness of the skin to give us more space to play with, to prevent the architecture from becoming graphics. This process started with the double-layered cavity skin of the JLP in Leicester, and we have developed it ever since, in our projects for Leeds, Sheffield, Swansea and Duisburg. We have tried to give the skin a depth in materiality and visual experience that is at once ornamental but related to the actual function and content of the building and makes reference to its context and sitting.
Where we are allowed to work with form, for example in our bridge proposals for Koblenz or Qatar, we have worked with the wider team to create synergies between architectural form and structure. Bridges are easy examples for this, any bridge that fails to marry structure and form end up as a rather expensive folly, and it’s exciting to work with good engineers on projects where form finding has immediate implications for engineering, cost and construction.
Hunsett Mill, one of our domestic projects, has been a more architectural example where we have managed to generate form out of a contextual design idea and a structural concept. The project had to look subservient to an existing old cottage and respect the heights and dimensions of the context. Working with Adams Kara Taylor, we developed a project informed by contemporary timber technology where any possible space on roof level was optimized again and again until all cladding was eliminated. The resultant form is pure, minimal structure without looking normal or rational; instead being a slightly mad series of dancing roof pitches that don’t appear sensible unless you know the constraints that the project had to follow.
Hunsett Mill, UK, ACME Architecture
CCAD- In the Hunsett Mill house you speak about self-sufficiency. Is this the new “magic word”? We see a lot of drawings everywhere with green roofs, and some words about the building being self-sufficient, but is it true? Can a building be really green?
FL-We would not promote concepts of self-sufficiency for normal projects. If you look at the efficiencies of green technology, nothing except for passive solar heating makes any sense in small scales. Small wind turbines are useless, solar power in UK is useless, it’s neither worth the effort nor the money. The only reason why Hunsett Mill has gone down part of that route is because the project is located in a wetland, far away from any other house. If we would have been close to an inhabited place, we would have happily accepted usual service supplies, water and drainage.
What we are much more excited about is passive designs that minimize energy use. Along these lines, Hunsett Mill has been designed with a super-insulated building fabric, exposed thermal mass and maximum of south-facing windows to increase solar gain. Passive energy savings are a lot more exciting for us as architects to work with, and easy to exploit for architectural and formal gain, and this is what we are pushing forward in our other projects in Bahrain and Syria.
CCAD- How do you see the future for us architects?
FL- Each epoch of history has created architecture that was representative of its values, dreams and abilities, and there is nothing to suggest that this would change. We don’t see the future for architects to be any different to the past 6000 years. Digital technology will enable new forms to be created, but the basic ingredients of architectural form and discovery have not changed, and we don’t think they will. We will stop speaking about sustainability in the future; it will become a normal, everyday part of what we all do every day. We hope that the future will be dedicated to creating spaces of distinctly local identities, and that we will see a return to complex three-dimensionality, to the creation of spaces that cannot be described in photos or blogs, spaces that need to be experienced physically, in 3d and in person.
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