Blogumulus by Roy Tanck and Amanda Fazani

Friday, January 1, 2010

Jan Kaplický, An Interview by Hans Ulrich Obrist, appeared in


architect/artist: Jan Kaplický, Future System
interview title: Jan Kaplický, An Interview by Hans Ulrich Obrist
interviews compilation no: T-57 
interview format: Text
date: 01.16.2009
appeared in:
interviewer: Hans Ulrich Obrist
photo by:


Interview Details:

Jan Kaplicky, founding member of the architecture studio Future Systems deceased in Prague. He was an advocate of innovation, a vibrant polemist and a great designer. Several obituaries have appeared in the international press. (to read Jan Kaplicky obituaries click HERE)
As an hommage to his figure, Abitare publish a long interview of Hans Ulrich Obrist with him.

Hans Ulrich Obrist interview with Jan Kaplicky

HUO I am very happy we can record this second interview. If one looks at your work from the very beginning, drawing plays a big role. There is a very regular practice of drawing already in the forties. There is a sketch here from 1944. Afterwards in the architectural practice there is drawing. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about drawing, if it’s a daily practice.

JK It is daily practice and you can see it in those two books , a certain number of sketches. That is actually the first one and the last one is by my son, so there has been a certain continuation there. But it is daily routine. I write diaries which are full of scribbles and the first thinking is definitely there totally. Nobody ever sees that but the first scribble is always there and is very important.

HUO Are you sure you don’t want tea or coffee?

JK No, I’m perfectly fine.

HUO Maybe we can shut the door.

JK Then I do this sort of A4, anything that comes, and there are always many of those for every project. It shows the sweat that a lot of architects don’t like to show. You don’t need to mention names, it just comes out like that. That’s nonsense. There are a couple of geniuses who can do one scribble but they are very, very few. I try to explain things there and then it is relatively easy, you can use it. But you must know what it is and you have to consider everything, almost, the material and the colour, the whole story. And then it was possible to start doing the drawings and the real drawings are done now, of course, on the computer. That value of the sketches doesn’t decrease as the use of the computer increases; three-dimensional thinking is faster in a way and more easy to do as a little sketch than to do it on a machine because that is too certain. You are losing a certain freedom with the machine; it doesn’t matter on a piece of paper. People expect everything perfect from the computer. That is not true either, because at the beginning of any building or design object you can’t think straightforwardly. Yes, there is a line if you are lucky, but I don’t like too much going to the left and right. I don’t believe in having three alternatives for the thing; I far more prefer if there is one. You can change it and there are changes as the project grows and grows in size or whatever. Also it has to be visually rich. There is a certain story about the glue tin inside out, which is important as well. A lot of architects don’t care about this, they don’t absorb too much from outside. I have subscriptions for many magazines and there is always television but that’s a little bit dead in a way.

HUO That’s a very important point.

JK Of course.

HUO It’s the point of where the influence comes from outside into your work. You have published For Inspiration Only (1996) and More for Inspiration Only (1999) and Czech Inspiration (2005) and one can see from the very beginning if it’s design, if it’s free magazines, if it’s airline magazines, if it’s records, there are all kinds of sources, so one can say you are very open to these outside influences.

JK Yes. It’s frightening when people start to say, ‘There’s nothing happening there’; they live in Los Angeles and they say, ‘Nothing is happening here’. That’s very worrying. It’s not true. There is always something happening somewhere, it’s just to find it, to be informed, to be with it somehow. It’s easy dismissal of any situation around the world, in Los Angeles or wherever, Milan. Of course there are masses of things happening in Milan. I don’t know, maybe they have a new tram which would be important in the way of what you see. Also I think the relationship to the last day of your life, to your previous history, to the people who influence you, is important. I can’t stand people who come for an interview and when I ask them, ‘Who is your hero?’ they have no answer. One doesn’t come to life and there is nothing before. That’s rubbish. There is always Le Corbusier and Oscar Niemeyer and whoever you mention. And it varies sometimes, of course. You have personal discoveries. Very early on I discovered some houses of Frank Lloyd Wright and it was an amazing discovery. It was only from 1956 and it disappeared. And there are others. I bought recently a book on Oscar Niemeyer’s houses.

HUO I bought the same book.

JK The biggest discovery was that he designed two classicist houses. There were sort of colonial columns, Roman or Greek columns. His strength is he can afford it; if someone else does it it is a disaster but he can in his endless production.

HUO That’s very interesting because it leads to a question I wanted to ask you. I am very interested in the issue of heroes, which I think is very important and is also to do with what Eric Hobsbawm says, that you need a protest against forgetting.

JK Yes.

HUO There is a big amnesia in the world. You already mentioned Frank Lloyd Wright. I am curious if you could tell me a little bit more about your heroes.

JK Le Corbusier was always there in the strengths of his work and some of his writing is unbelievable. A little bit later the Niemeyer came; he disappeared a little bit but now it’s very high, particularly his writings; some of his memoirs are very strong. Those two. There’s always Charles Eames and others on the side, there are a few people from the design world. There are people you don’t know the names of but they exist or they existed; there’s Keisler and Zaha.

HUO Friedrich Kiesler?.

JK Yes. I always appreciate this person who almost didn’t so-called succeed but he did because a few of his things are absolutely fantastic. The smaller production is sometimes very important, you know. Charles Eames built two houses: one of them is definitely totally revolutionary, one maybe a tiny bit less. Sometimes to discover a so-called small guy doing – or the ladies, Eileen Gray, Charlotte Perriand when you realise she was doing the best pieces of furniture at the age of twenty-five or twenty-seven, it’s unbelievable, unbelievable. People don’t know and don’t want to know and things like that but it’s too late for me. It was probably slightly different then than it is now. People design an aeroplane or design a car and the question of discovery and to really change something. You will never find out who designed a trench coat or a pair of jeans but they are an absolute discovery, they are revolutionary things. That process interests me very much. The third book of the series.

HUO Of the Inspiration series.

JK Yes. There is a Czech Inspiration now; that is one I will send you as well. It’s a small country that produced quite a lot and of course it is unknown because it doesn’t come from the big world. I would love to do the British. You always have to have some inspiration. I was always telling students to look around; if they were on a bus at what the details are or at the airport and aeroplanes, but people don’t want to listen sometimes, they are blind, visually blind. Unfortunately that is a disease of many architects.

HUO This is fascinating because you mentioned the Czech influence. I was wondering what would have been some heroes of yours in the fifties and sixties in terms of Czech modernity. In Poland there was Oskar Hansen.

JK Yes.

HUO You knew about Hansen?

JK No. Usually these cross-references between two countries like that are very poor indeed. They always try to say, ‘We are better’. But I know about the Polish and there is also Hungary, for instance. But certainly the Czech Constructivism was somewhere, but there were no books. Things were falling to pieces, so it was not easy. Also you don’t realise what it means how people see it from outside. They see it only from inside; that’s what so fascinating, what survives from your small country looking at it from here. That fascinates me because very few think, and it’s a particularly Anglo-American disease, that there’s nothing beyond even Germany, which is an unknown country; they maybe know Volkswagen but that’s about it.

HUO And what in terms of Czech Constructivism were your main inspirations?

JK There was one pavilion by Jaroslav Polika and Jaromir Krejcar in 1937 in Paris.. It was opposite the British pavilion which was what we would now call hi-tech, but for the time was quite extraordinary. A few villas. There was always the Adolf Loos Villa, which I lived next to; I was born 150 metres from Müller’s House. I used to go there as a little child. That was an amazing inspiration. My parents knew the Müllers. So that makes life very different. But every tower is inspirational. The blocks that are there are still very.

HUO Very frugal.

JK Yes. Totally in my mind was the possibility of composition. Of course, you don’t see it like that as a child but constructing something with wood, and then making your own models, drawings, a fourteen or fifteen year old, not constructed by some kit, but to construct a boat that goes on the lake is something. That was a very strong influence as well because you start to think how you would make it. To go and buy a plastic kit is easy but to make everything yourself to precision and draw the drawing is an amazing advantage. But even to gain experience once or twice with a motor car engine in pieces. I see guys now who don’t even know how to insert a screw or use the screwdriver. Not everybody needs to do that but it’s the physical reality which, particularly with the presence of computers, is, amazingly, disappearing.

HUO One other influence you mentioned in the early sixties was Konrad Wachsmann. What about Wachsmann’s influence?

JK Wachsmann. Well we were heavily after some systems.

HUO That’s the beginning of the systems.

JK Yes, yes. I remember I found somewhere he had just published a book, Wendepunkte im Bauen (1961), and somebody bought it. We couldn’t get any books, you must realise that, or any magazines, so somebody sent this book which was totally revolutionary in terms of what a man like that – you can say he didn’t achieve much, it doesn’t matter. In this commercial world why don’t you find an article on Konrad Wachsmann? I am sure ninety per cent of architects who read the Architect’s Journal would not know the name. I am almost certain – ninety-five per cent. It’s not because he’s forgotten, the influence is there. It’s like saying Brunelleschi doesn’t have any influence, it’s all gone. Rubbish.

HUO It’s always there.

JK It’s always there.

HUO That also leads us to the Architecture without Architects influence. Archigram was one of your key influences.

JK It was absolutely purely by accident. It was in a modern art exhibition. I went there twice. It was my first visit abroad and that was it, in a museum of modern art. It was an extraordinary installation by Paul Rudolph. I found two photographs from TELO and suddenly saw a connection that somebody would look at that sort of thing as a part of modern movement. It was an amazing thing. The photography of the exhibition before Family of man, drawings for some time and a few other things. Then somebody sent me a copy of Archigram and that opened the gates dramatically.

HUO So Archigram was a trigger.

JK Yes and no. But as an interest from left to right, yes, because nobody in those days was interested in this sort of thing; people didn’t openly talk about something called inspiration, which was normally used and copied now by others. That didn’t exist. You couldn’t put on your drawings some piece of shell which inspired you. Le Corbusier had done it but in a different way; it was not so direct. They had seen architecture in something which nobody else did.

HUO Maybe a last hero to point out is Craig Ellwood. Could you talk about Craig Ellwood and his importance?

JK Yes. I wrote him a letter, even, saying how wonderful I thought his work was.

HUO He’s alive, isn’t he?

JK He’s dead (he died in 1992). That was another thing. It was never announced in the architecture press. He finished with architecture and we shouldn’t talk about that. There is a new book, a Spanish book, about his houses which are fifty years old (Alfonso Pere-Mendez, Craig Ellwood: In the Spirit of the Time, 2003). For the first time they have been published in colour and they are beautiful photographs. It’s unbelievable. They didn’t change; he was not an architect, he was a builder and had a problem to be accepted by the AIA or whatever. He changed the missing image to something, introducing some colour in certain things. Extraordinary! Hodat school, that was his study houses and discovery of the “Arts and architecture”. Purely by accident the copy used to come to the Czech Technical Library and if it hadn’t I wouldn’t know, but the influence was incredible. You see every so often another case study house that didn’t exist. There was nothing here.

HUO In 1968, which is the year I was born, you arrived in London.

JK Yes.

HUO And immediately you started then to work with Richard Rogers. Could you talk a little bit about that ’68 moment, how you felt in ’68 in London?

JK Well, you’re running away so that’s your first problem. You see the tanks and there’s no defence. You simpley have to go. You simplyhave to go.

HUO Were you in touch with other artists who went into exile? I knew Kolar, for example, quite well. Was he a friend?

JK Yes, I did the design of one of his last exhibitions in Prague.

HUO In the sixties.

JK In 1968. It was still there when the Russians arrived. I remember that.

HUO So you had links to the art scene as well.

JK Yes. Because of my parents, particularly my father, things like that. In the early days you travelled to get a job, that’s the first thing. You have absolutely no financial background; because money wasn’t convertible, you arrive as a humble tourist and that was it. I couldn’t ring my mother for another hundred, two hundred, so that limits you. You had to take a job that wasn’t particularly wonderful. But purely by accident I went to see Rogers, somebody had organised something, and the first time he realised that something is going on; I had a couple of jobs photographed and he was very impressed. But I didn’t have much more. There were about six people. So I was doing the biggest job in the office, which was a roof extension in Aybrook Street. That was before the Centre Pompidou.

HUO A very exciting moment.

JK Very exciting.

HUO And did you do your own work at that time? Before you founded Future Systems in the late seventies, did you do sketches of your own work in the seventies? How did your own ideas develop?

JK There is a huge gap when I arrived; I simply didn’t have a space and the mind; it was totally interrupted. I desperately tried. There are some of those diaries from the period but nothing else. Then it starts about ’75; I started to do drawings, but only for myself. That’s quite interesting; they were very technological, influenced by the space stations and things like that … When I went to Norman Foster they had an amazing influence there and also wanted you to contribute and I did contribute. They were changing. That was my school, yes, but I did contribute, particularly on the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank.

HUO So your school was basically the Rogers office and the Foster office and they are obviously two great offices of the sixties and seventies in London, besides, of course, Cedric Price’s work.

JK Yes.

HUO So I wondered how it was for you to connect to the incredible English context of these years, and the AA, and Rogers and Foster, and how you felt about that.

JK It came once I started to know all the Archigram people, but not by the AA. The AA came much later, in the eighties. I taught for about seven years with Ron Herron, which was interesting, more than interesting. This sort of thing; you absorb more and more. Cedric Price, of course I knew him, I met him many times, but wasn’t somehow strongly on the list.

HUO But Rogers and Foster.

JK Yes, particularly – there’s no doubt that Centre Pompidou is a highly, highly innovative building of its time. I was sitting next to Renzo Piano, who was doing the main content. There was nothing more and it happened in London. That is very important. Suddenly Paris was fading away and the US started what was the beginning of post-modernism.

HUO So you felt it was really with the Pompidou building that London came on the map in some funny way.

JK Absolutely, absolutely. No doubt.

HUO For the first time it became clear that London could be the centre.

JK With that building, London became capital of architecture. No doubt. I am sure that is supported by many others. I’ve no doubt about that. Plus the story was more complicated but I think they were also unknown until the Sainsbury Centre and the breakthrough came through the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank. But the winning of the competition from six or seven hundred entries in Paris by an office which consisted of six people, that is an achievement. There were no strong links. It was judged by Jean Prouvé, Oscar Niemeyer, Philip Johnson and God knows who else, and these guys couldn’t believe when they saw us, you know, long hair, seven people arriving in Paris in a little Mini and things like that, with a couple of photographs.

HUO So it was a miracle.

JK Totally. A miracle which will probably never be repeated again. I don’t think six young guys winning an international competition in the middle of Paris or Berlin or London will happen again. When they open the envelope they will find out there are six of them and they will dismiss them. Also the jury was interesting. Three of those names represent very different points of view and the potential of that building was recognised. They saw six hundred entries, each of them was only a very small sheet of paper. Of course then we were in shows and it was very heady. It’s amazing how some of the openings appeared and we knew something was happening, no doubt about that.

HUO And before we move on to the opening of your own office, I was wondering about the Foster office. Was there anything you learnt from there which was particularly –useful? You obviously shared the Buckminster Fuller link somehow. Another thing I think is so fascinating is that architecture was still very difficult as an economy and Fuller invented an economy in some kind of way.

JK You mean an economy in architecture.

HUO Yes.

JK I would agree with that.

HUO How many people worked with Foster when you were there in the seventies and eighties? Fifty?

JK No. Less. Thirty, maybe thirty-five. We were part of finding the new – I don’t want to call it material – but developments which were interesting. There is the whole tragedy of the guy who is twenty-five now or twenty-seven who doesn’t search for something new that can be done. You certainly had a feeling you were in the centre of Europe somehow, in both offices. Fuller and Robens invented that, the feeling was that. That brings you an amazing background. You can do something on Saturday night or Sunday night and show the drawings; they just came out. Lots of drawings for Foster as well.

HUO That leads us to Future Systems and one of the things I was very fascinated about is the beginnings in a Deleuzian way. Beginnings are always interesting moments. In the late seventies you came up with this idea of Future Systems with your colleague David Nixon. I wondered what gave you the idea of the name and how Future Systems came into existence.

JK In those days not everybody was using their names. It’s more complicated now; a lot of people around the world are called different names, not their personal names. But we were looking for a name which could be extended and new people could come.

HUO It was more like a brand.

JK Yes.

HUO Now architecture and branding is much more common but that was the beginning of that one could say.

JK The beginning. There was also a law that you had to register the company and it had to be the one and only company of that name. We were totally amazed that nobody in this country had the name Future Systems. So we registered it under that name and that was it. It characterised the future is still there, the systems are less important. Then it proved to be important that when one partner disappeared and another partner came in there was a certain flexibility and nobody knows who is actually doing what.

HUO So does it also mean that the office could still continue in fifty or a hundred years with other people?

JK Yes. SOM now means SOM. It doesn’t mean Skidmore, Owings and Merrill. I am sure there are plenty of people who still have original names and it has a certain strength. On the other hand it brings disappointment because people don’t relate things to you. There is a certain setback: it’s too abstract for many people.
As you know the beginnings are always very complicated and there is obviously nothing to do. Then I was fired from Foster’s and things started to move. I had to earn a living and it wasn’t easy to do and my partner left for the US and wanted to do more outer space things, NASA stuff. I wanted to do buildings. So we tried to carry on but it is always a big problem if you start to do commercial work very early on and you were never directly related to the short-list of some commercial practices. And that is still, quite frankly, a problem. You start to carry on and you have a small studio and then a bigger studio and it’s the beginning. You have to have enthusiasm and to believe that what you are doing is actually the right thing. You are endlessly criticised behind the scenes and directly, which doesn’t help, and finally some people start to understand. Somebody who understood for a long time was Rogers, who was very encouraging. He helped us several times. It was amazing. That almost doesn’t exist either now, that somebody is helping others.

HUO Very early on many of the elements are there if one looks at something like the Future Systems ‘Blob’ in London in 1985; even then it could have been a building of today.

JK Yes.

HUO It just wasn’t built at that time there was post-Modernism around. I wanted to ask you about your Brighton Marina project from 1976, which is published a lot. I was wondering if there is a link to Japanese Metabolism. I interviewed all the Japanese Metabolists and obviously there are a lot of marina projects.

JK If I am absolutely honest with you, no. I knew about it and of course one has amazing admiration and they were first in a certain way but it was always a little bit distant. I think far more the Brighton Marina was related to the ships, boats, aeroplanes, NASA and technology. I know it and acknowledged it. The technology generally was the big word which has somehow disappeared now from my list of big words. That scheme in the middle of Tokyo Bay and things like that are absolutely in my mind all the time. The gesture of it is unbelievable but I don’t know. Japanese culture in the past was something different, but when you go there you realise it is possible because the real Japan of today is more related to Metabolism than the old Japan of two centuries ago.

HUO How would you describe the philosophy behind Future Systems? What was driving the car?

JK I wrote some seven points recently.

HUO Like a manifesto.

JK Maybe we could go through it.

HUO Yes, that would be good.

JK But to answer that question, you must realise that at that time the post-modern movement had just started 1980. And we won that. It was a classic battle. What’s built there is classicist buildings. There was a huge opposition. With this on the paper was showing certain things like small windows, for example; it was hated and people used to laugh when I showed that slide. Of course they do not laugh now; we are reaching some of that now, I understand after 20 years.
So shall I go through some of this?

HUO Yes, it would be good to hear the points.

JK I can leave it with you, of course. First of all the inspiration; we went forward with that, inspiration from man and nature and technology, always looking at all this with respect to the past. We talked about that as well. One doesn’t arrive just one day. Always search for new forms. Beauty of the leading element. We didn’t talk about that, which interests me enormously and how very few times you hear about beauty.

HUO Yes. Beauty is not a very fashionable topic. Maybe it would be interesting to talk about beauty.

JK Well I would love to publish some book called ‘Beauty’, which is not easy because obviously on certain things people would agree, but I don’t care; you can’t have a hundred per cent agreement on something like that. There is no technology, maybe, in the book; maybe one more to come on an aeroplane. But there are so many classic things which are, I don’t know, some sea, pebbles, a plant, an animal, a composition or some textile, which are so ignored, so neglected. We are so scared of using the word, not just in architecture but in art of course. That’s the photomontage but Kolar sent it to me.

HUO Kolar was in touch with you?

JK Oh yes. That was a New Year card. I met him several times, many times. He used to come to some openings.
Freedom: freedom of creativity, which is very important for me because for many years I didn’t have that. I don’t think people who have always lived in a democracy understand. That is a very important aspect that nobody will tell you. You have other restrictions, other barriers, but not if you want to show your design or paint something blue. Nobody from the Conservative Party will tell you blue is only for their party.
Colour is an integral part of creative activity. Many architects completely ignore it, pushing that aside.

HUO What is your favourite colour?

JK Blue is certainly very strong, purple, some anodised colours. But there’s black, white, anything. We are working on a black building, which I have wanted to do for some time.
The last one is the smallest object is and must be an important piece of architecture because I don’t see any difference between pieces of design and the building. We do a lot of design now and the smallest piece is equally as important to me as the building. I think to divide that between design and architecture is sheer nonsense.

HUO Is that the idea of the Gesamtkunstwerk?

JK In a way, yes.

HUO The palace of the maharajah in India, that kind of idea of the Gesamtkunstwerk?

JK Maybe there are some little stories from Bauhaus or whatever as well. A lot of architects fail a hell of a lot to design the door handles; the chair is one of the most typical ones, or anything you touch. If you don’t do the work on that you are failing. It’s more obvious than the building by itself. So we went through the seven points. Do you want that list?

HUO We will have to film it as a manifesto.

JK Right. Actually it’s a very interesting point that architects don’t do manifestos, do they, any more?

HUO That is one of the things I wanted to ask you. The thing which is interesting is that in the sixties there were still manifestos but manifestos have disappeared from architecture. How would you explain that?

JK Do you know why? Because they are scared to show that in front of their clients or future clients. I think that is seventy-five per cent of it. They are scared of the client, they are scared of how the brand they set out will be bad for them.

HUO When was your breakthrough moment? How would you describe the way there and the moment when what you experienced in ’68 in Roger’s office happened to your office, that sort of quantum leap? Which project triggered the quantum leap?

JK It is always one person in family houses but even the biggest project should have one person. In Selfridges there was an Italian guy who was the prime factor and it was so easy to communicate with him and he made the main decisions. The major decisions were done in five minutes or less.

HUO So it was Selfridges.

JK It was Selfridges. Funnily enough, on the Lord’s Media Centre there was a committee and that is always more complicated but the time I would spend designing the toilets! Nobody criticised the main enclosure, that was fine. We have another project in Italy which is becoming a little bit more complicated because there is no very strong personality behind that somewhere. But it will be alright and it will take some time. In the family house it is absolutely straightforward; you have to have some dialogue. It can’t be a monologue if there are two people and their kids. Behind Alessi is Mr. Alessi, who has a fantastic, amazing wide spectrum of interests as a human being, you hardly meet people like him anymore.

HUO So the clients are human beings. Can you talk a bit more about the Media Centre? The Media Centre is really the building which made your practice globally known, I would say.

JK Yes. There was a competition. There was an architect they hired and he did understand our point of view and did recommend that eventually. They have a nice building now, it’s very practical. That’s it, basically. That’s another person; there were other people trying to complicate things but they finally calmed down. They were obviously worried about money, that’s the first thing. But if the money is spent in the right place you are doing well; if you start to spend money in the wrong places then you are in trouble. That applies to the smallest thing and to the largest. It’s very complicated sometimes, you know, these meetings; there are endless meetings and very few decisions are taken. But possibly some people are very happy to sit down and not make decisions. But then it’s drawing board; you have to go back and you have to do it. Client meetings can only indicate things, you have to deliver and that’s the moment which I cherish. I like that very much. You have to deliver. You have to study. Also the ignorance about cricket in that case; or even the shopping in the Selfridges’ case. It is certainly an advantage if you have an expert who can help you and there was an expert in both cases. I think that’s important to have that; you can’t study the problem entirely on your own. That’s not the role of an architect. Maybe I sound a very practical person, but I’m not.

HUO It would be interesting to hear more about these buildings. The influence of digital technology on these buildings has been discussed
but you drew these buildings before digital technology was invented.

JK Some of them.

HUO So I actually don’t have the feeling that is has anything to do with digital technology.

JK No.

HUO I have interviewed Zaha Hadid several times and in Zaha’s work the whole idea of digital technology plays a big role, but I was wondering what the role of the computer is within your practice. Has the computer changed the way you work?

JK Yes and no. The basic shape of the Media Centre is based on the knowledge of how they make boats and the boats are made a little bit different in this country due to technology, but not much different from a hundred years ago. Yes, there is; you can bend a sheet of metal in three dimensions directly from the computer and that’s fine, but the basic technology – welding is welding. If you have computer technology or not, the welder has to go and make a waterproof seam like a hundred years ago. That didn’t change much. It’s a basic myth. Every time I finish a lecture people ask me if we are using new technologies. I say, ‘No, we are not’. Using aluminium is hundreds of years old, plaster, we are using earth, pieces of steel. That’s not new technology; it depends how you use it. I still haven’t built a house which is based on aircraft technology. It would be my dream to use that sort of thing but maybe it’s not necessary. The house as a form is more important than technology. Selfridges certainly did not depend on digital technology; it’s an extremely primitive building, very primitive building. But that was the trick because everything went in the right place; we used money in the right places.

HUO Primitive in what way?

JK Well, the skeleton is still a steel skeleton, even a bad one, influenced by a certain firm. Then there is the spraying of concrete creating the shape, that is technology which Corbusier used. There is nothing new about that. And the disc is possible to manufacture for many people around the world; spinning is not new technology. The only improvement I think I would say, and it was absolutely critical, is the tolerance because the system of disc, you don’t need to worry about the tolerance between two pieces and you can cover any shape you like.

HUO And that made it possible.

JK And cheaply. I was never criticised spending money on that elevation; the elevation is cheaper than the standard elevation.. Then you are gaining power because I lost only one thing but that’s a different story.

HUO What is this?

JK The roof garden But only because I was not told in the right time I could manage to do it in. It was not a financial problem.

HUO So the roof garden was the unrealised part of a realised project. I was wondering in terms of your many decades of practice, what would be your favourite yet-unrealised project. What would be the percentage of the unbuilt Future Systems in relation to the built?

JK A museum. More like an art gallery than a museum library.

HUO Have you had library projects?

JK Yes. Library. We are being considered. We were very close in Paris but that was a long time ago now; this is not for public knowledge yet but there is a competition in Prague, a lovely project to do. Something like that would be fine. We are building two more houses; one is in this country, one is in Prague.

HUO Any dreams?

JK Well maybe the art gallery will be a dream or something which would be a piece of design which will survive maybe fifty years, it will still be manufactured, or thirty-five even would be lucky. Something like that.

HUO And how do you imagine the art gallery of the future, what is the Future System of the art gallery?

JK Well you provide the universal space, which can be adapted. It’s not an architectural statement to start from the inside not the outside and there are not many public buildings like that; amazing use of daylight; we are studying that all the time. And how do you provide an innocent background for the objects you are exhibiting when they are powerful things? We are doing that at the Maserati Museum.

HUO That has been built, right?

JK We finished all the drawings this month and then we start building. The opening date is ’09. In that we are learning quite a lot because their cars are almost like pieces of art, so they are elevated above the floor. It’s a new type of car museum. It is certainly not a garage. That’s part of the dream and that will be built and I am very happy.. I always envy – I mentioned when they photographed the Craig Ellwood and Marcel Breuer houses that they still looked modern in many respects, untouched.

HUO How well they age.

JK Unbelievable, unbelievable. They look actually better in a way than the first photographs two weeks after they were completed.

HUO And what do you think is the quality? That obviously also relates to art. Gerhard Richter officially writes about that same quality, that decades after they have been made they look fresher today than ever. What would you say was the feature that makes architecture have that timelessness? It’s maybe not timelessness but the ability to re-vamp itself according to different times. What is the quality which leads to that?

JK There should be always one element which is a little bit ahead of its time.

HUO Slightly before its time?

JK Yes. At least, something unusual, something innovative. Innovative in construction may be sometimes hidden but even the door handle can be better than the others. And the spaces should survive. If you have a nice space inside it is very difficult to describe, it is very difficult to put it there. If you come to a building you haven’t seen before – I remember coming to Ronchamp’s Chapel for the first time and you are absolutely stunned by the quality of the space. And there are many others I am sure. I think that’s very important, inside space. There are whole periods of history where there is no interest. Post-modernism didn’t have any interest in the space. They were only interested in façadism, whatever. We have to grow up from that box, that box of eight corners or whatever. It’s about time. And that’s very little. Zaha is doing that brilliantly, that is why she is so good about breaking the space. Other people do it twenty times worse, even the big names. She is the one who did manage to do this really on a big scale.

HUO To break the space open.

JK Yes. Inside.

HUO With Wolfsburg.

JK Exactly. Exactly the building I would mention. That’s fantastic. Not many people, if you think about it, have done it before. Glass walls and things like that. It’s astonishing how the detail in her – I know God is in the detail – but in her building the detail is not that important, maybe. You will not remember the type of glazing they are using. Yes, I know what they are doing but to be part of some glazing connection becomes less important. I think that’s the way forward. No detail detail.

HUO I have a question about your shops because your Marni fashion shop in 2000 transformed shops and you said it is fascinating what can be achieved with the transformation of a very ordinary space. Since then architects have frequently designed shops. What about the idea of the shop as a medium?

JK Display. It’s very related to exhibition display, I suppose. You have to be interested in the right things. A big company comes to you and they never thought about it shouldn’t be mentioned the window display. I said, ’What do you mean?’ One of the biggest hairdressers never thought it was a serious problem what you exhibit. People don’t like to be seen; some shampoos, that’s not good enough, is it? So immediately, you have a problem: how do you attract? How are you different? Some of the shops for Marni and Commes des Garçons are on the main road where every shop tries to compete so you have to try to beat that. The Commes des Garçons Japan is on the fashion main road. We were one generation ahead and chose the floor; absolutely critical. If you have the wrong floor because this and that. And the whole idea: on the Marni we changed some sequence and how many times we are going to hang the item so you can see a tiny bit more. It’s amazing. Every time – you can hide the shop; very few people can afford to do it. Commes des Garçons in New York has no elevation and it was an area where there was nothing except a famous gallery. That’s a different game; you can play it only with a very big name.

HUO You have more shop projects now?

JK Funnily enough, no. We had Galliano shop and that somehow disappeared. There is a famous lingerie shop in London here, it’s tiny but you can break your neck on that sort of thing. It’s an extremely limited budget but we love to do it because every tiny detail matters and how to display those products. It is exhibition, as you say.

HUO That leads to art. I was wondering about your relationship to different artists. We mentioned Jiri Kolar but have you worked in the recent past with visual artists? What is your relationship to visual artists?

JK Yes. We have done several things with Anish Kapoor on many levels. There is always certainly fifty-fifty cooperation if not more. I think he is the leader, basically, and I think that is correct. It’s very rare. It’s not adding some big name on the bridge as we experienced recently. And Brian Clarke you may know; we have done something with him. I am doing something with some Czech guy who is not that far from, let’s say, Anish. But it must be real cooperation, it can’t be just a static adding by a little sculpture in the lobby of the building. What do we put here rather than buy a Henry Moore? That has gone; it has to be integrated into the project, holding hands maybe?

HUO Two last questions.

JK Please.

HUO In relation to the art context what is also very interesting is your whole idea of your atlas of found images and postcards which you use, which is almost like an art project. It is something which is not only for your inspiration and Inspiration books but it is even in a book like your Confessions (2002). There are pages of your work and then there is a Camus book cover, or there are pages of your work and there is an exhibition catalogue for Mentata de Kunst or a telephone from Bell Company and so on. That is almost like the Jan Kaplicky atlas one would say, as Gerhard Richter would call it. I was wondering how your images are filed, how your archive is orgqanized and how you work with this atlas. Could one call it an atlas?

JK Yes, certainly. It used to be slides if you ask me the formalities. A lot of it is here in your head, which is probably the best filing system, but of course it fails in critical moments sometimes. We have an amazing collection of images. Every time I go through any magazine I scan now. I used to photograph but it is easier now and it is growing rapidly. Sometimes most bizarre. I don’t know if you have ever seen one of my lectures.

HUO Absolutely.

JK So you can use it and re-use it in the projects. A lot of people copy that system now for inspiration. It’s a very important part. Sometimes, funnily enough, you discover things afterwards; you had it somehow in your mind but then you find the image. It sounds perverse but it’s not because you just confirm your thoughts. But I would emphasize that amazing moment of the creativity which is so innocent in a way. If somebody is talking to you about how they create, they never do, the right people; it’s so personal and so private and it doesn’t come easily. I sometimes share big space and there are twenty or thirty people looking at you and they must think you are doing absolutely nothing. But it could be absolutely critical sometimes, some decision of the colour. There is no scientific way how to decide.

HUO It’s purely intuitive.

JK Absolutely.

HUO Maybe a last question. There is a lovely book by Rainer Maria Rilke where he gives some advice to a young poet. What would be your advice to a young architect in 2007? (We are recording this on January 2nd 2007.)

JK Very difficult question but a very beautiful question. It changes all the time but I think look around, always look around, and don’t think you are discovering America; you never are. And have a relationship to the past and a relationship to the future; both are equally important. There is no harm in finding the beauty in the Parthenon as well as in the beauty of the jumbo jet or flower.

HUO Thank you very much. It was great.


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