Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Architecture, the Master's Way

Monday I had the opportunity to speak with my mentor and first architectural employer, Heinz Egenhofer and his architect wife Ulla.

In 1975 I had been hired to be the project manager responsible for working drawings for a high school in Reutlingen, Germany. The project had come to the firm via a design competition in which Egenhofer's beautiful hand drawings had gained the up and coming architect first prize. Egenhofer, heavily influenced by Louis Kahn and Charles Moore and locally by Guenther Behnisch, had designed a building that was Moore and Kahn in the front and Behnisch in the back. The design represented a departure from the hard-line modernism the studio had pursued until then and included a few post modernist elements. Because of the setting in between 19th century villas at the edge of a park it was perfectly logical to be more contextual in the front and more free form airy in the back of the school complex. 

An interview with Moshde Safdie in this month's Architectural Record, Safdie being the same age as Egenhofer, plus an actual former employee of Kahn, reminded me of those same virtues I had learned from Heinz Egenhofer in those early formative years: namely to not specialize, to stay involved in every step of a project and in every step of design from "concept sketch to doorknob detailing"and also remain involved during construction. For Egenhofer architecture always had a strong urban design component: the building design must be informed by its context, just as that highschool design had been.

What I learned from Kahn is, you get involved in every phase of the work—from the sketch to the detailing of the doorknobs—with equal passion. I decided that's the way I want to make architecture. (Safdie)

Unlike Safdie, Egenhofer is retired today. He returned to modernism. In a lovingly rehabilitated condominium on the 18th floor of one of three Corbusian "living machines" high above Stuttgart, he enjoys the sweeping views and dreams about a journey to Chandigarh. But first it will be Chicago, one of the important  birthplaces of modernism. On the way back, of course the new Whitney in New York. 

While I turned quite skeptical regarding the urban design impacts of modernism, there are plenty of lessons about design and architecture which I learned from Egemhofer's catechism which serve me well to this day. So much so, that I made the linkage between buildings and details (architecture) and context (urban design and planning) the programmatic name of my own new frim in 1992: ArchPlan.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

The author worked from 1975 to 1983 at Bidlingmaier and Egenhofer Architekten in Suttgart, Germany

The high school as sketch by Egenhofer explaining the setting between villas, street and park

The front facing the street, Kahn (brick and circle) and Moore (the floating wall)

the floating wall we called the "Moore wall"

The Corbusier inspired "Wohnmaschinen" (living machines) of Stuttgart Asemwald

View from high. Kitchen and dining in the tower nicknamed "Hannibal"

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