Christian Kerez and the possibilities of space

Space is infinite by definition and tends to entropy.
The entropy (from ancient Greek “ἐν” – en “inside”, and “τροπή” – tropé, “transformation”) generally is the measurement of the state of disorder of every single particle and, as a property of the Universe, we know that it goes just in one direction: it can only grow.
In this sense, we can perceive by intuition that the possibilities that we can discover or follow are potentially infinite, an endless sequence of reiterations, combinations, juxtapositions, etc…
Christian Kerez with his work of research on space, faces himself directly with the experimentation into something new and unexpected and it is in these aspects that we can find the uniqueness and peculiarity of his projects.

He was born in 1962 in Maracaibo, Venezuela, but soon moved with his family to Switzerland where he studied Architecture at ETH in Zurich.
Right after graduation, he didn’t focus his career on the architecture field, but rather he preferred the tangent world of architectural photography. With this choice, he discovered the products of contemporary settlements, becoming interested in big infrastructures, power plants, defense constructions and bunkers.

Christian Kerez – Die Kraftwerkbauten, Grisons, Switzerland, published by Verlag Bündner Monatsblatt, 1991
From: Atlas of Places
Christian Kerez – Die Kraftwerkbauten, Grisons, Switzerland, published by Verlag Bündner Monatsblatt, 1991
From: Atlas of Places

By his own admission, what he could see in these giant artifacts was deeper than just the astonishing non-human scale: they symbolize the result of a research about a conception derived from the experience of everyday life, technical needs, obstacles and imposed conditions; a different way of building, far from the art historical method taught in schools.
After this experience, he returned back into architecture starting to work in the office of Rudolph Fontana from 1991 to 1993, date in which he founded his own office in Zurich, Switzerland.

To play with tridimensional space, trying to push the structural limits and technical knowledge is the most present theme in his projects, in a word: experimentation.
If we take into account the Swiss pavilion during the 2016 Biennale of Venice, he asked himself: if we build a space, how can we do it to make it seem like it is not a building, that doesn’t have the impression to work as a physical model?
The result has been the incidental space, a pavilion half cave, half cloud, sky and earth metaphorically separated by 2 cm of concrete fibers, a weirding space that doesn’t seem like any other else, a world of 20 sqm.

Christian Kerez – Incidental Space, Swiss Pavilion in Venice Biennale 2016 – Photo: Oliver Dubuis
From: Designboom

The notion of space is continuously questioned, not only to be considered as a borderline of an experience but rather the experience, like something that opens into something else and every project for Christian Kerez is a research for a specific quality of space, decided by contextual conditions.
In the project for a private house in Prague (Okamura House, 2014), he proposed an atomized space, which means three independent but connected apartments in the same envelop, with the functions subdivided into circular rooms, each of them differently connected and sized. The evolution by aggregation of a private house in the traditional panorama of the past is extremized and artificially proposed from the beginning of its history.
What remains as another constant of his work, after the space research, is the intention to propose the building as an entity.
In the project for the Leutschenbach School in Zurich, the entity is given by the metallic structure, which crosses all the functions of the building, from the public ground floor to the classrooms, to the sport areas on the rooftop; the void left by the structure is the living part of it: this is the structural space.

Christian Kerez – Leutschenbach School, Zurich, Switzerland, 2009
From: Archdaily

But what if, instead of considering only the required functions of the building in context, we didn’t think about the life of the building itself and the changes it would surely face? And how can we design something that can embrace all these factors?

A possible answer of Christian Kerez is the generic space:

“One of the peculiarities of the generic space is that it’s a space which is not defined by the architect, but it’s more an offer of the architect to the community. It’s after the building starts to be used, that people change it according to their needs.” 

From the Conference “L’espace Générique” at Pavillon de l’Arsenal, Paris, March 2018

A concretization of this concept is the project of the highrise that he designed for a Chinese Bank in Zhengzhou, China. Here, in the first concept, the structure was made by thin pillars of 20 centimeters of diameter outside the building to leave it free from every side and also in this way plans could be totally free to change according to the needs. In the final concept, the pillars have been integrated partially inside the building, leaving, in any case, the highest freedom and non-hierarchy (exception made for the functional cores).

Christian Kerez – Ultra Highrise Project, Zhengzhou, China, 2014
From: Afasiaarchzine

But with the project for the VRT Radio and Television Centre in Bruxelles, he pushes these ideas further: Kerez leaves the research of the ornament totally apart and focuses his efforts into the design of spaces that are both inside and outside, towards a tridimensional flexibility, a space in which even the cores can change.
For the design of the Swiss Re building in Zurich, he thinks instead about the blocks of the stairs as perforations and structural elements at the same time. The stairs here become monumental elements on which the building rely all its weight.

Christian Kerez – Concept for Circular Voids, Swiss Re Building Project, Zurich, Switzerland, 2014
From: Afasiaarchzine
Christian Kerez – Swiss Re Building Project, Zurich, Switzerland, 2014
From: Afasiaarchzine

The total freedom and the non-hierarchy in space makes the work of Kerez a manifesto of what we can call “positive anarchy of space”, in the sense that nothing in his projects is deliberately aleatory, rather it’s fixed, thought and defined with very little number of constraints and precise elements set at the beginning of the creative process. The outcome is a surprise, an progression into the architectural field, which plays a double game with the observer: at first glance we perceive the formal game of pure geometries, like a beautiful piece of jewelry, but right after we realize the uniqueness of what we have found: the intellectual production of an unrestrainable thinker with infinite curiosity and mental openness, able to innovate where almost nobody succeeds and who still has a lot to tell and teach to further generations.

“Architecture is that which gives a portrait of an age and a society […]. The task of architecture is not to change the world […]. The task is to convert the given constraint conditions, which are now devoid of meaning and arbitrary, into an architectural form which is comprehensible to everybody.” 

From the Conference “L’espace Générique” at Pavillon de l’Arsenal, Paris, March 2018


Resources:
– Christian Kerez, “L’espace Générique”, Conference at Pavillon de l’Arsenal, Paris, March 2018
– Christian Kerez, “The Rule of the Game”, Conference at Harvard Architecture School, 2012
– Christian Kerez, 2000-2009, El Croquis 145
– Christian Kerez, 2005-2015, El Croquis 182
– Christian Kerez, Uncertain Certainly, TOTO Editions, Japan, 2013, 288 pp.

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