A Space that Works, about the work of Leopold Banchini
Architect Leopold Banchini has just begun his tenure as the new head of the Studio for Immediate Spaces at the Sandberg. He is Swiss and loves nature, snow, stones and waterfalls. Together with Daniel Zamarbide he established Bureau A, which earned a reputation with a number of unconventional projects that push and cross the boundaries of the profession in the freedom of the temporary. ’But’, says Banchini, ’always within and based upon the field of architecture. Our main goal is to answer the best way to a program. We started the office three years ago and now we work as an official company and also participate in competitions. At the moment we are working on a big public space in Geneva that will be finished in 2017.’
The smaller projects always begin with a study to develop references that serve as anchor points for the solution. These references reveal a desire to connect architecture with the everyday and the contemporary.
’We like to open up our influences and references to almost everything, to folk art and popular culture. It could be hip-hop, beer drinking, snowboarding or DIY culture; the social practice of people rather than that of institutions. We like tradition if it is still going in in the now.
Antoine is a cabin concealed within an artificial rock which blends into the landscape. In the popular book Derborence (When the Mountain Fell) by C. F. Ramuz, a village boy is buried by an avalanche and has to survive under the snow. After months he returns to the village where everyone thinks that he is a ghost. Antoine is a hut with a fireplace, bed, table, stool and window, which is used intensively by snowboarders. A space that works.
The story is indicative of their interest in ‘hiding’, in the typology of a bunker, in the fake and the real. The smaller projects serve as guidelines for the official assignments that have been set out, to test what we really want to do within architecture. We try to work from the same attitude for the more official assignments. We seek clients that are compatible with us and prefer projects that take place in the public domain. Our main goal is not to get blocked, for example by the word architecture. We like to open up.’
Leopold Banchini was educated as an architect, but the way in which architecture was presented was too strict for him and so he began a Master study at the school of art in Glasgow, which included an internship at Atelier van Lieshout.
‘I have always been impressed by exactly this relation between design and architecture but also art, politics and a critical vision. I look back at an intense experience, although it was not what I expected. It was both disappointing and amazing. AVL, which once started as a “free state”, turned out to be a strong and impressive machine and surprisingly hieratic. At the same time it was exactly what I was looking for: understanding how those people can work and simultaneously be organised and produce interesting work. And the craziness of the guy.’
Atelier van Lieshout uses art to present his dystopian vision in ambitious projects, such as Technocrat and The New Tribal Labyrinth in which humankind is trapped within a larger economic and social system. Banchini seeks the utopian rather than the pessimistic view of art. He does bring with him a critical view of space in our society to the SIS, as an architect who is analytical and searches for solutions.
Banchini: ‘We are not telling a story of our thoughts; we never see it as a work of art. As art a work could be a concept, fiction but in our vision as architects it should be a finished piece.
I am enthralled by the ’material gesture’ (to take the material itself as a starting point in the course as introduced by Anne Holtrop, the former director) and that is what I want to continue, and to build on top our own preoccupation. That is a reflection on space, the politics behind space. Behind every space is a struggle and tension. The city could be a starting point to look at those issues.’
He mentions Saskia Sassen as a possible guest that he would like to bring in: ‘The most critical challenge today is the fact that cities are becoming less a place for citizens – broadly understood to include immigrants and migrants – and more a place for corporate investments. (..) You know, this whole notion that I have about the powerless being able to make history in cities – that doesn’t happen in an office park. There is now less and less public space for most people to come together and shape the cultural fabric of their city.’
‘So on top of the “material gesture”, I’d like students to be able to talk about space and get them to understand the social issue of space: through a theoretical education, maybe by bringing more social geography into the course, through fieldwork and by allowing them to travel. (but traveling not as the purpose of the school.) If we travel as a group, it would be to go to Calais or Lesbos to contribute to a camp for illegal refugees.
I would like to use the school to teach students different methods, to introduce workshops all year round so they develop a methodology in a very short time. For me it’s about the pleasure of a building, they have to make it, a construction, testing and building in hands-on workshops.’
Consistent with their preference for utopias, Bureau A conceived the scenography of the play Can one be a revolutionary and love flowers? about Monte Verità, a creative community that experimented with new forms of living in the first decades of the 20th century. The whole design could be easily dismantled and stored to travel around, architecture at its minimum. Now they have been asked to bring the research to an exhibition. They will show, analyse and celebrate a moment of utopian gathering.