Jürgen Mayer H. is the founder and principal of J. Mayer H Architects a cross disciplinary studio. He studied at Stuttgart University, The Cooper Union and Princeton University. His work has been published and exhibited worldwide and is part of numerous collections including those at MoMA New York and SF MoMA. National and international awards include the Mies-van-der-Rohe Award Emerging Architect Special Mention 2003, Winner Holcim Award Bronze 2005 and Winner Audi Urban Future Award 2010.
Jürgen Mayer H. has taught at the Princeton University, University of the Arts Berlin, Harvard University, Kunsthochschule Berlin, the Architectural Association in London, the Columbia University, New York and at the University of Toronto, Canada.
Founded in 1996 in Berlin, Germany, J. Mayer H Architects’ studio, focuses on works at the intersection of architecture, communication and new technology. From urban planning schemes and buildings to installation work and objects with new materials, the relationship between the human body, technology and nature form the background for a new production of space.
To discuss his personal perspective on architecture, its evolution and the preservation of the environment and to explore what the art of building means to society and the individual today, Home Review is glad to present a one-on-one with architect, Jürgen Mayer H.
For you, what is architecture?
Building is the future and, by definition, the future always entails uncertainty.
As architects, what we design will last for decades, sometimes even centuries, and no one would invest in a project without hoping that it might contribute to a better future. No one ever really knows if this expectation will be fulfilled, however, and in this respect architecture is always an adventure of sorts.
Architecture can be “timeless” if it captures a moment. It then becomes a witness of a particular historical epoch. In the future it will serve as a retrospective account of the issues that moved society and of how we once imagined the world of tomorrow. In this sense, architecture is the most visible piece of evidence for society’s constant transformation.
How much of your work is based on sustainable architecture?
The role of architecture is to offer new technical possibilities to build efficiently and mobilise adequate technological resources. Nowadays, all this has to happen with sustainability in mind. Sustainability usually only refers to an ecological balance, but it is more important to consider its cultural significance. How does the demand for sustainability fit into daily life, especially from an aesthetic point of view? What are the social consequences, and what are the correct economic components? After all, it is only when profit is generated in some form or another that we are able to reinvest.
When sustainability is discussed, the question that often arises is how this “uncertain society” in which we currently live should confront the issue.
“How should we go on, what are the right decisions, what is the best way to consume?” Things are developing so quickly that these questions need to be renegotiated on a daily basis. What will remain in the future is the individual’s need for a home. This has less to do with the building itself than with family, friends and increase in use of social networks as a mode of communication.
Even in generations to come, people will still need to start families and have children. If not, society will have no future.
What do you think are the most important skills architects must have and what do you think is an ideal curriculum for architecture schools?
In my case, I had a very solid engineering based education in Germany which was aimed at producing good practicing architects. But I knew something was missing because I didn’t have a clear idea about how to develop my own thought or an architectural language.
I went to The Cooper Union in NYC, which was very challenging period for me in the beginning because instead of dealing with a real site or a program I could be given the text of Noah’s Ark from the bible and be asked to develop a project. This was very strange and confusing. But then I understood that nothing could be taken directly. You have to argue about everything and prove why it works for you and relate everything to your own ideas. Basically they force you to think about why you want to do architecture. So in Germany I learned “how” and at Cooper I learned “why”. Then I went to Princeton for my Masters degree, where architecture was used as a critique and discourse to make commentaries on contemporary life and culture.
How has the client changed since the 40s?
Today the most interesting buildings happen in the private or corporate sector for headquarters, fairs, private houses, restaurants or shops and showrooms. On the other hand, at least in Germany, public competitions usually turn out to select some safe box project that mostly is exchangeable for sites and programs. In the 70´s and 80´s it felt the other way around. Public commissions proved to support contemporary new architecture at the forefront of our building culture.
Are there specific architects (living or dead) whose work has had a particularly significant influence on your designs?
A little black and white photo of Erich Mendelsohn´s Schocken Department store in Stuttgart, destroyed in the 1960´s, caught my eye and made me study architecture. My favorite designer, artist, theoretician and architect is Frederick Kiesler (1890-1965). Kiesler sought to dissolve the visual, real, image, and environment into a free-flowing space. Little of which Kiesler espoused was simple. For his object designs, such as the biomorphic furniture in his Abstract Gallery room of Peggy Guggenheim’s The Art of This Century Gallery art salon (1942), for example. For it, he sought to dissolve the visual, real, image, and environment into a free-flowing space.
How do you manage to adhere to your desired style of architecture in this turbulent environment?
We believe that architecture should work as an activator to move people from a passive mode of expectation to an involved level of participation and attention. Since we always develop individual designs for specific programs, sites and clients, we don’t start with a special formal attention in mind. It is developed during the design process and is influenced by former experiences for sure. We look closely at the site, critically rethink the program and try to extract something that is special to the specific site.
We establish parameters as a skeleton or framework for each project based on a client’s brief, contextual references and programmatic logistics. We like to create curiosity and surprise for the potential of a building and it´s context.
Compiled By Mala Bajaj
Photographs J. Mayer H, Ludger Paffrath, Nikkol-Roth,
David Franck and Jesko Malkolm Johnsson-Zahn