Dietmar Eberle proposed MCH 2017 participants to work during his one-week workshop in three different plots, working individually and changing the site each journey. Each day had a different focus: volume, core and envelope, a method which generated 3 sets of 16 models only in the first three days. On Friday, each participant chose a plot a developed his/her favourite project for the final presentation, which had to be represented in an A3 and and urban model.
Gustavo Rojas assisted professor Eberle during the workshop and had a talk with him about MCH and the role of collective housing in his architectural practice.
Why did you decide to join MCH?
Well, I’m an architect and I have been teaching at ETH for many years. I have been involved in this master since the beginning and I believe that this master is doing something very serious: to develop knowledge about how to do collective housing, which is a very important issue, since 65% of the built environment is only related to the question of housing.
Could you make a general evaluation on how do students react to your ideas?
In the end, what I try to teach student is something very simple. If you want to get more complex results, you have to change the method of how you work, so I try to give them a different method of working, that they learn within a week. When you decide to be able to integrate and implement a lot of more complex questions and a lot more of different points of view.
Why are physical models so important for architects working process?
That’s the most efficient way to develop the knowledge about the projects you do in a three-dimensional way. And in the end the only thing we experience is not a floor plan, is not a section, but we experience space. Models should be big enough to get at least a glimpse of inspiration about the space you are creating.
According to your way for designing, architecture mainly has to respond to five principal requirements: economics, energy, public space, temporality and flexibility. Could you please explain briefly why?
Every project is related to these five different levels of participation. The first one, and for me the most important one is not economy, but its contribution to the public. Only if people like the building, not people who use the building, but only people who pass by, the building will have a long lifetime, which means the biggest possible contribution to the resource efficiency that we as architects can do: try to give buildings a long lifetime.
Secondly, in every project, somebody has to pay. It doesn’t matter if it is society or a private developer, but it’s always the user of the building. Therefore I believe we have a high responsibility to generate a relation between quality and economic impact, as reasonable as possible.
The third one, which is the structure of the building, will stay, but the use of the building will change every generation. The structure of the building, according to ecological backgrounds and to economic backgrounds should stay for more than 100 years.
So for every of these five principles you referred to, there is always some argument relating to the lifetime and the importance of the decisions you have to take in this field.
Everyone can recognize in your work how simplicity in conception of space is considered like a way to improve complexity in use in the building. Less is more?
I think that’s a very personal attitude: I was trained and grew up in an area which was very poor. In this poor area we learned to be very concentrated on the few things you do, but trying to have a big impact in those things we do. That’s the way we were educated in our early years and I still believe this is a serious principle which at this moment everybody on the planet has: how can we get an impact of what we do in space by the lowest level of input, which means by the lowest level of economy. So it’s always a relation of being very simple and very direct on one side and being very complex and very open on the other side.
Attending to the rapid evolution of technology, and looking towards future (no more than twenty or thirty years), how do you think this essential aspect in our lives will influence the transformation of the comfort idea in collective housing?
I believe very much that it is very important that the things you do will have a high comfort level, and at this moment, during the last 30 years, we learnt to produce a certain comfort level by the use of a lot of technology, but this is much too expensive in relation to the incomes, in relation to the social distribution,… so therefore I believe there is a big question at the moment: how we can generate a high comfort level with much less impact in economics and in ecological terms. The problems with all the technology we use now are mostly their high maintenance costs and their impact on grey energy, which is too high. So I don’t believe that the technologies we use nowadays are some kind of the future. On the future they should be much more efficient on one side and much more comfortable on the other side, and there is a very strange development, which I believe touches the importance of architecture much more than what we are doing at the moment.
What does collective housing mean in your work?
When I was young I started to think about collective housing because this is architecture for me. It is not the museums, it’s not the churches, for me architecture means how are you able to manage this 65% of the built environment, which is related to housing. At the same time, this housing determines the identity, the cultural values, the self understanding of people related to cities. So, I believe that housing is the key point of architecture, also in my personal career, so therefore I did all my life mainly housing, which new challenges everyday, but I never did a museum, I never did a church.
How can you help MCH participants to improve their skills in this field?
The first thing is that I don’t think it is important what people learn during one week or during one year, the only thing they should learn is to think about, to put questions to what they are used to do. I think that’s my biggest contribution, that I open more questions than the answers I give.
In your opinion, what makes MCH special?
It is the only master I know in the world which really tries to have a background in different cultures, in different relations, with the highest quality you can reach. I like very much this ambition to have very high qualified people, students… and at the same time to be able to have a connection to a lot of different cultures, that’s what I like about MCH.
These are some images of the MCH participants' submissions: