článek v časopise A10 / #19 JAN-FEB 2008

plné znění rozhovoru Jana Kratochvíla se Svatoplukem Sládečkem pro časopis A10


Unofficial architecture

Svatopluk Sládeček, who has been running his New Work studio since 1995, stands out among young Czech architects. His work represents an original architectural strategy in the Czech Republic - instead of following the example of Western designers, he draws his inspiration from the tradition of the Czech periphery (the world of city-yards, farming land, industrial districts, kitsch conversions), transforming tired architectural motifs into contemporary projects. Jan Kratochvíl interviews him.


Jan Kratochvil: In this issue of A10 you are presented as a Czech architect. What is your opinion of regionalism and do you think your architecture can be characterized as typically Czech?

Svatopluk Sládeček: I don't know whether it's a manifesta­tion of regionalism, but I like the Czech scene and am inter­ested in it, probably much more than in any other. If I was asked to name my favourite architects, they would probably be international names, but I am pretty satisfied with what is happening here. As to my own and my studio's contribution to Czech architecture, I don't think we are designing typically Czech architecture, and surely all good architects would resist such a characterization. I have always considered surprise to bean integral part of good architecture, environment and life. And surprise is inconsistent with being a typical example of something.

JK: But surely your main source of inspiration is the periph­ery, which is typically Czech, or rather Moravian. Doesn't your work actually reflect the substance of Czech reality? SS: In part perhaps. It is true that my cultural background, the solid point to which I keep returning, one way or another, could probably be found somewhere around Poetism, the only spe­cifically modern Czech poetry movement, whose manifesto was written in 1924 by Karel Teige. Poetism also influenced the visual arts, and some of its representatives were artists and theoreticians. Although Karel Teige was a theoretician of architecture, Poetism did not have any direct architectural manifestation. However, it is the precursor of proletarian art, and its program, 'the art of living and enjoying', often takes place in a peripheral environment, both urban and social. This is the very environment that has always attracted me. But I am not inspired by its lyrical aspect alone -1 grew up in the industrial factory-town of Zlín, and it was a great experience. This could indeed be a typically Czech cultural connection.

JK: You have created an original theory of architecture, which is unparalleled in the Czech context. How would you like it if some other architect used your 'recipe' and devel­oped it in his own work? Is this a realistic scenario, or are contemporary Czech architects too busy following their own theories or the more reliable foreign examples?

SS: In the first place, I did not create anything. I simply looked back at what I had done and accepted a few facts. Of course, originally I had hoped that I would succeed in finding some universal key that would be abstract and issue from the infin­ity of the space. And this is how it ended. As I wrote in the intro­duction to our exhibition 'Playfully Figurative Architecture for Beginners', the more fed up and bored I was by the built reality of the contemporary architectural production, the more my mind recalled images of intimately known buildings from the periphery, which still seem to have a lot to tell. After visiting our exhibition, the editor of an architecture magazine asked me if, when designing the family house called Sysel (=ground squirrel, which the house resembles), I was paraphrasing the elevator shafts of the factory buildings in Zlin. That really frightened me, as I had never thought of them in this project, but they were cited with absolute authenticity. After that I admitted and accepted there are things I like, and that I had probably gone so far as to directly adopt some of their features or ideas. Later on, I sometimes did it deliberately. So if there is someone with a thing about the unofficial architecture, I would be his fan and would like to meet him or her.

JK: Unofficial architecture?

SS: That's the name I gave to those buildings on the periphery. The unofficial has one very important virtue in my opinion. I still remember the days of totalitarian government when everything official was ugly for me and I could not imagine that there could be good official art. I was very sad that architecture, as I thought - probably mistakenly - could not participate in the underground culture the way music and literature did. It was on the periphery that I found the unof­ficial architecture.

JK: Isn't this an overly formal approach?

SS: I hope not. I never put one brick on top of another one or a beam on a pillar just to make it look pretty. I repeat that I have only traced these connections back retrospectively. The periphery attracts me, among other things, because it evolved under great pressure. Those buildings are the result of economic, functional and many other, bizarre facts. Useless elements would never have stood the test. But despite all this, I perceive them as structures full of freedom.

JK: When I look at your portfolio, I see that smaller build­ings, which are suited to the periphery aesthetic, domi­nate. Do you think the periphery recipe could also be applied to bigger projects? Or might this be a problem? For instance with government-funded jobs such as the National Library?

SS: As you know, we decided not to participate in the com­petition for the library because the preconditions were too limiting. In like the winning design very much because of its unusual and unofficial aesthetics. So in answer to your ques­tion, the National Library and any other important building can be designed using practically any kind of aesthetic; the only question is what the reactions will be.

JK: You are often accused of not making beautiful houses. Perhaps this is because your pursuit of the 'backyard facade' is at odds with the general perception that it is the aesthetic of the street facade that matters. How do you interpret 'beauty' in architecture?

SS: Not for one second have I ever thought I could make some­thing 'beautiful'. This is virtually impossible, you cannot decide that this or that is or is not beautiful, and that this or that will be made, created, or built as such. The creation of beauty is not within our power and it only appears when it pleases. We cannot create beauty or seek the way to beauty.

JK: And what about the question of whether or not archi­tecture is an art?

SS: It has all the prerequisites. In fact it is the most accessible of arts. Buildings would be built no matter what, and in most cases, nobody cares too much about architecture. We have to take the opportunity and express ourselves as freely as we can, and the client does not need to be aware of this aspect at all.

JK: Do your clients pay attention to aesthetics, or are they more interested in the cost and functionality of the house?

SS: Today we have clients who think about aesthetics. In the early days we were considered fairly thrifty budgeters, so if we met all the required criteria we were able to add some 'archi­tecture' as a cherry on the top. In fact, it often evolved without the customer even knowing. But these days, we actually have people coming and asking for architecture up front.

JK: Does it ever happen that the client demands a com­pletely new design because he disagrees with its archi­tecture? Have you ever had a client with whom you could discuss architecture and who would actually push you forward in some way?

SS: Of course, the more pressure, the better. But it must not be pointless and it must not be applied after there is already a design on the table. It should be there from the start.

JK: Nowadays you are sought after as a famous architect and you publish your work in magazines. Do you feel you are part of the official architecture, or even Czech cul­ture?

SS: Well, I would like to see our work as part of Czech culture. But the question is whether real culture can be 'official'. As you have probably realized, I like horizontal growth, as described by Jean Dubuffet in his book Asphyxiante Culture. Most con­temporary Czech architecture, it seems to me, still conforms to 'official' perceptions of what architecture should be; it does not strive to be part of real culture. The main reason I publish is to inform people. I try to express myself through architecture, but the buildings stand in a particular spot, in our case mostly in some backwood. So it is necessary to make them known, and it is also nice to see them placed alongside others. Rather than official, I feel peripheral, and I like it.

JK: Isn't this just a pose, this designation as a peripheral artist? Can the architect who wins Grand Prix awards for the best Czech architecture, exhibits in Prague, Vienna, Bucharest, and who publishes in professional and lifestyle magazines, be called peripheral? How would you substantiate your peripheral nature?

SS: This did not come out of my head. It's a couple of my colleagues who have said we are more peripheral than official. When we build something, it will eventually win its fans, as well as opponents, sometimes even public appreciation. When we compete with other architects we attract more attention because of being different. Often the architects on the jury are vehemently opposed to our design because it is so far from mainstream thinking that they cannot think their way into ourdrawings.

JK: Are you working on anything particularly interesting at the moment?

SS: I don't want to say anything in advance. Whenever I have published something before it was finished, it ended badly. But I have just come back from the construction of a rather big shopping center, “Zlaté jablko”, in Zlín, and that was a great experience. Several hundred people running around, noise and an atmosphere like backstage at the theater on opening night, just before the curtain goes up...

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