What has Jürgen Mayer told us

Prof. D. Arch. Rositsa Nikiforova

After many arrangements with his schedule of work appointments in projects and trips, reaching the point of impossibility, on 17 May 2019 in Bulgaria arrived the world-famous architect and visual artist, Jürgen Mayer, who has had projects realized from New York through Europe to Georgia. He works in a space where architecture, sculpture, communications and new technologies meet. He is a lecturer at the Princeton University, Harvard University, the Higher School of Arts in Berlin, the Architectural Association in London, the Columbia University in New York and the University of Toronto, Canada. He is a member of the governing body of the “Bauhaus Dessau” Foundation and holder of the top awards for architecture and design. And I would like to emphasize – he is winner of the Red Dot Award.

At least one of his works is certainly quite well-known – the largest in the world timber-made design structure, throwing its raster shadow over Roman and Mauritanian ruins in the centre of the hot city of Seville.

During his 24-hour stay in Varna by invitation of the Chief Architect of the city Victor Buzev and the non-governmental organization Varna Design Forum, we heard and saw presented long awaited truths about the creative process, the urban spaces, the education in design and architecture. and examples are most convincing when presented by an erudite representative of the “fiery” part of the profession – a practicing architect-designer.

The Bauhaus School

The invitation to Arch. Mayer was in relation to the celebration all over the world of 100 years since the establishment of the Bauhaus School in Dessau, Germany. The School set the beginning of our contemporary perception of the object-spatial world: the world that we live in – from the urban spaces, through the buildings to the cup of coffee. We wanted not just to witness yet another history-focused story about the style from the first three decades of the 20th century with complaints about the endangered heritage, but we expected an up-to-date answer to the question about the vitality of the spirit and principles of Bauhaus and the present-day understanding of an architecture, adequate to its time, adequate to the new technologies and the new requirements of the people.

 “I have been in contact with Bauhaus since my childhood years. I was born in Stuttgart, and when I was fifteen or sixteen years old, the Weissenhof estate (Weißenhofsiedlung) was renovated with the purpose of restoring its original appearance. I can remember that back then there was a discussion how much to restore the original estate and to what extent what was added later (in the 1950s and the 1960s) was also part of the history and people’s attitude towards Bauhaus.“[1]

The experimental estate Weissenhof was established in 1927 with the intention to provide a completely new residential concept for everyone. However, attracted by the modern architecture and the residential spaces passing from one into the other, it was initially settled only by intellectuals, journalists, actors, opera singers. The author of the urban planning solution was Mies van der Rohe, who also designed one of the buildings, alongside the great authors of the other buildings:  Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, Bruno Taut, Ludwig Hilberseimer, Hans Poelzig, Peter Behrens, Hans Scharoun, etc. The complicated historical fate of the estate in the years before and after World War II reached the serenity of a protected national cultural value in 1956 and acquired the circle “Friends of Weissenhof“. In the 1980s, the Federal Government in Bonn and the city administration of Stuttgart granted substantial funds for its reconstruction – that was the specific period of time, quite controversial in respect to stylistics that Jürgen Mayer talked about, having been early on introduced into the responsible architectural profession.

He drew the general conclusion that German architects are worryingly and permanently involved with the Bauhaus esthetics, quite often represented as functional white boxes. The Bauhaus  concept, which carries in itself a multilayer message, has been downgraded to something very trivial, thus shifting the focus from the essence of the movement. Now, 100 years after the establishment of Bauhaus, the discussion about Bauhaus’ multilayer content is raised again: that Bauhaus is much more than simple white “blocks” and rectangular elements. The fact that they have survived over time and have established themselves as a marketing symbol of Bauhaus does not mean that Bauhaus is not much larger both in terms of form and content. Bauhaus is the attitude towards technologies, the attitude towards material, and, most of all, the attitude towards the human being.“[2] The future belongs to meaningful interpretations of its principles – that was the first thing that Jürgen Mayer told us.

The education in architecture and design

The second takeaway message was the attitude towards the education in architecture and design. It is well-known that the Bauhaus school applied a revolutionary educational scheme with balanced and synthetic involvement of subjects, studied theoretically, through hand work in the studios of great masters, and working on real-life projects together with the tutors.

As a member of the Research Advisory Board, Arch. Mayer takes part in the meetings of the “Bauhaus Dessau” Foundation twice a year on the following topics: the future of Bauhaus in education, the future of Bauhaus in production and preservation of the heritage of the movement in the Eastern part of Germany. There are appropriate ways and methods searched so that the Bauhaus ideas be involved in a common network, and continue existing and developing.

In view of that, in 2019, the Foundation opened the exhibition “Bauhaus Imaginista” first in Berlin, and then it started travelling all over the world[3]. Arch. Jürgen Mayer emphasized an important aspect of the exhibition, showing a network of different architectural schools, where both the lecturers and the students perceive the relation with the technique, material and detail as a main topic. 

The lecture presented by Arch. Mayer with outstanding examples of implementations selected by him, was a remarkable continuation of the Bauhaus tradition: the education in architecture and design should be delivered at first hand and in live by the master to the beginner.

Bauhaus relies most of all on a characteristic, which is particularly recommendable nowadays: Carrier of knowledge, and not simply of bulk of information.

The Master’s projects

The direct contact with an architectural celebrity is awe inspiring and brings the unique feeling of the magic nature of creative work.

In his lecture on the projects and implementations of the company J. Mayer H. und Partner, Architekten, Arch. Mayer tried to present the process as something accessible, passing through structures of multiple sets, which we observe in reality, as crystallization of ideas originating there, as a handicraft to bring the idea to a new reality. Within the multitude of letters, the typesetter brings forward different printed texts – as simple as that! Actually, there was huge innovative work behind almost all of his projects. The timber material for the grand designer’s structure on the square in Seville was prepared in Finland, and the ad hoc created new system of metal connections – in Germany, so that everything would be “gathered“ on site in Spain.

The live presentation of the origination of an idea, the motivation, overcoming difficulties of any nature, which are not spared to the stars in the profession either, the non-acceptance and even total rejection of the right of that type of shape creation, moreover, in times of crisis, only reconfirmed the conviction that a staunch character and capacity for hard work are the most critical prerequisites for the successful realization of the talented artist.

Certainly, architecture is an impressive art. With self irony, typical for the top professionals, Arch. Mayer showed an advertising video of a cat’s toilet with an image and a new technology inspired by Metropol Parasol in Seville. And also, an advertisement for a beer with the silhouette of the Court of Justice in Hasselt, Belgium.

The effect from presenting his works was the immediate reaction of his youngest audience in the plenary hall of the Municipality of Varna. Questions of a widest range started pouring – from an interest in his personal perception of himself as an artist to the pragmatic “how an open-air wooden structure is supported“.

Round table

Living in a city with historical heritage is traditionally considered both “a curse and a blessing”. There is a balance to be found in maintaining the urban environment, which should meet the daily needs of the citizens, as well as the extreme expectations of the otherwise useful tourists.

At a round table entitled “The Urban Spaces of Varna“ with the participation of architects, economists, environmentalists and citizens interested in the topic, architect Mayer presented in detail  the experience of Seville in the selection of a project for La Encarnación square – a competition in several stages between renowned designing companies. The Bulgarian architects, proponents of the “Bilbao effect” and of the wide-aspect treatment of the local architectural tasks, supported the idea that world-famous names should step on the territory of the ancient Odessos. We can only wait and see.

[1] This and the further quotations are from recorded consecutive interpretation by Arch. Maksim Nedkov, who has graduated in Germany.

[2] Introductory presentation of Arch. Mayer before journalists, architects and citizens in the Municipality of Varna; interpretation by Arch. Maksim Nedkov

[3] incl. at the Goethe Institute in Sofia

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.