Chris Precht at Bilkent University
Architect Chris Precht, co-founder of the architectural studio Precht and also the design studio Penda, was invited to Bilkent University* (in Ankara, the capital of Turkey) on 20 April 2019. It was a full day organization along with some more local architects and here I will give you a short summary of his speech, which I found both fun and mind-opening. / All project imagery, including cover photo are from Penda and Precht Studio.
It was a 45 minutes long talk (which is a bit shorter than his usual one) and I loved that he started his speech with a child, who was himself really. I do believe the power of the childhood dreams and how they can live on through some tools (or toys maybe) with their unbreakable connections in our minds. Obviously his father had a strong impression on his childhood, which is adorable.
If you are familiar with the works of Chris Precht, then you know that one of his main concerns is the nature itself. So sustainability was covering the biggest part of his speech. He underlines that the building industry itself is not ecologic at all.
First part of his talk, he mentioned three ‘tools’ of their design approaches:
1- Since architecture transmits culture through time, changing perspective helps to think wider.
2- Human live in fictional stories and architecture also built on fictional stories; so finding an objective reality is one of the goals, since our planet doesn’t care about fictional stories.
3- Connection to our senses is essential. This one also covers the first two: We are getting disconnected from a wider perspective, from objective reality and from our senses.
He also says that we are imperfect, which is great. Because imperfect things create great stories. In that sense, we should sustain life not the energy. This one was also a point which I liked a lot. Most of the designers who are keen on sustainability, focuses too much on the technical issues. By mentioning the importance of our senses and our stories, Chris is making this approach more valuable (and less boring if I may say so).
Then on the second part of the talk, we explained how they are doing things by showing us some of their works. Bamboo is one of the main alternative construction material they’ve been using on their designs. He states that it is also a strong and therefore sustainable material, with which you can build even high-rise buildings. Following this he showed the Toronto Tree Tower.
And Tell Aviv Arcades, as an alternative to the common glass-towers without any relation to their surroundings.
Hongkun Museum of Fine Arts in Beijing, where they use lots of arcs, as a structural interpretation of a cave. They believe that the caves are our first houses and museums.
Xin Xian Inn Hotel, where they took that cave idea one step further. I am hoping to see this building in real one day.
San Shan Bridge, which was an offer for the Olympic Winter Games 2022 in Beijing.
The Cola Bow, a project to pay attention on the importance of recycling plastic, where they used 17k recycled plastic bottles.
The Soundwave, a landscape sculpture that responds the movements of people with sensors and lightning.
On last part of his speech, Chris Precht talked about finding a balance in life. For him moving from a relatively bigger studio in China to a smaller one in Austria was for finding balance on life and work. At this point he stated that architects are not happy and that they always wear in black must be a result of this, not a fashion trend.
In fact, they had nine participants** from seven different studios that day and only two of them were not wearing black. Plus, all three moderators also were in black.
He believes that the mountain (where his recent office is) gives balance and balance helps to live healthy. Healthy buildings themselves also helps to connect our senses. Therefore, he thinks that nature and architecture should be combined and food plays an important role on this.
Food became a huge business and this brought us some diseases as well, such as obesity. He says “food is the new internet” and soon 80% of the food will be consumed only in the cities. He and his wife themselves trying to grow their own food as much as they can in that small mountain town.
After this he showed the Farmhouse, a high-rise project encourages people to grow their own food with a relation to their living spaces. This project also consists of a modular building system. A single modular unit can also serve as a housing space. He thinks that such units can be used as a solution to refugee housing shortage too.
You may think that such approach is quite unrealistic, on that I had doubts as well. But as an answer to the question how they are having balance on work life, he said that they always have two projects at one time. One with clients to pay the bills and other a self-initiated one. Such projects are from second group and I do believe these case studies may lead you to a solution, which can find a real life.
He finishes his speech with a short story, again related to his childhood. It is about a book with drawings on each page, getting a wider view by stepping back when you turn the pages. He is relating this with the architecture as it is an extremely wide scaled occupation, so each one of us should focus on our niche rather than getting lost on this limitless aura.
It is a nice story; I suggest you to listen him alive if you would have an option. But if you think you won’t be able do that, you can visit his YouTube channel by clicking here and listen this story from him.
After he finished his speech, one another question was that adding green elements on facade is enough to build a sustainable architecture or not. He said that it may be not but it is better than nothing. If every one of us, make a small change than we can reach a better future.
This answer fits with his last story and I find such approach valuable. Architecture is in fact a huge area to cover and simply couple of teams cannot fulfill this task. That’s why every one of us should be involved no matter our occupations are.
You may criticize his ways of design and maybe it is hard for you to count such works as architecture. One thing I was sure after his speech was that he is a good motivator. He catches us all with his stories based on his concerns to a better future. As a comparison I can tell that while other speakers spent more time on ‘what’ they did, Chris focused on ‘how’ and ‘why’ parts of the design.
With this he is like talking to a friend, rather than to a client. So if he will be around, be sure to spare some time for his speech and let us know which page you will be covering.
*This event was held by Das Bilkent (Design and Architecture Society of Bilkent University), an energetic community who are doing tremendous job with such events. Their website is not as active as they are in real, but check it out from time to time, since they told me that they will be updating videos from their events.
**The event was held under three sessions. I could watch first two. The guests on last session were Renda Helin Cilalioglu Cizer and Gurhan Bakirkure. The moderator was Berna Tanriverdi.
Below are the links to the related pages of the mentioned projects.