FRANCE - The Simone de Beauvoir Bridge in Paris is a prestige project. But nowadays Dietmar Feichtinger is keen to direct media attention away from it and toward his other work. Yet in conversation he nonetheless starts talking about that very work. When all's said and done, it sums up the structural and site-responsive approach inherent to his architecture, whether it be a bridge or a building.
After studying architecture at Graz Technical University, Dietmar Feichtinger moved to Paris, where he founded his own office in 1994. The fact that the first buildings he realized, such as the expansion of Donau Universität in Krems, or the Kunsthaus in Weiz, were in Austria rather than France was probably due less to his attachment to his homeland than to the French application process for competitions, which makes it hard for a young architect to obtain projects. Lately, since the completion of the Simone de Beauvoir footbridge across the Seine (2006), his name has also become well known in France.
Anne Isopp: You have your main office in Paris and a branch in Vienna. Where do you work best?
Dietmar Feichtinger: What I find interesting in France is that architecture has significance, that the architect is the guarantor of architecture. In Austria, on the other hand, you are the one who builds, who is responsible for constructional matters. But also the one who is held responsible for all sorts of things that are nothing to do with you – for instance, if cooking odours invade the conference room. That would not happen in France. Conversely, technical competencies are not always attributed to the architect in France, so he becomes one of many specialists involved in the building process.
AI: It sounds like you prefer the French system.
DF: The conditions affecting how you build are very different across Europe. I find the building process in France more difficult. Firms have to give a ten-year guarantee. They therefore shoulder a lot of responsibility and do not go for innovative solutions. In Austria, however, you can search for innovative solutions in collaboration with craftsmen. Many of the things we succeeded in doing in the school in Taufkirchen were only possible because we were able to find solutions together with the craftsman on site. You cannot expect that in France. One big difference between the two countries is craftsmanship in general. In France there is no such thing anymore. If you want an individual solution, it is very difficult to get your way. If you set up your project so that every single detail is important, it is doomed to fail. You won’t be able to find the partners to do it. However, if you develop clear, systematic details you can achieve good quality.