AI: The trailers are also very much about the participation of passers-by. What role does participation play in your work generally? Is it always a component in your strategies?
MO: In principle it is always exciting to have someone to interact with. Wherever we have the opportunity, we try to make interaction happen. We've always received very exciting input from those we deal with. Then it becomes a question of what you do with this impetus… The more opportunity we have to conduct a dialogue, the more exciting it gets. At the competition stage, a concept has to be convincing. Only later, during the realization on site, does it become a dialogue with the players. In the case of the Million Donkey Hotel, for instance, it wasn't clear at first who we were dealing with. Originally we were supposed to collaborate with eight people; then we were told that we would hardly be able to communicate with the locals because they were very reserved. In the end, 60 people collaborated very enthusiastically, something we had never anticipated. But it changed everything.
AI: Nevertheless, one of you has to create this level of communication. It's not something that's there right from the start. Or do you all have this ability?
MO: We all have the wish to understand the people we deal with and what they want. At the same time, we incorporate this wish into a larger context. After all, as architect you are a kind of intermediary; you are not just the representative of the client but also the representative of the context and of the surroundings. Many of our projects are conceived so as to turn people into players; we give them tools with which they can create a space of freedom for themselves. What matters to us is that we have given the impetus… But our impetus is also fuelled by the context.
AI: Are there any architectural principles that guide you in your work?
MO: That depends a lot on the project. In places where many people come together, we are interested in investigating how space enables communication. Many projects are therefore also about filling the existing vacuum with communication, with community and with communal spaces.
AF: It has a lot to do with the context and with questions of identification. Our architecture is also always a response to the surrounding urban design situation. Our works are meant to develop out of the context but also to refer beyond it.
MO: What we like best of all is when really new spatial functions come about, when we create a space for possibilities, one that stimulates the imagination. But it also always involves a certain alienation, a slight shifting of the elements we come across in the context.
AI: When I hear about all this additional effort, I am inevitably reminded of your article, 'Becoming Famous Doesn’t Save You', in the Wonderland Manual for Emerging Architects. Does that also apply to you?
MO: Unfortunately it is still true. The two kinds of economics (practical economics and the economics of attention) are not as connected in the field of architecture as in other disciplines. And that is one of the basic problems. If we were artists, our market value would have risen long ago. We have participated in the Venice Biennale four times (three times in architecture, once in art) and in many other major biennials and triennials of architecture or art. For artists this would have had a direct effect on their sales value. Not for architects. Over and above the architectural added value, we produce social added value. But the salaries of architects are differently regulated. Actually, this is a political issue.
AI: There is a lack of appreciation for this kind of creation of added value.
MO: We are in a period of radical change for architects. There are many topics architects can only really work on when they are more diversified. In that respect we have many ways to proceed. For example, we are often invited to do on-site work in urban zones where there is a problem, where they have got stuck and cannot get anywhere using normal measures. In Vienna we took part in the international competition for the Handbuch des öffentlichen Raumes (public space handbook) for Seestadt Aspern, a new suburb with a population of only 40,000. There the big question was: What is city? How can space produced within the shortest possible time become city? We propose providing new incentives for important pioneers to move into the provisional open space created over the next ten years of construction and to occupy the as yet undefined spaces with a kind of preliminary and interim use.
Mario Paintner: This approach has not yet been established at the bureaucratic planning level and – in comparison with other cities – least of all in Vienna. But there is increasing awareness of these methods, this 'performative' planning or whatever you want to call it. In that respect we are pioneers showing the way and applying methods without having the backing of an institution.
AI: Is it easier for you to talk about and try things in Italy or France than in Austria?
MO: Each society has a different approach to things. Prosperity creates a different perception from necessity. In principle, discourses of this kind are broader outside Austria. They are gradually beginning to take place in Vienna but could be far more numerous.
That also has something to do with the role of the architect. In every country, in every culture there is a paradigm of what an architect and his or her public role is. Here in Austria, architects are currently regarded as either service providers or artists. But not as both and not as intellectuals, either, nor as the central unifying figures they could be. This needs to be changed.