GERMANY - For Paul Kahlfeldt tradition is today's avant-garde, and modernism is the traditionalism of today. 'We are the spearhead of the avant-garde' he claims in an interview with Christian Welzbacher, in which he describes his position with the same clarity and precision that characterize the architecture of the office which he runs with his wife, Petra Kahlfeldt.
Paul Kahlfeldt in the control room of MetaHaus in Berlin, the former Abspannwerkes Leibniz, a building originally designed in 1927 by Hans Müller and renovated by Kahlfeldt Architekten between 1996 and 2001.
Paul Kahlfeldt: I noticed that there are considerable deficiencies in [university] courses. I trained at the Technical University in Berlin, making me a child of the fourth or fifth modernist generation – which is the traditionalism of today. Except for studying the history of architecture as far as Balthasar Neumann, the past was basically considered as being of secondary importance. But the fact that this vocabulary is actually our language, an alphabet that can be pronounced in a variety of ways, is something we only realized during this project. We had to make it our own. This launched us on a wonderful quest that is still on going: what is a column, and why is it the central element in architecture?
Initially, our interest in history was still very much dominated by aesthetic aspects. The question of whether or not we liked something. Today, we make use of the repertoire on the basis of clear architectural considerations and see it as a necessity. We develop the right solution for each individual project on the basis of requirements. To paraphrase Mies: instead of us looking for a form, the form emerges automatically as we work on the project.
I'm not a fan of the art-historical classification of styles, which is only needed to categorize forms. I also no longer believe there is a line of historical development – the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans, etc. Every cultural period has its own characteristics, innovations which lead via construction and materials to new forms, but which always restate the same theme. Forms emerge and disappear again, but it is more of a cyclical rhythm.