Maria Topolcanska: Your office is unusually situated in this typical functionalist department store built as part of the 1960s and '70s housing estates. While you don't display any nostalgia for this late-modern urbanity, you seem to share the values that lay behind the construction of this environment.
Irakli Eristavi: Sinking into the civil, ordinary everydayness and acting from and within its principles is our architectural aim – we seek a laid-back relation with the world around us. Sharing this access terrace offers us both the visual confrontation with other people and enables us to let them gaze into our 'kitchen'. Just as they can look into the barber's shop next door.
MT: Do you think you can actively cultivate public awareness from your position as an architect?
IE: I think our role as architects in society is necessarily stratified, as is our work. I believe in a multi-layered sense of an architect's work and all our projects – be they small private commissions or big public ones – have a multi-layered relationship with the public. To be honest, I don't feel as if I have a lot of control over the public space and the course of events around us. What matters to me, and what I can control, is to persist in posing new questions and finding answers whenever dealing with an architectural task. This is what really changes things around us.
MT: How has the first competition you won, CMYK housing, influenced the development of your practice?
IE: CMYK came exactly at that initial 0.0 position for zerozero. It allowed me to start an independent practice with Martin Jancok. In 2005 Silvia Miklusova and Pavol Silla joined the studio, we started working on new projects and we put in many years of hard work, without getting any wider attention – I would not overestimate CMYK's impact on the architectural scene in Slovakia. However, it had a vast impact on our work; it was our first large-scale project. And the fact that the CMYK neighbourhood works and hundreds of people live there happily is immensely satisfying.
MT: Zerozero differs from other practices in that it operates as an open collaborative platform. Yet the outcome is very singular and compact work. How do you manage that?
IE: We try to operate outside any stereotypes. The open collaboration feeds our concepts on many points. We invited the Austrian PPAG studio to participate on public furniture design in Košice and for years we have enjoyed a collaboration with graphic designer Marcel Bencik, who often commutes from Bratislava to brainstorm and contribute to our projects. The fresh air that different people bring to zerozero is vital for its existence.
MT: Your conceptual approach is easy to trace at every scale, but especially in your project for Košice. I think your success in keeping to your original concept in this public project is quite unique. It could serve as an example for public development projects in other cities. You are surely aware of this responsibility, too, aren't you?
IE: Yes, though the fight to keep the concept alive is universal across all scales and types of clients. But of course large commissions bring more parameters one has to control. However, every day of this 'fight' robs us of another day we could be dealing with the details. This really annoys me. Because in the end it's the small things that make the big difference. The small scale is always decisive in the success or otherwise of the project.
MT: You often take part in exhibitions and workshops across the European scene, like Young Blood, Wonderland or City Visions. You seem to enjoy the sense of being 'networked' that projects afford.
IE: These are unique opportunities to find out how practices work in worlds parallel to ours, and in the end to better understand our own position. The City Visions workshop by the Berlage Institute was a particularly eye-opening and illuminating project for us. In cooperation with Totalstudio from Bratislava we tested the concept of communal gardens for the cities of Mechelen and Košice. For a short time, such projects expand your own small studio into a think tank with many others. You can observe different methodologies and ways of thinking.
MT: Is the fact that you don't actively promulgate zerozero concepts – apart from building them – deliberate? Do you see any sense in formulating your ideas more publicly?
IE: The fact is, our doctrine is that we don't have a strict doctrine. I see our work more as a dynamic, vibrant thing, although we do follow very firm principles. And to define these I believe a certain distance and time shift is necessary. And I never have enough time or distance. However, I know that after a while, the idea of explaining the thoughts behind a project starts to become less important and urgent. So we have to always rethink ourselves.