The Build­ing of an Ar­chi­tect

The func­tion of a build­ing is just one of many things an ar­chi­tect has to think about when de­sign­ing

Oi Vietnam - - Troi Oi! - Text by Tasso Dat­ten­berg-Doyle Im­ages Pro­vided by Marek Ob­tulovič

FROM A LAY­MAN’S PER­SPEC­TIVE, the busi­ness of ar­chi­tec­ture res­onates with grandeur. The word calls to mind grand de­signs and an in­tel­lec­tual flair, but as Marek Ob­tulovič tells it, these are im­ages con­jured up by the ego­ma­niac, who ex­ists in ev­ery pro­fes­sion af­ter all. This de­sire to dis­tin­guish one­self and leave one’s mark on the planet (some­thing a build­ing cer­tainly can achieve) is a hin­drance to the higher call­ing of the chief builder, that is to say to cre­ate the best pos­si­ble hous­ing for an en­vi­ron­ment, whether that be work, leisure or a blend of both.

Build­ings are more than a con­ve­nience, they are the lo­cus of most of our ac­tiv­i­ties. We spend more time in­doors than out­doors and, as such, it is nec­es­sary to treat these spa­ces with spe­cial in­ter­est. Open­ing up a room brings light, in­te­rior mod­el­ling lends flow and move­ment to the space and an ex­te­rior de­sign lends a face to the con­struc­tion. This whole, a cre­ation pur­pose-built for hu­mans should how­ever work in har­mony with the out­side world, in­sists Marek.

For him, the work of an ar­chi­tect is sim­i­lar to a con­duc­tor. This is not meant

as a boast but to make me un­der­stand that har­mony is at the heart of a suc­cess­ful project. As many in­stru­ments must bend and unify into co­her­ence, so must a build­ing be holis­tic in char­ac­ter, its in­di­vid­ual com­po­nents work­ing to­gether to form some­thing that feels like a whole to those who oc­cupy the space.

To Marek, ar­chi­tec­ture is, first and fore­most, work in cre­at­ing an at­mos­phere. The build­ing blocks of the pro­fes­sion, the sketches, lines, cal­cu­la­tions and myr­iad other tasks are cer­tainly im­por­tant; they are the con­stituent parts, the prac­ti­cal parts of the prod­uct, but the essence of the fi­nal cre­ation lies in the ef­fect it has on those who pass through its rooms. This, he in­sists, is the most im­por­tant con­sid­er­a­tion for his work: How will peo­ple feel when they see and ex­pe­ri­ence it. This ef­fect is of­ten un­con­scious. Few peo­ple lend par­tic­u­lar at­ten­tion to the de­tails that bring a room to life, but then that means he has done his job right. The point is not to re­mind peo­ple of the ar­chi­tect’s agency but to cre­ate a seam­less and sat­is­fy­ing space.

Be­yond purely pro­fes­sional mo­ti­va­tions, there is an ev­i­dent philo­soph­i­cal at­trac­tion to his work that drives Marek. “If you don’t love it you can’t do it,” he ex­plains, cit­ing the ar­du­ous stud­ies needed to break into this world and the sub­se­quent work­load that comes with run­ning one’s own ar­chi­tec­tural firm, “I’m frus­trated ev­ery day.” How­ever, it is this per­sonal con­nec­tion that keeps him work­ing.

His work is of­ten un­ful­filled, that is to say that many projects and ideas never make it to con­struc­tion. How could they? Ar­chi­tec­ture, like cin­ema, is a medium that de­mands huge fi­nan­cial investment. An­dre Tarkovsky said that cin­ema was the sad­dest art form pre­cisely be­cause of the money re­quired to make even a mi­nor project. That was in the 1960s and now you can ac­tu­ally string to­gether a rea­son­able film on any bud­get (see Tan­ger­ine shot en­tirely on iPhone 5ses), but there’s no such luck for the ar­chi­tect. Meld­ing stone, me­tal and glass­ware is an ex­pen­sive busi­ness and one that frus­trates the ar­chi­tect. Painters can paint all they want but the ideas of the ar­chi­tect rarely make it be­yond a fe­tal stage.

De­spite this draw­back, Marek sketches prodi­giously. It re­veals one’s in­ner char­ac­ter, he ex­plains. From one sketch to an­other, he can read dif­fer­ent as­pects of a per­son’s per­son­al­ity sim­ply by look­ing at sketches. A pat­tern emerges from one’s ideas and the de­signs one con­jures up, our likes and dis­likes and our aes­thetic pref­er­ences end up dis­played black on white. If this prac­tice is an ex­ten­sion of the mind then, it also has a ther­a­peu­tic qual­ity. Marek’s work may not al­ways reach full bloom but that is not to say that the work is for noth­ing. It ed­u­cates him about him­self on one level and on an­other, more prac­ti­cal, level it serves to im­prove tech­nique.

An im­por­tant side of this job is mood cu­ra­tion. When we de­scribe a build­ing we de­scribe a sort of or­gan­ism. A room breathes, it can be bright, warm, invit­ing. This is the ter­mi­nol­ogy of sen­sa­tion be­cause that’s how we ex­pe­ri­ence it. A room can open us up and be a source of com­fort. Con­versely, it can make us feel claus­tro­pho­bic and con­stricted. These are not the re­sult of purely phys­i­cal pa­ram­e­ters; a large room can feel small, and a small room can feel large. The ar­chi­tect’s job is to ask them­selves these ques­tions and find a so­lu­tion, al­beit within the re­mit of the fi­nances at his dis­posal, the de­sign de­sires of the com­pany mak­ing the build­ing and the pos­si­bil­i­ties af­forded by the lo­ca­tion. It seems like a lot to process.

Build­ings are man’s cre­ation for man. In­side we are shielded from the ad­verse ef­fects of the out­side world to the point where we can be­come obliv­i­ous to them. Within four walls the sea­sons don’t change, light is al­ways pro­vided and, best of all, we can store food. This dis­lo­ca­tion from the real world is strange and un­nat­u­ral but it makes life more com­fort­able. Over the mil­len­nia we have with­drawn fur­ther and fur­ther from the ar­du­ous out­door life and re­treated into dry, heated, hab­it­able pock­ets. For Marek that time is over. He wants to bring na­ture back into our lives by ush­er­ing it in through the front door. “I want to help so­ci­ety, our cities and the en­vi­ron­ment,” he ex­plains. To that end, his dream is to make build­ings that work around na­ture and even in­cor­po­rate it. Pol­lu­tion and the dam­age to the en­vi­ron­ment are dis­so­nance to Marek and it’s time to find some har­mony.

Marek is an ar­chi­tect liv­ing and work­ing in Hanoi, though he oc­ca­sion­ally darts back to his na­tive Czech Repub­lic. Be­fore start­ing his own ar­chi­tec­ture stu­dio, ODDO Ar­chi­tects, with his wife Mai Lan Chi he worked at the pres­ti­gious Vo Trong Nghia Ar­chi­tects.

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