Non-standard shapes, complex curves, self-generating pat-terns, all have proliferated in the last few years in response to the inﬁnite capacities of the computer to generate new forms of seemingly unprecedented complexity, a proliferation that thus far seems as immune to the worldwide economic downturn as it often has been to the real problems of architecture. In this hyperactive ﬁeld of formal experimentation the work of Matthias Sauerbruch and Louisa Hutton, with its eye-catching pillboxes, boomerang-shaped plans, intricate mosaics of colour patterns and often free-form perimeters, stands ever more resolutely apart, maturing since before the dawn of digital dominance and in a very different crucible of ideas and values. While the German-British team tether a preference for drawing free forms both to the organic strain in German modernism from Hugo Haring’s Gut Garkau (1924-1925) to Hans Scharoun’s Berlin Philharmonic Hall (1956-1963) and to the 18th-century English landscape garden tradition, theirs is no sheer formal exuberance--digital or referential--retro-ﬁtted with programme, urbanism, experience, or systems. Rather a ceaseless exploration of playful forms and what Hutton calls ‘colour families’ is inextricably interwoven with high seriousness: a careful reﬁning of programme, of creation of place, of ever more reﬁned investigations of sustainable environmental design… All of these temper one another as the work of inspiration is honed to make buildings that are cutting-edge performative, while resisting temptation of making sophisticated climatic conﬁgurations and devices into the language of their architecture in the tradition of the British hi-tech movement, at its height when the two met at London’s Architectural Association, is avoided in favour of a softer approach. Without rhetoric, as the Smith-sons, who they so admire, would say.
Unlike so much of the work of those enthralled with the computer as generator of complexity, Sauerbruch Hutton’s now well-deﬁned architectural vocabulary is as much about the end users of buildings as about its authors. Theirs, however, is a dialogue with users in which the architect no longer, as so often in the 1970s, relinquishes the role of providing strong signature form. In the most recent generation of projects characteristic, but never repeated, curvaceous lines might be generated by the wind (which is harnessed as well as avoided in Frankfurt), by maximising views of the Rhine between two adjacent buildings (as in Cologne), by creating community out of compositional inﬂection and colour syncopations (as in Dessau), or by the spatial relations that can most adeptly promote dialogue between privacy and group interaction (as in Shefﬁeld); and always each new line has been tempered by a combination of factors, none repeats one found before.
But the curve is not the sine qua non of their architecture, any more than the coloured that so frequently stops appreciation of the ﬁrm’s fetching work at the outer skin of their complex surfaces. In the newly completed Museum Brandhorst in Munich, for instance, rectilinear geometries draw whole new meanings and potentials out of an inherited masterplan and out of the constraints of the museum programme, even while the coloured wrapper serves complex urbanistic functions. The understated skewed rectangles turn out to achieve many of the same results as the more voluptuous buildings in less digniﬁed surroundings. A radical perimeter is always a starting point; but by the time Sauerbruch Hutton’s buildings have assumed their ﬁ nal, to-be-built form multiple issues have been dealt with in bold lines, meandering, canted, or even doubling back on themselves. The diagram has become a humming and complex machine; yet from beginning to end a commitment to the sensory universe of the future users--inside and out--has been sustained. Even the simple, but key question they pose--‘What does sustain-ability look like?’--is more complex than it ﬁrst appears.
A ﬁrst assertive answer came with the GSW Headquarters on Kochstrasse in Berlin, the unexpected competition triumph that landed the couple in the newly reunited Berlin and anchored a discourse on the urban underway in 1980s London to the particular situation of the 1990s post-Berlin Wall (or in German post-Wende) European metropolis. In 1991, after nearly a decade of small-scale toying with big colour and free form explored in the playground of the AA, and perhaps in the London ofﬁce of OMA (Sauerbruch) but not in that of the Smithsons (Hutton), as well as in their own interior renovations, their work was now to confront an unprecedented situation: the sudden expansion of the discourse on the European city to include the integration not only of the fabric and discourses of the West, but also those of the East. A stone’s throw from Checkpoint Charlie, Sauerbruch Hutton brought brilliant colour and an unexpected collage of forms--an incurved curtain wall slab and a green-striped pillbox, both cantilevered over a ﬁgurative base containing a huge area for the free ﬂow of visitors--to the now erased frontier of the Cold War standoff. (…)’
Table of contents:
Sustainable colours and non- standard forms. On sauerbruch hutton’s recent work by Barry Bergdoll
Images on the move: sauerbruch hutton and the two germanys byPhilip Ursprung
Works and Projects
Federal Environmental Agency, Dessau
Energy Dome, Soria Environmental City
Urban study for Masséna Bruneseau, Paris
Urban plan for the entrance of Tilburg
Municipal Savings Bank, Oberhausen
Jessop West, University of Shefﬁeld
Extension to Kunsthaus Zürich, Zurich
Urban plan, housing and ofﬁ ce buildings for the centre of Doha
Headquarters for FIH Bank at Langelinie, Copenhagen
Museum Brandhorst, Munich
Türkentor exhibition space, Munich
Ofﬁce building for KfW Bankengruppe, Frankfurt
Ofﬁce buildings on the Rhine, Cologne
L57 ofﬁ ce extension, Berlin
Low2No urban block, Helsinki
Twenty years by Matthias Sauerbruch and Louisa Hutton