Interview with Architect Lena Wimmer

Interview with Architect Lena Wimmer

Interview with Architect Lena Wimmer

We got the chance to meet up with the talented Lena Wimmer, owner of Lena Wimmer Architects. We work closely with her at our Berlin office and now we got the chance to ask her everything we ever wondered about her projects, new vs. old and Lena’s favorite building in the world.

 

Lena, first of all congratulations to having created this amazing place*! From the outside it still looks like the garage it was back in the days and we had quite some difficulties in finding it. Tell us how on earth this project came about!

* Anomalie, Art Club is a Gallery, Restaurant and Club in Prenzlauerberg Berlin, established in 2017, construction time: 2015-2017, Budget: 650.000,-, Architect Lena Wimmer Architects. Size: 2042 m2.

Lena Wimmer:

That was exactly our goal. How to create a place within a solid structure that has a complete self- sufficient inner life? A place where you forget that you are in the middle of Berlin right now. From the outside we have renewed everything, new "old" glass, the roof new, new foundations etc. At one point of the construction process were on the whole 2000m2 area only to see the former concrete pillars, which I really wanted to keep. I find it exciting to have an old place, loaded with history and to thread new things into each other. Thus, gradually something arises that is only old at first glance, at the second it turns out to be completely new, but in a gentle way.

One can call it also Understatement- I believe in the virtue of understatement.

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Fantastic Frank:

When we were inside, there really was a wow moment! All the high rooms, the curved doors and openings, the whole house seemed to live and breathe. How did you realize such a tailor-made suit for such a small budget?

Lena Wimmer:

It is always a matter of weighing in which things you invest money. It's like having a good sweater. Of course you can buy the sweater from H & M ten times, as a cashmere sweater by Jil Sander, but the one by Jil Sander or Prada you wear quite different and the quality is just another. (There you still mend a hole!) Fortunately, this is also always understood by our clients and appreciate the quality thus gained, which may first seem expensive, but in the long run cheaper by far. It also supports and gains the knowledge and experience of long-established companies, such as in our example with the pullover from Italy, where in the fifth generation the family does nothing but produce pullovers and knitwear. This makes them masters of their field! I always like to support this with our houses and work together with masters who understand their craft. My grandfather was still a master blacksmith, ”Schmiedemeister” an old word that does not exist anymore ... I can still remember how, as a little girl, I watched him forge iron. The appreciation of such arts is very important for our time. This is something I find incredibly important, even in Japan; there is still such an understanding of quality. I am against our throwaway culture, against cheap, that can be exchanged quickly, like a Teslar, or I- Phone that you can actually throw away after a few years. In our projects we rely on old crafts, on proven, but also extremely new high-quality materials and these we can use new and efficient with our current knowledge. This not only makes a project incredibly high quality but also preserves old knowledge and partially revives it. The parabolic doors in the “Anomalie” for example, at first construction workers said to me: "we can not do that”, or “if so, it is going to be very expensive". I then showed them old church portals and explained the wall misalignment, as one did 300 years ago. The construction workers were so proud in the end that they brought their women to the construction site over the weekend to show them what they did. So they became masters again on the construction site, rediscovering their own craft. That's also architecture for me!

Fantastic Frank:

That means old and new is not a contradiction for you and your office, but a necessity?

Lena Wimmer:

Absolute. After all, the spiritual and intellectual achievement of humanity is that we have history and that we can create our knowledge for tomorrow from history. So if we forget our spiritual good, we start from scratch (which wouldn’t be clever...). At the moment we are planning houses at various points in Berlin, in the Berlin area, but also in Italy, even in Sweden, at the sea, in other German cities and far away in the countryside in the middle of nowhere in the US. We are confronted with very different circumstances, and we are always looking for the path between absolute low tech and the right use of high tech. We work with old craftsmen who are masters in their field - we learn their knowledge every day. A smart home has actually existed for centuries. Let's take an old farmhouse in the mountains of Tyrol that we are currently renovating. What were the farmers smart, they had constant temperatures in the pantries, walls that breathe and adapt to the prevailing climate and in all the functionality was still enough courage and fun to make the house even more beautiful. Or take a look at a traditional house in Japan. Why it only has walls made of paper, one understands only when one was in Japan in August - over 40 degrees and an absolute humidity- you need a house that can breathe, that does not mold and that even in an earthquake totters with the earth. Simply building an air conditioner on top will not be the future of building if we want to improve our existing human being and earth climate. We have to take another step backwards to go two steps further. And, living with nature is much easier and smarter than just relying on technical systems. Unfortunately, every book to date is smarter than a kindle booklet that does not have any three-dimensionality. I do not want to start with all the smart home concepts that are currently on the market - just this much: To this day, no one works properly and, above all, they are absolutely not secure. But I am not against technology! We are currently developing a high tech glass that can do much more than just be transparent. That's where the old concept of the Japanese house comes in, why should glass not be able to breathe, not work as a mini- power plant?

Also, we have just won a prize in a competition. "8000 Islands for Cuba- Malecon". It's about a concept to make Cuba energetically independent. We have developed a concept that state-of-the-art turbine technology works with the local ocean currents and has been generating energy for thousands of years. At the same time, we are adding more than 8,000 new islands around Cuba, which will be a by-product, giving the whole island a new microclimate and creating a new habitat for land and marine animals. In the end you will not see any of it as new, it will look like it's always been that way - that fascinates me!

Fantastic Frank:

Does your job as a researcher come here into play? I know that you are at the very front at the university when it comes to high tech in space travel. Are you not planning a “Route 66” between Earth and Jupiter?

Lena Wimmer:

I mean that right now. You always have to be a researcher. It is not a contradiction but a necessity to combine old and new. In fact, we are working on this concept, together with the European Space Agency and my students. There are also two books coming out this year that specialize entirely in this topic. I have to say that my grandmother was already a trained astronaut and still flies- so “Old” has nothing to do with old-fashioned for me .... ;)

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Fantastic Frank:

What inspires you?

Lena Wimmer:

Everything! Life is so inspiring, every day I read or realize me something that I did not know or see things that interest me, that fascinate me, scare or even annoy me, that too is inspiring! We can learn so much if we want.
And our world is simply very beautiful. Sometimes the sound of a bird alone inspires me on a cold winter's day. Often I have the impression that we are trying too hard to always think from a single perspective. To think, if everything is like "that" then it is good. But that's not how the world works. There are so many different dreams and realities, as there are living things, since speaking of equality would be madness. Actually, the very thing that inspires me most about this difference in all areas is an infinite source of inspiration. It is fascinating to think of a Bedouin in the desert of Syria, who does not care about the daily business of politics, who has completely realized his own reality. Or an astronaut, hovering between Earth and Space, shutting off all equipment for a reboot and starting to hear the silence of nothingness outside his ship. A sound of nothing that surrounds us permanently! In order to recognize all these sources of inspiration, it really only needs respect, interest and respectability. People like Schiller, who longed and worked hard to be once a universal scholar.

Fantastic Frank:

What would be your dream project?

Lena Wimmer:

Actually, every project that I start is a dream project because I only do a project when I develop a dream for it, an ideal that I then want to realize. With each new house, a new world emerges, a kind of dream world that, in cooperation and a dialogue with the client, it becomes a real world into which one can finally go in the end! Isn’t that fantastique!

Fantastic Frank:

Your favorite building in the world?

Lena Wimmer:

I do not really have one favorite building. First and foremost, I have my house, my favorite house, in my mind. My house in the head, that is infinitely large, permanently changing and enriched with memories, fantasies, music and the feeling of being in love with the world. Such things as the light from the garden of my great-grandmother in late summer, when the light in the leaves of thyme and sage breaks. Or the smell of earth in a forest, after a summer rain. Incidentally, a forest is also a building for me, one that I like very much. It spans an area, stretches into the sky and changes with each season. Sound also plays an important role in architecture - the sounds in a forest are so different, sometimes liberating, happy, sometimes eerie, dull and than almost every sound is swallowed. That, too, belongs to the repertoire of architecture for me. Perhaps the house of the Japanese architect Shinohara in Japan in a forest, mounded earth as floor and thick wooden pillars that carry a large roof over them. Maybe that's very close to a favorite house ... I think from the perspective of our solar system, the earth is my absolute favorite building!

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