In an extended version of the article that appeared in AJ 29.11.07, we provide excerpts from a conversation between Swiss architect Peter Märkli and his good friend, architect Florian Beigel, who is head of the Architecture Research Unit at London Metropolitan University. The conversation took place at The Zetter Restaurant, the morning after Märkli gave a lecture at Tate Modern, one in a series organised by the Architecture Foundation.
Florian Beigel: In your talk last night, you spoke about how the human being had to be at the centre of architecture. How do you teach this to students?
Peter Märkli: I don’t know if you can teach it… If you have no background you can do beauty — but without a deeper context, which is the human being. You can’t do a building for a building.
FB: When you say human being, I think you’re saying a deeper understanding of the human condition?
PM: Yes, you have to have it. Otherwise you can’t produce beauty, and beauty is radical. Beauty is not what you eat on a Sunday afternoon when you have some sweets; it is the most radical thing I know. I’m provoked, in a positive sense, if I see works that are beautiful.
FB: I like this radical beauty that looks at the everyday and a not-so beautiful condition.
PM: But we can’t write a political pamphlet about beauty, we can only do a building. If you build a house with beauty, then people look at it and think life can be like that. I did all these houses in not very beautiful areas and people were provoked because the houses are strange, they speak about something other than egoism.
FB: I like this radical beauty that looks at the everyday, and looks at a not-so beautiful condition
PM: And so, in the art market, I’m not interested in a lot of works, because they speak out about the badness of the world.
FB: Last night, you often mentioned the 2,500 years of architectural history in Europe. People from other cultures might say, yes, but can you understand architecture that comes from another historical background? I think architecture can speak to different cultures, but how? Does the meeting of cultures happen through this idea of the human condition?
PM: That’s one way, but not the only way. The other is through architectural grammar. The architectural grammar of the East is the same. I can read a mosque, that’s not a problem.
FB: You can read a mosque, but can you read a Korean courtyard house?
PM: I think so, but my work and my education, my feelings – I am situated in the Occidental culture.
FB: But you’re not limited to this, if you can speak outside…
PM: But that’s normal; European culture has always been influenced by other cities because of transport. If they wanted to escape from Paris, they could go to Egypt. They made translations – they brought textiles to Persia. Then all the ornaments were Persian, but the textiles were French. Venice was influenced by Asia, but the structure of the houses was German because the builders came from the mainland.