A whole city made of vertically and horizontally interlocked bamboos – this is just one of the many interesting projects that Austria-based architect and designer Chris Precht has envisioned to sustain the demands of the future.
Architecture with a real purpose; creating buildings which do not take away from nature – this is what defines Precht’s process. In a market driven by big ideas and bigger budgets, his novel point of view manifests in whatever he creates. He has created the Hongkun Art Gallery and Art Auditorium in Beijing, both futuristic designs that are all about sustainability, and is currently working on a Cascading Residential Tower in Tel Aviv and Shan Shan ‘double helix’ bridge for Beijing Olympics in 2022. In all of these, what stands out is Precht’s engagement with locally available materials.
Born in a small village in Salzburg, Austria, Precht gained professional experience with Patrik Schumacher (Zaha Hadid Architects) and Kjetil Thorsen (Snohetta). Graduating with honours from the Technical University of Vienna in 2013, he founded his first firm Penda with architect Dayong Sun in 2014 in Beijing. In 2018, he launched his second firm Precht and Partners, with his wife, and since then has been showcasing his cross-cultural design language, and the philosophy of embracing locally available materials and building responsibly in all his work. For this, he has received the German Tile-Award in 2013 and Architzer A+Award for the ‘Emerging Firm of the Year’ in 2016. He spoke to Lifestyle Asia on his love for Indian patterns and designing spontaneously.
What prompted you to take up architecture?
Architecture for me was a bit accidental; before that I was into ski jumping. But I could not make it to the top four of the nation, so I could not go to the Olympics. By the time I was 19, I decided to move on. I wanted to do something creative – animation, graphics or painting. I landed up doing architecture. What attracted me to it was that you could do so much with your hands – create structures, models, designs, and experiment with everything. So, since I have started designing, I have not stopped.
What is your design philosophy?
The work in architecture is very diverse. Your works become an accumulation of many different fields. To be an architect today, you need not necessarily play by the rules; you can be a jewellery designer and be an architect. Facets of architecture today are impossible to define, therefore having a definite philosophy can be a little limiting. However, we try and give space back to nature unlike other architectural ventures where space is taken away from nature.
In the past you have focused on working with bamboo and other botanical materials – how was experience?
We did not consciously decide to work with bamboo. For us, the availability of location-specific material is important. Creatively, for us, everything stems from the idea of sustainability, but our idea of the concept is a little different. It is not just about creating something efficient. It is about creating architecture which people care about and experience. Because if inhabitants and appreciators care for the building, it will stand for long.
What do you like about Indian design?
We have projects in Canada, Israel, South America, India, and China. In India, we have done a couple of residential projects in Hyderabad, a resort in Coorg, a pedestrian bridge in Mumbai, Thane.
I have always been fascinated by India, owing to its rich design traditions. I love Indian patterns; and how every different design form, be it textile, architecture, or product design have their own specific set of patterns. What fascinates me is the idea of how everything revolves around building a pattern. No other culture has so many art disciplines coherently working together. I also appreciate how Indian architecture is keeping the tradition alive. Otherwise internationally a lot of work which is similar has already happened; imagine concrete structures with curtain walls, it has been repeated and replicated all over the world. This has killed thousands of years of building intelligence. It is important to go back to the roots, understand what is local and traditional, then build intelligently.
What do you think about the Indian design/architecture sphere when placed in the global context?
Architects all over the world need to reconnect with their roots. We saw it happening in China. Almost 20 years ago, China started to build structures with similar design form. But at the same time, there are a lot of local architects who are finding their own design language and creating a difference by standing out in terms of their body of work. The same should fit in India as well. Younger designers need to find their own voice and set a strong definition for their work.