WOLF D. Prix in the flesh is, as one would expect, larger than life with an attitude to match.
The Deconstruction School architect is a perfect rebel in an imperfect world.
Thus you see why hundreds of students packed into the Siam Society Concert Hall attentively listening to his hour-long sermon. The Association of Siamese Architect, the Kingdom’s key body for generations of designers, is sponsoring his visit.
There is a strong connection forged here. There is that unspoken understanding that the speaker and his fans are on the same page.
They desire to change the world for the better by replacing antiquated, broken and sometimes immoral orders with a free and fair one.
“Out with the old, in with the new,” says Prix on his first visit to Thailand. “That was the message of the Sixties Deconstruction movement.” For Prix, it began with Rock ‘n’ Roll. Music was challenging traditional and conventional beliefs. And it was winning.
“We thought: If music could change people and society, could architecture also liberate them?”
Clearly, even now, the 73-year-old Austrian co-founding father of this rebellious school of building, believes it surely can.
Prix’s Coop Himmelblau Company has created magnificent shapes from France to South Korea. His mega-buildings include the BMW Building in Munich, The Museum of Confluence in Lyon and the Cinema Centre in Busan, South Korea.
As rock revolted against conservatism, Prix’s architecture would defy the old ways that support an hierarchical society that derives power from class divisions – privileged clans subjugate people and exploit them.
Prix recalls the Cold War period in which he grew up, with East and West Berlin, territories divided as spoils of a war, created by an old generation of warmongers.
“The bloody conflict was by them, not us. We would not want to repeat their mistakes and so we rebelled.”
Deconstruction would, he says, free space. And in freeing space, free people from the shackles of an ancient warring order.
With a cigar in one hand and his other waving in the air, as if capturing or releasing ideas, Prix comes across as an incredibly likable man.
You could see under his Bolshevik zeal (but he is not a socialist, he insists), there lies a man who is hungry and appreciating of the joys of life. No wonder the world’s rich and powerful gravitate towards him.
Wealthy patrons in Dubai, Mumbai and Guangzhou have flocked to recruit him for massive new projects.
He is a man who enjoys what life is about, who celebrates it and has five children to prove it.
He respects machines but does not worships it. “Computers and robots are just tools,” he warned students. “They make things easier and help you do things faster.
“But when you build, I still need you to construct a miniature model with your hands.
“A 3-D graphic on a computer screen cannot allow you to feel and understand what you are trying to construct.”
Born to an architecture family, Prix learned the skills of the trade since he turned 10. So while he is new school, he believes students need to appreciate the basics and respect the foundation of architecture before they adopt new ideas.
In Bangkok to examine the possibilities of opening an office here, Prix says an ever growing and expanding Asia beckons him.
He recently completed major works in India and China where he has also established local offices.
On the recent Chinese leader Xi’s criticism about the excessively radical shapes and forms that have become striking symbols for modern China, Prix says his colleagues such as Rem Koolhaus have not been fully understood by the authorities.
In time, Prix hopes more people may develop a sense of appreciation for such revolutionary ideas.
A student asked if he sees the sad contrast in modern Bangkok where Siam Society possesses the last surviving grand Thai House in downtown Bangkok surrounded by imposing high-rises and shopping malls. Prix says: “You should keep a building if you like it. If you don’t, get rid of it.”
Prix offers one solution and that is adapting to change and remodeling an old shape with a good protective skeleton and skin.
Prix studied architecture at the Vienna University of Technology, the Architectural Association of London as well as at the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) in Los Angeles.
He is counted among the originators of the deconstructivist architecture movement.
His company, Coop Himmelblau, established in 1968, is a cooperative architectural design firm primarily located in Vienna and maintains offices in Los Angeles and Guadalajara in Mexico
It had its international breakthrough with the invitation to the exhibition “Deconstructivist Architecture“ at MoMA New York in 1988. Over the years Prix had been awarded numerous international architecture awards.
In German, coop has a similar meaning to the English “co-op”. Himmel means “sky” or “heaven”, and blau means “blue” while bau means “building” or “to build/construct”. So, the name can be interpreted either as “Blue Sky Cooperative” or “Heaven Building/Construction Cooperative”.
Prix tries to develop a radical design through a realistic approach.
TOP: BMW Building in Munich designed by Prix’s Coop Himmelblau Company.
INSET: Prix is a co-founding father of deconstructivist architecture movement.
BELOW: Museum of Confluence in Lyon also designed by Prix’s company.
By Cimi Suchontan