Philippe Rahm Architecture
Philippe Rahm, studied at the Federal Polytechnic Schools of Lausanne and Zurich. He obtained his architectural degree in 1993 and works currently in Paris and Lausanne . In 2002, he was chosen to represent Switzerland at the 8th Architecture Biennale in Venice and is one of the 20 manifesto’s architects of the Aaron Betsky’s 2008 Architectural Venice Biennale. In 2007, he had a personal exhibition at the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal. He has participated in a number of exhibitions worldwide (Archilab 2000, SF-MoMA 2001, Valencia Biennial 2003, CCA Kitakyushu 2004, Mori Art Museum, Tokyo 2005, Frac Centre, Orléans, Centre Pompidou, Beaubourg 2003-2006 and 2007, Manifesta 7, 2008). Philippe Rahm was a resident at the Villa Medici in Rome. He was Head-Master of Diploma Unit 13 at the AA School in London in 2005-2006, Visiting professor at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure de Beaux-Arts of Paris in 2003, Mendrisio Academy of Architecture in Switzerland in 2005 and 2006, at the ETH Lausanne in 2006 and 2007 and at the School of Architecture of Paris-Malaquais in Paris in 2008. He is Professor at the ECAL Lausanne. He is currently working on several private and public projects in France, Poland, England, Italy and Austria. He has lectured widely, including at Cooper Union NY, Harvard School of Design, UCLA and Princeton.
Challenges of what you do?
I try to stretch architecture between the infinitely small and the infinitely large, between the physiological and the meteorological. We want to reposition the essence of the elements of architecture subsequent to this disintegration of the visible. The tools of architecture must become invisible and light, producing places like free, open landscapes, a new geography, different kinds of meteorology; renewing the idea of form and use between sensation and phenomenon, between the neurological and the meteorological, between the physiological and the atmospheric. We want spaces with no meaning, no narrative; interpretable spaces in which margins disappear, structures dissolve, and limits vanish. It is no longer a case of building images and functions, but of opening climates and interpretations; working on space, on the air and its movements, on the phenomena of conduction, perspiration, convection as transitory, fluctuating meteorological conditions that become the new paradigms of contemporary architecture; moving from metric composition to thermal composition, from structural thinking to climatic thinking, from narrative thinking to meteorological thinking. ‘Composition of the hourly renewal of the air, plan of the levels of relative humidity, inhabitable convection, thermal design, chart of the movement of air, pressures and depressions, stratification of temperatures’ as new ways of architectural composition; and to then to show its programmatic, plastic and sensual potential. Space becomes electromagnetic, chemical, sensorial atmosphere with thermal, olfactory and cutaneous dimensions in which we are immersed and which, by the act of inhabiting, we in turn compose with the breath, perspiration, and thermal radiation of our bodies; the physical, hormonal activity, our movements and clothing. Between the infinitely small of the biological and the infinitely large of the meteorological, architecture must build unlimited sensual exchanges between the body and space, the senses, the skin, breath, the climate, temperature, or variations in humidity and light.
Most memorable exhibitions to date? My works in Museum or Galleries are critical studies about architecture as language. In these contexts, I always decompose and recompose the element of architecture to try to discover new forms and programs related to a contemporary knowledge. Because very often we work with some elements as habits, which were invented long time ago and we don’t understand that the reasons and the meaning of these elements have changed. The architectural form is composed by parts, by elements and we often considerer that the composition of all these part creates a whole object more interesting than the simple addition of the parts. In this sense, the form of architecture could be perceived as a whole as the Gestalt theory could say. I disagree with this idea and on the contrary, I like to decompose the whole object in separate parts and recompose them again but not in a good order or sometimes with one or two missing element. I think it creates more interesting object because it renew the perception and it’s one motor of the invention. The Gestalt theory say that “the whole is different from the sum of its parts. Our perceptions are governed by a number of laws and a whole object can not be reduced to the simple sum of the stimuli collected, as well. Water is something other than oxygen and hydrogen; a symphony is something else than a succession of notes.” My work is completely the contrary of this idea. It’s a composition of part without any will for touch a whole object. Because very often, the whole object is a conventional propriety, and habit. And when you work by decomposing the whole into parts and recomposing the parts in a new way, you could find more contemporary form, actualized forms. Its what I did for example in two installations: Diurnisme at the Centre Pompidou in Paris in 2007 and with the winter beach in Saint-Nazaire in France in 2009. Diurnisme is a recomposition of the night, with all the parts that are involve in the night but not in a good order, not in a conventional way. At the end it is a night but It doesn’t look as a night. The winter beach is also a decomposition of the beach into two elements: ultraviolet and iodine. And at the end, these two projects reinvent some new landscapes and visual spaces.
Diurnisme is a critical answer to the introduction of the street lighting in the city during the 19-century, which was at the origin of one the most important social and political revolution of the urban practice and of the form of the city. The ambition was demiurgic: to make the day during the night. And we live henceforth in this endless artificial day in the city. The street lighting caused new urban typologies (the boulevard for example) but was also the cause of new behaviors, those of the noctambulisme, sauntering the evening on the boulevards,etc. It is an ambition of the same order that I want to produce today but more contemporary, more ambiguous: to create the night during the day. My project is to reinvent a new form of night in the continuous artificial day of the modernity. It is to produce the night during the day, physically. It’s a reversed answer to the perpetual day created by the modernity, Internet and the contemporary globalization, a second perversion. After the “Noctambulisme” I would like to invent the “Diurnisme”, using an orange-yellow bright light which wavelengths, upper than 570 nanometers, are perceived by the body through the melatonin rhythm as a true night. The room becomes a paradox between the visible and the invisible, the visual and the physiological: a night which looks like a bright day.
Winter Beach is a project built mainly upon two factors: A skyline of ultraviolets This, on the one hand, is the installation of solar radiation, the rays we encounter at the seaside, on the beach in summer, which come to us from the sky, but which are also reflected on the water, and thus reach us on the beach as if in duplicate. This is why people tan quicker on the beach than in a city or in the countryside, where the sun’s radiation touching the ground is absorbed and not reflected as it is at sea or in the mountains, on snow. What we are reproducing here is an electromagnetic landscape, a skyline of ultraviolet, a certain quantity of UV-A present on the beach in summer, which we perceive here no longer as something visible, but in a cutaneous way, through a transformation of the skin, through the suntan, in midwinter. It is also this angle of incidence that is developed between the ground, the skyline and our body.
Iodized spindrift Then there is a marine aerosol, a form derived from the sea’s spindrift or spray, a cloud of iodine produced within, which we pick up through breathing and which develops its real forms in the body itself. The space will be hot—around 28oC/82oF, a temperature at which clothes are no longer indispensable, and which occurs in summer at Saint-Nazaire. A bar will serve natural mineral water coming from Saxon, the aforementioned village in the Swiss mountains.
Our winter beach is as much a temporal shift between summer and winter as a shift of scale, from the macroscopic scale of an outdoor seaside landscape, complete with sun and sea, to the physiological microscopic scale indoors, complete with iodine and ultraviolet rays. It is a composition of elements whose meaning and use are open-ended and can be freely interpreted by people and groups alike, as shores have been down the ages, somewhere between rejection and desire. The winter beach is presented like a new form of indoor public place with atmospheres made of light, smell, heat and taste—an off-beat form, somewhere between the swimming pool and the exotic restaurant.
Favorite websites? Google, Archicool.com, and Internet Archive where I spend some time searching for cult films such as Carnival of Souls.
Modernity led to uniform, consistent spaces in which the temperature is regulated around 21 degrees. The aim here is to restore diversity to the relation that the body maintains with space, with its temperature, to allow seasonal movement within the house, migrations from downstairs to upstairs, from cold to warm, winter and summer, dressed and undressed. For people to feel comfortable in a heated room there must be equilibrium in the exchange of heat occurring via convection between their bodies and the surrounding air. This equilibrium is of course relative to clothing, from nudity in the bathroom, to the thermal protection of blankets, to light clothing worn in the living room. Today, confronted with the will to economize energy resources, the demand is to set up in each building, and even each room, a precisely calculated thermal capacity in order to expend only the energy that is strictly necessary.
Instead of warming all the space at the good temperature around 20°C, we propose to create in the house two sources of heat, like two different thermal poles creating a thermodynamic tension inside the all house: one pole is cold at 15 °C and situated in the upper layers of air of the house. The opposite pole is warm, at 22°C situated in the lower layers of the space. A movement of air will be generated by this difference of temperatures and positions in the space. With the help of thermal model software, we analyze the variation of temperature and his distribution in all the space and find then places for activities, according to specific temperatures. The project process is thus reversed: a indoor climate is first produced and after, functions are freely chosen anywhere in the space related to the thermal quality required depending of activities, clothes, personal desires. An ecologic and economic gain is obtained at the same time by creating in the whole house a low average of temperature at 18°C instead of the 20°C in a normal heating system.
The floors and the open spaces are therefore designed to follow the form taken by the air in the entire height of the building, in accordance with vertical air movements in relation to temperature, and the functions that are suggested as a result. Next, various functions take their places in an obvious manner on this stratification from the coldest to the warmest.
Two horizontal metal planes are extended at different heights. The lower plane is heated to 22°C, the upper one is cooled to 15°C. Like a miniature Gulf Stream, their position creates a movement of air using the natural phenomenon of convection, in which rising hot air cools on contact with the upper cool sheet and, falling, is then reheated on contact with the hot sheet, thus creating a constant thermal flow, akin to an invisible landscape. What interests us here is not the creation of homogeneous, established spaces, but of a plastic, climatic dynamic, the activation of forces and polarities that generate a landscape of heat. In this case the architecture is literally structured on a current of air, opening up a fluid, airy, atmospheric space. This architecture is based on the construction of meteorology. The shapes of the house will be cut out from the shapes of the thermal movement given by the thermal model. The inhabitant may move around in this invisible landscape between 15°C and 26°C, temperatures at the two extremities of the concept of comfort, and freely choose a climate according to his or her activity, clothing, dietary, sporting or social wishes.
Other architects work that you admire? I admire architects who write theories, who invent new languages, and create new approaches to architecture and the way we think. Aldo Rossi, Robert Venturi, Louis Kahn, Le Corbusier for example. Its not that I agree with them, but I admire the way they modelise a thinking, and have reinvented the elements of architecture. In this moment, Diller and Scofidio of course in New York. The blur building they realized in Swizerland in 2002 is the most important building of this new century by turning wall and floor into fog and humidity, by creating atmosphere rather than space.
Most interesting cultural hot spot? Venice in Italy with the biennale and Paris with the "force de l'Art 02", the new French triennale of contemporary art running currently in the incredible space of the Grand-Palais, I designed the museography of this exhibition showing beautiful work of talented artists like Boris Achour or Guillaume Leblon.