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Structures from space: Philippe Rahm

INTERVIEW. Sat, Nov 30 sees the opening of Philippe Rahm's "Constructed Atmospheres" at Architektur Galerie. The Swiss architect rethinks architecture with meteorology in mind.

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Photo by Michel Legendre/CCA

Just before the launch of Philippe Rahm’s exhibition on “Constructed Atmospheres” in Architektur Galerie Berlin, the Swiss architect speaks about rethinking architecture with meteorology in mind.

Philippe Rahm is one of many forward-thinking architects pushing architecture beyond the boundaries of geometry of forms. Yet he stands out for his unique meteorological approach to architecture, which puts climate issues at the centre. For example, for the Swiss pavilion at the 2002 Venice Architecture Biennale, he created a physiological space made of Plexiglas floor panels in an attempt to reproduce an alpine climate. For Aaron Betsky’s 2008 Biennale manifesto, he came up with a prototype for Gulf Stream convergence of temperatures by setting two light panels of different temperatures at different levels, creating a thermal flow.

Up to now he’s realised mostly exhibition spaces and private spaces, but last year Rahm’s practice won an important competition for the creation of a new urban park in Taichung, Taiwan. The construction starts at the beginning of January.

What is ‘meteorological architecture’ all about?

The main goal of architecture is to work with climatic elements that define the quality of the space. The architecture target is not the solid element anymore. It’s more the void, the emptiness. And so as an architect you define the emptiness, the quality of the space itself and the space is light, heat, temperature, humidity, pressure. It’s all those climatic elements that are the real tools for architecture.

What are the artistic sources of your inspiration?

My work has been inspired by the impressionist paintings of Claude Monet and Georges Seurat. On their paintings there is this decomposition of the world into small chemical and light particles. And I like this microscopic vision of things. When I am working on a project I always try to find some microscopic element in the quality of a city, of a space, and to decompose the reality into small elements and then use those small elements to recompose a new reality. Another source of inspiration was spectral music created during the 1970s by Gerard Grisey and Tristan Murail. They had that same idea of decomposing the sound into frequencies and then recomposing music made of these small components.

What makes your approach different from that of your predecessors?

Architects have only recently discovered the void. It’s not only air, with air itself being composed of different gases. It’s also light, temperature, etc. Modernism reduced the importance of working with climatic elements and focused on the shape of the building. Me, I reverse this. The envelope, the solid, is a secondary consequence from the work on the space and the atmosphere – the temperature, the chemical qualities of the air. Traditionally we’d say that form follows function, but here form follows climate. First you design the climate. And only then comes the materiality of the walls.

Philippe Rahm – Constructed Atmospheres Nov 30 – Dec 14 | Architektur Galerie Berlin, Karl-Marx- Allee 96, Friedrichshain, U-Bhf Weberwiese, Tue-Fri 14-19, Sat 12-16

Originally published in issue #121, November 2013.