Crystal Talk
Text: Katrin VoermanekPhotos: David Franck, Torsten Seidel, Torchondo


Profil jmayerh

J. MAYER H. Architekten has reached an exciting stage in its development: Ten years ago still a Berlin one-man show, it now employs 17 members of staff. To date the list of high-rise projects the company had completed was exceedingly small – as opposed to the documented art projects, installations, design objects, prizes and publications. Previously the only structure to serve as a reference was the municipal building in Ostfildern near Stuttgart, which opened in 2001. As such Jürgen Mayer H. (who was born in 1965 and hence by normal standards will be a “young architect” for some time to come) was for years a highly promising newcomer and ray of hope. He became more and more well known, but following the municipal building really proving himself a second time was still to come.

“One-hit wonders” are not only restricted to the music industry, you get them in architecture as well. Would the spatial ideas and unique formal language one was familiar with as renderings from publications and through success in competitions stand up to reality? Would they complete the step to three-dimensionality and be able to be transformed into good architecture? What would happen if nothing were to follow the prize-winning first work?

The bar had been set very high. And following the opening of the refectory in Karlsruhe this spring, it is clear that the success story is set to continue. The edifice, like the municipal building a contract landed on the back of a competition – has featured in publications any number of times, and among experts was certainly the topic of heated debate. Not everyone finds everything good about this project, in some cases it is the details, in others the strange color, and in others again the material concept that people find objectionable. There is no question, however, that it represents a considerable contribution to architecture, that it is a statement worth discussing. The innovative structure has also already won one prize for constructions in wood, and it will not be the last. And the MoMA in New York has included a concept model in its collection.

The success of the refectory, the “second work” alone would make 2007 a special year for Jürgen Mayer H. However, there are now also five additional projects on the go all at once: the extension of “Danfoss Universe”, a natural science and technology amusement park in Nordborg, Denmark, a large office building for Cogiton on the banks of the Alster in Hamburg, a villa near Stuttgart, and a penthouse in the Mitte district of Berlin, both for private developers, and finally the conversion of Galerie Kicken in Berlin. As such, more examples of completed architecture are laying themselves open to criticism, meaning that that the novice status is well and truly a thing of the past.

For Jürgen Mayer H. having fun building always seems to have something to do with having “fun with the developer”. He certainly speaks of the personal relationship between the architect and the developer conspicuously often, and of how important it is that they get on, that there is a common basis, a similar interest in the potential in a project. What he wants is the willingness for architecture to be regarded as adventure. If there is agreement on that and the chemistry is right, there is no stopping him: “If the developers are the right ones for the job I take on any contract.”

It will be interesting to see what our conversation reveals about an architect with the courage to use patterns. How does he achieve the fine balance between art and architecture, between furniture design and teaching architecture? At the same time as the finishing touches are being put to the new buildings he is designing new objects for Bisazza, as well as special edition furniture for Vitra, which is to be presented in June this year. On top of which, Mayer H. is visiting professor at the prestigious Columbia University in New York.

What will he be prepared to divulge – apart from professional admiration for the Gedächtniskirche ensemble in Berlin and Erich Mendelsohn’s Schocken department store (which, he says, convinced him to become an architect)? In younger years he studied Tadao Ando’s layouts so long that he knew them off by heart. That would seem to just about still fit the bill. On the other hand though, the fact that he admits to having a “small soft spot” for Mario Botta if anything comes across as exotic to younger architects and fans of soft Blubber shapes. In Jürgen Mayer H., however, we are dealing with a trendsetter, so let’s not forget that. And not be surprised if precisely the early work of the master from Ticino’s geometric stringency and striped masonry is soon referenced and honored once again in unexpected places.