Respected Professor Architect Valerio Olgiati,
Your Excellency Ambassador Arthur Mattli,
Honoured professors, esteemed architects, colleagues and students,
It is my honour today to give the Laudatio in this very moment that we are all part of: an outstanding encounter; from the early ‘80s when I began my studies in architecture, following the years of my practice and teaching, I can count of the fingers of one hand similar events hosted by our University. With this look-back and after the conference held by the architect and professor Valerio Olgiati, I assert that we are now hosting simply exceptional architecture.
And this is not just the character of Valerio Olgiati’s architecture, but the whole of a very especial, particular personality.
Whilst writing and scrolling through my mind what contribution Valerio Olgiati had – even from a long distance – to my student’s formation, to me as a teacher, it was a really difficult task for me to decide how to make this Laudatio. I often felt the need to deviate from a standard presentation, as nothing complied with standards or any other architectural experience.
But just a few general things I must begin with:
Born in 1958, Valerio Olgiati studied architecture at ETH Zürich.
Having lived and worked first in Zürich and later in Los Angeles for some years, in 1996 he opened his own practice in Zürich and since 2008 with his wife Tamara Olgiati in Flims.
Among the most important buildings of Valerio Olgiati are the phantomatic Yellow House, House for a Musician (Atelier Bardill) in Scharans, The School of Paspels, The Plantahof Auditorium in Landquart, The National Park Visitors’ Center in Zernez, Residential Building Zug, Torre San Felipe Lima, Pearling Path Visitor and Experience Center in the Kingdom of Bahrain, Villa Além in Alentejo.
His work received awarded recognition; among others he has been awarded the German Architecture Prize Appreciation Honor, four times the prize for the ‘Best Building in Switzerland’, the Swiss Concrete Award for the School in Paspels, House K+N, Atelier Bardill and Swiss National Park’s Visitor Center; hard to mention them all.
As a guest professor he has taught at ETH Zürich, at AA London and at Cornell University, New York. In 2009 he has held the Kenzo Tange Chair at Harvard University, Cambridge. Since 2002 he has been and still is a full professor at the Accademia di Architettura Mendrisio at the Università della Svizzera Italiana.
I will now get back to what I previously described as my quest for the Laudatio.
Not because of the character of Valerio Olgiati’s architecture but of the position and ideas held and opened as a statement that stroked the commonly accepted / vehiculated assumptions on how architecture is being made.
Through successive periods in his work, the architectural language expression changed, balanced into the induced contradiction from identifying the most banal expression with the doubt this cannot possibly be it, engaging the viewer’s or visitor’s minds, intellectually, on a complex realm on each of Valerio Olgiati’s buildings.
“My architecture is not symbolic of something, and it does not stand in reference to something else other than itself. So, yes, I do not believe in anything. I could say that superstructure for my architecture is nothing more and nothing less than the significance of the architectural idea of a building.”
This, together with the declaration of “designing nothing” and countered with the repeated „architecture is about ideas,” gives the natural and immediate recognition of whom we are celebrating this evening.
Among the most influential and clarifying is the confessive conversation with Markus Breitschmid on the “Significance of the Idea in the Architecture of Valerio Olgiati.” A view from outside onto himself that seems to foster a need to discontinue traditions, contradictory failing into leaving traditions behind, but succeeding to look at them free from social conventions, a-historically, just as pure architecture, ripped out of time and context.
There stands the affirmation that architecture is principally not contextual, but made out of itself, an architecture that is derived from a basic typology, governed by invention standing at the outset; an invention is its origin, the invention of a certain order that is not based on contextual motifs. What it reveals is distilling the shape of the archetypal house to the degree in which it seems banal and at the same time cryptic, coded.
An architecture based on ideas; an architecture of dividing based on one idea. The buildings of Valerio Olgiati reach their magnificence by means of being completely coherent according to the building’s idea. As he put it, “the architectural idea is the philosophy and the figurative is the narrative of my architecture.”
This Laudatio would not be complete without mentioning the thesis of Non-Referential Architecture, which implies a future oriented image of the architect.
“We live in a non-referential world. Therefore, architecture must be non-referential.” Instead of taking recourse to the extra-architectural to imbue
buildings with sense, no other choice is left than the purely architectonic; just buildings themselves can be sense-making. I say this with admiration for the online classes I have witnessed in the pandemic years at the Olgiati Studio, for the arguments of the students, docenti or invited architects that did not grasp the judgements on any criteria of non-architectonic approaches – functional, economic, sociologic, politic – but on experiencing the form as sense-making.
The exposed concept of Non-Referential Architecture is based on five principles, that I briefly mention: 1. Experience Of Space – architects should create the experience of space with intention; 2. Oneness – understanding the building as a system, as unity; 3. Newness (not fashionable, but ingenious), that engages people creatively; 4. Construction – one appropriate, unique, dedicated material; 5. Contradiction – the disruption that stimulates creativity in the people dealing with that difference; 6. Order – as control and limits of the area of possibilities; 7. Sense-making – more than comprehensible, it adds something concrete about and in the life of a person. This is the impact of Valerio Olgiati’s works, adding this true cultural value = bringing movement into society!
A sensitive approach in understanding the above mentioned is by all means sneaking into the “Iconographic Autobiography” of Valerio Olgiati, which I invite you all to do, if you have not already. There are important images that have a special defining significance, accompanied or not by a commentary, therefore with or without a rational explanation of what is hoovering somehow his whole work, his architecture. An ideational inventory that, following his pedagogy, introduces thinking in the occurrence of the idea.
In a world where students – and, let us admit it, some teachers – fill designing projects they can present for hours, stereotypical analysis with excessive obsolete explanation, Valerio Olgiati influenced generations of students with his method of teaching, abandoning the senseless formal gestures and leading the idea, their idea, that they can proudly defend and debate on.
In the name of UAUIM, of the architects, professors, and students who rushed to be here today, I respectfully express our admiration for the whole of your work and personality. Thank you, professor!
Iulia Stanciu has been an architect since 1987, she founded and is an associate at the STARH architecture office since 1996, she is a doctor in architecture and a professor at the Ion Mincu University of Architecture and Urbanism in Bucharest since 1992.
The office’s works were awarded at the architecture biennials and annuals 1996, 1998, 2000, 2004, 2008, 2013, 2014, 2018, they were nominated 4 times for the Mies Van de Rohe award, this year reaching the shortlist with the work of restoration of the Office of the Bucharest OAR Branch (1st competition prize). The projects have been published in numerous specialized magazines, being among the few Romanian offices present in The Phaidon Atlas of 21st Century World Architecture.
She was and is part of the governing councils of the Order of Architects (vice-president 2016-2018 term), of the Regional commission of historical monuments Bucharest, Giurgiu Ilfov (2016-2018). She is the president of the National Commission for Granting the Signature Right of the Order of Architects from Romania.