In just a few weeks, Bucharest will welcome Tony Fretton and Jonathan Sergison, both set to deliver lectures as part of Mazzocchioo.Talks#9. Tony Fretton will travel from his hometown of London, where he leads Tony Fretton Architects and is actively engaged in teaching and lecturing, including his recent series of nine in-depth discussions on significant buildings of the past as part of the Architecture Foundation’s 100-day studio. Jonathan Sergison, based in Zurich, is currently in Japan, in Tokyo and Kyoto, participating in a joint studio organized by Kyoto Institute of Technology and Academy of Architecture, USI Mendrisio. This 9th edition of Mazzocchioo magazine anticipates this important event for our architectural and cultural community.
Starting this year, Mzch.Talks’ intention is to host two architects from the same country. We are deeply honored that Tony Fretton and Jonathan Sergison have graciously accepted our invitation. This initiative aligns with the growing tradition at UAUIM, where the initial years of study emphasize architecture as an integral part of the existing urban framework, valuing the city's architectural heritage, and placing significant emphasis on both individual and collective housing.
Our interest lies not only in our guests' projects but also in delving into their architectural passions and obsessions. We aim to paint a vivid picture of their professional environments, exploring what it means to be an architect in England and the other countries where they have worked and taught. Additionally, we are keen to hear about their formative years, the influential personalities who shaped their perspectives, and other related aspects.
Furthermore, we are interested in the interwoven discourse between Tony Fretton and Jonathan Sergison, a dialogue that has spanned four decades. We are eager to capture the essence of their architectural world, which encompasses not only their creations but also their friendships, intellectual debates, and the diverse array of ideas that have shaped their remarkable careers.
Of course, inviting them to Bucharest has also been a subjective act based on a deep admiration of their personal trajectories and their built and unbuilt projects.
I remember discovering for the first time the work of Sergison Bates: the mirrored houses from Stevenage were shown into a magazine that dealt with the theme of Memory. It was somewhere in the beginning of the 2000s’. I kept watching the image that showed the houses and spoke of the suburb neighborhood. It brought to mind a folded watercolor made by a child; yet, the colors of the house are different, opposite even. The photography was so powerful, conveyinga sense of familiarity and understanding about the house, even without feeling the need to see the plans. You could simply imagine everything – its interiors, the way of life that unfolded inside the two houses;even the neighborhood’s atmosphere.
A more recent project: Hampstead Mansion block. The plan, as a radical blueprint of the project, contains spatial promises, evoking the theoretical dimensions in such a clear and powerful way: urban life always takes place in a room, a room among other rooms (bringing to mind Kahn’s society of rooms), projected onto the rich landscape of the city. Each room is distinct, atypical, as it seeks its unique spatiality, light, and depth. Yet, the essence of each room finds its purpose in the harmonious unity of all spaces coming together. The beauty and strength of the sequence of rooms, experiencing the interior enfilade that takes the inhabitant from core to façade - resonates to the elegant tracesof the surroundings. The project shows that when an architectural idea is radical, it can grow free of strict formal determinations.
Tony Fretton's projects offer profound lessons in architecture, and among them, two have always stood out to me: The Lisson Gallery, in London, is composed of two buildings originally planned to have separate entrances, to preserve their unique characters, with the point where they connected serving as a delightful surprise. This arrangement has gradually disappeared over time, as the two have merged into a single structure. The bigger, newer one, built in 1992, renders visible much of the set of Tony Fretton’s architectural convictions: ”making architecture that constructs a positive and operable realism from the circumstancesof the project and conditions of the modern world, and offers it astransformative experience”. In a post-postmodern world, when architecture was undergoing a process of formal research, focusing on the individual object, the Lisson Gallery puts into place a series of small, finite plateaus for the program to find its own way of being while opening out towards the city landscape. This is a precise intellectual stance, extremely rich in reaffirming the essence of architecture that lies in its fundamental relation with the city.
The Red House, built almost 20 years later, is located in London, in an area of architectural and historical significance. The sequence of rooms is breathtaking: first, directly from the sidewalk, you open a door and discover a small courtyard with a tree, that leads to the entrance hall whose floor drawing recalls the historic neighborhood; you can either move towards the domestic living spaces opening onto a luscious garden in the back, or ascend to the piano nobile into the lounge: a noble space, opening on three facades towards the city. Its purpose finds expression in architectural features, such as the beautiful interplay of scale between a domestic door and a slightly out-of-scale pair of bay windows. Above, the bedrooms are arranged around a magnificent, intimate roof garden. The facades are adorned with red French limestone, and the windows are framed in bronze.
Every project by Sergison Bates reflects a deliberate approach to working with the existing city, embracing its built heritage and fostering a distinct urban imagination. Their work, from my perspective, didn't demand self-contained completeness. Instead, it skillfully nurtured and enriched the sense of place, contributing to the urban fabric in a masterful way.
The project embodies Tony Fretton’s vision of how a new building can harmoniously coexist with the past, employing typology, materiality, scale, vertical structure, and the relationship between the parts and the whole; all these are employed to poetically translate the program into space.
Having invited Tony and Jonathan together is no coincidence. Jonathan has previously talked about the important role Tony has played in his formation as a young architect, naming him as his mentor. They met, for the first time, in the eighties, when Jonathan applied to the AA and had an interview with, among others, Tony Fretton. “He left a very strong impression on me, so much so that I felt that if he was an example of what an architect could be, I wanted to be an architect too.” Later on, Jonathan worked in Tony’s office; then, at the encouragement of Tony Fretton, Jonathan instigated a series of informal meetings to discuss architecture, inviting some of the most young, interesting architects of the moment: Stephen Bates, Tony Fretton, Adam Caruso, Jonathan Woolf, Mark Pimlott, Juan Salgado, Ferruccio Izzo, Brad Lachore, Diana Periton, and David Adjaye.
A last note here: both Tony and Jonathan have always acted simultaneously as practicing architects, also as teachers, writers and lecturers. This vast field of interest and dense lifelong activity is of most importance: practice and theory inform each other; the architectural project is entrusted with a much wider relevance: the morality of building the uniqueness of a singular place is strengthened by the act of passing the knowledge on to younger generations and, in doing so, by adding to the general theoretical debate on architecture and the city.
Maybe as a consequence to their double involvement within academia and the professional scene, also as a personal preference and set of beliefs, the works of Tony Fretton and Sergison Bates grow out of the respect for the preexistence of the city, paying attention to the evolving architectural and urban typologies which adapt to various social needs. Their buildings accept this rich modesty of being a part of the urban tissue and do not try to become spectacular just for the sake of standing out in the bizarre precarious contemporary culture that drowns in the short lives of fashionable images. Both their bodies of work resonate to a certain silence of architecture, understanding the ethics of the architectural project that needs to be a part of a bigger construct – the city and its vaster ecosystem. This attitude values the already present built heritage, respects the inhabitants, makes place for future generations and their new, possible uses and interpretations – all these without compromising the very core of our profession and the specific culture of our discipline.
Mazzocchioo.Magazine#9 has been curated with the purpose of anticipating the significance of the upcoming conferences and acknowledging the importance our guests hold within the architectural community in Bucharest. To achieve this, interviews with Jonathan Sergison and Tony Fretton were conducted in July and August 2023 via Zoom. These insightful conversations, orchestrated in collaboration with our guest editor for this issue, Radu Tîrcă, lay the foundation for a comprehensive exploration of their perspectives and contributions.
Additionally, Mzch#9 endeavors to initiate discussions on key themes and theories that are significant to our guests' architectural practices, with a specific focus on heritage preservation and adaptive reuse within the intricate framework of the modern urban landscape's increasing density. In pursuit of this goal, we have invited a diverse group of architects and educators to provide succinct viewpoints related to the theories that align with the essence of our guests' work:
Janina Gosseye, a professor of Building Ideologies in the Department of Architecture in Belgium, sheds a light on the life of buildings as a reservoir of accumulated memories which become significant landmarks, shaping not only individual experiences but also the collective urban life;
Renato Capozzi, a professor in urban composition at the University of Studies of Naples “Federico II”, brings into discussion the case study of the historic center of Naples and the different urban parts that have determined its structure over time;
Mark Pimlott, a designer, artist, writer, and teacher in Holland and U.K., a close friend and collaborator of both Tony and Jonathan, talks about the fundamental importance to the city of the empty space, a space outside the circuit of consumption, one disburdened by obligation;
Luca Ortelli, an EPFL professor with a deep interest in the relationship between architecture and the city within the European cultural landscape, problematizes the limits of re-interpretation of architecture in our days when the practice of dealing with an existing structure is considered positive for the simple fact of having been im¬plemented and beyond the actual results;
Irina Criveanu, an architect, urban planner, teacher and researcher in Bucharest, has shared with us a close look into the unique, real life stories of a typical historical urban island of Bucharest and thus bringing into discussion the theme of cohabitation;
Tudor Elian, a young architect, curator, academic and teacher in Bucharest, talks about two ways of thinking, making and experiencing the city: the planned city and the informal negotiation between private and common landand, in doing so, introduces the maidan of Bucharest, a very particular terrain vague typology that was structural to Bucharest’s way of life in the 18th and 19th centuries and to its landscape, with implications into today’s contemporary city.
We extend our heartfelt gratitude for dedicating their time and passion in responding to our invitation and enriching the discourse surrounding these important architectural concepts.
This issue concludes with a concise excerpt from Radu's Ph.D. thesis, titled "On Continuity and Discontinuity: A Morphological Approach to Bucharest." This in-depth research delves into the evolution of Bucharest's urban fabric at the beginning of and throughout the 20th century. Radu's study particularly focuses on the transformation of large, unused plots within the city's median ring and the processes involved in their redevelopment to accommodate increased density and functionality. His research, aligned with the themes explored by our two guests, illuminates the profound interconnection between architectural typologies shaping urban configuration and the broader, ever-evolving fabric of the city.