Studio Tour: A Conversation with Architects Christoph Hesse in their Berlin Workspace
There’s so much more to know about architects and their projects when you start to discover the stories behind their work. When you know where and how they get their inspiration from and how an idea becomes a reality that you can touch, feel and experience, you have a better idea of why the project ended the way it did. .
With the photographer Marc Goodwin, as part of his Atlas of Architectural Atmospheres project this time in the city of Berlin, we had the opportunity to meet the German architect Christoph Hesse, from Christoph Hesse Architects, based in Korbach and Berlin, and we talked about all those things that make up his idea of architecture and his work. Meeting a creator on his own workspace is also an added value; we walked through different projects while looking at the physical models and the narrative of his work became a beautiful story about a place, a country town in Germany, its people and their lives, and a sustainable future in nature.
Looking through the firm’s work, one immediately grasps the sensitivity and thoughtful intentions put into each project. The most important approach to design and their projects in Christoph’s office lies deep in the spirit of the community, always ready to experiment with new things and put them into action, by continually testing and doing. They like to think of projects that somehow trigger a construction process in a different way and consider new perspectives, thinking outside the box. The integration of a collaborative process with naturally creative people from different trades and skills, a search for a deep identity, and a green and self-sufficient construction are all present in their work.
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One of the most representative projects that encompass these ideas is Open-minded spaces, a series of pavilions and installations in the German town of Medebach, which are intended as spaces for gathering, reflection and contemplation within the community. The need to reconnect people, environment and architecture is something almost tangible throughout the design and construction process of Christoph Hesse Architects.
First of all, we would like to know what are your main sources of inspiration? What are these things that spark ideas for your architectural projects?
On the one hand, I draw my inspiration from the experimental and progressive character of my rural home region in the Sauerland highlands of Germany. I also enjoy working with people from very different professions, such as artists, farmers, sociologists, artisans and industrial workers. It goes very well with the idea that we like to create public spaces where people can meet, exchange thoughts and ideas, and above all, develop new ideas for the future. This is why we believe in putting the common good before the individual good, and why communication and collaboration between different social groups is so important to us and crucial in all our projects.
On a different note, as we mostly work in the countryside, we are inspired by a spiritual resonance between the natural landscape and the people within it. The agricultural way of thinking in cycles is deeply rooted in my DNA. The offerings we receive from the earth and what we produce must be balanced against place and nature, which means that the materials and energy we use in our projects must also be regenerated and recycled.
Which design process is generally best for you?
I usually feel something growing in my soul, and not so much in my mind. Usually when I’m in my studio over the weekend, I’m hands-on experimenting and creating concept models and atmosphere models that may or may not later translate into a built project. I try to think and design from different perspectives, both individual and collective. Later, I like to discuss these ideas with my family and friends. My wife, children, colleagues, clients and guests all give me additional ideas that I bring to the design in one way or another.
The models that I create while developing the projects then live with me for a while, but I don’t work on them. I just let them sit there and check to see if there’s a strong resonance between me and the models, trying to see if the connection strengthens or dissuades over time.
If these ideas are later translated into a project, I am nevertheless always interested in a certain uncontrollability, to leave a certain openness and freedom for new developments within the project. I like when things are unfinished and leave room for speculation, open interpretation and new ideas.
I like the concept of leaving my projects “unfinished” in a way that leaves room for deeper user connections over time. Leaving space for other developments results in flexible space, but at the same time it also gives the project a sense of long-term sustainability.
After this careful and thoughtful process, what is your approach for the next steps?
Once the project is underway, we always work in close interaction with customers, local users and the craftsmen who will collaborate in the construction. We actively involve people, not only in the design but also in the construction process.
Our projects create atmospheric places to reach people on an emotional level. This often leads to generating an intuitive impulse to action in people, as in the case of Open Mind Places, where all facilities were built with the local community. This makes the construction stage enjoyable, not only because of the collaboration but also because it makes users feel a sense of belonging to the built work once it is placed on the community.
Our goal is to help reconnect the built, natural and social environment.
Regarding materiality, we always integrate natural and recycled materials from the start of the project and there is a lot of experimentation with the material itself. Using available resources ensures that the people building will manage the construction techniques, and of course is a sustainable approach to delivering the project.