The function of a building is just one of many things an architect has to think about when designing
From a layman’s perspective, the business of architecture resonates with grandeur. The word calls to mind grand designs and an intellectual flair, but as Marek Obtulovič tells it, these are images conjured up by the egomaniac, who exists in every profession after all. This desire to distinguish oneself and leave one’s mark on the planet (something a building certainly can achieve) is a hindrance to the higher calling of the chief builder, that is to say to create the best possible housing for an environment, whether that be work, leisure or a blend of both.
Buildings are more than a convenience, they are the locus of most of our activities. We spend more time indoors than outdoors and, as such, it is necessary to treat these spaces with special interest. Opening up a room brings light, interior modelling lends flow and movement to the space and an exterior design lends a face to the construction. This whole, a creation purpose-built for humans should however work in harmony with the outside world, insists Marek.
For him, the work of an architect is similar to a conductor. This is not meant as a boast but to make me understand that harmony is at the heart of a successful project. As many instruments must bend and unify into coherence, so must a building be holistic in character, its individual components working together to form something that feels like a whole to those who occupy the space.
To Marek, architecture is, first and foremost, work in creating an atmosphere. The building blocks of the profession, the sketches, lines, calculations and myriad other tasks are certainly important; they are the constituent parts, the practical parts of the product, but the essence of the final creation lies in the effect it has on those who pass through its rooms. This, he insists, is the most important consideration for his work: How will people feel when they see and experience it. This effect is often unconscious. Few people lend particular attention to the details that bring a room to life, but then that means he has done his job right. The point is not to remind people of the architect’s agency but to create a seamless and satisfying space.
Beyond purely professional motivations, there is an evident philosophical attraction to his work that drives Marek. “If you don’t love it you can’t do it,” he explains, citing the arduous studies needed to break into this world and the subsequent workload that comes with running one’s own architectural firm, “I’m frustrated every day.” However, it is this personal connection that keeps him working. His work is often unfulfilled, that is to say that many projects and ideas never make it to construction. How could they? Architecture, like cinema, is a medium that demands huge financial investment. Andre Tarkovsky said that cinema was the saddest art form precisely because of the money required to make even a minor project. That was in the 1960s and now you can actually string together a reasonable film on any budget (see Tangerine shot entirely on iPhone 5ses), but there’s no such luck for the architect. Melding stone, metal and glassware is an expensive business and one that frustrates the architect. Painters can paint all they want but the ideas of the architect rarely make it beyond a fetal stage.
Despite this drawback, Marek sketches prodigiously. It reveals one’s inner character, he explains. From one sketch to another, he can read different aspects of a person’s personality simply by looking at sketches. A pattern emerges from one’s ideas and the designs one conjures up, our likes and dislikes and our aesthetic preferences end up displayed black on white. If this practice is an extension of the mind then, it also has a therapeutic quality. Marek’s work may not always reach full bloom but that is not to say that the work is for nothing. It educates him about himself on one level and on another, more practical, level it serves to improve technique.
An important side of this job is mood curation. When we describe a building we describe a sort of organism. A room breathes, it can be bright, warm, inviting. This is the terminology of sensation because that’s how we experience it. A room can open us up and be a source of comfort. Conversely, it can make us feel claustrophobic and constricted. These are not the result of purely physical parameters; a large room can feel small, and a small room can feel large. The architect’s job is to ask themselves these questions and find a solution, albeit within the remit of the finances at his disposal, the design desires of the company making the building and the possibilities afforded by the location. It seems like a lot to process.
Buildings are man’s creation for man. Inside we are shielded from the adverse effects of the outside world to the point where we can become oblivious to them. Within four walls the seasons don’t change, light is always provided and, best of all, we can store food. This dislocation from the real world is strange and unnatural but it makes life more comfortable. Over the millennia we have withdrawn further and further from the arduous outdoor life and retreated into dry, heated, habitable pockets. For Marek that time is over. He wants to bring nature back into our lives by ushering it in through the front door. “I want to help society, our cities and the environment,” he explains. To that end, his dream is to make buildings that work around nature and even incorporate it. Pollution and the damage to the environment are dissonance to Marek and it’s time to find some harmony.
Marek is an architect living and working in Hanoi, though he occasionally darts back to his native Czech Republic. Before starting his own architecture studio, ODDO Architects, with his wife Mai Lan Chi he worked at the prestigious Vo Trong Nghia Architects.
Images Provided by Marek Obtulovič