Mr Teherani, you are considered an exponent of contemporary art, as your progressive architecture constantly underlines. Did you have a special talent with materials in your childhood; did you experiment a lot?
I could always draw well. I remember doing portraits at six or seven that were indistinguishable from the original. That’s all really. I dreamed a lot and was fairly creative. I suppose I knew the field of work that would suit me best.
Do you have to be a good observer?
Oh yes. You have to be able to see things that others perhaps miss first time round and be able to project them into the future; know how something’s going to look in the end.
What culture has influenced you most?
The biggest influence has always been life itself - anything and everything that affects me. I often mingle with people, observe what’s going on, what might be going on tomorrow, what the younger or older generations are doing. And of course, what’s happening in the rest of the world. I try to capture in my buildings everything that leaves an impression on me. The holistic is very important for me. A building has to work functionally, economically and ecologically. But if it can also create an identity for itself or arouse emotions in people, then I have achieved my goal.
Has any epoch in the history of architecture left a particular impression on you, and still perhaps influences you today?
I suppose we are rooted in the classic-modern and then overlay our own feelings and impressions on that.
But do you also try to develop this idea by including factors currently shaping society?
Yes. Each building is a new challenge. Each time we go back to the drawing board. The Unterföhring project is a clear example. The site we had to build on was basically an open field. What do you do with an open field? I became enthusiastic, however, on learning that our client had a solid corporate culture and high expectations. They were already located in a wonderful building nestling on the fringe of Munich’s English Garden, a stark contrast to the flat open space in Unterföhring. On the flight back, I knew my only hope of getting the staff to accept the move to Unterföhring would be to relocate some of this park ambience. We had to create a building surrounded by a park landscape and include some of the Sederanger ambience in Unterföhring. But general concepts always have to find expression in particular design features.
What about the relationship between form and function? Does function come before form?
The most important thing for us is function. Form is a product of function. There’s no function that cannot be enclosed in a beautiful form. That’s why we aren’t afraid of tough spatial requirements. What you see here is one such example. A whole host of spatial requirements have been incorporated. The client required a layout with corner “hubs” and four units leading from each hub. We simply designed a customised product following the specifications of space, site, context and Corporate Image.
Ecological construction is especially important for you, isn’t it?
We live in an age of depleting natural resources. In 40 - 50 years, the fossil fuels just won’t be there. So low-energy houses are a must right now since they must function in 20–30 years’ time.
Does your architecture provide a positive thrust for society as a whole?
I hope so. We have considerable responsibility as architects. I sit down, and in the space of two weeks, I design a building people are going to spend 80% of their lives in. So, yes, there is a huge amount of responsibility. When I design something, I make sure that even the most remote room is somewhere I wouldn’t mind working in myself. It’s not a question of picking out the highlights, rather the rooms. Take this room on the ground floor; it’s north-facing, so not the best of positions. But if you stand here and look out, you get great views. I’d move in here straight away. That’s the most important thing. People are what matters. Then comes the rest.
So architecture can spur good performance?
Yes, I want people to feel good about driving to this building in the morning. I want them to identify with it. And they have since the planning phase. The company made sure its employees were kept informed of building development. Their corporate culture and architecture go hand in hand. The previous headquarters of Bayerische Rück - now Swiss Re Germany – were also fantastic, but they don’t rest on their laurels, always looking to re-think even what has been done well in the past. I think this approach is reflected in the new building.
And how, specifically, is Swiss Re’s Corporate Image reflected in the new offices?
This is a very “open” democratic building. Even if the first impression might be one of isolation - hiding behind the huge pergola structure. But the pergola is very porous, a bit like a dress you can peep under if you wish. From the inside, the outdoors feel very close, albeit filtered. Up in the units, for instance, you can see what’s happening outside, but it’s all filtered by the Virginia creeper growing across the pergola. You can look out for about 30 - 40 metres, then you meet a wall of green. The outside areas and inner gardens, although identical in shape, are set at different angles. This sets boundaries to free space which - while essentially empty - can still be experienced as something positive. The open areas - whether underneath the units, between the pergola and the building, or in the inner courtyard - are spatial volumes that add together, exist visually, but are not built upon. There’s quite a lot of tension there. And in symbiosis with the landscape design, this impression of space provides a truly unique experience. Normally, you have a building surrounded by green plants. Here, you have greenery at all levels. It grows around the building, up the building, and from the second floor it seems to be suspended in mid-air. It really is an holistic work of art.
What are your favourite building materials?
Of course, that depends on where you’re building. Here, we simply said, “we have a green field, so let’s project the green aspect into a third dimension and the result won’t be so alien. Of course, we like contrasting materials. For example, we have placed concrete columns alongside a wall of glass, with aluminium highlights to add a technological note. At the moment we are trying to introduce more warmth into all this technology by inserting wood between the aluminium tiles.
How will the philosophy of architecture change in this millennium?
Ecology will arrive in a big way. Houses will use much less energy and make much more use of natural resources like sun and wind. The technology needed to do this will, of course, be an integral part of new building design. Then there’s the open scale - anything is possible, everything is very flexible. Buildings will have to do all that. Buildings that are very static and limited will have many more problems than those that genuinely offer an open scale.
Rather like the Style movement in the Bauhaus tradition?
They were the pioneers - the first to free themselves from the ornate ballast of Art Nouveau, the first to bring light into space. Space was staged like a theatrical production, the first time that architecture was truly liberated. This will continue thanks to the incredible progress technology has made available. There are new materials, such as this triple-glazing with a heat transition coefficient of 0.8 compared to 0.4 or 0.5 in the past.
Will closer contact with nature in the office spur greater creativity?
Yes, thoughts must be allowed to wander to become creative. We bring the outside in and take the inside out. A form of communication is emerging between what goes on around the building and what exists inside. The passer-by immediately enters into communication with it because he or she sees light, people, greenery – things you might not expect to see. No-one will just walk past and ignore the building. It provokes a response.