Two Minutes With // Magma Architecture

Hello! Today’s interview is with Magma Architecture, of Berlin, Germany. Magma Architecture attracted our attention because of their interesting experiences with tensile structure. Central to their design philosophy is the use of complex geometric forms; these generate a spatial dynamic, which they feel better articulates the heterogeneity of our cities and global culture. They seek to be part of a new paradigm within architecture — one that is expressionistic, rooted in non-linear form making, facilitated by new materiality and cutting edge technologies. Check out their website to see more.

Images courtesy of Magma Architecture.

VT: Your work shows a wide array of materials, including tensile structure. At what point of the conceptual form development for the 2012 Olympic Shooting Venue were the materials considered?

MA: We knew from the start that the buildings would not just be temporary they would also have to be mobile — meaning demountable and relocatable to a different location. We knew from our previous work that membranes are ideal to fulfill this requirement. They are light-weight, can be fixed so they can be demounted and are easy to transport and store. In addition, the sustainability policy of the Olympic Delivery Authority demanded that all parts of the buildings had to be “reduced, reused or recycled” in the order of appearance. This meant that every single piece of the building was tested: could we build the structure without it and simply omit it? Could the parts be disassembled and reused as they are? Or, if the first two are not possible, can they be recycled? All materials had to match these requirements with no exception. We had not worked with modular steel structures before, but we were immediately convinced that they were best suited to ensure that the structure would be reused. We decided when we pitched for the project that it we would suggest a tensile structure on a modular framework. To win the bid we prepared some sketches of the design and the construction methods; starting out, we did have several options for the outer geometry of the membrane. The decision for the white curved membrane with the colorful dots was made immediately after we won the bid. The geometry was questioned from many angles during the design process, and we were asked to produce various reports to investigate other options, but the end result perfectly resembles our first renderings.

VT: When speaking about the 2012 Olympic Shooting Venue, there appears to be a dynamic relationship between the interior and exterior spaces. Is this a product of color, form, and light, or is this relationship provoked by spatial connectivity? Can you explain any concepts that were used in the development of this relationship?

MA: The feeling of spatial connectivity was essential to enhance the experience of cross cultural community that Olympic Games are all about. We always wanted the inner spaces to connect with those of the exteriors. We knew the buildings would only be used in daytime and we wanted them to feel light and airy — creating the uplifting spirit of an outing to the countryside. From the start we were very keen to create a semi-transparent enclosure in which you from inside can hear the rain or sense when the sun disappears behind a cloud. Unfortunately with the finals range we had to abandon the idea because of broadcasting requirements not to mix daylight and artificial light, but the two prequalification ranges work well in this respect. There is another aspect of spatial connectivity which does not transfer visually: when you are standing on the campus outside the buildings you can hear the shooting and cheering from within. The sound evokes a pleasant anticipation of the event to come. There is an acoustic connectivity you can never achieve with a solid building. When visiting the Games we were very satisfied with this communal feeling created by the material surfaces of the buildings. It works.

VT: Some of your work has to do with disassembly and mobility, namely pPod. What was the reasoning for making this structure mobile?

MA: Our client for the pPod was the Horse and Bamboo Theatre Group. The name of the theatre group derived from their travelling: in summer they would hit the road with a horse carriage and perform in all the villages they came through. They went all over Europe that way, even in the Eastern countries, until the roads became too crowded with cars and their voyage was no longer safe and comfortable. For many years they performed in a permanent venue in Waterfoot until they decided to reinvent the travelling theatre in a contemporary version. Our task was to develop a structure that could be stored in a van, set up on any soft or hard surface, and could be put together by two actors in half a day. The aluminum rods are all different, but a color coding helps to put them together in the right order. The first time assembling took an entire day, but with some practice the team reached the timing goal.

VT: What are the transportation challenges of this type of design?

MA: The challenge with mobile structures is to foresee the possible restrictions of future locations without knowing them. These restrictions can be spatial, but they can also relate to the ground the structure is standing on, there can be variations between building regulations in different countries or other climatic situations. There is also a challenge to the design: we use our designs to communicate and evoke certain visitor experiences. It can be difficult to foresee how people from different countries will interpret our spaces and how they will interact with them. Another challenge on an organizational level: if mobile structures are designed specifically for large scale events it is often planned to reuse them in another location in the future. Our experience shows that it is not enough just to state that this is the plan, it is a real job to find a suitable new event and location. Ideally someone would work on the relocation with the same effort that is put into creating the buildings. The reality is that usually everyone is so busy making the first event happen that the question where the buildings can go after the event is tackled too late. Withour society becoming increasingly mobile and visitor numbers of large events sky rocketing we strongly believe there is a huge potential in creating mobile buildings that move from one event to the next. This would be a truly sustainable and forward-looking solution for our cities of tomorrow.