Two Minutes With // Marc Koehler

Hello! We’ve been looking forward to releasing today’s interview with Marc Koehler, of Marc Koehler Architects, based in Amsterdam. Marc Koehler Architects’ work is practical but also conceptual, playful — but not ironic. In this interview Marc share’s insight about his firm’s design process, client interactions, and culture. Take a look at their website for more projects. Enjoy!

Images courtesy of Marc Koehler Architects.

VT: Much of your work is built upon the relationship of open public spaces and intimate private spaces. What influences the variability of spatial typologies in your projects?

MK: The client is the main parameter for defining the project approach, and the strategy is the first and most important aspect in our design method. Our strategy always leads to a specific spatial configuration or typology. In order to help the client determine what exactly they need, we analyze their current lifestyle and the possibilities for future adaptations. Often times, they want to create a space that encourages different activities and interactions; we see this as an opportunity to reset the program. We have a specific method called, “ideal day” in which the client is asked to illustrate their ideal day in their ideal house. They describe their program in qualitative terms, rather than quantitative terms. They explain how they like to wake up or how they like to shower; in addition, they speak to their past personal experiences and to their future dreams. From these kinds of memories and dreams, we build a map called the “domestic landscape”; a set of experiences that we would like to integrate into the house. We have to work as a team to analyze the couple’s differences in order to find common ground and compromise in this shared experience. We design using a scenario-based modeling technique in which we provide several iterations where the emphasis is put on a different sort of parameters.

VT: It seems that many of your projects embrace the concept of “smallness” as a design approach. How does this attention to detail, as seen in transformer 1, factor into your large scale projects?

MK: Architecture lies in the identity of the architectural detail — in its DNA. Our attention to detail in our projects follows a strategy to stimulate all human senses. We call this high-definition architecture. All historic architecture works in three parameters: the conceptual power of the project, the sensitivity to the site, and the craftsmanship or precision of the details in which it is constructed. We try to detail the projects to such an extent that you can look at them both from a distance and from up close, and always discover something new. When choosing a dominant material to create a monochromatic appearance, the emphasis is given to the sculptural quality of the project and its plasticity and texture. Detail is easier to interpret in large spaces when it’s all made up of the same material. We did the interior of an office located in Harlem using one primary material for a variety of elements in the space. Within a desk that folds out from the wall are cut outs for tools and materials including a space to precisely fit a pair of scissors. We ask the same questions when we work with brick, like “why can’t we make the roof out of bricks?” And therefore, we surprise people with the potential of a material. Even though this example is something that deals more with architecture, when you get to the interior design level, you need to play more with materials.

VT: You are involved in both the world of visual arts and design; in what ways do you see the visual arts impacting your designs?

MK: We try to extend the boundaries of architecture in the realm of visual culture, because in it lies potential for architecture to become revalidated. Often times, we collaborate with artists because we’re inspired by their autonomy, something designers can sometimes lack. These collaborations inspire us to experiment with light, space, time, and action. Ballet is especially interesting because it’s also about sculpture; the body acts as a dynamic sculpture in time. Personally, I find ballet to be the most pure form of art because it’s the only form that doesn’t require a medium; the importance is solely on movement, expression, and sculpture. This is also similar in architecture and design. However, the difference is that sometimes architects can get distracted; as I learned with the first piece we did with Sticky. In this project, we analyzed the movement patterns of dancers with various cameras. Then we translated this footage into a painting, mapping the movement as a live recreation of the dance, to analyze the triangular geometric patterns of visual expression. At the end of the project, we learned that there were sometimes moments when the audience was distracted by the intensity of these graphics. Now that we are working with the same choreographer again, we are doing another more simplistic piece but this time working with walls of light. To highlight the simplicity, we decided to occasionally use smoke to amplify the light walls in space through which the dancers move. All of these ideas come back into other projects that inspire work on a larger scale, which is why we use them to develop ideas about space, time, movement, action, and light.