Christoph Laimer

Christoph Laimer ist Chefredakteur von dérive.

Paul Rajakovics

Paul Rajakovics ist Urbanist, lebt und arbeitet in Wien.

Robert Mull

Robert Mull unterrichtete viele Jahre an der bekannten AA in London (Architectural Association School of Architecture) und ist nun Professor an der School of Architecture and Interior Design der University of North London. Im Interview spricht er über Archite­ktur, Punk und die Situationistische Internati­onale, über Projekte seiner StudentInnen und seine Einschätzung der jüngsten Vergangen­heit und aktuellen Entwicklung der Archite­ktur u.v.m. Das Interview wurde Ende Juni in Linz geführt, wo Mull einen Vortrag im Rah­men der Veranstaltungreihe start-down hielt. Im Wintersemester kommt Robert Mull für einen Vortrag, den das Wohnbauinstitut der TU veranstalten wird, nach Wien. Die Fragen für dérive stellten Paul Rajakovics und Christoph Laimer.

Robert Mull
Robert Mull

dérive: Your background is rooted in the punk movement. What did punk mean to you and where do you see the relationship between punk and the S. I. (Situationist International)?

R. Mull: The good thing about a movement like the punk is, that when you were involved in it, you have no idea that it had any sort of historical basis or any underlying theory, whatsoever. It’s only after the event, after it has died, that one begins to understand that it had a precedent in the S.I. and that people like Jamie Reed and the suburban press were very well aware of the S. I., both in terms of the way they operated through actions and events but also graphicly. So it was way after the punk movement had really ended, when I was involved in a group called NATO (Narrative Architecture Today) which was sort of an architectural equivalent of punk , that we began to realize that maybe there was some theory that went with our actions The other thing to remember is that punk was a spontaneous action that came out of a particular period within British politics which in one way was similar to the sort of feelings of alienation with consumerist culture which sparked the S. I. We were coming out of a period in the seventies, of glam-rock-architecture, where there was no content, no connection to what was going on in the country. In the early 1980ies was a period of deep economic recession, so the conditions that might have spawned the Situationists were the same conditions I think that spawned punk and NATO.

dérive: I think that a movement like "Reclaim the Streets" (siehe dérive Nr. 2) also started in a special historical situation. There was the rave-movement and the criminal justice act. What do you think about the potential of movements like RTS?

R. Mull: I think they have potential, but I would say that they are not so well integrated into a much larger cultural movement in terms of youth culture, art, music and politics as they were then. Certainly in Britain there is a general consensus in politics that renders those sorts of protests somewhat comical. There isn't the level of observation there was in the early 1980’s. One hopes that at some point in the future there might be, and that that sort of spontaneuos combustion spreads. But at the moment one certainly – living in London – sees that those sorts of things are very isolated. You might as well ask, what is the difference between RTS and thousands of people from the countryside coming to London and blocking the streets and protesting about foxhunting. The difference is really minimal.

dérive: You explained your roots to us. How important are those for your present research and your institute (faculty of environment and social studies)?

R. Mull: I'm the head of the School of Architecture and Interior Design at the University of North London. I was interested in that school because it is part of a faculty of environmental and social studies. Most architecture schools in Britain have moved either into faculties of engineering or allied themselves to art faculties. This school was rather undiscovered, untouched for a number of years, because it has a very strong research history in social sciences and has genuine expertice in areas such as capacity building which is the building of legislative and economic structures for new states. They have worked a lot in the former Soviet Union. So I felt that there was actually a genuine interest and commitment to certain social political and economic issues and a relationship between those and architecture and urbanism. And rather than being dilettante in the way one often finds architects being involved in those issues it was an option to serious about it and do it properly which I think is quite unique. My interest has moved towards, how we as architects can generate through our own actions social as well as physical structures that you can kick or draw. It seemed perfectly appropriate for me therefore to become involved in the shaping of a School of Architecture (which is a huge social structure - 500 students, 50 staff ) and see that as a creative project in its own right. And then see how that social structure, that community that one had generated, could be effective. In terms of the local level one is encouraging staff and students to become active participants in live projects which means breaking down the immunity that students and staff enjoy at academic institutions and becoming players in the areas that they are studying. This year we had people working in Kosovo, West Belfast, Slovenia and obviously people are working much more locally. We're also becoming very involved in local affairs, developments and politics. The School of Architecture will hopefully at some time become a place were people cross over as they move in from various places that they are working in. It’s not a ivory tower or save haven, it’s quite the opposite.

dérive: Could you tell us some details about current projects? Are these urban projects, interventions…?

R. Mull: I think I’m maybe becoming more orthodox in a way. We have projects of the sort I know transbanana (Anm. dérive: Unter diesem Gruppennamen arbeiteten die ArchitektInnen und UrbanistInnen Bernd Vlay, Margarethe Mueller und Paul Rajakovics in Wien und Graz zwischen 1996 und 1999 zusammen.) was involved in, where the medium of the project is intervention, consultation, actions. In certain situations like West Belfast that has proved effective. I’m also interested in a sort of further phase of those sorts of activities. The work that was being done in Kosovo involved structures like radio programms, consultation and events, but also on a simple level it bounds back to I suppose the early seventies in terms of getting really quite genuinely involved in, how a bombed out town might reconstruct its social life. That of course involves on one level working out the sewers, the drains, the power structures and how you start to make enclosures out of very little materials. So maybe things are going quite an interesting circle, going back to a period of development work, that has never been fashionable in my memory.

dérive: Do you think that the movement in Britain, that started with architectural groups like Fat, Muff could be indeed described as a movement?

R. Mull: On one level it was NATO who preempted some of these things, but Muff, Fat etc. of the many people involved in those activities, some of them teach at the school and gathered around the school. I don’t know the history of the S. I. very well, but anecdotly I understand at a certain point there was a big bust up between them as to whether they would flirt with the art world or not. The ones who thought they should be out on the streets, putting bandages on people as they protested, and those who felt that they could allow their works become modified and termed into part of the art. I think the groups that you are talking about have to make that same decision whether in fact they will carry on being patronized, being employed by essentially public art bodies or whether there is a way of moving that work towards a much more clearly socially engaged agenda. I think there is a genuine feeling amongst all of those groups that the next step or the step that they are trying to move towards is becoming engaged into the new labour agenda for social change, exploit a vast amount of fundings going into schools and social projects and radicalise those in some creative way. I’m not certain it happened yet, but everyone agrees, it’s the next stage.

dérive: Do you see a parallel between this movement in architecture and urbanism and the art discourse in neighborhood projects in Chicago or projects like those of Schlingensief in front of the opera in Vienna?

R. Mull: I think there is, I agree. In many instances the architectural world is following behind developments in art and conceptual art always unknowingly and are rather aggravating because of their ignorance about that. I think there is a terrific weariness certainly in Britain with that sort of public art. People are extraordinarily familiar with it and its rules. There’s been 15 years of actions of public art, sponsored by public art bodies of that time. Almost to the point where it’s virtually impossible to think of something somebody could do in the public realm that is not immediately catagorized as public art in that way. I certainly think we have to step sideways from that world and begin to redefine, in a sense reclaim a rather sort of conservative idea of what architects can do and be a bit more purposeful about that which defines the difference between art practice and architecture practice.

dérive: Is this a move to redefine disciplines like art, architecture, sociology, etc.?

R. Mull: I think it is. I find a great connection – if one is looking back to the people who wanted to communicate in a very interesting way, that generation of the late fifties, early sixties-people like Neave Brown in Britain and people working for the GLC (Great London Council) as architects. in a sense one has to look to that generation to really begin to understand how one moves from social agitation into some clearly social and cultural reconstruction. In that sense yes, it is a rediscovery, an excavation of some of the things which are embedded within the architectural culture which became lost in a twenty, thirty years flirtation with conceptual art and art practice. It’s a selfish exercise as well, because unless the actual profession does that, we continue to be marginalized. One story, just going back to what you were asking about the danger of continued mingling layers of conceptual art, architectual practice. We are working at a housing estate in Hackney (Stadtteil von London) and the students had been working on it over the course of the year. I was sitting at the AA doing tutorials and the strangest thing began to happen. Students came in to show me things, they thought they had found in this estate. They said we had found this extraordinary thing – there are blue marks everywhere, we don’t know what they are, but they are clearly significant. An hour before somebody came in and showed me the blue mark they put into the place. It became very difficult, because we began to generate our own history, our own sociology of the place. Students would intervene, they would misinterpret previous intervention as somehow being part of the culture of the place. There is a huge danger that one begins to build a false history of actions which actually had no real basis in fact, they are sort of fetish. One has to be very careful and bring the interest in real, more orthodox ideas of social science and social practice as a way of actually authenticating actions again. dérive: Maybe we go back to the point, what was most important for me. It was the death of Guy Debord. It was the time when art movements like "culture in action" started in Chicago in 1995 (?). Activist movements which seem to become fashionable today. Do you think this represents kind of a retro-movement, because of the death of Guy Debord? It’s a polemic question and I don’t believe that this is true. Do you think one can use the methods of the S. I. like psychogeography or dérive without thinking of the past? Are they hyperdeterminated or not? R. Mull: I think certainly in my experience now of the way that architects and students operate, those tools, the tool of the dérive, the tool of the constructing of situations or the psychogeography are as well understood and mainstream as making a model, taking a photograph, or doing a drawing. they are absolutely embedded tools. It’s complete orthodoxy in most architecture schools now that a project involves something equivalent to a dérive - whatever it’s called, and people are very bored with that. So the big question is, what radical action or movement or way of thinking is going to come along which is powerful enough to disrupt this new orthodoxy of the dérive? I think people are interested in that, I don’t know where it’s coming from, but my instinct tells me it’s coming from a rediscovery of certain simple tools which maybe we have sort of forgotten. I’m sure that’s not something someone whose magazine is called dérive wants to hear, but it really is my experience. That’s us having been totally evangelical about it in around 1988, when we first used them and nobody heard about the pleasant thing to the point where somebody is almost embarassed to admit it.

dérive: I want to come back to your research at your school. You also work on a new terminology, words as tools?

R. Mull: I suppose in terms of trying to retrieve out of the previous statements, something about where ensuring the worth of these tools are and where they're still really effective, my obsession is to get students and staff to connect the actions to genuinely feel ethical and moral positions and do things because they need to do them, because they want to do them, because they have to do them. The dérive and those tools at their best they still force people into a contact with their obligations the place they are studying, which is really quite unique. At their worst they allow people to just piss about almost endlessly and avoid issues and never act, never make a decision, never implement or be instrumental in making change. At their best there is a magic moment, when something extraordinary happens, people suddenly realize they're wandering around dériveing endlessly and at some point the penny drops and they realize what they have to do. I think that is still very important and a lot of the impetus is to get tougher and tougher about demanding that people make their actions count, whether that’s throwing a molotov cocktail, running for parliament or building a building. It doesn’t really actually matter in the end. So as I’m concerned they all can be encompassed in architecture if one works hard enough. There are lots of people doing projects about throwing molotov cocktails, there are lots of people doing projects about political structures, but there is actually relatively few people doing interesting humble appropriate spatial interventions. So that is really quite radical now.

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