From expos to the Olympics, from London to Sochi, Zaragoza or Shanghai, the architects and artists who envisaged the pavillions that Spiess worked on have changed. But he – the man who makes it all happen – is the constant element in this ever-changing multimedia universe. Spiess uses technology like a sculptor uses clay.
He has made a building with sounding walls (in London, for the Olympics), one covered with a solar-powered ‘cobweb’. Together with Herzog & de Meuron he has just finalised the new Basel Messe (where lights, colours and walls shift according to the hosted event).
His most recent achievement was a photo-booth pavilion in Sochi during the Winter Olympics. This was a fabric-covered building, designed by British architect Asif Khan, onto which the faces of visitors appeared as gigantic sculptures (at a staggering eight metres high).
“There are more than 10,000 telescopic, extensible cylinders under the fabric,” explains Spiess. “Those who go inside get a portrait photo (shot from five different angles, so the computer can make up a 3D rendering). The system then shifts the cylinders up and down so that they hold the fabric in the right position for the impression of the face to appear on the building for 20 seconds. The whole event is put on a clip, ready for posting on the social networks.”
It’s all a bit Mount Rushmore-for-all. Yet it is not just the fun element that interests Spiess. “Architeture is moving towards a dynamic use of space and these projects give us the possibility to test how people feel when their room reacts to touch. Or figure out what things they understand instantly, intuitively and what leaves them sceptical. What they consider natural, acceptable and pleasant and what is invasive.”
It is not the ‘usual’ vision of the future, in which we will be surrounded by screens. “It’s the opposite. A place to feel at home instantly yet where everything – from people to furniture – communicates and changes to enhance everyday experiences and to optimise energy use.”
There is no point in asking Spiess about how he visualises this future. The fridge that orders food, the window that turns into a TV, the musical carpet: he does not care about any of this. “We already have all the technology needed for dynamic architectures,” he says.
“Yet everyone – from artists to designers, and architects to large companies – is obsessed with products and interfaces. Is a lamp better than a screen? Voice better than touch? Everything is good and isn’t: the only thing that truly counts is the quality of the interaction. The how rather than what. The emotion and the feeling that the experience allows.”
In order to get to true dynamic architecture, Spiess thinks something should happen, not so much in the labs but in people’s minds. “People need to accept losing control. What co-design, sharing and networking mean is that creators will no longer be on stage, like dancers, but will ‘merely’ be choreographers.
“Artists and architects have a problem with this: they fear it would compromise the ‘beauty’ of the final result. The truth is, the very concept of beauty is changing and it is becoming dynamic, shared, co-produced. When the new generation will get ‘on stage’, only then we will see a true shift in the way we live and inhabit space.”