Interview with Ivan Blasi U.E. Prize – Mies Award coordinator

Ivan Blasi is, for the second year, the coordinator of the E.U Prize – Mies Award and, since his participation in 2013, big news have been introduced. Innovation through the use of tools to spread projects around the world, and the inauguration of the Young Talent Architecture Awards are two of the projects that expand the vision of the current European architecture. Since 2000, Blasi has taken part in many projects of the Mies van der Rohe Foundation. As member of the Foundation, he has led great initiatives for the 30th anniversary of the Pavilion, like the Atlas, which analyses “the buildings that have transform the European and international territory” through the Mies Award finalists since 1988 until today, he explains.

The E.U Prize – Mies Awards is the most important one in Europe, as the award-winning projects lead the way that will follow the building of this continent. A committee, the directors of the most important European architecture museums, and a team of experts from different disciplines determine a group of 400 nominate projects that form a very relevant sample. “The first step is to analyse what has been happening in Europe during the last years in the most transparent and interdisciplinary possible way” the coordinator explains.

 

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Ivan Blasi, U.E. Prize – Mies Award coordinator.

 

How is the selection process of the nominate and awarded projects?

There is a discussion about what a high quality remarkable work stands for, including social, economic, aesthetic, structural and research aspects. Afterwards, the three groups of selectors are asked to suggest a maximum of five works, with the exception of the associations of countries with a large population, like Spain. Thus, we achieve a set of projects considered the most remarkable ones in the European architectural outlook.

They have to be works built in Europe or in countries with an agreement with the European Union to collaborate with architects based here. Once we have received all the projects (in 2015 we received 420), we contact the authors asking them information, material and documentation they deem necessary to explain the project to the jury.

Simultaneously, we invite seven people to take part of the jury. Therefore, we ask pictures, videos and graphic documents, drawings, plans and panels. All this information is uploaded to a database, so the jury can check it. In a second stage, the members have a meeting and discuss during three days about the works. The jury changes each year. Furthermore, for the first time, the figure of the client was introduced in 2015. This person has a relation with architecture, because he has supported an architecture of quality or urban transformation in a city. It can be a public or private entity.

After this, during the three days, the jury selects works and reduces their number to 40. Among the 40 works they choose 5 which are possible to visit personally. Thus, they don’t only have graphic material, but they can meet some architects who have been on-site, clients, people who have any kind of relation with the work and can offer a different perspective. After all, a work has to be selected, the awarded one. About the forty projects, it is discussed what is to be an Emerging Architect. It does not have to do with the age, but with being a not very recognized team the jury considers it has much to say and it is important to support and make public what they do.

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Szczecin Philharmonic (Poland) U.E. Prize – Mies Award 2015 winner.  

 

In 2015 it was the manager of the Austrian supermarkets MPreis, what about this year?

We have not announced it yet. Next week we will publish a press release. This time, instead of a private client, it will be an individual or a public representative of an institution. We understand it is very important the client is sure about what he needs, so it can be also part of the project construction process, establishing a good communication with the expert, which will allow to build the construction.

 

This month we will know the 400 finalists of the next edition that will take place on May 2017, what can we expect about this new edition?

I don’t know if we will see works with a tighter budget (they started in a very complicated period) in this edition, where imagination and the use of different resources have let also to create a quality work. We also hope to have works where the process is what matters most, not only the final project. A process that never ends but it changes. Seeing the nominations of this year, this seems to be the keynote of this edition.

The housing issue is also present. Curiously, during the last years, collective housing, both public and private, has not been represented in the award. Now it is more encouraged.

 

 ‘We hope to have works where the process is what matters most, not only the final project’, says Blasi

 

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Casa Luz, home created by Arquitectura-G and Mies Award Emerging Architect winner 2015. 

 

In an interview with Jotdown you mentioned that you had introduced “changes in the way of exhibiting or explaining what is an architecture project since 2015.” What are these changes about?

We wanted the experience of the exhibition was something you could take home with you. With augmented reality and your phone in front of the work, you could check the videos and see how in that static picture, people were moving and using the space. Afterwards, we wanted to transmit sounds, so you can perceive that, if there are children in a place, it is not a quite one.

Besides, we decided to ask the five finalists to give parts of the buildings; meaning that there are pieces of constructive elements and materials of the finalist works. Thus, people can touch and see the size of a building brick. For instance, they can see how the façade of the Szczecin winner is made. Those flames, what materials are they made of? You touch it and you realize they are made of aluminium. There is a glass behind and layers. Then you can notice the ceiling is made of gold leaf.

Our purpose was to approach the most the experience of the work to people who are not on-site, but in an exhibition space. It is also important to note they are not always in museums. The exhibition is sometimes displayed in sport facilities. Here we have visitors with a general knowledge, who are not experts. They are curious about the exhibition and start making suggestions and debate.

In Szczecin, they put some tents in front of the philharmonic, just where the motorway reaches the city. A transit point where people were able to see the winner and easily accessed. There, a debate sparked off as the winner building received some negative critics, but it was more because some people had considered it one of the most representative buildings. We still need to find out what is an architecture museum. In particular, we need to find out how we express and transmit a work or an idea through the exhibition.

 

I believe the display of the Mies Award projects will have an important role, how do the finalists present their projects?

It is interesting because you can never predict what is going to happen. It is important to display the work and the moment when it will be displayed. This year we are going to make a change. Instead of making the exhibition just the day before deciding who’s the winner, with the works already examined (which is what we did the last edition), now it will be before the visits. Last year some members of the jury changed their minds because of the display, despite the visit is always more impressive.

We will present first the idea, and afterwards, we will visit the idea already build. Thus, there will be a stronger connection and I think it will be interpreted more like a theoretical vision and its built plan. I don’t believe it will cause per se a drastic change to the jury’s opinion.

 

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ATLAS de Arquitectura Europea Contemporánea by Mies van der Rohe Foundation .

 

The Young Talent Architecture Awards are an extension of the classic award, but schools propose students through an internal selection. How did this initiative start?

It came up from a conversation with the European Commission and the idea that it will be very interesting to present, apart from the emerging architect and the winner, where they come from. That is, their backgrounds. When you discover the final project of Gaudí, you exclaim “they started from here!” Then you look at the first and last projects and observe an evolution or continuity.

Hence, we are curious to know how the different curriculums of Europe give different results and spread them. There were already awards with this concept, like ArchiPrix. In our case, we want to generate a debate inside schools between students and professors, to democratically select the most representative projects of the school, or the ones that embody what they study during the degree.

Moreover, we want to make a contrast between the different European territories and areas. This could allow us to know whether there were interdisciplinary issues, whether the schools had any interests, and we realized they did, for instance, structural, urban, and refugees problems. The last one was of interest from East to West. Therefore, YTAA emerges from the curiosity of knowing where the possible next winners come from, the schools works, and, lastly, we wanted also to create a sort of competition between them, so they can know each other.

 

‘The openness and freedom of a school project is something to miss when an architect is involved in a project’, explains Ivan Blasi

 

How many schools participate in this first edition?         

There are 106 registered schools, and 86 of them participated. Now we have two years ahead, we will consider to have the participation of schools which had a first experience this year, and others that participate for the first time. We want to begin organizing the next edition so students can know it. If we let them know in advance, they can start forcing their professors so it is possible to create a real debate.

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Mies van der Rohe Pavilion, Barcelona.

 

Should we envy them? Should the architecture studios have a closer look to the students?

To be honest, the openness and freedom of a school project is something to miss when an architect is involved in a project, because there are a lot of aspects: client, budget, other elements that limit the work, and they do not exist in the students’ final projects (it depends on the school though). There are some similarities regarding processes or conceptual projects.

 

The Mies Award determines the best European architecture projects, do you think they have any influence in the architecture of the future?

You never know and the jury can always be wrong. You realize after. The idea is to find projects with some kind of importance or an aspect that is relevant not only in that moment (their relevance cannot expire), but also in the future. Projects like the Stansted Airport by Foster introduced a way to understand what was an airport: a structure allowing to organize below a program that can be modified in the future. An unknown project of Zaha Hadid, and almost never mentioned, is the Strasbourg terminal. It’s a tram, bus and train terminal with a parking lot. The idea was to promote the use of public transport in the city, so people don’t have to use the private transport. This is always more necessary.

Thus, winners offer an approximation, but it is interesting to analyse the whole group of architects, because we receive very different projects. The media give us ways to understand lightweight architecture, stepwise, with specified information. They show us the winner of a work that, many times, stands out in the city, from an aesthetic point of view, but there is much more.

 

Interview: Borja Alcarria

Translation: Carmen Gomez

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