Wolf dPrix

Wolf dPrix is co-founder, CEO and design principal of Coop Himmelb(l)au, a studio founded in 1968 as an alternative to the linear architectural thinking of the time. It is now globally recognized for its innovative, and complex design approach at the intersection of architecture, art and technology. Wolf dPrix is counted among the originators of the deconstructivist architecture movement. He has held teaching positions at the University of Applied Arts, Architectural Association (AA), MIT, Harvard, Columbia, UCLA, Yale, PENN, SCI-Arc and other institutions around the world.

In 2000, the Athens Organizing Committee for the 2004 Olympic Games launched an international ideas competition for the development of the Olympic Village. The site was to house 17,000 athletes and those accompanying them, as well as offices, sports clinics and social areas. It would subsequently be transformed into a mixed-use district.

Under the supervision of Wolf dPrix, the Coop Himmelb(l)au studio, known as one of the initiators of the deconstructivist movement in architecture, took part in the competition. All that remains of this project are a dozen sketches by the architect: a language to be deciphered, which speaks of volumes, composition, movement, balance and tension, spaces. You can feel the intonations, the breaths, the hesitations, the back-and-forth of thought, where it insists, where it gets lost. It's hard to know whether this language is to be read from left to right, right to left, top to bottom or bottom to top. There seems to be a center of gravity. You can practically hear the architect talking as he’s drawing, correcting himself, explaining. It's a drawn thought, a thought in motion. “For me, the sketch is the starting point of a creative process, a first vague idea that has not yet been formulated. I see the sketch more as a kind of psychogram. While I am drawing, an image is created in my head, in my subconscious, a feeling of the space in question, and with my hand, I transfer this feeling directly onto the paper. At that moment, my hand is the seismograph.”

The Delights of Architecture, the animation included alongside this sketch, is a metaphor for his creative process. Taking Jerome Bosch's Garden of Delights as a starting point, the architect refers to the importance of art in his personal life and in his architectural practice. A necessity in his view for anyone wishing to go beyond the strict confines of their discipline. A principle so strong that he likes to illustrate it through the breach of the whale, leaping from the medium of water into the medium of air, propelling its thousand-pound body into the air and surpassing itself in a spectacular display.

The choice of this masterpiece of Early Netherlandish Painting is no accident. In addition to featuring a tiny version of a whale in full flight (left panel), this painting also evokes a decisive influence on the architect: Surrealism, whose representatives consider Bosch as a precursor. Wolf dPrix's interest in this movement echoes his interest in his compatriot Sigmund Freud and the notion of the unconscious, underlying the deconstructivist theory.

The Garden of Delights could therefore be understood as a reference to the deconstructivist foundations of Coop Himmelb(l)au's work, namely the questioning of the principles that have, until then, guided architecture, an "emotional and unconscious revolt against rational logic" in the words of Wolf dPrix. Indeed, the painting is transformed into a second triptych inspired by the first, in which the decomposition of structure, the negation of gravity (throwback to the whale) and the introduction of randomness as a design parameter - some of the essential principles of the deconstructivists - are evident. More than a tribute from the architect to his predecessors, this second painting is a contemporary, light-hearted depiction of a genesis, of a golden age when architecture is a pleasure, a joyful, ideal vision, and of an infernal, dark, tortured future, the causes of which remain mysterious… Ultimately, it reveals a certain form of humor that is all too often absent from built projects today!

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The Delights of Architecture

by Wolf dPrix

animation MP4

Sketch for the Athens Olympic Village

by Wolf dPrix

Marker on tracing paper
88 x 42 cm