With every building there is the moment where you as the architect have no influence on it any more.
Roger Christ is a partner at Christ Christ Associates, Paperhouses' latest partners from Germany. He is also the namesake progeny carrying the mantle of one of the oldest architecture practices in the world. Still, it is a practice that has endured over a hundred years despite any specific design credo, and while the younger Christ has certainly learned from his father, Gerhard, the influence is not to be confused as an inheritance. We talked to Roger about the practice’s work, the curious role of heritage and the great anticipation of designing for Paperhouses, with clients as “co-architects.”
Paperhouses: Kind of a silly question, but the name Christ Christ is quite provocative for Anglophones, but of course it is your surname. Has there been any confusion about any implied message about Christianity here?
Roger Christ: The name Christ is pretty common in Germany, even the biggest jewelry chain is named Christ, but sadly it is not owned by my family. So I never had any difficulties or confusion with that name here. In other European countries or the States sometimes people start smiling or do not believe it when they hear my name. The good thing about it, is it’s easy to remember.
Ph: Christ Christ is also known for being one of the oldest architecture firms in history, but can you tell us a little about the origin history, some of the earliest works?
The company was established in 1898 by Karl Christ senior. I do not know a lot about the origin history as it was never much of a story for our family. But working on projects in Wiesbaden and the surrounding area we find buildings that were built or rebuilt by some of my ancestors. For instance, the Apartment E building was rebuilt by my great-grandfather in 1928. Or say when we start demolition on a building, and discover it was built by my grandfather in the 60’s and converted by my father in the '70s. So I start to get in touch with some of the old projects more and more.
Apartment E, converted inside a building originally re-built by Roger Christ's great-grandfather.
How has the studio evolved over the generations? What is the studio’s design credo today?
Actually a new office emerges with each generation, more or less. When I came to Wiesbaden and started at the Christ Christ office, I worked on my own projects right from the beginning. I never worked with my father on the same project. He acted as a consultant in ways, which was very helpful, as he is very experienced in his profession. I guess it was the same with him and his father.
We do not have a special design credo. For me it’s important to have an open-end design approach unhindered by preconceived notions of forms and aesthetics. If I had to tell you a design credo I would say “form follows each project.”
How, if at all, do you think the studio’s historical context informed your designs? What about your local context?
The studio’s historical context hasn’t really informed my design, but my father has! I would say he was my first “professor” in architecture and I was influenced by the building I grew up in, which was built when I was born. It was an experimental steel construction that everybody hated at the time, but today it is (protected). Our family was referred to as “The Christs in the devil' box,” as the building is totally black. With that building I realized very early on, that architecture can be a very provocative thing and influences its surroundings and inhabitants very much.
As a teenager, I had the opportunity to meet people like Helmut Jacoby. My father built his house in 1965 into which he moved from New York in 1967. Furthermore I was influenced by (Norman) Foster's office when I had the chance to work there for a year before I started studying architecture in Graz (Austria). I believe Graz was my biggest influence. There I had the possibility to meet people like Günther Domenig, Volker Giencke and Klaus Kada. I worked in Kada’s office for two years after graduating from university .
The local context of Wiesbaden hopefully has not influenced me very much so far, as Wiesbaden is probably one of the most boring and narrow-minded places for contemporary architecture in the world.
Conversion of House S in Weisbaden
The Conversion of House S in Wiesbaden is particularly fascinating to me in that you’ve created an above-ground platform which franchises outdoor and indoor through a vertical plane (floor/ceilings) as well as horizontal (walls). I see in a few other projects as well this idea of the floating above-ground “ground level” but can you tell us a bit about the process and inspiration behind this project? What is the significance of a floating platform?
The owners of House S, a family of four, came to us because they needed more living space. They showed us the existing bungalow from the ‘60s and we were fascinated but worried at the same time. We asked ourselves how to handle the existing building in a contemporary sense without destroying the original design. After a while we realized that this is a central topic of today’s urban development: the roof area as building land, which can be covered with independent buildings. From this moment on the design became pretty clear. We placed three single boxes on the roof which are connected by a glass corridor. In this way we created different zones with different qualities, possibilities and perspectives.
House M in Lubljiana Slovenia
It is true that the idea of floating above-ground can be seen in some of our projects, but each time is the reason that it evolved from the project. For instance at House R the client asked us to create as much usable space as possible on the site. In order to achieve an optimal exposure to natural light in the basement to gain further usable space under ground, the building is floating 1 meter above the terrain whereby a window band could be realized. With House M in Slovenia, the reason for the floating and ramping was the building’s location at an extremely beautiful countryside. The view was blocked by the neighbor so we lifted the living space in order to have that great view again.
Could you tell us a little bit about your offices and the culture of your team? Do you have any house rules or interesting processes? Things that have become ritualized through 100 years of practice?
I am sorry to disappoint you but there is nothing special about our office culture, we have no interesting processes or any rituals. Maybe the only thing which is unusual in the architecture world today, that we have colleagues who work or have worked for our office for decades. I would say we are a normal family business as today my father is still working and my wife Julia is working in the office too. We are a rather small business so everybody is involved and knows what the rest is thinking and doing.
How do you approach the design of a project? How do you get inspired in your ideation phase?
First we get as much information as possible about what the client’s want, even information they think isn’t that important. Then we visit the site and its surroundings. We try to understand and identify what the design task really is. What does the client really need and want? Afterwards we do programming in coordination with the client and with that program we start working.
Most of the time the inspiration comes out of an obstacle or problem which we try to solve. Like at House S, first the idea of heightening the bungalow with its wide cantilevered flat roof was an obstacle and in the end our design solution was developed directly from that point. But very often it is less an inspiration on which we build up a project, more a fight against stupid German and local laws and rules which we try to manipulate and in that way find an approach to a design.
Can you give us concrete examples of these laws?
The problem with stupid German laws are that we get more and more land development plans wich tell you how the roof has to look like, what angle it has to be, how the roof overhang has to be, what material you are allowed to use on the roof (only roof tiles or shale), what the facade material has to be (most of the time only bright plaster), how many windows are allowed, they tell you the proportion of the windows, they tell you how the base of the building has to look like, what the proportions of the building have to be ……………….
In Germany in some regions sooner or later you don’t need an architect any more. Only a person who executes what the authorities tell to do.
What is the main idea you will convey through your Paperhouses design, do you think?
I have no idea yet! But what I like about Paperhouses beside the idea of having architecture for relatively low budget is the experimental or randomness about it. Normally we do the site supervision and control to make certain everything is done as we have planned and detailed it. Here we are not involved in this process and I am curious to see how different the results will look. With every building there is the moment where you as the architect have no influence on it any more. With Paperhouses this moment comes much earlier and in a various sense.
What also is very interesting about Paperhouses is the conflict about designing a house for somebody special without knowing him or her. Which is again an obstacle from which we maybe can develop the design approach.
How do you think open sourcing architecture through the internet is important for the average prospective homeowner, and also for your existing or potential clients?
I think it is very simple. It gives the average prospective homeowner the chance to choose out of a variety of different good designed homes which are perfectly presented so that he understands what he gets and all for a rather low budget.
First I saw a problem with specific site situations, the context of the plot. As we do not know the site how can we adapt the building to it? But that is not our job anymore, it is the client’s job to choose the design that fits or adapts the design to the local conditions. That’s a big change with open source architecture. The client has to be involved much more as there is no architect who can do the job. In some sense he becomes the co-architect.