An interview with Rainer Hascher Think ahead for sustainability

Rainer Hascher
Rainer Hascher | Photo (detail): Wilfried Dechau, Stuttgart

We lack a culture of open discussion and responsible thinking and acting for sustainable building. Rainer Hascher, university professor and architect, talks about politics, responsibility, ethics – and the culture of building.

Professor Hascher, sustainable building is a much talked about subject today. It is very complex and is certainly not only to be viewed from an ecological perspective. What does the term sustainable actually mean to you and what connects you with this topic?

In view of the declining willingness to speak publicly about concrete paths that lead to high-quality and sustainable architecture, I have been concerned about how sustainability can be implemented in building activities. Whilst Architecture is predominantly a cultural matter, there are cost implications in the actual building. We have to think clearly and talk openly about this, in politics and in planning departments at all governmental levels.

What do you mean by that? Is it that we lack an open and honest approach in decisions made on planning projects?

Yes, that’s exactly it. We need new forms of discussion on architecture and we need to think and act more responsibly to make us fit and therefore sustainable for the future. Every form of architecture holds a promise, it is a symbol for a new beginning, an awakening and change. In view of dwindling resources, the politicians and decision-makers at state, municipal and local authority level should discuss the serious costs of building projects in advance and then make appropriate plans. This gives those involved in the construction processes planning certainty.

It is not sustainable, for instance, if decisive functions and key elements of a building project are dropped after preparation of the final drawings. Besides having a negative impact on the result, i.e. the quality of a building, it also brings confusion into the entire construction process, leads to time delays and also to shortcomings in the execution of the work. This is not sustainable action. As architects we want to provide the Client with the maximum, best possible result. This means optimising the design planning again and again in order to minimise material, time and cost expenditure. To reach this goal we need clarity in the initial stages and we need partners who are willing to accept responsibility with us.

Is it just a culture of debate that is needed or is there a lack of working concepts for sustainable thinking, planning and building?

LSV Landshut LSV Landshut | Photo: Svenja Bockhop Sustainability concepts demand a big sense of responsibility for the future. Short-term decisions and solutions are not the right approach. There is one criterion I consider essential, and that is appropriateness. I think we need a mental change in society. We have to be realistic in our thoughts and our actions in order to be able to formulate certain goals and also develop new methods for accomplishing these goals. We need more knowledge transfer to make us prepared for the future. In terms of sustainable architecture this means greater interlinking of technical, scientific, economical and social competences. Speeding up education and training – this also being the case in architectural studies - is not the right approach in my opinion.

Do you mean that we need more personalities and not just graduates?

Yes, we definitely do! In today’s courses of studies prospective architects are not appropriately taught to understand that you have to unfold your potential to become creative and that formulating and solving problems is a very complex task. I think it is a great loss that the internationally recognised title of graduate engineer (Dipl.-Ing.) has been given up as a signature for quality, innovation and know-how. We need to develop new strategies to ensure that we do not lose our dominating importance in the field of engineering.

But architecture does not only concern engineering?

No, but intelligent engineering services and integrated planning are essential for good architecture. Engineers are important and reliable partners for architects. In competitions I frequently found that these important partners were no longer able to accompany us in the implementation of construction projects. They were no longer commissioned, although they had supported and participated in the development of our plans. Making changes to efficient and well-functioning development teams can produce significant delays in buildings of high technical complexity. The networking of know-how between all those involved in the planning and execution of the work should be sensible and more target orientated. This would create sustainability.

Which of your projects featured a particularly good cooperation between the teams and the Client in terms of sustainability?

One of our first large projects, the construction of the dvg building (since 2003 Finanz IT) in Hanover, was a sustainable project with regard to the conditions and the cooperation, and consequently enabled the achievement of a sustainable result. Here I do not just mean our architectural, technical and urban planning concepts, there was an excellent communication with the company and the responsible members of the company.

Besides implementing the company goals of a flexible cooperation, working efficiency and process transparency in the office world of tomorrow, these were also characteristic of our cooperation. All members of the dvg management board were kept up to date at all times through regular meetings and through the responsible and committed project support of the former managing director at that time, Klaus-Peter Kubiak. They were therefore able to support all the plans for this non-conventional architecture and office world. This made it easier for us, as architects, to organise the planning and construction process with all contractors in a sustainable manner, and to actually make this open and transparent dialogue visible in the architecture.

In the 380 metres long building completely new office landscapes have been created for nearly 2000 members of staff, moving them out of isolated rooms. Instead, we have connected the workplaces on the inside with the outside and with nature. Light-flooded halls are planted with olive, fig and pomegranate trees. Easy manoeuvrability, fast action and dynamics, simplicity in the workflow, communication, a new way of thinking and working - these enliven the architecture and, at the same time, represent fundamental elements of the company philosophy.

Communication appears to be a key concept in your work. Besides open dialogue with the Client and contractors what else do architects need to master in order to create quality and sustainable architecture?

Architecture is communication. Every building has a message for the user and those looking at it. Every form of architecture has an attitude, it addresses emotions, discloses information about its social background and it is always part of a specifically designed future. A building must therefore never be viewed in an isolated manner, it must always be seen in a spatial context, of a town, district or a village, landscape. Careful examination of the urban planning is therefore an elementary prerequisite for every architectural project. To enhance sensitivity we must – and here I don’t just mean architects – restore a greater awareness of the value and history of our cities as a space for people to live in.

So are you pleading for a more holistic approach and course of action?

Of course, this is what sustainability is about. I think that in future debates on sustainability, besides focusing on ecological, climatic, technical, structural solutions for buildings, we should develop new strategies to balance economic and social objectives. There is not a call for extreme solutions or any pointless process, material or product optimisations that lead to so-called perfection. Such a development has a negative impact on natural living space. For sustainable planning and building we need a balanced embedding of state-of-the-art technology in the target constellation of socio-cultural context, ecology and economy.

Rainer Hascher was born in 1950, studied in Stuttgart and founded his first office for architecture and product design in 1979 and then the Berlin office Hascher Jehle Architektur together with Sebastian Jehle in 1992. Two years later Hascher was appointed professor for Constructive Design and Climate Responsive Architecture at the Berlin University of Applied Sciences. The next company, Hascher, Jehle und Assoziierte GmbH, was founded in 2000.

dvg Hannover
The new dvg office building (since 2003 Finanz IT) in Hanover is one of the first large projects built by the architects’ Hascher + Jehle. The project was developed in cooperation with Heinle Wischer und Partner and was completed in 1999. Here the connection of nature, landscape, sustainable architecture and an innovative office concept, also most importantly the constructive cooperation between architects and Client, enjoys international recognition.

LSV Landshut
The new building of the Land- und forstwirtschaftlichen Sozialversicherung in Landshut stands out with its filigree wood design. In this comb-shaped building complex with striking head end some 600 employees have workplaces between laptop and landscape.

Stuttgart Museum of Art and the Kleiner Schlossplatz
Design concepts that interact with public and semi-public spaces offer new ideas for meeting places and are a key element in the urban development planning of Hascher, Jehle und Assoziierte GmbH.