Social Architecture Crossing the boundaries between art and architecture

OSA | Installation
OSA | Installation "well, come" at harbor Dortmund | Urbane Künste Ruhr 2016 | Photo: © Volker Hartmann | Urbane Künste Ruhr 2016

For 21 years now, the actors of OSA - office for subversive architecture – have been unsettling perception in the field of tension between architecture, design, performance, video and sound art. Their installations were to be seen at the Goethe-Institut and the Guggenheim Museum in New York. The silver banana on the Brandenburg Gate in commemoration of German reunification remained a virtual concept, but above all, OSA magically transforms seemingly insignificant places in the city into spaces of exciting potentials.
 

OSA belong to the pioneers who, as boundary crossers between the disciplines, have established architecture internationally as a socially relevant art form, but who nonetheless have remained outsiders in the art scene. It is therefore no wonder that the next generation looks to OSA as a role model: thus the British architects’ group Assemble, who were distinguished in 2015 with the Turner Prize, Great Britain’s most prestigious art award. An interview with  Bernd Trümpler and Oliver Langbein of OSA.
 
Herr Trümpler, now that you have just wrapped up the installation well, come at the Ruhrtriennale 2016, aren’t you in urgent need of a follow-up project?
 
No, we don’t canvass for clients as a matter of principle.
 
How then can you make a living from your work as an artist?
 
Oliver Langbein: That is precisely our privilege. OSA isn’t a firm, but instead a loose network of by now eight partners. Starting with Darmstadt, where the first projects arose as early as our university days, we are distributed over London, Hamburg, Berlin, Frankfurt, Munich, Graz and Vienna. Each of us now has various professional mainstays, many of us teach at universities. So we don’t have to pay the rent with our artistic work, and couldn’t, for that matter. This gives us an enormous freedom in the selection of our projects, and also the freedom to say no if the conditions don’t fit in with our principles. 
 
How should one conceive this?
 
Bernd Trümpler: Architects’ clients often demand various alternatives for a project. If one – like us – is committed to subversiveness as one’s guiding principle, one cannot work according to the principle “the customer is king” – and one doesn’t want to, either. Among our principles is that we make only one single proposal because we are convinced that it is the best solution to the corresponding question. Our clients approach us because they expect precisely this rigour and independence of us, otherwise the collaboration won’t work.
 
After 20 years, isn’t it tiring to question everything over and over again?
 
Oliver Langbein: That’s not hard for us. Each one of us eight is an “alpha animal” who isn’t exactly geared to consensus. We can’t all work permanently in one room, and function only with the necessary spatial distance. We don’t try to understand each other, and this inner discourse also guarantees our lasting subversiveness outwards.
 
How then do you divide up the work among yourselves?
 
Oliver Langbein: Many projects arise through personal contacts from the various locations. When we have a concept, we of course seek the necessary expertise from the other members. With Dortmund the contact came through me because I have a professorship of scenography in the department of design at the university of applied sciences here. As a qualified cabinetmaker with a degree in architecture and six years as artist Otmar Hörl’s assistant, Bernd Trümpler is predestined for realising the project.
 
As an architect wouldn’t one rather erect buildings that last a long time?
 
Bernd Trümpler: That’s actually my second mainstay. It’s one of the nice side-effects of well, come, that our structural designer Aran Chadwick from Atelier One, who otherwise realises huge, dynamic stage sets for international stars like U2, has commissioned me of all people with the planning of his private house.
 

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OSA | Installation "Well, come" at harbor Dortmund | Urbane Künste Ruhr 2016
 

Installation “well, come” at the Harbor Dortmund

A production by Urbane Künste Ruhr for the Ruhrtriennale 2016 at the Stahlanarbeitungszentrum Dortmund GmbH & Co KG
Artists: OSA Office for Subversive Architecture, Karsten Huneck, Oliver Langbein, Bernd Trümpler in collaboration with sound artist Florian Kaplick
Curator: Katja Aßmann, Urbane Künste Ruhr