Bettina Götz und Richard Manahl, ARTEC Architekten
    In: UmBau 14, Österreichische Gesellschaft für Architektur, Vienna 1993


    preview and two distinctions

    Architecture is not something that can be solved once and for all. Nor does “form follow function,” but rather function is a prerequisite – just as a roof should be watertight. We demand plastic architecture, in the sense of “less is more.” Taking an abstract concept as point of departure, the less that can be eliminated without endangering the concept, the better the result.


    first distinction

    Our work takes two different approaches to dealing with programs: first, articulating form by way of content, from the inside out, or, in other words, the program turns itself inside out, and second, in contrast to the first, the paste-up method involving existing building elements (prefabricated units, existing spaces) or architectural working concepts in the broadest sense.


    second distinction

    Even in the late twentieth century, housing – with the exception of
    towers – occupies a field of tension consisting of point – line – surface. And, on the other hand, aside from its inherent appeal, the tower is not really in a position to be part of the solution to the housing question.
    Human beings move in a horizontal plane; vertical layering of horizontally organized levels does not allow a greater degree of freedom as heights increase. On the contrary. Circulation requirements, fire-safety measures, and structural specifications are major hindrances to an open spatial configuration.


    the alpha of the housing question: the neutral envelope   

    Seen in terms of enabling a variety of uses and a workable building width, number of stories, and siting, as well as the employment of industrial manufacturing methods, what results is a linear massing type at the greatest remove to the plastic form-giving of the use-blind basic structure. It is based on the extruded-profile principle. The technical infrastructure is situated on the exterior along a longitudinal free space zone. Free in the sense of limitations of the structure, and open to later conversions – with the Centre Pompidou as prototype.


    The different functions of the building enclosure should be kept separate spatially. By articulating and defining the outer skin – each element is defined separately – we create a multi-layered interface comprising the functions insulation/structural engineering/shelter. This approach is radically on display at Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth Pavilion: the house actually extends across the entire site. What is generally portrayed as an object in space is an icon that gives rise to misinterpretations and is in fact only one part of the barrier to the outside: protection at the outer limit, structural members on the box’s exterior, insulation as definition of the envelope (= in this case, the box). In 1924, Hugo Häring stated that “A window has three functions: 1. to give light, 2. to allow ventilation, 3. to create a view out. … What is to prevent us dividing the functions of a window and fulfilling them separately in the best way for each?”1 One can apply this to all of a building’s functions. The specific form-giving remains in the background as a diffuse possibility. We show the linear quality of the bar-shaped building, the beauty of the smooth surface and the play behind it.


    the point as potential part of a series: the untapped texture


    In the broad field of single-family-home construction, an additive approach is to be contraposed to the conventional solitaire building type. The individual building is viewed as a potential part of a linear or planar structure. The additivity requires a certain fundamental introversion – as opposed to reaching out into the landscape. Densification of contem­porary single-family-home subdivisions is, de facto, nearly impossible. In contrast, introverted concepts which from the start include an option for direct annexation would definitely be open to it. Experimentation with prototypes – which goes beyond the self-realization of aesthetic
    concepts – is, so to speak, newly acquired territory in the quest to re-
    duce land consumption.


    the plastic quality of the bar-shaped building    


    In contrast to the content-neutral approach, here the program can become the form. By way of example, the bar-shaped building as abstract product, an embodiment of the current parameters for housing construction: the size of the dwelling is the factor determining the arrangement along the length of the massing. Our point of departure: we hold that the outdoor spaces – gardens and terraces – should be in proportion to the respective apartment size. The density typical of ­today’s suburbs is attained with a basic framework made up of two-­story structures; all residents can have a garden.


    Prerequisite for broad bar-shaped buildings: all apartments are to be oriented to the south to the greatest degree possible. Topographic conditions or environmental parameters – noise, visual factors, etc. – can impede such an orientation. The basic framework has to be adapted to the conditions like a custom-made suit: the meeting up of general typology and specific place gives rise to an individual configuration – as opposed to a simple product of set theory.


    This is what is fascinating about historic cities: what remains is a spatial hull, a plastic sequence whose original raison d’être is no longer known.


    bar-shaped structures, surfaces and surface areas


    An exercise in surface area: a rough framework is superimposed upon the building site – this subdivides the site. The surface is to be appropriated to the greatest possible degree. According to Bernard Rudofsky, “North of the Alps, the courtyard house is considered alien. Instead, the front yard thrives – leftover from construction, no-man’s-land, at best a meeting place for garden gnomes. […] A rehabilitated front yard undergoes a delightful transformation when a wall is put around it. Instead of shrinking, it develops optically and spatially; it rises up into the third dimension and furnishes a room with a celestial roof.” 2


    If at all possible, semi-public spaces are to be avoided. Therefore, the enclosed spaces are structured intensively as efficiency apartments that can be extended or added to as needed. Residents can stay in place as their requirements change. Superimposed on the heavyweight construction (= hardware) is the anonymous fitting-out (= information). The property developer sets up a site with the basic equipment for living. External and internal qualities serve as a basis for living and dwelling – as an activity that is as heterogeneous as possible.


    Putting an unfinished solid-masonry structure on offer is a rarity, but is nevertheless at regular intervals a peripheral topic, treated mainly as a multi-tiered building site, as a platform for do-it-yourself construction; in other words, a site for stacked homes as another option for multi-­story housing (Eric Freiberger in Göteborg, Frei Otto’s eco-house ­project in Berlin, a project by Yona Friedman in Marseille). Here the aspect of structure as primary element is brought to bear in a particularly striking manner – at once primary component and archaeological remnant, sediment of culture, washed ashore as historical jetsam.


    yesterday – tomorrow. the amorphous figure  


    The house as incomprehensible construct, as three-dimensional event. The building as landscape, but not the landscape as pre-image of the building. The aim is to produce strong densification, and, at the same time, pronounced individuality. By clearly separating the functions circulation and living on different levels, the building moves away from being organized as bar-shaped massing and toward the plane, toward the stack. A technical grille above the access level holds all of the essential installations. The grille constitutes the basis for the rampant outward growth of the minimally equipped spaces. The notion of the space-city is to be brought to the level of the real. Unchecked rampant growth within a controlled system – in the sense of zoning guidelines of the technical sort. The structuring of Manhattan serves as an example, as does the Far Eastern three-dimensional definition of the exploitation of a buildable site.




    To be in line with heterogeneous requirements and contradictory demands, the building should be a machine. Open at the micro-level, the apartment floor plan, pronounced in its function as sheathing shell. It’s not a matter of floor plan – facade – roof, but rather an understanding of the building as “firm skin.”

    Bettina Götz und Richard Manahl, ARTEC Architekten
    Art Front Gallery, Tokyo, 1998


    Architecture is the continuation of nature by other means:  the simple form of the complex

    In architecture we are interested in specific space and the aspect of the sculptural, the inevitable proximity to sculpture: Space, which in intensified form ideally influences our perception, as a landscape can, simultaneity of the known quantity and the unexpected.


    What we strive for is not the exaggeration of nature, but a parallel to nature. We are fascinated by the spatial elaboration of an object and it’s peculiarity, not by a neutral or indifferent character. We designate objects as "sculptural" or "plastic" which demonstrate determination, whether coming from the non-programmed art circuit, or from the technical area ruled by laws. The sculptural impression occurs above all in buildings marked by a strong structural component.


    The involvement with sculptures and their potential, the "typological" aspect of building, is one of the approaches to the process: Reduction and pushing to the limit of the materialized circumstances of the societal situation and the possibilities of production. That what has become evident can be elevated to principle, allowing one to concentrate on the essential.


    Certain methods of the process are determined pre-emptively:

    - the implementation of materials in full-format

    - valuing the right angle

    - the implementation of light to differentiate elements

    - materialization of the context

    - experimental dosage of light

    - freeing the nature of the material

    - pushing the surface to an extreme

    - preference of the horizontal to the vertical


    Beginning with the typological, general sheme, our architecture becomes specific by the superimposition of the context for which it is conceived. Thus, so-called difficult sites are of special interest to us: The more complicated the accompanying circumstances are, the more complex the solution must be. The built form arises from the concept; it is not designed:


    Design is superfluous. Our architecture is not concerned with orders of magnitude. It's not a matter of large or small, but rather of recognizing the problem and the pleasure in the recognition of a solution. As opposed to the de(con)structivist crase for the accidental, we seek the complex beauty in chance. From an abstract thought process emerges concrete form. There are many concept-possibilities, but for each concept just one best path.




    Richard Manahl, ARTEC Architekten.
    Talk given at the conference Abstract City: Streets, Universität der Künste Berlin, 2008


    An attempt at a system to clarify terms as limit value consideration



    The horizontal plane is the basis on which human beings move and stand, the vertical is the special case for changing planes. A standard classification of urban design structural elements according to their usability in space remains both banal and valid: in one dimension: as “street”, in two dimensions: as “square”, in three dimensions: as “building” –. Through connecting these structural elements “city” is created.



    The street is a linear, mono-dimensional element that connects here and there – with the exception of the bridge, where the specific nature of the linear course becomes evident.

    The street is a traffic route and infrastructure medium: it creates connections not only in the form of  transportation – media such as water, gas, electricity or telephone also form part of the cross-section.

     As long as no further element is added, the information content, i.e. the change of possibilities, remains zero along the line of the street, apart from encounters and views.



    One form of “informedness” of the linear strand is made possible by adding individual events (buildings or squares). Above and beyond the function of connecting places, here a medium of information is created: this informed equipping generates “possibilities” for those who can “read” (i.e. use) them, that is a form of “behaviour”.

    The degree of “informedness” is increased through the proportion of individual events in the overall accumulation that are publicly usable and devoted to freely accessible exchange. 

    In the cross section the transition from street space to the closed mass of the buildings  becomes the main criterion for usability. A direct collision between open and closed space brings with it the greatest difficulties  as regards appropriating public space positively rather than hastily making one’s way through it

    Alongside those buildings that are, from the start, dedicated to the public realm, the structural shaping of the buildings and their possibilities in terms of adaptation and change are decisive for the potential of a street.

    In addition to the publicly accessible content of buildings the announcement of this content becomes an additional factor as regards differentiating surfaces and legibility. A further factor in the accumulation arises on the street itself in the form of the supply of seating, shade and casual shopping facilities.



     A further form of “informedness” develops where two streets intersect: the second dimension emerges, there is a choice of goals. It is in the addition of this two dimensionality that the “grid” develops: a form of dividing up space as a meaningful approach to providing similar conditions for similar needs such as route connections or plot sizes.

    In the “grid” or mesh the border value of the orthogonality of the threads is the rule rather than the special case. Other possibilities represent special cases that arise through the presence of existing buildings or through the topography. Although the fields are identical the grid allows them to be filled in different ways.  

    The newly emergent differentiation of traffic becomes relevant for the mesh of streets in the modern city as far as the quality and dimension of the streets is concerned. The different  speeds and requirements of pedestrians, cyclists, public transportation and motorised private traffic lead to segmentation of the traffic strands.   

    With the advent of the car and, with it, mobility of a previously unknown kind for (almost) all , modernism in its approach to urban planning abandoned a consensus for laying out new towns or parts of towns that had been valid until then.    

    Suddenly the structural elements could be cleanly separated, kept at a distance, clean in the sense of hygiene and health, tidiness also as a world view.

    In the course of this the grid as a basic principle was not abandoned, but suddenly a weakly defined intermediate space  of  considerable size from a pedestrian’s perspective was placed between the street and the building. The context and the interaction were lost, the intermediate space prevents the two structural elements from communicating with each other.

    However, in abandoning the principles of pure functionalism the principle that “the art of architecture” and “urban planning” provide context and interplay  is also abandoned.

    But even if today there is apparently no idea about how architecture and urban planning could be brought back together into a context, the “inhospitable nature of our cities”  is nevertheless not the same as when Alexander Mitscherlich’s book appeared because once again interest is again being focussed on the centres of cities and on the periphery. 



    A third dimension of use becomes possible by overlaying grid structures on several  planes, and their vertical connection. The advantages of short route connections of surfaces as found in buildings can be adopted in the one- and two-dimensional structural elements: “increase of density”, multiplication of the existing building ground as usually found in buildings, can  be employed for the city as a whole.



    This three-dimensional overlay can emancipate itself (as a consistent utopia) and can lead to the dissolution of the existing structure, the constraints of the building site and the restrictions of the topography.



    Complexity instead of banality and therefore street space of real quality can develop through the openness of use and openness of the structure of the buildings erected in a direct relation to the street.

    The street is the “spatial body in the building mass” (Rowe and Koetter, Collage City), the extent of the spatial body is the important definition .

    The frequency of a street is dependent on the quality of the surface, i.e. the degree of informedness, along its length.

    Richard Manahl, ARTEC Architekten.


    According to a statement by the artist Absalon, who has made an extensive examination of the possibilities of shaping space, “function” is of significance only during a short period at the beginning of a building’s life. Afterwards, the building is used in the way that its particular characteristics allow.


    Willem of Ockham was a 14th century scholastic, Ockham’s Razor is derived from his ideas. This instrument of scientific theory states that the entities or basic assumptions for a particular content should not be multiplied unnecessarily. This is a principle of economy, but in contrast to the “reductionist approach” of Mies van der Rohe it allows positive or unusual approaches if they can be shown to make sense.


    The double spiral staircase in the Burg in Graz offers an impressive illustration of this theoretical approach. A stair is necessary as a connection between two levels and it cannot be further reduced without a loss of context. A further staircase, on the other hand, would be unnecessary from the viewpoint of less is more.


    The multiplied basic assumption of a second stair in the sense presented here is no longer one staircase or two, it is a substantially altered content, the simple function “stairs“ becomes the complex formation “space”. Consequently, the expanded assumption is admissible and leads to a new, previously unknown result.

    Bettina Götz and Richard Manahl, ARTEC Architekten
    Details, architecture seen in section. Venice 2014


    Architecture is three-dimensional thought accompanied with craftsmanship. The craft of architecture is revealed in the detail.


    The detail can be described as the transition from one surface condition to another. In the fine arts, painting is, for example, concerned with the surface, and the drawing with the detail – or, to be more precise, with the fault-lines between the surfaces. The articulation of the details defines the structure of the surface of a form.


    A specific way of articulating the details is a prerequisite to the distinguishability of designer and building in a homogenized world.


    The arbitrary applicability of the most diverse of formal conceptions, which are available everywhere and to everyone today through the possibilities of information processing, makes a new Classicism conceivable. Next to devising space, the detail, in combination with the structure, continues to be a means to authentic architecture.

    Bettina Götz and Richard Manahl, ARTEC Architekten
    House of ORIS, Zagreb, 2016


    As fundamental conception, the notion of space as a particular and distinctive quality is an aspiration that, especially since the baroque era, has enriched architecture.


    In the present situation in which strict economic limits are imposed on architecture, the integration of spatial reserves that go beyond the specified program can make it possible to codify this approach. At the same time, on account of these additional spatial reserves, the buildings will be able to react to unknown future requirements.


    This spatial conception, coupled with the conviction that buildings should offer the public more than just private functions, is developed anew in response to the respective context.


    Building structures, in the sense of abstractly developed concepts, constitute the grammar of the work; the physical context determines its application and transformation. Ideas for concepts can come from any and everywhere.