Matthias Neumann: Public Office for Architecture
(© Public Office for Architecture)
Observing an art work can spring any number of ideas and inspirations, but, art being the intensely personal exercise it is, it's unlikely to reveal much about how it was made. And while it might make sense to jealously guard the secrets of the creative process, many artists are excited by the prospect of having the public see more than just the final product. Or, like German architect Matthias Neumann, principal of the New York architectural firm normaldesign, they wish to let their public in on the process itself- to not only be party to the work in progress, but possibly even alter its outcome for the better.
Neumann's migrating research project, the Public Office for Architecture, puts the idea of public input into practice by setting up a mobile office and inviting residents to present architectural and design ideas. The POA then incorporates a "public component" into the proposed idea, creating a design that is of use to the client and which also provides a case study on the inherent public aspect of architecture.
The purpose of the POA is not only to involve the public in the design process through providing a project idea, but to recognize the public concerns that arise with every architect-client relationship. By taking on clients' ideas, the POA enters into a private "service relationship" with individual members of the community, while at the same time bringing to light the extent to which the public interest may be affected by the project's realization.
The POA thus also establishes a dialogue open to not only the specific interests of the client, but to those who share the same architectural environment. And while clients can develop the design with the POA for free, it is on the condition that they be open to exploring the potential of serving the greater public interest at the same time.
Enlarge image (© Public Office for Architecture) One example is a client looking to renovate the interior of an apartment in a 1930s building in Estonia. The building's common hallway had come to reflect the myriad individual cosmetic and technical changes over the previous two decades after privatization in post-Soviet Estonia resulted in 12 private apartments with 12 independent owners, each carrying out separate renovations. The POA suggested that the client consult with the 12 neighbors before commencing any renovations to discuss how to more efficiently use the common space, introducing communication between the buildings' owners while expanding the possibilities for the clients' architectural ambitions.
Working together with the artist Cristina David, Neumann has run the POA in Estonia and Slovakia, and is now taking the project to Austria. Having launched just last year, Neumann intends to expand the project to as many locations as possible, ranging from rural to urban environments, as he continues to improve on the implementation of the POA and collect more case studies.
Neumann will present his Public Office for Architecture on Tuesday, July 17 at Reverse Space Gallery in Brooklyn as part of the Impossible Project, a series of talks on projects that "go beyond reality and what is actually possible." Project creators can present their ideas and discuss the projects in a forum with the public, who is invited to respond and give input to build on the existing concept.