Uldis Pilens

Form follows consciousness - Spiriterritory's conversation with Uldis Pīlēnas

Is Bauhaus 2 Possible? A conversation with architect and entrepreneur Uldis Pīlens

Earlier this year, inspired by the global pandemic and the Bauhaus centenary, the European Union launched the new European Bauhaus initiative, which aims to "create a collaborative space for the creation of future lifestyles, combining art, culture, social inclusion, science and technology." There has been a lot of talk lately about the need to give a new shape to today, to place art, philosophy and technology in a unified context, to create a new school that would promote the radically new/different.

Is Bauhaus 2 possible, can it be created from the "outside" and does a world slowly crawling out of a pandemic have the prerequisites for such an initiative to emerge? About all this in a conversation with Uldi Pīlēnas, a Bauhaus person by nature and conviction. Uldis studied Bauhaus in Weimar, participated in Bauhaus colliquies and is also the author of several Bauhaus-related publications. As he himself says: "In my approach I am a classic Bauhaus product."

Since the beginning of the pandemic, many of the brightest minds of our time have mentioned the need for a new Bauhaus or a new Black Mountain College, because it is clear that the only solution to the current crisis and a sustainable future lies in interaction. In a synthesis, where science would enter into dialogue with philosophers, artists, architects, ancient knowledge, politicians, religious leaders, etc. It is interesting that this idea was also quickly picked up by the European Union, starting to talk about the new Bauhaus in the corridors of Brussels - already as a deliberately directed initiative. Do you think there is a possibility and a need to create a 21st century Bauhaus equivalent and is this the right way to do it?

The current initiative of the European Union on the new Bauhaus is, in my understanding, nothing more than a reaction to the 100th anniversary of the Bauhaus. And I think that enough creative people in Europe build not only their small businesses around this anniversary, but also some kind of conceptual things for their future activities in connection with the sponsor, in this case the money of the European Union. Similar to the case of the anthem of the European Union, where Schiller's poem "Priekam" contains - "all men become brothers", this initiative with Bauhaus in the background has been caught somewhere in the creative environment, reached the hearing ears in the corridors of Brussels, where current social issues are always supported, at least formally. cultural themes.

But this initiative has no roots. If the original Bauhaus had social and political roots - in Weimar and the Van de Velde school of crafts, and in 1919 it had a specific revolutionary background (competition between political forces in the left and right sectors, etc.), then today it does not. There is only this centenary of the Bauhaus.

If the original Bauhaus had social and political roots - in Weimar and the Van de Velde school of crafts, and in 1919 it had a specific revolutionary background (competition between political forces in the left and right sectors, etc.), then it does not exist now. There is only this centenary of the Bauhaus.

In addition, the scales have changed and the problems have a completely different level. These are already worldwide problems, and from the very beginning they have plagued the thinkers, who essentially prepare the idea of Bauhaus 2 as an idea of survival in the new world. No longer living space, but the idea of survival.

Currently, there is no concept of the common house that Bauhaus 1 had in 1919 - with a national idea for Germany or, on a slightly larger scale, for Europe. Now the scale has expanded to a global scale, it's like a moss that has spread to the edges - so we have a lot of activities distributed in the periphery, but in the core there is no idea of this common home. On the other hand, until it reaches consciousness, this material transformation into the idea of a common home will not happen either.

At the moment we are still in the preparation phase, relatively in the time of Henry Van de Velde. We are a generation that is going through something similar to the situation at that time. The aesthetics are still old, but the technologies are already new. We are able to achieve something, but then this next generation will come - similarly to Van de Velde, Walter Gropius followed with his team, who will be able to connect the aesthetics of the future with today's new technologies, which for the time being are also able to reproduce the old aesthetics. And then perhaps this idea of the world as a common home will form; these roots will form inward, which will make any peripheral topic philosophically dependent on the epicenter of world coexistence. Then this new Bauhaus idea can also arise. But in a natural way. But all this needs more time, it cannot be solved with some kind of money handed out by officials. That's not how things come to life, it can only make one exhibition dedicated to a specific topic.

Nor is there an epicenter where something like that is formed. I think they will be initiatives in different parts of the world. And most of them, in my opinion, will come from places where some kind of integrative clusters have already developed. By combining philosophy, aesthetics, art and culture, as well as economy, technology and capital, which can elevate these ideas in essence. At the same time embodying social and political responsibility, not only towards one's national framework, but towards humanity as such.

But just because we still have a way to go doesn't mean the idea isn't on its way. It's on its way. Because in essence, similar to how the ideas of Bauhaus 1 arose against a revolutionary background in Europe (with the collapse of Russia, Germany, the Austro-Hungarian empires and the formation of nation states), different strata are formed today, both national and international ideas circulate, left, right, intellectuals exchange for visions etc. All this - this is a conditionally revolutionary situation, but at the same time we have different scales, a different technological base, a different speed of communication. Basically, this is the soil for Bauhaus ideas, regardless of what Brussels thinks and finances.

But it definitely won't be Bauhaus 2.

No, because it simply cannot be. There may be the same basic base - the integrative idea around the idea of the common house, which also becomes the root line, but in terms of socio-political background and needs, it is a completely different scale. Another size.

And also a globally different footprint.

Yes, and at the moment of manifestation it will have to be like that. If Bauhaus 1 was – if we can define it formally in the aesthetic sense – a movement of the European intelligentsia, essentially a niche movement, then this new idea must at least be a niche movement of the world's intelligentsia. If at that time the European context was completely enough for the idea of Bauhaus 1, today the European context is too small for something like that to arise. If at that time the dominance was the social and cultural background, but ecology, transformative processes in the world and the theme of consciousness were not yet discussed, then today both ecological issues and natural and social political erosion processes are relevant. In fact, this overall picture is much more complex, and the new Bauhaus also requires much more complex answers.

And it is certainly not a mass movement. Mass production is still a long way off.

You mentioned these individual clusters. Do you have a feeling where something like that could happen right now, watching the world processes?

Considering that we live in Europe, of course I would like to hope that it will happen here, because no region of the world has come so far in combining the various factors important to humanity - be it a long-term experience of democracy, urbanization and at the same time technological denial (if we think about , how much technology has replaced each other in Europe). True, this does not mean that something cannot happen in Japan, but significantly more locally. Or in the USA, considering that resources and the ability to bring all these ideas to the world are also an important factor. Therefore, it is entirely possible that the USA will be this second epicenter. Especially now, after the Trump era, all these rapid fluctuations here are bringing enough interesting things to light. Not only destructive ones (problems of racism, etc.), but also ones that could serve as the soil for something new. In any case, that set of components is large enough in the United States.

What role do you see for Eastern Europe in all of this? Perhaps this is where the most suitable soil is.

It is possible that Eastern Europe could play a rather significant role - to contribute to the transformation of Europe as a whole in order to join the processes that are currently taking place in the world. In recent years, we have lost a lot in Europe, and that's why this forward, not backward, view is all the more important. At the moment, the great pain of Europe is not to collapse, not to get back into national fortresses - because of the weak policy of the European Union. If it succeeds, although I don't see such forces on the political scene at the moment, and there is still this dispute between Eastern Europe and Western Europe, between liberal and authoritarian democratic values and so on, but if we manage to deal with that, we generally have a pretty good bridgehead to would participate in the creation of this new order of things. No other has such a strong humanist tradition or historical base. At least for the last 200 years. In any case, the best soil for this philosophical process of connecting matter and religion in the vision of the new century is undeniably in Europe.

However, if you ask me how real it is, I can't say. Just as we, in Latvia, are currently led by back-office politicians who have grown up from there and accordingly embody this type of thinking, in the European Union, this sluice is currently letting through only back-office politicians who work for national states, using this eclectic formation "European Union". Whether there will emerge somewhere a charismatic, non-authoritarian politics capable of thinking beyond this scale, which at the same time must not come from Eastern Europe, is a good question that I cannot answer at the moment. There is no such ray of hope over the horizon at the moment.

Of course, remembering the last appearance of Lithuanians at the Venice Biennale - yes, in that revolutionary vision of how to present something different through aesthetics, we will certainly have a whole heap of impulses there. But that's not the cluster yet. For now, it is still a one-time artifact.

Looking at any sector of life, for all the things we want to evolve, someone has to prepare the ground from the beginning. There must be these "gardeners". And only then - as in the case of Weimar, the Bauhaus can sprout from the soil prepared by Van der Velde, or just as well - the reactionary direction that broke away from the Bauhaus and in the 1930s very quickly entered the language of national socialist form.

It's all there, and depending on how we build the soil, what we fertilize it with, how we water it, give it air, oxygen, sunlight, and how we take care of it, the seed that's placed inside will practically sprout from it. And it is also not excluded that it can be across or completely missed.

It is very important not to forget - and that is why I like the Bauhaus idea, including the social components. It's as if it's outside of design, as if it has nothing to do with art (it's just the understanding of one school), but the social element, in my view, is of great importance in architecture, art, even music. Because it forms the intellectual base background for which we actually work. Who is the recipient of this environment, what is his level of maturity, what are his expectations, expectations. What is the environment in which this new product - whatever, architecture, design, art - enters.

In my view, the social element is of great importance in architecture, art, even music. Because it forms the intellectual base background for which we actually work.

It is not for nothing that the Bauhaus once had a hard time both in the relatively bourgeois environment of Weimar, which was its first stage, and in the industrial Dessau, where an attempt was made to draw the Bauhaus into the left political wing, thus predicting the strategy of improving the environment of the less solvent part of society. However, by dragging a matter too much into politics, both politics and the entire creative environment involved in it always suffer. Not for nothing did all this result in the departure of Hannes Meier to Moscow after the conflict in Dessau had grown to the point of meaninglessness. Then came the third Bauhaus period in Berlin, already with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, which was distinctly formal.

Basically, the social experience of the Bauhaus organism is not to get too deep into politics, because there is always a backlash. And the delicious proportion of how far we flirt with politics, how far we don't allow our values to change under the influence of any policy, and how much those values can influence politics, is a fine art. A very fine line that we must not forget at the same time.

Looking at the mistakes of the Bauhaus over a hundred years, how could we not step on the same rakes that the original Bauhaus may have stepped on. And who do you think they might be?

Objectively, could the Bauhaus have lasted longer? No. The Bauhaus did everything possible - Nazism was already shivering through the streets of Germany when Berlin was still the last bastion of the Bauhaus. Caught up in formally aesthetic categories, so as not to have anything to do with politics. But this is, of course, a naive sign of us, people who are somehow related to culture, that we will be able not to get involved in politics. This is not usually the case, because politics already passes through all layers like lightning. We can pretend that we avoid politics, but even then we are on one of the fronts that help others get to power through our neutrality, for example.

The Bauhaus made three desperate attempts in this case. The first was in Weimar - at the municipal level to bring new aesthetic craft categories to life for the future. The problem that the Bauhaus faced, or the first battle of purification, was not in the city government, but in the environment of pedagogues. The second cleansing battle followed when the basic aesthetic principles had already been demonstrated and achieved international success, but the city of Weimar could not figure out what to do with it and began to reduce the budget. Namely, international thought collided with a local vision of what is the task of local politics. The Bauhaus had already outgrown the tasks of the Weimar School of Crafts in its philosophy, and there was an impulse for something bigger than the shell that provided its gullet.

Having arrived in Dessau and in a left-wing shell, or a kind of greenhouse, politics tried to use this new aesthetic thinking as a vision of the new world. Until a certain moment, until the biggest political background changed again, which was no longer the city of Dessau, but already the common background of Germany - the communists and social democrats began to gradually lose their positions to the national socialists, and thus all this ended with the cancellation of the money flow of that shell. Then, of course, Berlin, where the scale was larger and there was also a private school that could support itself, but the socio-political background had already changed, the aesthetics had strengthened, but a few elements had already died.

Meyer's landing on Moscow followed along with a string Bauhausian, who could not separate this left-wing thinking, which in their understanding was superior to formally aesthetic thinking. Mies van der Roe, on the other hand, moved to the USA with his fellow aesthetes - already on a larger scale, which was much better balanced with the international vision of aesthetics. And basically only from there and from that experience did the Bauhaus return to Europe - in the 50s and 60s.

Any revolution eats its heroes. We also know this well from the times of the French bourgeois revolution. Because the application is greater than its adaptive capacity to survive. And in the case of Bauhaus 2, we will encounter the same in a similar way. There will be applicants to lift something, but they will not have the strength to carry it all the way through. And others will grab it and carry it on in some other, transformed way. That is why it is extremely important to put this basic principle – the integrative idea of the first Bauhaus – at the very beginning, because then it is no longer problematic that it can only be tolerated within the limits of the current strength. It will no longer be torn apart by vicissitudes and will move on, even if it is transformed in the process.

It is interesting that in the concept initiated by the European Union, the classic Bauhaus principle "form follows function" has lost its relevance and instead the new key word is "sustainability", sustainability of the planet, country's sustainability...

"Form follows function" was a very perfect and true-to-scale setup of the time, because it showed what was possible to transform in the world that was outside the window in 1919. Today, when talking about an integrative approach, I like the phrase "form follows consciousness." This means that the rate of transformation of our consciousness is what helps to formulate this guideline for the future, including aesthetics and culture. "Form follows consciousness", so the higher the consciousness, the more precisely the form conforms to this consciousness. And the shape of our big, unified world is sustainability. Therefore, there is no contradiction in it.

The speed of transformation of our consciousness is what helps to formulate this guideline for the future, including aesthetics and culture. "Form follows consciousness", so the higher the consciousness, the more precisely the form conforms to this consciousness.

But how do you feel this transformative speed of consciousness right now? Is that enough?

I think that's enough. If you look at what has been done in the last decade, all these negative sides of social networks coexist, which, undeniably, transforms one part of society downwards. Creating a kind of giant scissor between the part of society that is able to use technology to enrich itself and at the same time the processes of transformation of consciousness, and the other, which primitivizes these same tools, the same networks, thus moving away from the processes of transformation of consciousness. Basically, a giant chasm is formed between this one minority and the other majority. It is a revolutionary situation, and that is why it is very important who leads the society. What are the leaders and tools that allow leaders to come to the fore, who move the society towards these positively transforming processes, and what are the tools that, in turn, serve the opposite - nominate leaders (like Lukashenko, for example) that do not allow a mature society to transform and hinder these processes.

I don't have a completely accurate answer, and probably no one does right now, but we have to be participants in these processes. On the right side. And I mean this integrative thinking as correct - in any case, if Bauhaus principles are one of the cornerstones in our thinking, then it is hardly possible to completely miss it.

Most likely, in the world, one after the other, there will be such dots, a kind of cluster (also "Ola" could be one of those) - one, the second, the third, the fifth..., which will begin to mark something new, including from a formally aesthetic point of view. This process will have a deeper meaning, but at the same time, each of these individual dots is not yet something that we can talk about as a larger or even a niche movement. We still have to endure, but that doesn't mean we don't have to do it, that we don't have to think about a better and more integrated world. About a newer world in every sense and more suitable for this civilization. Also in architecture and art.

How do you see this new aesthetic in architecture, because it's quite clear that, unlike Bauhaus 1, in this case, architecture is not likely to be the driving force, but rather to be present.

The world has become complicated. I've been thinking a lot about whether architecture might be somewhere in the middle in the future. Probably not. At the moment, it is more in the vanguard of the elements of the movement, because it is no longer able to integrate so many new flows so that this unification takes place under the architecture. The scale is much larger, and the entire informational space of new, modern media, the way of presentation, also enters into it. The dimension of time - time plus territory, plus a border that is outside architecture - the border of the environment, layering pairs, technologies and the like. The biggest challenge at the moment is to combine all these separate elements - technological, artistic, architectural, design, etc., which each live in their own bubble, without a unified idea.

We cannot say that the Bauhaus had its own philosophical direction, but it had an integral approach to the environment, with the tools that architects, designers, graphic artists, etc. had at the time. action. On the other hand, today's great task is to once again integrate the material with the philosophical, the religious with the material, the ethical with the aesthetic.

Today's great task is to reintegrate the material with the philosophical, the religious with the material, the ethical with the aesthetic.

That new aesthetic, which I think will materialize soon enough, is an aesthetic that turns architecture into civilized living space machines. Much like how we access our informational world and all the tools that provide us with the ability to communicate in a social environment, architecture will largely be a technological extension of our selves. In other words, technical comfort - air quality matters, heat/cold regulation topics are incomparably higher in the priority level than the functionality of the parade and showing one's social status in the 19th century. If we look at our iPhones and iPads, for example, the way we communicate, regardless of social status. I have a friend in India who has a completely different financial situation but has the exact same phone as me. This means that the level of information available to both of us for global networks is similar. So, the ability to develop intellectually in the informative plane is also similar. And that would be the task of architecture – a building celebrating this democratic model of society, which manifests its basic idea through many and various technological solutions. Are architects ready for this? Hard to say. Some imaginary leaders of mine, yes. Renzo Piano has done this all along, combining this sustainability component with an aesthetic vision.

On the other hand, the completely opposite direction is architecture that ignores technology. An architecture that is only a sham and created by architects who do not want to dig deep and do not empathize to be engineers to understand what can be offered to us in essence.

Can we even afford to be shams in this new, transformative world?

Similar to how we can afford to be fake in our social communication - illusory pyramids are built about ourselves, about society, about desires. A world of illusions is being built. Architecture is not exempt from it. It is a world of illusions in which I, as an individual, would like to live. And if I, as an architect, am in the hands of a client who orders me something, then I have the opportunity to refuse, but if I do not refuse, then I realize the client's thinking about my social being, my social position in society - I realize some of his needs. And it manifests itself for one - golden towers at each end of a private house. It is the architecture of money, and the architecture of money can be very crippling if it is not anchored in thinking.

Thinking about this transformative aspect, the world is currently talking about it more and more, in Latvia it is still very busy - what will the environment in which we will live when this pandemic is overcome? Assuming the virus won't go away and future pandemics are likely to follow. We will have to adapt and rearrange both the public and work environments accordingly. Ventilation questions, the future of open offices, so that they do not become a mutation of this virus or some new virus clusters. How ready are we for such a transformation?

We will be ready faster than we currently think. It is similar to vaccines. In principle, they take decades to develop, but we got to them in one year. Yes, maybe the downside is greater than if the development period were longer, but we've got protection. It will be the same with architecture, the best room ventilation models will be scientifically proven and the architecture will adapt to the air flow. It will become dominant. If earlier we thought about insolation, now of course it will continue to be present, but air exchange, air provision, creation of a safe working environment will come to the fore. And new office models and socialization concepts will follow from this. The pandemic had conditionally trapped us in our living space, and from this experience, as well as from the places that have turned out to be the biggest epicenters of the disease, urban planning will also be transformed.

If the virus continues to be present, architecture and urban planning will transform very seriously. A good example is New York. We all love New York's skyscrapers and fire systems that completely ignore any aesthetics and place bunds on the roofs to flood local epicenters in the event of a fire. All this arose from the fact that there were frequent fires in the city, and the topic of the hierarchy of fire requirements came above any topic of aesthetics. This is how this new aesthetic was formed, in which this technological component is present.

I think that face masks will also enter fashion as an integral part - with appropriate aesthetics and technological solutions. And in architecture it will be exactly the same. Ventilation will become an overarching theme. Just like the fire and escape stairs in New York.

You think that the pandemic will teach us to be farsighted enough.

We will not be able to be absent, because these will be the social hygiene standards of our household and cohabitation. Normative. I assume that after five or seven years, the theme of ventilation may become an architectural motto. Center Pompidou 2, so to speak, where technology has been brought outside to bring function inside. It is also a kind of eclecticism, but it is an aesthetic eclecticism.

Speaking of open offices, maybe a bit of a silly example, but I think an analogy with kitchen drains is appropriate. If until now we knew kitchen drains from above, then now, for about ten years, we also know kitchen drains, which immediately pull off the steam from the pots and drain it down. Trivial, but this example perfectly shows how conceptual change is possible. If we currently have indicators of how much air exchange should be in an office space of a certain size, then if we think in categories where some partitions are also provided, the room that we pollute from the air point of view is, in a sense, like a steam vent. We have to pass the air we exhaled safely, individually, so that it does not end up elsewhere and at the same time replace it with a new one. It is simply a paradigm shift in the way we provide air exchange for each workplace. However, this does not mean that a large office cannot exist. And as soon as the phase of the first positive experiments takes place, these principles could become the normative basis for the future.

I assume that after five or seven years, the theme of ventilation may become an architectural motto. Center Pompidou 2, so to speak, where technology has been brought outside to bring function inside.

What is the most important lesson you have taken away from the Bauhaus?

I feel like one realization that runs through everything I've done is the unity of art and technique. If we look at what we have done at UPB Holding, there is essentially a combination of the cooperation of the architect and designer, as well as the industry behind it. In a way, this idea of an industrial laboratory, which was one of the cornerstones of the Bauhaus thinking and also the training process.

The second theme is the realization of the second phase of the Bauhaus that architecture unites everything, or architecture is above everything; architecture unites all the arts. The best works that speak to me personally in the world and where I really get my tailbone tickled are the ones where you see this total approach. And it does not necessarily have to be functionally austere, it is important to see the range of topics, starting from some elements of the shelter, architectural form language, function language, interior elements, design, even the service structure (if it is a service-oriented object) - like this the integral approach has gone through. Then you've hit the spot and it doesn't even matter what formatting code you put in one element or another, because in its totality, it all comes together in a properly proportioned place. What should be ascetic is ascetic, what should be less ascetic is less ascetic, but its proportion puts everything in places.

Staying on the axis of time - making the situation better, living nicer, is quite a big task. For art, architecture, everything else.

Staying on the axis of time - making the situation better, living nicer, is quite a big task. For art, architecture, everything else. In addition, so that you are not just a provocateur of one moment, which is erased by history, but to keep this idea in essence, changing it evolutionarily according to the times, it is very valuable. From this point of view, the Bauhaus has lasted remarkably long. With all those mutations and counter-directions, it as a line was able to integrate only deeper and deeper - not only in spatial things, but also in time-dimensional processes, cinema and the like. It is not for nothing that Gropius had an excellent opinion that if you educate an artist without a social dimension, then you throw him out to be torn apart, because he does not have the tools and skills to stand up for himself. Then he is dependent on others, and therefore - automatically more manipulable. That is why it is so important to put in this stable backbone that allows movement to the right and to the left, but your axis of values is always centered. You can never turn 180 degrees and you can never stop. You can stand up for yourself in any environment - with different incomes and opportunities, you find the tools and you are viable. And this is an extremely important thing for all those who work in creative spheres - not to be dependent on donors. Being in the middle of it by myself - I can break through. I can help transform the world, and I can cut things. And hats off to Gropius and everyone who came before him and after him.

Una Meistere talks to Uldis Pīlēns
Originally published Spiriterritory.com
Photo: Karlina Vītoliņa