“Those are buildings that people care about”
Young Austrian architect and former ski-jumper Chris Precht lives in the mountains above Salzburg, where he also creates buildings with his wife Fei. Studio Precht has been gaining traction in the architecture world for its eco-aware philosophy and radical designs. Buildings such as the new Hilton Hotel in Hyderabad, India, or the planned Toronto Tree Tower have made waves. Here 35 year-old Precht shares some insights into his world and green work.
Tell us why you want to build in a sustainable way?
“Because our problems are too urgent to build any other way. Climate change and its consequences are the issues of our generation and the building industry plays a big role in its cause and its solution. The building sector is the number one polluter of our environment. And that starts with architects. If you look at our cites, they are filled with ivory towers. Towers that are disconnected from their surrounding. They consume from their surroundings, but don’t give anything back. They are islands in the city.”
Are neighbourhoods and communities important to you?
“As Architects, we should think more what a building has to offer to a neighbourhood. How it affects a community. Buildings that are more than just expensive real estate. Buildings that give back to a wider audience. With public gardening areas for a community as an example. Connecting people back to nature. Sensible architecture with materials that you want to touch, with plants that you can smell and eat, and birds and bees that you can hear. Buildings that are healthy for the residents and for the environment. Those are buildings that people care about. And in the end that is the most sustainable architecture, because those buildings are around for a long time.”
Is being green important to you?
“We live and work in the mountains of Austria. We grow our own food, have chickens for eggs and try in general to be as self-sufficient as possible. Although architecture is for the public, your projects are still very personal. As an architect you are inspired by your environment and shaped by the community you grew up in.”
What else shaped your way of architecture?
“Hands down my Dad. It really is true that the stories of your father become your own. My Dad was a famous free climber. The more I go to the mountains, the more I see similarities of his purpose and my purpose as an architect. The mountains offer you a change of perspective. Visually but more importantly mentally. You feel like an insignificant ape that is surrounded by millions of years. Surrounded by a larger story. And far too often we forget that there is something more than our consumerism and our thrive for an economic growth. Architecture can offer a similar perspective. It is a long-lasting craft that can give us a glimpse of history, culture and tradition. And far too often we forget that there is more than rising real estate prices, styles and trends.”
Can green architecture also give us good design?
“Nature is the best architect and nature developed the best designs. As an architect I constantly try to come close... but we [as humans] always fall short compared to nature. I try to build with natural materials that have a low carbon footprint, develop systems that are pre-fabricatable, so the construction phase can be short and has a low impact on its surroundings. And I like to connect people to nature and introduce plants as a design element.”
Tell us about some of your other wooden buildings?
“We are working a lot with wood. Austria has a thriving wood culture. My Dad was a carpenter and I grew up with the material. Currently we are working on several small wood buildings and two towers in Cross Laminated Timber. Wood is an incredible material that regrows. People who live in wood buildings have a measurably lower heart rate. I think it is in our DNA that we need to be surrounded by something natural. Our brains are wired to be close to nature. We need fresh air, green grass and clean water. But far too often our cities and buildings are not providing that. Building with wood is as close as it gets to introduce nature back into our buildings.”
What buildings does Precht have opening soon? Are they sustainable / green?
“Personally our most important project was recently our own studio in the mountains. We now have enough space for thinking, creating and making. With an inspiring view. From this remote place we work on global projects. Currently we have projects in Europe, Canada, Israel, India and China. Some of them very small ones, some of them a bit larger. But we try to ration our workload and have a healthy work-life balance. The best part of working in the mountains is living in the mountains. When the weather is good, we do a lot of hiking, climbing and skiing. But when the weather is not good, we get some time to do architecture!”
Writer: Christopher Beanland
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