Kuehn Malvezzi is Berlin-based architectural practice established in 2001 by Johannes Kuehn, Wilfried Kuehn, and Simona Malvezzi. In addition to their work in the field of architecture, the founders are also exhibition designers and curators. Selected projects include exhibition spaces for Documenta 11, Kassel (2002), the extension of the Rieckhallen, Hamburger Bahnhof: Museum for Contemporary Art, Berlin (2004), and the Julia Stoschek Collection, Düsseldorf (2007).
Kuehn Malvezzi has also orchestrated the extension of Museum Berggruen (2013), and Moderne Galerie Museum in Saarbrücken in 2017 as well as won the commission for House of One (2012). All founding members of the practice are also active educators. Since 2018, Wilfried Kuehn is a professor of Design at the Technical University Vienna; while Johannes Kuehn is a professor at the Bauhaus-University Weimar. Simona Malvezzi is teaching Curatorial Praxis at NABA (Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti) in Milan. Johannes Kuehn, Wilfried Kuehn, and Simona Malvezzi were also visiting professors at the Harvard Graduate School of Design in 2019. In 2021, Kuehn Malvezzi won the Competition for the new BAC (MAMCO Genève, Museum of contemporary art in Geneva), and in 2022 the Competition for the new PHI Contemporary Museum in Montreal.
LUCIJA ŠUTEJ: Could you tell us how your architectural office was established and what vision brought you together?
SIMONA MALVEZZI: I would not talk about vision but about a deep interest in conceptual art and its processes of production that brought us together. We have always shared an interest in public spaces as opposed to private ones, and in how public architecture can generate an impact on political and social issues. We never cared about style or signature. When you start your practice, you shouldn’t worry about such things.
What we cared about were the books on our shelves. How does one’s library work? What order does it follow? We looked at what kind of books we had at the time. Mostly art books and artists’ books – books made by artists. In the 90s we were mostly following the activity of Mike Kelley, Martin Kippenberger, Günther Förg, and Franz West along with artists of our age such as Manfred Pernice, Michael Riedel, Marko Lulić, and Michel Majerus.
LŠ: You created numerous architectural designs such as for Documenta 11, the Friedrich Christian Flick Collection in the Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum for Contemporary Art in Berlin, and Julia Stoschek Collection. Which architectural design was the most challenging and why?
SM: The key to the design of an exhibition lies not so much in the form to be given to the space as in the form to be given to the movement of the participating visitors. This was the concept of the two winning projects in the competitions for the former Binding brewery at Documenta 11 and the Stoschek Collection in a multi-use building in Düsseldorf.
In the former, a triple matrix of paths was created to be superimposed on 5000 metres horizontally and in the latter, the project consists of reorganising the entire six-level building from a continuous upward movement from the cinema located in the basement to the new platform on the roof. Unlike the theatre spectator, the visitor does not observe with detachment from a fixed position but determines not only the spatial approach to the exhibits but also the temporal approach: he becomes the director of his own spatial experience.
The Documenta project was really challenging as it was the first big competition and we had to submit a proposal to set up artworks, but we didn’t know what the artworks were. Therefore, we had to be very generic but at the same time very specific because we had to include every possible media, from audio, video, and installations to photography. As I mentioned before, instead of designing rooms we designed parcours aka two possible movements for the visitor that could combine them by creating his narration and perception.
LŠ: How do you choose curatorial, that is to say, architectural design projects for cultural institutions you do? What is important to you in the selection process?
SM: When we talk about architecture as the curatorial design we mean that we use the readymade as a tool to work with. We create a new context for existing objects. Or if you like a constellation of objects. We don’t see any difference between curatorial work and architectural practice. The curator together with the architect builds a narrative sequence of time and space.
We consider the display as something which puts attention on an object whether it is an art object or an architectural element.
Display is something that has to do with attention. The architect has a crucial role in designing this activity or better addressing the attention of the spectator. But especially in exhibition architecture, this is tied to the narration of the exhibition and the movement of the spectator. And again, the architect’s work is strictly connected with that of the curator or the artist.
The task of architecture is changing. From the visible envelope of the “Bilbao effect” we are moving towards an invisible architecture that has a far more direct relationship with art. The architect is becoming a curatorial designer who uses existing situations and objects like ready- mades to generate new spaces. Design logic is addressed towards the design of perceptive space starting with the visitor, intended as a participant in an event.
LŠ: Could we revisit the interreligious project House of One – how was the project initiated? What is your vision for the building? Has the surrounding landscape affected the design?
SM: The concept on which House of One is based is dialogue. To open dialogue and debate, one must have knowledge of the other. In addition to becoming a place of worship, this project is creating an educational centre for everyone, including and especially for agnostics and secular people.
The project will be built on the foundations of The Petri church, a 19th-century building demolished by the East German government in 1964. The original church dated back to 1230 and was the first documented building in the city of Berlin, thus a central and historically important area. Gregor Hohberg, the priest of the Protestant community to whom the property was to be returned after German reunification, instead of conceiving the construction of a new church, thought of involving the Jewish and an Islamic communities. Together they conceived an interfaith centre of the three Abrahamic religions. Through an architectural competition, our design was chosen for this unprecedented typology on the oldest site in the German capital.
The main concept of the House of One is based on the idea of a covered square around which the three places ofworship are grafted: they are placed equally in relation to each other and not next to each other, and thus surround the central space with the dome, which is the extension of the Petriplatz inside the building. The central space also shows its role as a square through the brick façade, which unfolds from the outside to the inside and marks its function as a threshold. Conversely, the synagogue, church, and mosque each have a different and specific configuration reflecting their liturgy.
We hope that it becomes an exportable model of dialogue between communities in a real dimension of diversity. Where different identities come into contact with each other, in a space that preserves them in their difference but at the same time brings them together. It is precisely around this idea that our project has developed.