|Interview with Prof. Tobias Wallisser
Digital design methods
You are an architect and a professor of innovative building and room concepts at the Stuttgart Academy of Art and Design.
For your projects, you make use of the latest digital design methods. What influence does digitalization and computer-aided
production have on the creative work of architects?
The models change with the selection of the tools. This is also true for digital design methods; they influence the final
product. Drawing by hand is always indirect. It is a representation of what is in your head. So when you work with it, you
are not working on the project itself, but on the projection of the project. However, if you work three-dimensionally, you
are working on the building itself. You can experiment with things faster, but in the process, drawing suffers in part as
a representational artistic form. For me, a good drawing is a wonderfully concise representation and as such has been up to
now its own art form. But aside from that, the conceptual approach must not be neglected.
Are there still drawings and hand sketches, or is everything done on the computer these days?
There are still hand-drawn sketches just as before, less for representing how the final product should really look later,
but more so to clarify what the initial conditions are or what information can be linked together. These sketches are combined
with the 3D representation, which can be re-created by hand. With a pen in hand you often have more tranquillity and see more
things than on the computer. I personally favour a combination of both.
Do you observe students using new conceptual approaches in comparison to earlier generations of architects?
At the technical schools a generation is coming up that does everything on the computer right from the beginning. They are
extremely fast, as far as implementation is concerned, but they are sometimes not quite as far along with conception. There
is a danger of blindly relying on the tool and losing sight of the frame of reference. They rarely question whether the programme
is offering the right solution. But that is similar to what happened with the advent of 2D drawings on the computer. The most
important thing is the intuitive work with the particular programme and that there is a certain fuzziness just as before,
which allows leeway for invention in the process.
Two years ago, you designed the Armstrong trade fair booth at BAU and completely covered it with linoleum. What was the challenge
to go from the digital design to the actual booth?
The idea was to project a two-dimensional linoleum pattern onto a three-dimensional landscape. In that way, we were able to
make the pleasant-feeling linoleum come alive on the floor, walls and ceiling. It was difficult because we couldn’t simply
pre-assemble everything but had to assemble the pieces like a puzzle on site. We were able to put together the elements of
colour beforehand; the rest had to be cut by hand on site by specialists. A computer representation often suggests that everything
simply fits together, which is not always the case – depending on production dimension accuracy and material tolerances. Therefore,
I always have my students make a three-dimensional rendering, then we build a prototype to see what works and what doesn’t,
and then the three-dimensional rendering is adapted. Installation sequences must also be considered. So, just as you can’t
simply slide a jig-saw puzzle piece into place but must press it into place from above, you also have to think about intermediate
states and about the actual assembly. The advantages of working digitally are feedback opportunities, evaluation loops and
the manipulation of complex data.
Your website says “Green is the new black”. Do green buildings benefit from new software solutions?
Sustainability must be incorporated in the planning phase. That is exactly where the new technologies are of benefit, because
material properties or performative aspects can be tested very early on – in advance on the computer and not on the completed
building structure. So for example, we simulate thermal conditions with climate data from a special place throughout the year.
You won the competition for the centre of the eco-city, Masdar City, near Abu Dhabi. How did you approach the concept and
what is the challenge with this project?
Masdar City is supposed to be the first CO2-neutal city in the world. We submitted an entry to the competition for a hotel
and conference centre, but we were of the opinion that a city centre had to be much more of a public space. For that reason,
we placed the buildings on the periphery and planned a large square – the first public outdoor space in a desert climate.
The challenge is to create a pleasant climate. So we planned to create shade using umbrellas, which can be closed up at night,
so that the square cools off. The ground is also cooled and the energy for that is generated from solar panels on the umbrellas.
That is how the concept grew step by step. The giant parasols will look like tulips when closed, and like sun flowers when
Thank you very much for an in-depth and fascinating interview!
LAVA was founded by Tobias Wallisser, Chris Bosse and Alexander Rieck in 2007 as an international network and is known for
spectacular projects such as the Michael Schumacher World Champion Tower in Abu Dhabi. About 20 employees currently work at
their branches in Stuttgart and Sydney as well as in Abu Dhabi. At BAU 2009 the firm designed and constructed the Armstrong
trade fair booth, which was completely covered in DLW Linoleum.