ProLOEWE faces

Professor Ariel Auslender Artists in the spirit of the “Uomo rinascimentale”

© Fabian Luttropp/TU Darmstadt

Professor Auslender – “BAMP! - Building with Paper” is the name of the LOEWE-supported project that you are working on with your interdisciplinary team. Now you could say that "paper as a building material” is not a completely new topic, so what is so special about your approach? I lived in Israel for a few months in 1978. I was 18 years old at the time and was visiting a cousin of my grandfather there. His name was Sem Rubinowitz and he was a very special person, not well-known or famous, but special – very kind and a bit "strange". Sem was born in Poland or Russia in about 1910 and his father was a restless person who took his family to places almost all over the world. Sem spent his youth in Russia and Poland, he studied electrical engineering in South Africa and later in Canada, he lived in Argentina for a few years until he finally arrived in Israel where I got to know him as an old man. What is remarkable about this story of emigration and new experiments is that the family always lived in the same home. The house made of compressed cardboard from Poland accompanied the Rubinowitz family all over the world. They set it up and took it down like a circus tent and took it with them wherever they went. I spent a week in this house in 1978 and, although it was certainly not a luxury apartment – on the contrary, the house reminded you of a house in a favela – it provided warmth and a sense of dignity. Perhaps the memory of this experience was still lying dormant in me – no, that was certainly the case when I suggested to Samuel Schabel in 2012 that he should build emergency shelters made of paper or cardboard as part of the FIF (Forum Interdisciplinary Research) project. Buildings made of cardboard or paper are often the only option for families from the provinces in Buenos Aires and in South America in general, if they want to try their luck in the capital. They build homes on the outskirts of the city using any materials that they can find, including paper and cardboard.

The unusual thing about the LOEWE-funded projects is always the interdisciplinary cooperation between a wide variety of different faculties; in the case of BAMP!, there are eight professors from eight different faculties and their staff! What are the special challenges of cooperating like this and what distinguishes your work together? It really is an exciting constellation. We are very different and this is always particularly evident at the joint meetings when all the different disciplines are present. As a creative artist, I have been working for architects for years and have made sense of this special situation in my very own way: I view this form of interdisciplinary work as a kind of return to the spirit of the Renaissance. At that time, the artist, the engineer and the scientist somehow were assimilated in one person without any contradictions so that he or she became a kind of universal genius. This was still possible at that time, but specialisation has now progressed to such a degree that the “Uomo rinascimentale” (Renaissance man) is now almost an impossibility. Our era has therefore replaced the “Uomo rinascimentale” with a “gruppo rinascimentale”. That is how I see the LOEWE group. It is enormously important to me that the next generation of upcoming academics, the generation of PhD students, gets to know this spirit and benefits from it during the rest of their lives.

You originally had your roots in the artistic field of sculpture and painting and have yourself designed a wide variety of places and rooms. What does a place or a room where you feel comfortable mean to you? It is a place that you are able to conquer for your own purposes. Memory and intimacy, or rather the memories of intimacy or everyday life play a key role. The original idea that I developed with my colleagues, Samuel Schabel and Markus Biesalsky, within the FIF at that time involved pop-up houses made of paper as emergency shelters. That meant being able to set them up quickly and without any problems – and without a lengthy and complicated and "typically German" instruction manual. The idea of creating safety and security for people in need, in Haiti, in L'Aquila or other disaster or war zones, played a central role here.

The BAMP! logo is also special. Is there a particular story behind it?

No, nothing particularly special. We were looking for a logo, and because we found the topic so highly charged both socially and within society, we added an exclamation mark to make it BAMP!

About the Person

  • dean of the department of architecture