Ritual & Transformation
Hans Hollein


Hans Hollein

©Monica Pidgeon

If I try to give a short definition of architecture, I would, at least to my ideas and thinking, point out that there are two main aspects of architecture: the one is that architecture is a ritual thing; and the other is that I understand architecture as a means of preservation of body temperature. And I think that both in the history of mankind and through civilisations and cultures, you can find these two approaches very clearly. Sometimes you find them in a very extreme isolated way, as a polarity, and very often you find them in a complex overlay of those two aspects. I worked with the idea of architecture as a ritual thing, out of the assumption - and I think the rather founded assumption - that the first thing man was putting up, especially in climates where the preservation of body temperature was not of prime importance, he was putting up a pole or a heap of stone as a sign of his presence or as a communication with the gods. I also think that the relative or absolute uselessness of those objects in contemporary functional terms, have a correspondence in, for instance, areas we do not directly connect with architecture, like a dance. So if I am on a South Sea Island I have a lot of time to think about inventing beautiful dances and making structures within, or around which, I can have them. On the other side, there are very clearly regions in the world where man's prime interest and occupation is survival. I could, for instance, in anthropological terms, name the Eskimos; maybe they are a very typical example for somebody whose main task during his whole life, day and night, is to survive. That's also why the Eskimos are the designers, the early industrial designers, so to speak, par excellence. Every object is, in terms of function, developed to the utmost degree of perfection.


City Communication Interchange, 1962 - 1963

©Hans Hollein

In the development of myself and my thoughts on architecture, I thought I had to dwell on the ritualistic aspect, which also is the question of uselessness - uselessness again in terms of common functional terminology today. To be clear what is architecture - what is a building I would call architecture - I have been developing projects, making drawings of dozens of useless buildings I called absolute architecture, objects which do not want to be more than architecture. If man is inventive enough to use them, to inhabit them, to take them into possession for a lot of activities; that is, man, like he takes, in an inventive way, possession of nature. You do not redesign the mountains or the woods in terms of specified functions. You discover a log which you can sit on. You have not a log, a tree growing to fit your body, your ergonomic data. So to me, this is one of the acts of the creative architect, that he provides something - something which is not a solution to a well-stated problem primarily, but something which is a statement; a statement you have to confront yourself with; a statement which can be friendly and even can be hostile.

Thanks for previewing this talk

If you would like to view the whole talk please follow one of the following links


Or if you already have an account: