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Five Questions for Wolf Prix

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BUSAN, South Korea — The $150 million Busan Cinema Center was inaugurated on September 29th, opening its doors on schedule for the 2011 Busan International Film Festival. Over 800 guests, including President Lee Myung-bak, the Mayor of Busan Hur Nam-sik, high-ranking government officials, as well as film celebrities attended the lavish ceremony.

The center was designed by Wolf D. Prix of the architectural firm Coop Himmelb(l)au, which Prix established in 1968 along with Helmut Swiczinsky and Michael Holzer. Headquartered in Vienna, Austria, the internationally renown firm has offices in Los Angeles, as well as Frankfurt, Paris, and Hong Kong.

The Cinema Center will house a multifunctional theater, cinemas, restaurants, cafés and other public spaces. The Busan Cinema Center with its outdoor and indoor performance spaces, will accommodate up to 6,800 visitors in several venues, including cinemas and a 1,000 seat multi-functional theater, all specially designed for the Busan International Film Festival. In total, the center includes around 60,000 square meters of public performance, event, entertainment, dining and administrative space.

The firm also has its name on several highly respected projects around the world. The Rooftop Remodeling Falkestraße in Vienna; the “master plan” for the City of Melun-Sénart in France; the Groninger Museum, East Pavilion in Groningen in the Netherlands; the BMW Welt and Pavilion 21 MINI Opera Space in Munich; the Akron Art Museum in Ohio and the Central Los Angeles Area High School #9 of Visual and Performing Arts in Los Angeles have all gained international acclaim for their designs. 

They are currently working on many other projects around the globe, such as the House of Music in Aalborg, Denmark due for completion in 2012, and the European Central Bank in Frankfurt/Main, Germany which is set to be finished in 2014, to name a few.

Prix spoke to a packed house at the Busan International Culture Festival today, explaining his design philosophy and the future of architecture, which he envisions using sound waves to generate new shapes, and the functioning of our brains as the role model for a future city.

"It's interesting what we can learn from our brain to develop future cities. Our brain uses the idea and system which is better for solving the outstanding problems."

The outspoken Prix expressed disdain at the global trend of cities around the world using dated American-style commerical architecture, a movement that he considers best left to the past — especially in rapidly growing cities in the Middle East and Asia.

"The problem of modern cities and mega-projects and the master planning are they are old-fashioned, because they only put big buildings next to each other. They transfer these ideas of the old American cities to Dubai and the Arabian and Chinese cities, and it's a pity. They should reconsider."

Prix envisions ideas based on the cities of tomorrow, exploring new ideas, new materials and new structures, which was the advice he imparted at the aspiring architects in attendance.  

"Architects have to have the desire for the next step, the new way of thinking… how the new society can live and how cities could look like."

Haps caught up with Wolf Prix recently to discuss his vision of architecture, and his thoughts on the new Busan Cinema Center.



In a recent interview with Home & Lifestyle, you called your youthful dream of creating a revolutionary form of architecture “nonsense.” You went on to say your designs are “polarizing.” Could you sum up your current vision of architecture and what you envision for the future of architectural design as a whole?

Ten years ago, I had no idea how young architects should take a stand. The global architectural development was really global in terms of looking alike – all computer-generated. I mean that one couldn’t distinguish whether a given project was a museum, a train station or a shopping mall. But now, because of the upcoming social crisis, I would propose not to concentrate on computer-generated shapes anymore, but to show attitude in designing a new form of living.

How did you come up with the original design for the Busan Cinema Center? What was your inspiration behind it? Was the design influenced by Korean architecture?

The concept of the Cinema Center in Busan concentrates on the re-interpretation of the roof typology. In architecture history, the roof is always used as an element of protection. Only Le Corbusier and Niemeyer have changed the significance of a roof through their re-interpretation. We have addressed this re-interpretation of this typology for a long time now, and varied already in 1976 the theme of the baroque cupola. From the House with a Flying Roof project, to the Busan Cinema Center, the typology of the roof has been designed as a space-shaping element. At the Cinema Center, the 90 meter cantilevering roof is not only protection alone, but a space-shaping horizontal media surface. 

 

How would you rate the design of the Cinema Center as opposed to other works you’ve done around the world? Do you plan on doing any more work in Korea?

The next building to finish is always the most important one. It is a development of the roof of BMW Welt, but technically more sophisticated. The two surfaces which are tilted against each other create a dynamic media space. The architecture is the media and the media is the message. I wish the Busan Cinema Center could be a communication hub. It depends on the people to use it or not. In the future, we would like to do more projects in Korea, but that is not ours to decide.

How has your style in design changed over the years? How have you grown as an architect since you founded the company?

Now we have the possibility to realize what I have drawn as a young architect. For sure there are changes of form – not of content – but they are triggered by the ever growing experience. It will be an exciting future.

If you were approached by an architectural student and asked what are five “must see” buildings, what would they be?

The Pyramides, the temples in Paestum, the Airbus 380, Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, and the Martin Luther Church by COOP HIMMELB(L)AU in Hainburg, Austria.


Wolf Prix photos by Tamas Bujnovszky


The immense 90 meter cantilever roof is reportedly up for consideration by Guinness.


 

Jeff Liebsch has contributed to Yahoo Sports, Eurobasket, Tribal Football and Yonhap News. He can be followed on Twitter at @chevybusan.

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