During the interview, Harry Gugger explains what architecture should achieve and what makes it “beautiful.”
Mr. Gugger, we’ll start with a philosophical question: What is architecture, and what should it be?
Harry Gugger: Fundamentally, a building should fulfill its intended function. Architecture really stems from protective structures. What began as simple buildings have developed into complex architectures that support diverse ways of living and working. It has become particularly apparent to us during the recent pandemic, for instance, just how much influence and importance the layout of our homes can have when it comes to our well-being.
As architects, our job is to deliver on the mandate from the building owner. Yet, at the same time, we also have a responsibility toward society and must take account of the context in which a building is being embedded. In other words, architecture encourages a cultural exchange. An example that springs to mind here is one of my most significant projects, during my time with Herzog & de Meuron working on the Tate Modern Gallery in London. This project saw us open up the Turbine Hall to make it an accessible space. The location is now used as an exhibition space and has a truly unique urban design. This wasn’t specified in the tender, nor did we really know it was going to turn out this way.
As an architect, you create forms. Is good architecture automatically beautiful? Is there a universal aesthetic to architecture?
For a building to have longevity – which is a central requirement of sustainability – it needs to offer not just flexible use and structural adaptability; it also has to be visually appealing. If the architecture focuses primarily on the building itself without taking into account the surroundings, people will struggle to identify with it. Creating an appropriate aesthetic is therefore very important. Architecture should delight people and at the same time complement the surrounding environment. There are standard, unifying ideals for beauty, as well as cultural rules. Loosely applying the golden ratio, for instance, generates proportions that appeal to people. What we want to achieve with our projects is a combination of practicality and beauty.