Building a house is by no means foreign to Olaf Holzapfel. The artist has regularly occupied himself with different construction methods and building materials. On his extended travels that took him to such remote areas as the South American region of Patagonia, he acquainted himself with various types of buildings that are influenced by a country’s nature and culture.
Haus Lange was constructed between 1927 and 1930 in keeping with the International Style and the architectural ideas of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who superimposed an aesthetic and sensual surface over the structure’s functionality. Olaf Holzapfel planted a room in this house that simultaneously reflects and contradicts its architecture. Curved half-timbered wall segments constructed out of reeds traverse the hall, forming a small room—a cella or cell—in the heart of the building. The rounded walls reveal its construction method while its materials—wood and reeds—convey a sense of naturalness through a haptic experience as well as smell. While nature and architecture strike up a dialogue in Mies van der Rohe’s building, they do not, like in Holzapfel’s work, enter into an indivisible symbiosis. The space between the timber frames and above the reeds stands for traditional craftsmanship in the field of house construction. With ecological construction, so-called green building, “new old,” i.e. natural building materials, are tested today in the interplay with their immediate surroundings. If the standardization of building and transformation of territories was a visionary goal for a better ordered society in the early 20th century, the future in an adapted, individual and ecological type of construction is situated against the backdrop of climate change and environmental pollution.
The artist uses this cell, the small round space in the center of the wall construction, to allude to the main interior space inside an Ancient Greek or Roman temple. This sacred site was reserved for the respective deity and inaccessible to the lay public. With this reference to the divine, a mirror has seemingly been held up to modernism and asked about its present day sustainability: Is New Building still the compass, the god that is to be served? However, this cella in the hall of Haus Lange maintains its original function. It is an isolated, quiet and exclusive place. The reeds muffle the ambient noise; the narrowness of the space and the viewer‘s proximity to the material intensify the experience of the self. A sense for the public and the private develops and the question concerning the importance for a separation of the public zone and the private sphere is explicitly posed—at a time when the omnipresence of digital media is seen as being of existential significance. Who today takes the risk of entering nature without the benefits of GPS or a cell phone? This small interior space can thus also be seen as a cell, as a cell that resets much back to the start and attempts to reshape the DNA.
Olaf Holzapfel (
*1967 Dresden, Germany) initially studied architecture in Dresden before transferring to the Kunstakademie there, where he graduated in 2003 as a master student of Ralf Kerbach. From 2001 to 2002, he was at the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad, India. Holzapfel develops sculptures, paintings, videos, photographs, installations as well as other projects based on his dealings with space, with architectonic, urban, cultural or social spaces. He likewise seeks the connection between tradition and modernism, between the analogue and digital world in structures and signs. Olaf Holzapfel lives and works in Berlin.