Studio Visit: E2A Architekten

Jenny Keller
2. December 2013
Hebebrand quarter, Hamburg (Photo: Jon Naiman)

Brothers Piet and Wim Eckert have always worked together, be it during their studies at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) or at OMA, where they both worked after graduating. They knew that if they would work as architects, they would not want to design for someone else. And due to the fact their careers have always run parallel, it would have been absurd for the two of them to start their own practices. Swiss-Architects editor in chief Jenny Keller paid the brothers a visit.

Basically, Piet and Wim Eckert have always worked together. Be it during their studies at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) or at OMA, where they both worked after graduating. Both knew that if they would work as architects, they would not want to design for someone else for their entire life. And due to the fact that their careers have always run parallel, it would have been almost absurd for the two of them to start their own individual practice, says Piet Eckert. If you start your business with someone else, there is less of a burden to carry and you can do more things simultaneously – this is how Wim Eckert describes the advantages of working together.

The division of work between the brothers is balanced. The initiation of the projects is usually shared work, then an intensive dialogue follows, and after a certain stage it does not really matter anymore who had which idea, they explain.

Dialogue Principle

The Eckerts feel very much at ease when they contemplate a task intensively, sometimes behind closed doors. They are convinced that recognizing the essence of a task is crucial and not quite so trivial. It is important for them to crystallize this essence in dialogue, which is also easier when working together as opposed to alone.

E2A have both small- and large-scale projects in their portfolio, and much depends on the appeal of the respective task, such that small projects can be highly appealing, and large ones sometimes rather mundane. A large proportion of the tasks that are worked on in the office come from competitions, even if every once in a while E2A receive direct commissions. The spectrum of works is therefore very wide and reaches from private houses to apartment buildings and cultural buildings.

Heinrich Böll Foundation, Berlin (Photo: Jan Bitter)
Leaving Your Own Scale Behind

As a Swiss office that only builds in Switzerland, one is surrounded by a division into small parts that is unknown in Europe. This is why E2A like to sometimes leave their own scale behind and take part in international competitions.

In 2012, E2A won the invited competition for the planning of the Hebebrand quarter in Hamburg, Germany (today the quarter is called "Pergolenviertel"). They now learn to move in a large context: 2000 apartments need to be built, and E2A develop a master plan that builds on a dialogue between the individual actors. They also build on the topic of their studio at the HafenCity University, where Piet and Wim Eckert worked as visiting professors from 2009 until 2011, and whose focus was very urban. One of the reasons for the successful competition entry was the fact that they had two years to get to know the city of Hamburg and to be able to see it through different eyes than local architects who display a certain tunnel vision. Working in Germany is very interesting for the Eckert brothers, and they have actually been doing it since 2006, when they won the competition for the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Berlin.

One Reality

With the help of the Marina Tiefenbrunnen – a water sports center in Zurich’s Seefeld that, after a long development phase, is on hold due to the lack of public funds arising from the current financial situation, and due to a large number of upcoming large-scale projects – Wim Eckert explains his and E2A’s understanding of reality: you get a different perspective on what is happening if you do not categorize a reality (he consciously uses an indefinite article) as a drama or defeat, but recognize an opportunity in it. There is a reality that is very diverse, and you have to deal with it. It is important for them as architects to have boundaries to find specific solutions. A state of ideality is therefore not interesting. Besides, if you look at reality as a state of ideality, you get a different idea of professional ethics.

Marina Tiefenbrunnen, Zurich
Model of the Marina Tiefenbrunnen, Zurich (Photo: Jon Naiman)

There are projects that are never realized, but to which they take a great liking in the office, since for the Eckert brothers the results of their achievement do not have to manifest themselves in a built state. They find joy in things that maybe the jury did not like, and it takes this kind of sportsmanship to take part in competitions.

Among these favorites is the Center for Hearing and Speech in Zurich, for which they won the competition, but which was never realized as planned due to budget cutbacks. Nevertheless, E2A have rebuilt and extended the entire school for the deaf including the garden in the meantime – an ongoing work for the last seven years. Now the project is like a reminder of something that could have been, and also here the reality is interesting and pleasant for E2A.

Center for Hearing and Speech, Zurich (Photo: Radek Brunecky)

The HafenCity University, where Piet and Wim Eckert have taught in the past, is also the setting of one of their favorite unbuilt projects, what they consider one of the most beautiful models they have ever made. They keep showing it in exhibitions and publications, even though the jury did not let them go beyond the preliminary round. E2A consciously take the risk in competitions to either drop out very early or to make it very far, because there is a need for a certain degree of statement in architecture, especially in public tasks. Statement is not to be understood in the sense of great gestures, but in the sense of a message. However, you run the risk that some people in the jury do not agree with the message. As an architect, you always have to know for yourself where your heart lies in the end.

E2A Eckert Eckert Architekten AG
dipl. arch. eth. bsa. sia.
Hardturmstrasse 76
8005 Zürich
T +41 43 444 40 10
Office Profile
 
E2A was founded in 2001 by the brothers and ETH alumni Wim and Piet Eckert and now employs about 40 people with the simple objective to deliver good architecture and urban planning. How many people they employ is secondary for them. Before growing at all cost, one should think about how big the office should be to accomplish certain tasks. E2A works on projects in Switzerland and abroad, primarily in Germany. In 2009, Piet and Wim Eckert were appointed as visiting professors at the HafenCity University Hamburg, where they taught urban planning until 2011.
E2A Architekten: Piet and Wim Eckert. Photo: Tom Haller

"As an architect in Switzerland you have to learn to be very patient: colleagues from abroad can hardly believe that we take seven years to build a high-rise; and at the end, the high-rise is about as high as an American basement." Piet Eckert

"We feel like there is a need for a certain degree of statement in architecture, especially in public tasks. Statement is not to be understood in the sense of great gestures, but in the sense of a message." Wim Eckert

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