If I Put In The Energy, It Turns Out Well
(interview with Jaroslav Sládeček)
How does the first idea take shape?
It would be great if ideas dropped out of thin air, but architecture is such a complicated field that the right idea probably won’t come to you without understanding the contexts.
Every architect has the desire to create interiors and buildings that are modern and contemporary, even though the old always has to be respected. If the result is to correspond to that, it has to be based on what’s happening in society. A host of factors have an impact on the result: the investor, the place, the era in which we live, the amount of time that can be devoted to the project, legal regulations, the authorities, and matter, i.e., what is in the realm of possibility to create. Knowledge of materials plays a role as does what a person reads, what sparks their interest in the field of science, the people that they meet.
I enjoy meeting people who create interesting things.
Do you agree that all work becomes routine after a time?
My work still brings me joy. Naturally, it sometimes gets on my nerves and I get tired, but the important thing for me is to always keep the goal in sight and know why I am doing something. To feel an internal conviction.
It’s important for me to be happy with what I design and create. That is probably what drives me.
When I begin working on a space, first I pragmatically find the logical path that can be easily described, and then I add to it other possibilities, materials, relationships, proper scale, people, their skills, and so on. I enjoy putting it all together and going after a certain vision of where I want to go with it, what boundaries I want to push, what I want to say with it, what I want to try out.
An idea is complete when it can be easily described and identified.
Does it require a lot of energy to avoid stereotypes and to be able to continue to discover new things?
I believe it’s a matter of personal discipline. The ability to say after I come up with the first idea that I should still look at it from a different angle, that I should do it differently than last time, that I should add something new.
Do you like coming up with a several alternatives or do you look for one ideal solution?
There is no point creating ten options for one thing. How would that help the client? A client comes to me because they want my opinion. We arrive at the final solution after numerous meetings, where we discuss the project. I present my opinion and they respond to it. Together we come up with a solution that they can identify with.
Do you prefer the client to be a teammate or opponent?
It doesn’t matter, as long as its fun. Even a difference of opinion can help move something forward. If a client is a good debating partner, I am pushed to create great things.
Can you provide a specific example?
Today I was at a quarry in Slivenec. I had never really liked Slivenec marble, but the client said that they’d like to use it. So, I went to the quarry and spent two hours there. Now I am full of energy because I know what to do with it to make it look good.
How will you do that?
I will take advantage of the material’s other properties than the ones it is most valued for. The standard approach is to polish it, which brings out the colour. I, on the other hand, like how it looks in its raw form or when only parts of it are polished.
What are your favourite materials or procedures?
I think I know how to do two things relatively well – coming up with a good layout and mixing materials. The first is thanks to my having examined and walked through a lot of spaces and remembering the feelings they elicited in me. That cannot be gleaned from any book; it has to be experienced.
As regard materials, I have always enjoyed examining them and going to workshops and observing how they are handled. If a person does not know what a material can achieve, they cannot use it properly. Over the years I have surrounded myself with a group of people who know how to use materials the way we want to. That is the quality that our clients like. A good craftsman contributes substantially to the success of a project. A lot of young people today underestimate the value of handicrafts. It will be a great loss when no one no longer knows to make anything by hand.
What part of the design process do you like the most?
I enjoy working on a project from beginning to end. I believe a prerequisite for success is agreement among the architect, the investor and the contractor. I decorate the interior myself.
What does such decorating entail?
I wander through the flat and place all the furnishings – vases, books, cutlery, glasses, remote controls etc – where I imagined they would go the whole time. That is the finale, the moment when I can relax and, at the same time, experience the interior and learn from it.
Are you ever worried that the end result will not be successful?
If I put in the right amount of energy, it turns out well. Even complicated relationships and difficult conditions can be overcome. All it requires is energy and time. But the older I get, the more I value my time and don’t want to waste it.
Some people feel your interiors, especially your earlier ones, look too wild.
When we were young, just after the Velvet Revolution, there was nothing here. I lived in a block of flats and the main piece of furniture was a living room shelving unit. The new generation has a hard time imagining what it was like. At the time, I was enthusiastic about every beautiful lamp or chair that I encountered in person, and that certainly influenced our beginnings. Today I am more restrained and am looking for the reason why I want to use a certain form. Nevertheless, I still enjoy combining shapes, material and colours in various, often almost incompatible, ways.
Is it important for you that the public like your work?
Yes. Why wouldn’t they like it?
Because the public’s opinion of a work is no indication of its quality.
Very few people feel good in a white interior with a single florescent light. This is not a direction I’d like to take. We have to deal with emotions that are acceptable to a greater number of people. It’s an important aspect when designing restaurants and hotels. We can design a quality interior that the large portion of the public can enjoy. Examples of such interiors are Emporio Café and the Zahrada v opeře restaurant. They were designed with the public in mind and I’m not ashamed of this at all. It isn’t necessary to prove you are capable of some sort of extremes. It’s necessary to make things for the public that are good. We may not get a design award for it, but a greater number of people will enjoy it.
What is your opinion of computer-generated forms?
It’s fun, but there always has to be an idea underlying it. Without one, it is just a generated shape
Visualisations are a great help, because through them clients are willing to approve much more adventurous projects. The danger, however, is that once people see it, they have a feeling it is already standing, that building it will be simple, but the building process is the most important. It is just as important as the design.
And isn’t there also the danger that when a visualisation is created, then the result won’t be such a surprise?
It will always be a surprise. But I have many clients who do not want a visualisation. They want to touch the materials, discuss the feelings and emotions they want to experience. When it comes to the space, they trust me and don’t worry about it. They focus on the vision, which is interesting and good. Visualisations supress feelings. That is why I want to have my visualisations look like drawings. Drawings are able to highlight what is important, whereas a flatly rendered visualisation, where everything is perfect, makes it hard to see the idea.
Permanent sustainability and the environment are often referred to as current topics. Is it good that the desire to live green is becoming so popular?
It certainly is a good thing. I think that we as humans have realised that many established positions have to be and are being redefined. This then also leads to new realisations.
The difference between tradition and modern sustainable architecture is the use of technology and the degree of comfort that we demand from it. Architecture today is moving more toward finding invisible beauty and proportion. I would call it "environmental functionalism”, which will be close to nature. It’s important to be able to live with architecture and feel good in it, not just look at it.
(Prague, February 2017)