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Crossing boundaries

July 8th, 2010

Filed under: ART & DESIGN


Giant steel construction

Marc Maurer (1969), architect, has been on the scene for a good decade, almost two. His secret to looking so young for his years may be his approach to creativity – which requires collaboration and a playful approach to an aspect of life that he takes very seriously. But like all those young at heart, he’s most interested in pushing the envelope.

I begin with a serious question. How does someone like Marc choose their profession? “I wanted to be, not a stand-up comedian, but a traditional Dutch cabaratier,” he giggles. “But it was not logical to go to school to learn that.” He pauses briefly, trying to read my reaction. Then, smiling as much to me as to himself, “Well, you either have it, or you don’t.” Marc recognized his talents lay in a more “creative and scientific” course of action: that of architecture. After his first year of uni he had this strange idea to “explode” the traditional bounds of the discipline: “When I had finished with architecture, there would be nothing left of it.”

Graffiti related architecture

Sampling is a theme in Marc’s creative pursuits. As a project back in the 90s Marc had designed a house for the Beastie Boys. But not only did he draw upon music for inspiration, he used technical theories plus insight from Escher and then tied it all in a loop of his own composition. “Every architect takes his quotation from others; and if it’s not quotations, it’s products. No architect designs the entire building.” But there’s more. For Marc – and he speaks on behalf of his business partner and wife, Nicole Maurer – “We like to cross the borders and mix architecture with other design fields.” Back in the day, Nicole’s favourite partner in crime was fashion, and Marc’s was graffiti artists – personas such as Delta and Zedz. Sure, collaboration and co-creation are imperative for the architect, as practice. But the choice of collaborator is essential when it comes to detonating a conventional discipline.

As well as his day job, Marc has a role in steering research with Telcosystems and Geert Mul, at Baltan Laboratories – a media lab exploring the arts, technology and culture. And so which is he, artist or architect? “The starting point for us is always architecture. The interesting thing about us is that we are architects doing exciting things.”

The facade of a Nicole Maurer dress

Around 2002, Marc and Nicole Maurer moved offices from Eindhoven further south, to Maastricht. As a company they decided to shift away from experimental architecture and do some commercial work for a while. They were honing their craft, which is sensible. Every so often you need to clearly define the space before you can really challenge it again. After all, his company’s motto is “Like children, we play.” And it’s not idle or indulgent – the purpose of play is to develop their competencies and discover new realms.

Now it’s time for boundaries to start blurring again. Nicole and Marc have recently conceived a novel structure in Germany. The client’s brief was to build an “iconic” lookout tower. When you get a commission like this and dare to try something new, Marc says straight up that “you never know if it’ll work”. Marc and his team chose a shape that everyone would know, an unforgettable silhouette: a robot. Because the spot chosen was the site of where 7 villages had been mined away for brown coal, the architects/artists wanted make something of value. “If you go see it you’ll see that it has more levels. It’s not just an icon, but it’s also an icon.” They combined interesting light effects and materials you can see through to give a real feel for the dimensions of the tower. Climbing up it engages people, whether they’re perched in the head of the robot, gazing through the walls of grilled steel from the right arm of the tower, or tucked into the belly of the beast. Is it a tower, a monument, a statue or an actual robot?
On the topic of whether creativity is alive and well in Eindhoven, Marc says the secret is the “no-nonsense” attitude of the locals here. In both Amsterdam and Rotterdam you are either confronted by the cultural elite or a very hard character. But in Eindhoven, you have a combination of “the good life, no-nonsense attitude, and … you just do it.” He talks about the present day, “You’ve got John Körmeling, Winy Maas (famous Dutch architect), SPACE3, the Design Academy, the Designhuis. But things like the CD and Dutch television broadcasting coming from Eindhoven (Philips) make perfect sense. And you can even go back to van Gogh … Here (in Eindhoven) a lot of unimportant things don’t play a role so you can focus”. I like it. Creativity without the ego, angst and theatrics; instead, ground-breaking inventiveness – pure and simple. A place that has bred so many creative pioneers gives contemporary inhabitants license to continue the tradition.

The larger aim for these interviews is to get a gauge for how newcomers could get started in the cultural life in this part of the Netherlands. Although Marc moved away 7 years ago, he looks a little distant as he thinks back of his local, the Irish watering hole in the Kerkstraat. His office used to be in that street. He and many other artists of that period frequented The Celtic Pride. “In Eindhoven you find creativity where you would not expect, but you don’t have to go far. I don’t know if the place is still there, but it was really fun, funny. You can get these big beers.” He chuckles, caught in a moment of nostalgia. His hands cup the air to show how big these beers actually were. Marc Maurer: big kid with boundaries to test, endlessly crossing borders … including the one to Irish pub territory.

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