Leave the cities and live in the woods.
With Štěpán Krahulec about his diploma thesis, mobile architecture and contemporary society.
After a year, the Josef Hlávka Award arrived at the Academy of Arts, Architecture, and Design in Prague (UMPRUM) again. This year, Štěpán Krahulec, a graduate of the Studio of Architecture III, was one of the awarded students, thanks to his diploma thesis titled We, who left. Štěpán and I talked about topics that directly concern the award-winning diploma, such as migration to forests, mobile architecture, genetic modification of plants, and freedom of choice. We also talked about connecting architecture to fine art, Štěpán's peculiar way of working, contemporary society, and future projects.
Štěpán, your diploma thesis We, who left recently received the Josef Hlávka award. Could you outline the essence of this work and what it was based on?
It is based mainly on my personal experience, frustration with the uncertain future, and theoretical texts that influenced me are reflected there. In my diploma thesis, I reflect on all possible crises, whether of a social or environmental nature, and I try to find an answer to them in what I studied, that is, in architecture. The main thing for me was to invent an architectural structure that is mobile and one can constantly move with it, and has minimal waste, and does not pollute its surroundings. The result is a fictitious and genetically modified plant in which it is possible to survive. Humans live with such a plant in symbiosis and become a bit like a new insect because they have to pollinate it, which is a reaction to the gradual extinction of insects. At the same time, it's also mobile architecture, my fictional plant produces seeds, so if I, as a resident, stop feeling safe where I am, I can easily move elsewhere and start again.
One of the important topics you deal with is migration. From what perspective do you look at it in your thesis?
Migration has recently been discussed in terms of war migration, mainly from the Middle East, and is perceived as a major threat. I look at migration a little differently, from the local point of view of a person facing a housing crisis. Even here in Europe, many people are becoming migrants in their own country and neighborhood, precisely because of the growing housing crisis. I feel that I am still somewhere on the road, I am going from sublease to sublease and I don't have anything that is my own. I find it fascinating that a European society that considers itself advanced will allow it to have hundreds of thousands of these migrants among them and cares even less for them than for those coming from the East.
You deal a lot with the already mentioned housing crisis. Are you trying to answer this problem with your diploma thesis in some way?
I don't want to take on the role of answering such a complex societal problem. Rather than an answer, this is an outline of a possible solution. At the same time, however, I realize that it is exaggerated, it has limits and it is not easy to implement. For me, this is a possible solution in the future. I don't expect to live directly in a flower, but I see myself somewhere in the woods in symbiosis with nature.
You mention that even this new life in the forests has many limits. What exactly are the limits and restrictions you mean?
We came across this in consultation with RNDr. Lukáš Fischer, Ph.D. from Charles University, who deals with experimental plant biology. When it comes to living in a plant, the problem is with the plants themselves and the boundaries of their cell structures. There is a possibility to combine many plants together, but this is the subject of long research. Within the limits, I also dealt with the issue of ethics and genetic modification of plants with my consultant Ing. arch. Mgr. Klára Brůhová, Ph.D. I criticize the fact that today's anthropocentric society only uses nature for its own benefit, and genetic modification fits into that concept. I look at genetic modification as an imaginary last intervention in nature. If we can create biological architecture using various methods, then it will not be necessary to do anything else, because the newly created biological house will become a natural part of nature. The last problem here is the aspect of freedom. To carry out this project, the complete personal freedom of the person who decides to leave is necessary. At the same time, it is necessary to realize that the flower also has its freedom. Someone grows it, but it can also grow on its own without outside intervention. It can be modified in some way, but it is still a single plant that has its own will.
Not only in your diploma thesis, but also in your other projects, you have a very unique approach to architecture. What does architecture represent to you and how do you see its future?
In my opinion, architecture should mainly serve to create an environment in which we are protected from external influences and where we can regenerate. It is no longer a question of building something that will remain here forever as a memento, but it should create a place of rest. My main idea is to make architecture that will fall apart and disappear over time. There are so many things that are already permanently inscribed in the layer of soil on our planet so it is necessary to start building things that will disappear over time. I'd like the world to be seen this way. Not that things will be here with us indefinitely, but that over time they will dissolve, disintegrate and give rise to something else. For me, rather than building beautiful, permanent buildings, architecture is a process in which a common environment is created.
So you would like to create architecture that leaves nothing permanent. Don‘t you mind as an author that you don't leave anything behind?
I don't mind at all, it's my long-term approach. I have found that it makes no sense for me to create anything tangible and permanent, on the contrary, I want to create things that do not become waste or obstacles. I did the same with the thesis, I made it with the vision that it would disintegrate after the defense. My whole fictional flower is made of flax fibers, plant glycerin, and agar. Instead of becoming just waste, it becomes a support material for the environment in which it is located.
We will stay with your thesis for a while, which also includes a short film. What led you to make it such a large-scale project?
As part of my studies at UMPRUM, I spent one semester on an internship in Bratislava with the architect Francois Roche, who works under the New Territories studio. Their work is very academic, with students they are creating fictional narratives linked to real problems that they solve. They then communicate the whole issue and its solutions in architecture through film. This is exactly what we did in Bratislava, we created the narrative of a man who gradually became a breatharian from a carnivore and consumes only water instead of meat. We filmed the whole process and made it into a short film. This way of working suits me best. It is much easier to convey more complex topics in architecture to the public through film than classically through visualizations or architectural drawings. It is an opportunity to show the idea behind the resulting building and the broader relationships on which it is based. At the same time, it also gives a more believable impression, you are watching a film where you see the architecture realized and not just an abstract floor plan.
Your work is called We, who left. In this case, who are We, who left? and are you one of them?
The whole name has several levels. We, who left are the ones who are leaving, but it also can be the ones who are left. Whether those who left the city for the forest or those who remained on the planet, in the sense that they were not exterminated. I perceive that in this case “we” are all of us who have decided to leave the city and the current system towards a new life and to establish a new society. I am not one of them yet, but I believe that one day I will be able to escape into the new structures of life
We will move on to your other work - you are an architect, but in your projects you work on the borders of fine art, you often work with moving images and sound. How did you come to such a shift and do you want to work similarly in the future?
I definitely want to create like this in the future. Architecture is very tied and rigid, often judged by what it looks like and not by what is behind the project itself. Fine art allows for a greater imagination, it is not as bound by rules as it is to display things. I like the connection and the possibility to use knowledge from architecture in freer creation and vice versa to take knowledge from fine art and apply it to architecture.
You also recently had a robot (nik) liberation exhibition at the NIKA Gallery. Can you describe the project?
The project for NIKA was created as a vanguard of the thesis, I already knew then that I wanted to work with organic materials. I see a problem in the fact that, as architects, we create sustainable buildings, but we use machines that are very unsustainable, for example, they are made of rare minerals. So I tried to create a model of a robot that would theoretically be made of artificially grown cellular materials. But it is not purely a robot, which we only use, but rather a robot-animal. The robot has a certain internal autonomy, it is as dependent on us as we are on it, because it builds the environment around us. The main idea is how and whether it is possible to live in social and environmental symbiosis with machines and modern technologies.
Do you want to take the same environmentally friendly path in your future work?
I'm working on being a self-sufficient architect, but when I have all the necessary stamps, I want to continue on this path. I would not like to design large houses, shopping, or cultural centers, but I want to focus on housing architecture and its social and environmental aspects. I would like to create housing that functions as an ecosystem and lives in symbiosis with its inhabitants.
We have already discussed your past projects and exhibitions, so ahead to the future. Are you planning an exhibition in the near future?
We are currently preparing a joint exhibition with friends from the Academy of Fine Arts in Gallery A.M.180. We have already worked together in the summer on an ambient stage for the Transforma festival in Tábor and we are further developing this cooperation. It is a joint exhibition and it is just emerging, but we will once again create habitable plants and landscapes using organic and ecologically degradable materials. They also invited me to Transforma because of my work with biological materials, so I hope that we will be able to follow up well.
Štěpán Krahulec (*1995) is a graduate of the Studio of Architecture III at the Academy of Arts, Architecture, and Design in Prague, an architect who also moves outside the territory of architecture. He is currently engaged in architectural practice, exhibitions on the edge of fine art and architecture, where he likes to use various media, and works behind and around the bar. He collaborated with the New Territories studio on the projects Don't let me sw / EAT - de [CAM] eron in Bratislava, It already happened in Berlin or Psycho-Tropism in Vienna. He is the winner of the Other Visions 2020 competition and in 2021 he received the Josef Hlávka Award for his diploma thesis called We, who left. He has had several solo and group exhibitions and is looking forward to what will come next.
Anežka Rucká (*1996) is a graduate of the bachelor's degree program in Arts Management at the University of Economics in Prague and is currently pursuing a master's degree in Theory and History of contemporary and modern art at the Academy of Arts, Architecture, and Design in Prague. She focuses mainly on artivism, performative art, and art in public space. She works as a producer in the “Díky, že můžem” association, organizes festivals in public spaces and is one of the curators of NIKA gallery.