Lasting impression

Northern light and Alpine beauty

Neil Gillespie

I’ve got three buildings and they’re all connected. The oldest is the Nordic Pavilion [1] on the Venice Biennale site by Sverre Fehn (1962). It’s essentially a canopy made from a series of concrete fins, very narrow and quite deep. Between each is a rooflight – light coming into the pavilion is reflected off the fins, which cools it visually. The effect is the creation of a northern light in Venice. It’s a very subtle thing – you walk in and there is this very cool daylight, whereas being in the Mediterranean you would expect it to be quite warm and saturated. There are trees inside the building growing up through the roof – it speaks a lot about the north, which is what interests me. In this one device, Fehn manages magically to create a sense of landscape through a concrete beam.

The second is La Congiunta [2] by the Swiss architect Peter Märkli (1992), a gallery for the sculptor Hans Josephsohn. It sits in a valley and it’s a very concrete building, very austere, a series of slipped boxes sitting in an alpine landscape. I wouldn’t say “aggressive”, but it’s very abstract and graphic. You go to a cafe to get the key and then you wander through a vineyard, open the door and go into this amazingly stripped back space. It’s very, very powerful. I’m interested in the material side of architecture and both of these buildings appeal to me in the way the concrete can be used to express really fundamental, sensual spaces, almost devoid of technique.

The third is 6a Architects’ Stirling-shortlisted Juergen Teller studio [3] (2016). It seems to take cues from the Fehn building, again it’s a linear sequence: building, courtyard, building, courtyard. I think it’s a very beautiful building. In the times we live in, with everyone system-building and subcontractors doing the detailing, these three buildings are definitely unique. They’ve taken effort, there’s a huge amount of investment in actually making the building. When you strip away all the formwork you’re left with something incredibly powerful.

Neil Gillespie is a director at Reiach and Hall Architects