Julie Marthe Hoffmann Wat ass Architektur?

We are advocates for architecture with a little difference.”
© Julie Marthe Hoffmann

Every season, Rotondes works with citizen groups and associations that inspire dialogue and reflection by critically addressing social issues. We met with Julie Marthe Hoffmann to talk about the project Wat ass Architektur? – which is also the title of an upcoming documentary series.

How did the Wat ass Architektur project come to life?

Julie: It’s something I started thinking about at university. I was studying architecture in Innsbruck, and some friends and I had discussions about what architecture is. We asked several professors about their thoughts on the topic, and that’s how the What is architecture? project started. It’s actually an internet platform where different opinions about architecture can be found. I wanted to bring the project to Luxembourg and was able to do so thanks to a grant from the Œuvre nationale de secours Grande-Duchesse Charlotte.

The film screenings at Rotondes are conceived for a non-architect audience, to raise awareness before the release of a documentary series that I am preparing with Etienne Duval. For each part of the project, we have adopted a non-elitist approach. We are adamant about reaching people who are not architects. After all, everyone lives and works in a building, we all have a link to architecture.

Are you defending an ideal vision of what it means to be an architect, and how to be an architect, with this project?

J.: I’m a curator in this project rather than an architect. Above all, I want to convey ideas. When I set out to interview people for the documentary, me being an architect isn’t important. I meet up as an activist.

But my ideal architecture is one that puts the human being at the centre, one that finds ways to build what is best, but not necessarily at a high cost. The Austrian film Häuser für Menschen — Humaner Wohnbau in Österreich showed how this can be done and portrayed people coming together, organising themselves into Baugruppe.

Häuser für Menschen — Humaner Wohnbau in

One gets the feeling that there’s an underlying criticism, a desire to push architecture in a certain direction… 

J.: That’s true. There are quite a few young architects who come back to Luxembourg after having been abroad for some time and are little disillusioned by the way things work here. Each construction or renovation is executed with the idea of gain. The motivation is not necessarily to make good architecture but rather to make an investment. This has created frustration among some architects and contributed to the birth of the project. We are campaigning for architecture with a little difference.

In addition to raising awareness through the film screenings, we also do workshops with children, to reach them at an early age. I have the impression that people think more about architecture in Austria, and I think that it has to do with education. Here in Luxembourg, young people are directed towards finance, banking, etc. early on, and much less towards creative professions, like architecture.

What does the 21/22 season have in store for us?

J.: The previous screenings focused on those who occupy the buildings, but this season it’s more about those who build them. For example, we’ll be showing a rather funny film called The Architect. It’s about a couple who want to build a house and an architect with an inflated ego who is more interested in bringing his own dreams to life. There is also a documentary: The Competition, filmed in five renowned architects’ practices, all participating in a competition. It shows what kind of pressure there is in this environment. 

Alongside the screenings there will probably be talks by the philosopher Lukas Held, who listeners of 100,7 radio already know. He has an interest in architecture, space and how we live, together or apart. We also called on him for the documentary. 

How is it going with the documentary? Have you set a release date?

J.: The documentary should be ready to come out in April 2022. As part of Esch 2022, the architect Philippe Nathan, among others, will organise a biennial event for young architects, and the first episode is set to be shown there. That way, the foreign architects present will be introduced to the Luxembourgish environment.

And so, finally, what is architecture?

J.: I still don’t know what it is! I have a few ideas, but no answers. In fact, no one has, it’s a metaphysical question. The project is named that way to provoke and to launch a debate.