Portrait of Architectural team Ingrid Moye and Christoph Zeller at their offices in the Colonia Roma, Mexico City.

Portrait of Architectural team Ingrid Moye and Christoph Zeller at their offices in the Colonia Roma, Mexico City. Photo © Adam Wiseman.

On 9 May the University of Bristol unveiled Hollow, a major new public artwork by the acclaimed artist Katie Paterson with the architects Zeller & Moye.

The architecture and design firm was founded by Christoph Zeller and Ingrid Moye in 2013, spans two continents and has realised projects across the world, in Mexico, Germany, Iraq and the UK. Over the past three years they have worked alongside Paterson developing a unique structure that will tell the history of life on the planet, made from over 10,000 species of tree.

We caught up with Christoph and Ingrid as Hollow neared the final stages of its completion, before the public launch in Bristol on 9 May.

Tell us a little about yourselves and your architectural practice.

Originating from opposite parts of the world, Mexico City and Berlin, we met in Switzerland while working for Herzog & de Meuron. We soon discovered that we had also been working for SANAA in Tokyo; we even sat at the same desk within the office although with a time difference of 6 years. We had a good understanding of design from the beginning and while working together on the Tate Modern Project, which Christoph was leading as the project manager, we found that we would form a good team. After seeing though the execution and opening of the Tate Tanks and the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion in 2012 we then decided to move on and focus on our own designs.

We founded the architectural practice Zeller & Moye with the attempt to not limit our work to only one place. As a result we established two bases, one in Mexico City and one in Berlin. So far we managed to keep a good balance with current projects in Latin America, Europe and even two in Asia. We work in various scales, from large housing developments and a design museum to gallery buildings, interiors and furniture design. Hollow is certainly a small-sized project within our studio, but of high importance to us.

Zeller & Moye_ARCHIVO_©Zeller & Moye_websize

Archivo ©Zeller & Moye

“We like how artists think sideways, in associations and across borders of disciplines. It is in fact not so far away from the way we approach our work.”

What has been Zeller & Moye’s role in the making of Hollow?

After having been invited to collaborate with Katie Paterson on this project we instantly started exchanging ideas between ourselves. Departing from the concept of collecting all the woods of the world and condensing them into a form of walkable intervention in the park, we suggested turning it into an introverted space that could be entered and experienced by the visitor as an intimate encounter with nature. In parallel to Katie focussing on the enormous job of researching and collecting the various wood species, we experimented with options of how to assemble the pieces into an overall form considering that each wooden sample might be of different size and shape.

We aimed for a compressed space where one would be entirely surrounded by woods making scale become meaningless, something like a micro-cosmos, which is actually a contradiction in terms, but likewise attractive as an unusual typology. We worked with physical models to test various spatial concepts and proportions like extrusions, stacked strata and half sunk spaces. We moved quickly into a computer model since we were dealing with thousands of pieces at the same time. Together with Katie we organised the interior into zones sorted by origin, type and age. One aspect the visitor perhaps might not expect is that the artwork is quite a complex construction designed to flexibly react to the expansion of wood throughout the seasons; to keep out rainwater; and to channel natural light into the space.

 

Zeller & Moye_ANFAL MEMORIAL_©Zeller & Moye_websize

Anfal Memorial ©Zeller & Moye

 

Collaboration forms an important part of your practice, how do you feel working with artists like Katie Paterson enriches and informs what you do? 

We like how artists think sideways, in associations and across borders of disciplines. It is in fact not so far away from the way we approach our work. Starting with research and analysis we open up a context and might already find first directions. Followed by a wide spectrum of design experiments and testing options of possible scenarios, we slowly draw nearer to the solution. This is often a painful process with an endless amount of models and sketches; back-and-forth of thoughts; and dismissing ideas that seem attractive at first glance but later turn out to be inappropriate or imprecise. With each project we go through this process, which I believe is not so different to how artists operate. Perhaps for that reason we regularly collaborate with artists in our work. We seem to speak the same language.

In case of Hollow a big chunk of the work was the systematic recording and archiving of the various wood pieces, which was done by Katie and her team. We appreciated the careful attention to each individual piece by the artist and tried to articulate this approch by arranging all wood pieces in a delicate composition giving equal importance to each piece. Regardless how attractive or valuable a specific sample might have been, altogether they form part of a larger story now.

 

Royal Fort House and Gardens in early spring. Courtesy of University of Bristol.

“Like a cocoon that fully surrounds oneself, you can lose yourself in [Hollow]… The space is designed to slow down the observer.”

You create for a wide range of contexts, are there common challenges that you face across your projects? 

No matter how large or small a project is in size we treat each project with the same level of attention. This doesn’t apply only to the early conceptual phase but to the entire process with special focus on the detailing during construction. Consequently, we find ourselves mulling over the articulation of a roof segment of 10 centimetres length, like in Hollow, with the same amount of passion as discussing the ceiling structure of a 1,000 square metres hall. Whichever scale you work in, ultimately important is the meaning of a project. We like working for our shared environment. We aim for a project to provide spaces for public engagement and interaction. In the case of a public building or a publicly accessible artwork like Hollow this is inherent, but even a commercial project or housing block can offer the opportunity to create a benefit for the people in our cities if the architect actively pushes for it. This is a challenge we like to accept for each project from anew.

 

Zeller & Moye, Odeeh © Harry-Weber

 

And finally what kind of experience do you imagine standing inside Hollow will be for visitors to the work?

Since the space is very small only one or perhaps two people will be able to enter at the same time. The visitor will be face to face with nature in the form of all the woods of the world. Like a cocoon that fully surrounds oneself, you can lose yourself in it and let the eye adjust to the delicate scale of the interior. Perhaps certain details will become more apparent; which at larger scale would otherwise get lost, like colours; patterns; streaks; and of course the different scents of cut wood. The space is designed to slow down the observer. Maybe you want to stay only for a short moment or you rest for a little while on the seat – as in nature, when you pause and take a closer look at what’s around, you will be able to see more detail.

Zeller & Moye, 2016.

You can step inside Hollow at the University of Bristol’s Royal Fort Gardens from 9 May, or discover its stories online at www.hollow.org.uk

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