Interview with Elke Delugan-Meissl
Since 1993, the Austrian architect Elke Delugan-Meissl (1959 in Linz) has been one of the leaders of the Delugan Meissl Associated Architects (DMAA) architectural firm, which she founded together with Roman Delugan. In 2015, she received the Grand Austrian State Prize for Architecture. She is also a member of the Austrian Arts Senate. DMAA is one of Austria’s most successful architectural firms, with a high level of international recognition. Its great implementation strength and clear sense of reality as well as its bold vision and lived passion position the firm in the top ranks of the global architecture scene. Its best-known projects include the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen, the Festspielhaus Erl and the new Campus Tower in Hamburg’s HafenCity.
SIGNA: You’ve been active for over 27 years, building cultural buildings, museums, residential projects, shopping malls and office buildings all over the world – how did you arrive at this rather broad range of projects?
Elke Delugan-Meissl: We were versatile from the beginning. Since our firm was founded in 1993, it’s always been our goal not to specialise, but to deal with the most diverse architectural challenges. Since the beginning, we’ve also been dealing with the phenomenon of the physiological experience of space, the interaction between a space and its users. This is a central topic that shapes all our design processes.
SIGNA: It’s a topic that sounds incredibly exciting.
Elke Delugan-Meissl: Yes, it is quite exciting. What’s also exciting for us is the fact that we’re able to realise projects in all kinds of dimensions. That includes large urban development projects as well as residential buildings, single-family homes, museums and interior and product design.
SIGNA: With about 40,000 people moving to Vienna each year, can this approach really still pose the question of a physiological experience of space? Or is it more about practical and rapid construction?
Elke Delugan-Meissl: I don’t think one can categorise architecture in terms of quality or quantity. I see residential construction as one of architecture’s core disciplines. An influx of people and affordable living space are the challenges at hand and meeting them with a high level of quality is an obligation. We’ve been dealing with the topic of residential construction from the very beginning, and we’ve already won several competitions in this sector that have also been realised.
SIGNA: Does affordable living also have to mean high-quality architecture?
Elke Delugan-Meissl: Yes, that’s how I see it. What’s exciting about it is that the parameters with regard to flexibility, affordability, and living conditions are changing constantly. I think many of my colleagues have useful and innovative concepts in their archives already, and now courage is needed at the political level as well, to allow the required diversity.
SIGNA: I read in a German newspaper that politics and business are focusing on pre-fabricated concrete housing again. Isn’t that the antithesis of what you were just saying?
Elke Delugan-Meissl: This development ought to be questioned, because we should continue to pursue great achievements. People will always have different needs, and an apartment doesn’t always have to function according to the same familiar schemes. Constantly changing ways of life as well as the resulting needs require diverse concepts, which must be developed further according to these needs. Urban development and residential construction are never seen as distinctly separate aspects in our concepts. In addition to housing specifically, it’s essential to deal with the environment, the context, the spaces in between, as well as social integration.
SIGNA: You’ve realised many highly regarded projects abroad, but you also keep working on projects in Vienna, where your firm is still based. It’s as if Vienna serves as a base for you that you don’t want to leave behind.
Elke Delugan-Meissl: It’s also a special philosophy for our firm that I subscribe to. For me it’s most efficient, if possible, to concentrate our activities in one place, to be able to reach our compact, powerful team quickly and easily – keeping tabs on the process is an important premise for me.
SIGNA: You’re very active “politically”, by which I mean that you’re strongly involved in advisory boards and committees.
Elke Delugan-Meissl: Yes, if that’s how you define “political”. For me, it always was and still is a constructive debate to contribute my experience and to initiate and control processes.
SIGNA: What stands out is that you’re a very active participant in architectural competitions.
Elke Delugan-Meissl: We’ve always taken part in competitions, since the beginning of our firm’s foundation, with a good success rate so far. We won our first major project in 1993 for Donaucity through a competition. It’s a fundamental decision of every architectural firm to either take part in competitions or to find some other way, although I don’t see the instrument of a competition as the best solution for every situation. I wouldn’t be opposed to somebody approaching us with a direct commission (laughs).