Talk takes time, Conversation with Steen Høyer p. 1, Jacob Fischer
”Things take time – time takes things,” Steen once wrote in a little book, where each page had a simple diagrammatic drawing consisting of a few lines or a few words that said it all. Steen is like the lazy mathematician who leaves out all the intermediate calculations and goes directly to the result. He never takes the detours that the rest of us stray out on. Therefore, a lazy mathematician is a good mathematician. And a lazy architect must be a minimalist and possibly good. Steen is one of the good ones, but he is also a bit difficult to understand. It’s all about communication.
Letting images tell the story
It is no surprise that Steen is a visual person, like most in our profession. In highschool, Steen published a school newspaper. Not because he was good at writing – he wasn’t, but because he was good at graphics and produced some ads, which the local businessmen wanted to buy because they were so smart. The school newspaper was the beginning of a long series of publications on people like C.Th. Sørensen, Sven-Ingvar Andersson, and on Steen himself and an entire universe of pictures and simple drawings that provided the foundation for Steen’s work and teaching. When one is not good at writing, you have to make a greater effort, and the texts are given special attention. “The text is easy when one has laid out the pictures first. The visual comes before the intellectual, and it is here the strength lies.” Actually, the text is quite unnecessary when the material is to provide further communication and to capture everyone’s attention.
To land between two chairs
In the years following his time at the Royal Academy, Steen could not live on what he had learned. He used his time on art and installations, but realized after a number of years, that this didn’t even provide him with his basic needs. So he tried again as a landscape architect. “I won some prizes and people said that my projects were interesting, but among architects and landscape architects, the word was: That guy Steen is amusing and exciting, but he is not a real landscape architect. Among the artists it was said: That guy Steen Høyer makes really amusing and exciting installations and projects, but… he is not really an artist.”
“I felt that I often was hitting a glass ceiling. So a few times things went well, but that was in one out of ten efforts. Possibly, this is common in the field, but I think they are hard conditions to work under.”
To acknowledge reality
Steen felt that the period with Nørrebro-parken, in collaboration with GHB Landskabs-
arkitekter, was a good time, when the competition proposal’s abstract graphics were translated to a reality and at eye level proved that it was both realistic, robust and popular. The main concept was not changed, but during the process of detailing, new sketches were constantly developed. “With Nørrebroparken I learned that the process that lies afterwards is just as much fun as that which lies before, that being the competition proposal.”
Poul Henningsen said that culture is what is left when you forget what you have learned, that, which lies in on your backbone. There are those that believe that they discover the world itself. But the world consists of bits that can be assembled in a variety of ways. Nørrebroparken consists conceptually of some transverse lines that create a number of robust spaces – those Steen heard professor Sven-Ingvar Andersson talk about. “He mentioned a park in Munich in a lecture once, where he told about its park structure with parallel rows of trees. It was no doubt from the turn of the century. More or less unconsciously I repeated this concept. I have never had a problem with referring to our predecessors. On the contrary, I have been proud of it. Why distance onself from one’s past? I have never seen that park in reality and don’t even know what it is called. I have just seen a picture.” And the picture sits in my memory and was evoked many years later – interpreted and expressed in a new way.
To appreciate recognition
Over the years, Steen has been awarded more medals and marks of distinction than anyone else. Despite this, he does not see himself as an absolute success, and he feels this is due to his inability to communicate. When one can’t dance, one must dive from a board. Steen can’t do either and must find a completely different solution. “I have to follow the path where my opportunities lie.”
There is a greater meaning with the fact that some projects, despite a first prize, are not realized. “This releases energy and time, which I would have otherwise used to struggle with the realization of a project. Instead, I can use this time to work on new projects, So there is a freedom hidden in defeat, in that a proposal is never realized.”
A dream project is the project where you don’t simply outdo your own teacher, but you also outdo yourself. “I couldn’t imagine this, and I couldn’t do this. One becomes high and euphoric when one accomplishes it anyway. These kinds of experiences I would like to have more of, and that is my little struggle. To reach the places where one gets strong and positive experiences like this.” And part of this experience implies recognition, as even though you feel sure in your arguments and have solved the problem with simple and obvious means, you don’t really arouse attention if you are not understood. This has been fortunate for Steen, as over the years there have been prominent people in important jobs, who have seen the light and necessity of Steen’s work and offered him recognition
To understand the challenge of the time
Something that can astonish one in this world is the time. This sounds just as wonderfully banal as it is. “I know of course that there is a relationship between society, development and Zeitgeist and that which we make. Where it lies and where it is going. I think this is the greatest challenge in my mind. I realize that we had a golden age in the middle of the last century, and we have some terminologies like modernism and postmodernism. I can also recognize that if one looks at furniture and product design, it is quite obvious what is happening, as all design and craftsmanship stopped after the golden age.”
This same situation can be seen in architecture and landscape architecture. There are no strong, clear images that stand out any more, nobody is leading the way. But there are many parallel worlds, formed by the social common denominators. This implies that the results are ordinary as opposed to being original. The average quality will hopefully be higher, but originality is absent in a joint project. “I will try to understand where I am and understand what is going on. I can understand that when one goes from working with geometry and simplicity and uses the same plant throughout the scheme and makes curlicues and provides the greatest possible variation in the project, then the results are not by chance.” Today there is an absence of clear ideals – we don’t have anyone to look up to.
To leave a school
As a teacher, one must be able to explain the advantages and weaknesses in a project and express this in a distinct fashion. It isn’t just the projects that must be read and understood, it is also the author, who as a rule is an ambitious and sensitive person. “It is a delicate situation, but it must be done. One must state one’s opinion. To hold a lecture or offer criticism – represents a challenge, because it challenges the ability to communicate and the awareness of what it actually is we are doing and why we do it. In this way I become constantly more aware of what I did myself.”
As a professor at a school one must continuously sell tickets, otherwise the students don’t show up. And ticket selling was not Steen’s greatest ability. Now instead he will use his time on his projects.