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Background
Unknown Architects was founded by Daan Vulkers (1991) and Keimpke Zigterman (1986). In their practice, they strive for a refined architecture with an eye for detail and context. They aim to create great spaces for their clients by means of specific and clear interventions, and a good sense of structure, detail and materiality. Unknown Architects is an office where the work, the architecture, comes first. Built works include interiors of private houses, store interiors and stage designs and have been widely published and exhibited among which in the Deutsches Architektur Museum in Frankfurt and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Antwerp.

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Unknown Architects won the Unfair Architect Award with their design Collage City which was used at Unfair™. They made a city, inspired by four visionary urban plans from the past. Collage City is an exhibition design that is characterized by four unique areas, each with its own character: backstages, light-air-space, square and superstructure. Well-positioned and carefully designed openings in the walls allow infinitely different routes and offer beautiful views through all four areas. A bridge with a view over the central square acts as a landmark and forms the literal highlight of the design.’

If you would like to learn more about the idea behind the design Collage City, you can read about it in the interview down below.

We interviewed Unknown Architects about their winning design for the Unfair Architect Awards 2019-20 and asked them to further elaborate on their design.

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What served as the biggest inspiration for this design?
What makes this project intriguing is the need to create an ideal setting for forty individual artists to present their work in the best way imaginable, and at the same time inspire and excite thousands of visitors with an exceptional architectural design. Driven by a fascination for utopian urban planning from the past, we started this challenge with the research question: can the plan of a city be used as a blueprint for the exhibition design? At the same time we were also very much interested in the layout used for the Fridericianum in Kassel, one of the first purpose-built museums in Europe and also the home of the international Documenta art exhibition, for which it is known. This 1779 building has a series of halls, each with a unique character, which allows the curator to make different constellations in each of them. These two sources of inspiration, creating an exhibition design based on a city plan and the Fridericianum’s careful pairing of artwork and exhibition space resulted in the idea of the Collage City: a collage of different urban fragments a collage of four different utopias.

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How has the already existing space of the Zuiveringshal affected the design process?
The relationship to the existing space of the Zuiveringshal is expressed differently in each of the four areas: Coulisses, light-air-space, square and superstructure. For example in Coulisses – the most left area on the plan – the walls are kept separate from the existing building and two open corners connect to the existing double doors, while in Superstructure the faceted is attached to the existing building to reinforce the idea of an endless wall. The bridge is an exception, it is a timber structure that is positioned above the exhibition walls and acts as a point of reference. When ascended by means of a timber staircase, it allows the visitors to experience the exhibition in the hall from a different perspective.

What was the biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge was to maintain a balance between creating four very different quarters, while at the same time creating a coherent and recognizable overall layout. In order to achieve this we spent a lot of time researching different collages and editing them by drafting, gluing, cutting, shifting, folding and mirroring.

What would you say is the focal point of this design?
The main objective of the design was to create an extremely varied exhibition layout that does justice to the artists and their work. This is expressed in the four areas in which the artists are grouped together: the artists can position themselves by deciding in which “neighbourhood” and among which fellow artists to present their work. The four quarters have distinct spatial arrangements, which bring together the artworks in their own unique ways.

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What would you say is the focal point of this design?
The main objective of the design was to create an extremely varied exhibition layout that does justice to the artists and their work. This is expressed in the four areas in which the artists are grouped together: the artists can position themselves by deciding in which “neighbourhood” and among which fellow artists to present their work. The four quarters have distinct spatial arrangements, which bring together the artworks in their own unique ways.

Is architecture art?
No, architecture is a craft. Representations of architecture in the form of photography, models, drawings and installations can be considered as art. Art inspires architecture and vice versa. During the process of making our collages, for example, we were inspired by the layered photographs in the work of Katja Mater, the “second skin” facade in Herman Zeinstra’s House at the Oude Schans, and the fictional map of Rome by Giovanni Battista Piranesi. How has the process been different from other pitches? The biggest difference from other pitches was that we had the opportunity to discuss our preliminary ideas with Unfair. This not only gave us clues on a practical level but, more importantly, an insight into the underlying principles that Unfair wants to present. In the first presentation leading-up to the shortlist, we were triggered by the conversation to develop our ideas in a more experimental way. Our participation in the Unfair Architect Award therefore gave us the chance to widen our approach and test a new methodology: the use of the collage.

How has the process been different from other pitches?
The biggest difference from other pitches was that we had the opportunity to discuss our preliminary ideas with Unfair. This not only gave us clues on a practical level but, more importantly, an insight into the underlying principles that Unfair wants to present. In the first presentation leading-up to the shortlist, we were triggered by the conversation to develop our ideas in a more experimental way. Our participation in the Unfair Architect Award therefore gave us the chance to widen our approach and test a new methodology: the use of the collage.

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