The architecture developed by FAR (Marc Frohn & Mario Rojas) is an expression of an unusual work organisation. FAR describes itself as a "network" spread across at least three nerve centres: Cologne, Germany, Santiago, Chile and Los Angeles, California. A constant flow of information between these poles produces a variety of projects that are less bound to a dialogue with the local identity and a tactical response to specific conditions, and more "technical"—an approach that hones in on the information and concrete needs contained in clients' requests, or that analyses the financial, legal and administrative potential of sites, and then develops specific solutions that cast aside the issues of form and expression found in signature design. As well as the digital links between the FAR offices (often no more than a laptop connected to Wi-Fi in an airport or coffee-shop), there is a passage of functional diagrams, quantity tables, heat and hygrometric profiles, structural calculations and systems simulations.
With this constantly moving mass of improvements on the original idea, their work is more like that of a design product, for which there is a constant toing and froing between the definition of the idea, verification of the technical and financial feasibility, prototyping and final manufacture. In this process, the linear succession of the stages—first design, then production—is replaced by a series of loop cycles that inform the progressive advances (in cybernetics, these are known as feedback loops, in which the outcome of experimentation alters the initial parameters and dictates the next steps).
The projects and buildings produced by such practice can be likened to machines inasmuch as they are the response to a program of set aims that develop specific actions. The Wall House, built in Santiago in 2006, exemplifies this approach. A number of materials not commonly applied in architecture were brought together to create an interior composed of layers performing different roles: climatic improvement via an external synthetic membrane used for agricultural greenhouses; internal and external separation with polycarbonate walls; and, lastly, rooms divided by blocks of prefabricated shelving in plywood layers, which also provide static stiffening. Breaking the domestic program up into parts that can be freely assembled and are not linked to the conditions of a specific site has allowed the Wall House to be turned into a marketable prototype, which can be purchased on the Hometta prefabricated-house website.
The reduction of the theme to a few variables that, one after the other, shape the design can also be seen in the 2007 House in Heat. Its internal spatial arrangement, spread over several levels, and pointed shape stem from the distribution of thermal gradients controlled by a PCM skin, which responds to daily and seasonal temperature changes, and strategically positioned water-heating pipes. The form is based on the interpretation of technical, scientific and, sometimes, legal data, reiterating their faith in diagrams as the basis for project development, already expressed by architects such as MVRDV in the late 1990s. The alpine-peak design of the Magnus Norwald office building in Cologne (2004-2005) resulted from the borderline application of the then building regulations, very much along the lines of the research into possible densities in Amsterdam presented by MVRDV in its 1998 book FARMAX.
The transitive and mobile nature of FAR's work, which lacks a tangible work base, was conveyed by the metaphor of the suitcase, which contained their Global Economy installation. Presented at the Architectural League Prize for Young Architects and Designers exhibition in New York in 2010, the installation consisted of several digitally printed globes, combined with everyday IKEA furnishings, projecting shadows onto the walls, in a solution that can be adapted to any exhibition venue. Once again, FAR used an ephemeral solution to showcase a network of intellectual production that revolves around the creation of printed shapes – be they EPFL in Lausanne or the IIT in New Delhi. The suitcase containing a project has been recurrent in contemporary aesthetic practice since Duchamp's time, at least, and now reappears in FAR's latest work, the temporary Goethe Institut premises in Santiago de Chile.
These occupy an unfinished floor of a new office building in the city centre, while the mother building, damaged by the 2010 earthquake, is under repair. A box, designed to travel between Germany and Chile, opens to reveal the design principle. The exposed electrical, smoke-alarm, air-conditioning and sprinkler systems, which would normally be concealed inside false ceilings, dictate the arrangement of lightweight partitions arranged on the floor in a fan-design around the core nucleus, which contains the bathrooms, stairs and lifts. The existing furniture coupled with industrial metal shelving, backed with felt soundproofing panels, overturns the building's orthogonal geometry, allowing the natural light to penetrate the heart of the space as it filters through the translucent walls and ceiling curtain system that can alter the use of two central spaces, public cavities leading to the offices and classrooms distributed around the perimeter.
This is yet another FAR exploit, demonstrating the potential of architectural research based on complex interpretation and packed with technical efficiency. Fabrizio Gallanti
Temporary Goethe Institut installations, Santiago de Chile
Architects: FAR frohn & rojas
Project team: Marc Frohn, Mario Rojas Toledo, Max Koch, Natalia Becerra, Fabio Magnago, Steven Vidovic, Tim Maaßen, Philipp Kentgens, Marius Helten, Isabel Miño, Pia Custodis, Alex Seick, Nikola Freissmuth, Reina Pisano
Project area: 1.024 mq
Cost: ca. 451.000 Euro
Client: Federal Republic of Germany
Consultants: Constanzo EIRL, Masterclima S.A., Proingel Ltda, Gruposchutz S.A.
Lighting consultant: Docevolts
Contractor: Constructora Ralun Ltda.
Sub-contractors: Constanzo EIRL, Masterclima S.A., Proingel Ltda., Alumcrist Ltda., Creizet S.A., Luminotecnia S.A., Muebles Piramide Ltda., Puertas Bunker Ltda., M3MBRANE Sails