The Swiss Pritzker laureate Jacques Herzog talks with the Spanish architect Emilio Tuñón, winner of the Mies van der Rohe Award and author of the Atrio hotel in Cáceres, where the meeting takes place.
Emilio Tuñón: We are sitting in the patio of Atrio, a hotel and restaurant which owns one of the finest wine cellars in Europe, and I cannot help but think about the relationship between architecture and wine.
Jacques Herzog: It is interesting to talk about wine and architecture, but we should avoid the lifestyle connotations that are often associated with this kind of comparison. We both share this passion not only because we love the wines but also because we share the carefulness which is necessary to produce such products; carefulness which is also a key condition for architecture. One can see and sense that here, in this wonderful place, the Atrio hotel in Caceres that you have converted into such a great place. Care is all over the place, in your architectural details as well as in how the owners are using the place. Today, more than ever in architecture this care is real, it is natural and it is a real asset in all our lives. Wine is very much associated to this, because wine forces you to sit down at the table and to talk and to be somewhere instead of eating and drinking without becoming aware. So wine forces you into a kind of old fashioned, archaic way of being.
ET: Architecture and wine are related to life. That is why they have a lot of things in common. It is not a problem of luxury, but a problem of how to enjoy life and how to live it.
JH: It is the kind of life that we find important, but not necessarily others. Not only in Asia or America, but also in Europe – even in archaic wine countries like France or Spain – people tend to spend less time eating at the table with their family or friends. Cultural patterns are changing and others are coming up. It is a fundamental difference whether you take eating as a hedonistic and holistic experience or whether it is just about consuming food to survive. It is holistic when it involves all your senses not just the visual one or the one dimensional smell of standardized industrial food. I am not talking in favor of gourmet style eccentric cuisine but rather of basic experiences. Wine is a key to such an experience and of course architecture totally depends on it.
ET: Yes, but we must also take into consideration how architecture relates to the earth, it is very important for architecture to be very close to the ground.
This is important because wine is also related to geography. For example, in your Dominus Winery, the way the geography is working with the building and also working with the wine is very interesting: capturing the spirit of this special part of the earth.
JH: I agree. The earth or the given ground condition, the terroir, was especially important for us as well as for the client. I remember that we had tried different things. We wanted to use glass to associate with the glass of bottles, but the more we worked on the project the more we realized that the heat during the day was very strong; it is in California, so we understood that the mass was very important. We finally found the solution in using the mass we found in the ground of the area, the volcanic stones. It was necessary to have thick walls to protect the inside from the heat, the same walls that at night – the nights are quite cool in this area – free this accumulated heat. This is a very European concept, as the owner was a European winemaker. This way the wine would not be overly extracted and would not have an artificial taste.
ET: You always talk about the qualities of this area of California: the geographical situation in the valley, the different levels of the topography… I love this approach to architecture and I find it very coherent with the subject of the building. Wine is very much related to all these things you deal with: the soil, the terrain…
JH: In a vineyard the smallest change, either in the height of the vines, their position or orientation makes a big difference. If you are not a winemaker, you are not aware of those things because the landscape looks truly similar. They, however, not only have an amazing knowledge and sensibility for small variations in the landscape, but also in the characteristics of each different season. They memorize time, reflected in the difference of every year’s seasonal uniqueness…often over a time span of decades. I was very impressed with Christian Moueix when he taught me about añadas in the past. He knows everything about every year.
ET: It is completely incredible that they remember every detail and how these details change the grape and the wine.
JH: Whereas we tend to forget so fast... Even architecture, which is not an easy business and shares the physical parameters and the importance of time, lacks these abilities. That is why I have so much respect for the great winemakers. That is also why I can’t understand that wine lovers all of a sudden change the sides and do their own wine, a fashion trend that I find quite absurd. Perhaps with the exception of Rafael Moneo who makes a considerable effort to produce a good wine - ‘la Mejorada’ - in a area and on a piece of land to which he has a lifelong affection and relationship. Winemaking is such a different business and us architects are a kind of professional ‘laymen’, we do so many things for different fields of our society without being real experts in them: museums, laboratories, offices, religious spaces, city planning, furniture…
I like that generalist side of our profession, it is a great privilege and freedom, but in fact we are quite limited when it comes to really understanding the processes and life components in all our projects…
ET: As you said before, in wine and in architecture time is also important. Yesterday we were drinking a wine from 1964 and it was amazing, but it was a bit too old. It is interesting to compare a wine from different years, or simply different wines from the same year. It is something mental, you need to put together different wines in order to compare them and talk about them. It is a way to start a conversation. I believe in architecture as a kind of conversation about the site, the temperature, the weather…
JH: In wine tastings wines are compared often vertically, e.g. the same wine in different years or simply different wines from different places. For a winemaker such tastings are probably a comparable exercise to architects’s visiting and photographing buildings in order to compare them for the sake of better understanding.
The wine world guru Robert Parker invented a rating system which gives points up to 100 for the great wines. Parker’s rating system became hugely successful with a strong economic impact on the wine market. This has been leading to a ‘Parkerization’ of many wines, a more uniform style which would ideally please Mr. Parker’s taste whereas other wines, also great, but more subtle ones would get lower scores. I was often wondering when such a rating system would be introduced into the field of architecture…
ET: It is a simplification. If you give points to a wine, or give prizes or awards to a building, you are simplifying the approach of people to them. It is, in my opinion, more interesting to make the effort to understand how the building that you really enjoy is, and how the wine that you really enjoy is.
This idea of enjoyment is important. Sometimes a very cheap wine, a simple wine, is very interesting for a particular moment.
Everybody remembers special occasions when they drank a wine that was not very good in terms of punctuation but was amazing for the situation.
JH: Yes, that’s like discovering a detail of a building that fascinates you and catches your attention in an otherwise anonymous or even banal piece of architecture: an unexpected color, a junction of unlikely elements, a sudden smell… Those things can be very rewarding, make you happy for a moment because such moments are yours – only yours. They appear and become real through your own and specific creative energy.
ET: The Spanish philosopher Ortega y Gasset used to divide people into collectors and hunters. I think the position of the owner of Atrio, José Polo, who is making an incredible collection of wine, is interesting. However, I prefer to be a hunter: if there is a good wine, I have to drink it; if there is a good building, I have to enjoy it. In architecture it is similar: there are architects who collect buildings and others who think that every project is a challenge and who try to hunt new perspectives in their way of thinking.
JH: Being a hunter sounds sexier… but I agree that hunting and collecting are two main vectors in human behavior. I also always saw myself as a hunter in contrast to the collecting obsession of my brother who has been piling up old photographs his whole life. Over so many years working as an architect you inevitably collect a lot, maquettes, drawings, plans etc. In other words you can never fully avoid piling up a lot of stuff, a lot of ‘waste.’
Maybe it is not really collecting but you cannot get rid of it, you have to keep it, archive it, prepare it like dead insects in a natural history museum. I prefer my table to be totally empty, with no objects on it, but it fills up again and again.
These are all specific patterns and obsessions everyone has and this will be reflected in the kind of architecture that you do. Architecture is very psychological. It tells so much about who you are, even as an architect. If we walk through your building we can discover a lot about your personality, and you cannot avoid it.
ET: Indeed, but this building is also full of life. It is interesting to see how cooking, collecting wines, architecture… how all these things create their own atmosphere.