"A Dialogue with Artist: Rainer Hehl"  

  Kayo Tokuda (Curator)

Curator (Q): I feel you are gifted on empathy. We find ‘beauty’ in nature but can also find it in people, nature, architecture, food, artifact and art. The empathy can be power to understand each other. Every one has different value and live in different culture. How do you live and think everyday?    

Rainer Hehl (A): I think empathy is a way of sharing and we feel empathic if we are able to share things that we have in common. What do I have in common with other people and with nature? As soon as we connect we have a lot in common and the experience of architecture, food and art brings us together to some extend. It’s like in animism – I can establish a connection to plants and animals because I can recognize myself in certain aspects of them, as there is something human in the plants and the animals. I feel close to the belief of some indigenous tribes that there is only one culture, which is the culture of humanity, and which can be shared. On the other hand there are many different natures, if we understand nature as a very specific eco-system, which is related to a local condition and a local context.    


So yes, empathy can be seen as the power to understand each other, but it is also there to establish a common ground for shared experience. I feel affected by the beauty of things, people and actions around me because it is situated in the same world. It’s a wonderful moment when people who have different values and beliefs are affected by the same kind of beauty, because it makes them part of the same world, it’s the world of humanity and nature takes part of it.    


It is a learning process to enhance empathy. It requires imagination and the ability to see the world with the eyes of the other one. To a certain degree we have to leave our own mindset and to feel with the other and then in turn bring it together with our own affection. We have to leave behind a single-minded perspective and allow multiple other emotions to be part of us.  How I live and think every day is then related to the question how I connect my own experiences to ‚other worlds‘, to different ‚natures‘ and I hope in this learning process I will be able to increase my ability to be affected by others and share their emotions, values and beliefs.  


Q: What is your motivation for the projects in Brazil and future architecture in Germany?  


A: The way to project things for Germany is different from projecting for Brazil. I think each context needs its specific approaches and questions. Each case has to be seen in its cultural, social and political dimension, which is then related to specific challenges.   My motivation in Germany is more concentrated space production in relation to emotional impacts. I think here architecture has lost its ability to affect people. We have a very rational mindset in Germany and things have to be efficient. Sustainability for example is a big topic but it is rather based on calculations. And now with the pandemic people are loosing even more a tactile relationship to the physical reality and how collectivity is performed in physical space. We can think in ecological terms but there is a lack of contemplation in regard to the natural environment. Here, my motivation is to increase the spatial performance of architecture.  


In Brazil spatial performance is stronger and people have the ability to connect emotionally, but here we need more thought on the organization of space and the collective use of resources. So its more about awareness for collective concerns and the rationality for how we can improve the relationship between constructed and natural environments. The motivation lies more in the aspect of capacity building. How is a certain way of spatial production empowering people for self control when the political conditions are unstable? How can we gain autonomy and self-sufficiency. Brazil is very rich but has a problem in the distribution of richness. How can we create an access for the richness on a collective basis?  


But in the end what brings both context together is the motivation to create spaces that have a transformative potential and change the way we acted before and makes us more resilient.   

Q: What is the education that would stay the same as the past and what would need a shift? Any subject or particular field? 

A: What always should stay in education is our ability to look back and to learn from the past. We have to transfer the knowledge that can be collected from what has been created so far and learn from the experiences and technologies, which developed over ages. Take for example the very sophisticated know-how of how to craft a wooden object by hand or think about the knowledge you need in order to grow a forest in a sustainable way. We could call this kind of knowledge ‚stabilized knowledge‘ which takes a long time to develop over generations, which is inscribed in a deep understanding of time.  


But on the other hand we need a shift when it comes to the integration of new tools, such as digital tools or when we look at the transformation of our relation to work, social constellations and collective values. Beyond the preservation of traditional knowledge education should be about the integration of new aspects of life within present and future challenges. It is about the consideration of new possibilities, which can be opened in the future and the imagination of other worlds, which didn’t exist before. In think its both our ability to learn from the past and to be open for a transformation in the future which should be the mission for any kind of education, whether this refers to the academic world or the practical knowledge in the field.


In this sense education is a project that is constantly unfolding our ability to transfer and transform the knowledge from the past to possible worlds in the future. 





Q: If monumental architecture will still be needed, what situation would it be?

How the housing will tend to be from now on? (This can be two separate question.)  


A: If monumental architecture is still needed then I think it should be in its relationship with landscape. I don’t think that we need more architecture monuments as iconic objects but rather objects that mark the landscape in its territorial dimension and turn the natural environment into a monument.  


When I visited the Ise Jingu, the Grand Shrine of Ise, I was very impressed about the fact that it is the territory, which is sacred and the architecture, which is just a framework. Its about the celebration of nature in a very concise territorial configuration. I was thinking, what if we would manage with architectural means to show and monumentalize the integrity of natural environments and the existential task for humanity to be strongly connected.    


The future of housing is for me essentially connected to the territorial dimension of territories and landscapes. How do we inhabit the ground? How do we organize the land collectively? How can we share resources? How can we increase land use? How can we combine habitats with nature? What are the spatial practices and rituals that allow to maintain these spaces?  


I think when we seriously try to answer these questions how to establish new relationships to the landscape and the territory it will lead us to new spatial types and to new housing models that are increasing our ability to co-exist with others and with nature. 



Berlin, May 6th, 2021



Rainer Hehl