Interview by Mia Zhang for Pro Design Magazine, China 1/2014
Part 1 Career
MZ: What inspired you to get into architecture?
MC: I have always been drawing, playing in forest, building snow cave systems and imagining my own worlds, telling stories to myself. I didn’t choose architecture, I just ended up there.
MZ: What would you prefer to be called, architect, environmental artist, or social theorist?
MC: I would like to be called something that combines all of those three. Maybe Constructor or Insect.
MZ: You majored in architecture in college, how did you start with environmental artistic and social projects in the beginning?
MC: Our education was quite mixed with other disciplines of art and architecture was viewed as constructive art. I did the first real environmental art work in 1999 – “Land(e)scape”, but this was not connected with school, but our own work as Casagrande & Rintala. That was followed next year by the “60 Minute Man” in the Venice Biennale, “1000 White Flags” in Finland, “Convoy” in Finland and “Quetzalcoatlus” in Havana Biennale, Cuba. 2001 we did the “Bird Cage” in Yokohama Triennale and “Installation 1:2001” for Firenze Biennale. All these were done before my graduation in 2001, but had nothing to do with universities, except that we got help from other students. Land(e)scape was the beginning and everything else followed up by an accident.
MZ: Since 1999, you have created 65 cross-disciplinary, original and radical works within 14 years? It sounds quite a large number to me. How would you be so inspired a lot and complete so many projects?
MC: There is no limitation for inspiration. Limitation is a different thing. Life is unlimited inspiration. Inspiration is kind of a thought originating from nature, the life-providing system. This system is one big brain and if you connect with it, you are inspired. Nature thinks through you.
MZ: I saw a picture of you carrying stones during the construction of Bug Dome project in Shenzhen City. Are you always engaged yourself in the whole construction process?
MC: Being present is the key of all art. It is a blessing, not a burden. Architecture is not a remote control art, but it requires humane presence. I must be there in order to understand, what the architecture is trying to transmit, what it needs to become. I am a simple architect, not a fortune-teller…I need to be there.
MZ: You studio name is Casagrande lab. I mean, Casagrande is your name, of course, but why “lab”? Is experimentation your major focus? Then what do you experimenting on?
MC: We are working more like a laboratory than an office. All our work is project based and cross-disciplinary. Sometimes, when we are really good, you could call us a circus. Art is a constant experiment by its nature. Also the deepest nature of architecture is the unknown.
MZ: I see you used a lot of willow and wood. I mean, wood would be more acceptable than willow in modern city, right? And I have seen willow woven objects like basket. They are adorable, and because they are small they don’t seem to contrast drastically to the modern world. But a large project, like Cicada in Taipei, would contrast a lot to the surrounding, at least to me. So how do you see that contrast?
MC: Mixed feelings. It shows how brutal the surrounding city is, but same time offers an escape or retreat to the modern man. In some sense this kind of insect architecture is acting as a mediator between the modern man and nature. You can also see how totally the modern city is lacking local knowledge.
MZ: How would you describe your style?
MC: No trends, no style – just architecture. Later, when the transformation is complete, my way is insect architecture.
MZ: Do you have a dream project?
1. Mixture of a shopping center and jungle.
2. Nomad City.
3. Ruin of the Capital of the World.
4. Floating self-organizing city based on cargo ships out of duty.
5. Own cross-disciplinary architecture school focusing on Urban Acupuncture, Third Generation City, Ultra-Ruin, Urban Nomad and Local Knowledge.
6. Having a C-130 and putting our Laboratory in there.
7. Urban Acupuncture for slums, illegal communities and emerging cities of the world. Transforming them into future resource.
8. Learn how to use the Local Knowledge that is pouring into the Chinese cities from countryside with migrating workers and transforming an existing city into the Third Generation City.
9. Good houses for good people.
10. Building with nature as co-architect.
MZ: What do you enjoy most in your work?
MC: Seeing the unknown, forgotten and neglected. I enjoy the feeling of freedom and clarity, when you are truly working, when architecture is near.
MZ: What do you think is the most important quality of an architect?
MC: There are different ways, not only one. Some architects have the capacity of being a design shaman, interpreting what the bigger nature of collective mind or shared conscious if transmitting. This shamanism is close to nature.
MZ: What are the aspects of architecture you consider most important?
MC: Constructing human environment as a mediator between man and nature. This can be both practical and spiritual.
MZ: What do you think of the current situation of architecture?
MZ: Could you share with us briefly about what you are working on currently?
MC: I am setting up NOMAD – an environmental art and architecture school with architect Hans-Petter Bjørnådal in Hemnes, Norway and I am setting up Ruin Academy with architects Roan Chin-Yueh and Hsieh Ying-Chun in Taipei and with the International Society of Biourbanism in Artena, Italy. I am starting to design a new wooden house in Taidong, South-Taiwan. This house will be floating in jungle.
Part 2 Life
MZ: I saw you quoted Bertolt Brecht “In a dream last night, I saw a great storm. It seized the scaffolding….” So you read a lot of Bertolt Brecht? Which of his book do you like? What other writers do you like?
MC: I like Brecht poems. They are good for hang-over.
A. Joseph Conrad: Heart of Darkness
B. Arkady and Boris Strugatsky: Roadside Picnic
C. Adorno & Horkheimer: Dialectics of Enlightment
D. Burgess: A Clockwork Organge
E. Claude Levi-Straus: The Savage Mind
F. Beckett: Waiting for Godot
G. Lao Tzu: Dao Te Qing
H. Kropotkin: The Spirit of Revolt
J. Tolstoy: War and Peace
But movies are equally important:
A. Tarkovsky: Stalker
B. Ford Coppola: Apocalypse NOW!
C. Lang: Metropolis
D. Kubrick: 2001: A Space Odyssey
E. Eisenstein: Ivan the Terrible
F. Bergman: 7th Seal
G. Kurozawa: Dersu Uzala
H. Herzog: Fata Morgana
I. Kaurismäki: Man Withouth Past
J. Schlöndorff: The Tin Drum
MZ: What do you believe in?
– Life / Nature
MZ: Is there any difference between the working you and the not working you?
MC: I am in the ruins, in the cross-roads, on river banks and garbage dumps. The office-me is nothing of this, but I am constantly aware of it and constantly escape to the jungle.
MZ: What kind of lifestyle do you prefer?
MC: Real Reality.
MZ: What do you love to do when you are not designing?
MC: Fishing. Boxing. Drinking. Sauna. Play with kids. Enduro. Watch movies. Pick mushrooms.
MZ: Do you like music/books? What is your favorite musician/book?
MC: Right now I enjoy to dance Greek Zorbas with my 9 months old son.
MZ: You have traveled to many cities. Which is your favorite? What is the most impressive journey you’ve ever had? (Could you please provide one piece of essay of your journey with pictures?)
Once I drove a car (Land Rover Defender) from Finland to Japan through all Russia and Siberia. Another time I drove a KTM enduro motorcycle from Finland to China through Russia and Kazakhstan. Third trip to mention was working as a commercial fisherman / deck-hand for red salmon in the Bering Sea, Alaska. This time my wife Nikita was a net-hanger in the Naknek net-hanging shop Watzituya.