No fear of the men in black
by Thomas Wagner | 12/7/2008
All photos © Dimitrios Tsatsas, Stylepark

Questions why are kids' questions - and fun. This is above all the case because answering them does little to answer the actual question but says all the more about the person attempting to answer the question. Questions why, if we are to believe cybernetics guru Heinz von Foerster, essentially unanswerable, along the lines of "Why is something rather than nothing in the first place?" But questions about the origin of the universe or of language are part and parcel of things. And how could it be otherwise: the question why representatives of the mother of all arts like to shroud their luxury bodies in fabric whose outstanding quality is the fact that it is bright black.

But let us not speculate on the reasons, as we after all are not architects. For Cordula Rau has collected countless answers and presented them in a slender volume (black on white, what else) in the handwriting of those courageous enough to answer. And anyone who has difficulty deciphering the calligraphic messages can read the confessions in printed type in English.

So, to be serious: Why do architects wear black? Since we can exclude this guild coming up with a unanimous answer, we might have the idea of creating small groups of answers. However, a small potpourri is preferential, because it is better suited to enabling us to enjoy leafing through the small black volume.

Jun Aoki suspects that the proclivity for black stems from the fact that an architect has always been a kind of communist; Hermann Kaufmann, by contrast, believes that architects are missionaries. Or do architects wear such a rejection of color simply because, as Peter Ebner feels, "they don't want to think about clothes"? Needless to say, they do, anyway.

So what should we think? "They're all Existentialists," writes Thomas Ende, and Peter Conradi cofirms this when he jots "Because they wish to appear interesting + appear to be Existentialists." "Black means you can't really go wrong and you don't have to change that often," suggests Jürgen Mayer H. "Black makes you look thin," opines Stefan Behling, "and people notice your eyes better," continues Gregor Eichinger. Only Christoph Mäckler tries to provide a serious answer: "Because they believe they need to stand out from the bourgeois society whence they come if they are to be real ‘artists'."

Of course, there are the exceptions, those who simply sidestep the trap the question sets. "I don't wear schwartz," writes Peter Eisenman with the masterful touch of a New York intellectual. Dietrich Fink, by contrast, steps out of line and simply offers a one-word response: "Green". That's the way it goes with questions that cannot really be answered: You ask about black and someone answers green. Jacques Herzog prefers to joke: "black, nothing occurs to me really, probably because so many architects wear it?" Peter Haimerl opts to rhyme things blackest: "Architects wear black ... because they want to have the authority of black capes, the liberty of apes, and the visibility of nocturnal capers." And Vittorio Magnago Lampugnani quickly extricates himself from the tricky situation and notes: "I simply do not know: I do not wear black and yet I am an architect all the same." So what are we to think? That there are black, white and colored architects, who think in black and white and color , and build black, white and colored houses? Sorry, but all we wanted to know was why the clothes.

The sentences proffered by the ironic existentialists help to counter such inevitable confusion. Why black? "Because they fear for their futures," suggest the cooperative futurologist Wolf D. Prix of Himmelblau. And Hani Rashid believes that black serves "to disappear into space". And for Mathias Sauerbruch there is a very serious reason for the question about color: "Fear". And Albert Speer is even more perspicacious: "Because life is so sad."

Now let us not wilt under the blackish weight and let our readers think that the architects' sadness refers to the quality of their architecture. Who today would fear the men in black? Why do architects wear black and why do we ask such questions? Probably the best thing we could do, for the sake of contrast, is simply to stick with Konstantin Grcic: "I don't know!"

Why do architects wear black? Cordula Rau (ed.); Springer Verlag, Vienna & New York 2008, 228 pages, EUR 21.35

All photos © Dimitrios Tsatsas, Stylepark
From a reliable source, so that the black Indian ink pencil can be wiped on the sleeve... which implies that the drawing + text (as seen here) must be effected colourless. Florian Aicher, Munich
The black makes room for the colourful, I hope... Architects should open possibilities and not determine everything. Good architecture gives us good ruins. Ueli Zbinden, Zurich
Black makes you look skinny. Stefan Behling, Stuttgart
So that the eyes show to advantage. Gregor Eichinger, Vienna
Fear Matthias Sauerbruch, Berlin
Because they don’t have a sense of fantasy and imagination. Massimilliano Fuksas, Rome
Black is the colour of creatives: mysterious, deep, definite. Goes with every colour. Eike Becker, Berlin
I don’t wear black. But rather grey or dark blue always in combination with a coloured shirt. Wiel Arets, Amsterdam
I don’t know. I wear coloured clothes. Peter Zumthor, Haldenstein
I never wear black! Rem Koolhaas, Rotterdam
I don't know. Konstantin Grcic, Munich