“My work is totally mixed. Of course, I am an architect. But I am also a development worker and an activist. If I see a need somewhere or a potential, then I get involved. To me creativity is a tool to improve lives.”
Meet German architect Anna Heringer who grew up in Bavaria, but spent much of her working life in rural Bangladesh. “There are a lot of similarities. The point of departure is always the question: What resources are at hand and how can you use your creativity to make the best out of them? That’s what I am trying to do with my architecture.”
To Anna human labor plays a vital role in every building process. “If we don’t use it, we create a social problem.” The same is to be said about local materials: “Materials need a lot of transportation which is not necessary. We have fantastic local materials all around the world, we just need to see and be aware of them. Less concrete, more earth – we can’t continue to build like we do. Here in Germany I figured out that the cheapest solution always is the least sustainable, while in Bangladesh the cheapest solution also is the most sustainable.”
Knowledge on the other hand should not be limited, but shared and then applied to local conditions. “I think architecture is a really powerful tool to shape our society. Just by the way we choose our materials, construction processes and how many people are included in the building we can really make an impact. To me the essential question that I always have in the back of my mind when I am designing and deciding is: what if seven billion people would decide the same way? Would it contribute to social justice? To the environment? All these questions are central because I deeply believe that the world is not changing through one big decision. It’s the everyday small decisions that are really shaping our environment and society.”
Anna Heringer, born in 1977, grew up in Laufen, a small town at the Austrian-Bavarian border close to Salzburg. At the age of 19 she lived in Bangladesh for almost a year, where she had the chance to learn from the NGO Dipshikha about sustainable development work. The main lesson here was the experience that the most successful development strategy is to trust in existing, readily available resources and to make the best out of it instead of getting depended on external systems. Eight years later, in 2005, she tried to transfer this philosophy into the field of architecture. Today, as an architect and honorary professor of the UNESCO Chair of Earthen Architecture, Building Cultures, and Sustainable Development she is focusing on the use of natural building materials. She has been actively involved in development cooperation in Bangladesh since 1997. Her diploma work, the METI School in Rudrapur got realized in 2005 and won the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 2007. Over the years, Studio Anna Heringer has realized further projects in Asia, Africa, and Europe. Anna is lecturing worldwide at conferences, including TED and has been visiting professor at various universities such as Harvard, ETH Zurich and TU Munich. She received numerous honors: the Obel Award 2020, the Global Award for Sustainable Architecture, the AR Emerging Architecture Award, the Loeb Fellowship at Harvard’s GSD and a RIBA International Fellowship. Anna’s work has been widely published and exhibited in the MoMA New York, the V&A Museum in London and at the Venice Biennale among other places.
Anna Heringer was interviewed by Marc-Christoph Wagner at her studio in Laufen, Germany, in September 2020.
Camera: Jakob Solbakken
Edited by Klaus Elmer
Produced by Marc-Christoph Wagner
© Stefano Mori, © Robert Rau and © Kurt Hoerbst
Additional video material by:
Director: Saralisa Volm
Director of Photography: Anne Bolick
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2021
Supported by Dreyers Fond
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