Mindful Constructions – Artist & Architect Werner Haker

Architecture & Interiors

The Artist, Werner Haker, has
been painting for 8 years.  He has dedicated himself full time to his
paintings and considers it his current profession.  He goes to his
practice every day.  “It’s my way of chopping wood and carrying water,” he
likes to say.  This is how he currently makes his living.

Since the production of his last
show at The Haen Gallery in Asheville, Werner has chosen to take a break from
doing gallery work, as it tends to change the focus of creating.  During
this time his paintings have evolved and emerged further from the wall as
assemblages.  “The illusion of space is transitioning to the reality of
space”, says the artist. He wants to create work that is more
experiential.  An ultimate goal for him is to create installation pieces
to activate spaces.

Assemblage CompositeHere I snapped a photo of Werner
in front of one of his latest assemblages.  It’s called  Box Car
Memorial.  He begins with a theme or notion when he starts a piece. 
This time it was the Holocaust.  Having grown up in the generation
following the Holocaust in Germany he discusses the weight of the collective
unconscious that people were living with during that time of reconstruction. 
Through the use of deconstructed symbolism, composition, weight, texture, and
large and small-scale experiences – a story is pushed and pulled into existence
to ultimately be completed by the observer. 

Werner likes to focus on the
process of creating.  He is “mindful” of moving back and forth from
thought to intuition and from randomness to precision.  Improvising,
constructing, deconstructing, the final sobering decision becomes when to
stop.  When is it enough?  That is when we connected on something we
both appreciate, the richness in expressing something with so little.  As
he puts it, “How to achieve the highest degree of complexity with the least
means.”  This is a principle of modern creation and a good point to
transition to further spatial reality, architecture.  

The Architect, Werner Haker, has
been practicing architecture for decades beginning in Europe.  Achieving a
degree in architecture he has taught, worked and had influential roles in
mega-firms and ETH – The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.  Since
moving to the Asheville area 15 years ago he has been a guest professor at N C
State along with doing some private practice work.  It is his house he
designed, for him and his fashion designer wife, five years ago that became a great
point for discussing his practice of design.

Werner’s house was created to be a low cost, low maintenance,
passive solar and sustainable stage for not only enhancing and maintaining
daily life, but for quietly stepping out of its way. The nuts and bolts
description is a 3000sq/ft box that is divided half into home and half into
work studios.  The walls and the roof are created from a typical
industrial steel structure and incorporate 8” insulated walls.  They are
made from recycled steel components.  All walls are non-load
bearing.  The exterior siding, doors and windows utilize low maintenance,
standardized components to keep initial and future costs to a minimum.  He
likes to describe the style as “Bauhaus Trailer.”  Interior walls are
created to combine and frame multiple, back-to-back functions.  


 The wall of the fireplace becomes more spatial to serve as
media storage, fireplace and a screen for hiding the office along with
structure for supporting the desk beyond.  Combining functions is another
modernist principle in design. 

To emphasize the last point we
can take a more detailed look at the floor.  The concrete slab floor in
Werner’s home was designed to serve three functions.  First, it is the key
component to the structure of the house, the foundation.  Second, it is
the main surface or backdrop to the stage of living in the house, the
floor.  Third, the slab is also an integral component of the home’s
mechanical systems, heating through a combination of  a hydronic radiant
system with additional passive solar. 

Compare that to a traditional
home.  First, there are often footings to support the base of the
home.  Then on top we may add wood beams, floor joists and sub-flooring,
before getting to the final finished surface of the floor.   We can
then add the cost of the finished floor material (carpet, stone, wood) on top of
the costs to all the layers of supporting construction. All these components
are used to complete the floor and we don’t have the addition of using the
floor for heat.  In fact, we have created a floor that allows heat to
escape and requires extra cost and material to keep the heat contained. 
Again, like discussing his art, we both find ourselves compelled by the
richness of creating so much with a seemingly small gesture.  On the
surface, the concrete slab appears simple and void of thought, but in reality
it contains layers of sophistication. 

When applying this idea to the rest of the home what is the
result?  As both a designer and realtor I know that homes in the Asheville
area can be purchased for $150 to $500/sq.ft.  I have met a builder who
can build a decent quality traditional home, not sustainable, for $100
sq/ft.  Werner has constructed his home for $70/sq.ft including all
infrastructure and labor.  It may be a good time to consider the
implications of this, compare it to the houses created today and the quality of
life of its inhabitants. 

Kitchen Dining
Werner states it is not a matter
of being green on its own.  That is only one aspect of a broader way of
thinking.  Again, it is a matter of being “mindful” of each choice he
makes in designing a home.  Like his art, it is a matter of knowing
when to add, when to combine and when to take away.  Does an element
enhance or hinder the story and the ability for the observer to create their
own story?   Final Illustration
Likewise with architecture, does
an element enhance or hinder living life in a home and the freedom to create
your own life, both today and tomorrow?

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