Architect Andreas Meck: “The diversity of tasks fascinates me.”
Andreas Meck is one of Germany’s most sought-after architects. The TUM alumnus loves to get involved in diverse projects over and over again. He constructs residential houses and holiday homes as well as church community centers and sacred buildings. And he loves to teach, sit down with students regarding drafts and talk about concepts. In cooperation with his office partner Axel Frühauf, he designed an extraordinary new cafeteria building for the TUM in Garching, which will open its doors at the beginning of next year.
Professor Meck, you’re building the new cafeteria in Garching. What was it like to come back to TUM for the interview today? Did you feel like you were coming home?
That is a good question. When you’ve studied here and go back into this building after decades, there is one thing that comes back to you: That is the smell. You don’t forget that. Then you notice “Hmhm, aha, this still smells the same as back then.” And of course, it is fun to work for builders who you know and who are in the immediate proximity.
How did you convince with your draft in the interna- tionally tendered competition?
This was a very difficult task. A cafeteria has high func- tional requirements. Just imagine: up to 7,000 meals that are prepared there in just a few hours, of which 2,000 go outside, 1,500 seats in one big room. Manag- ing the logistics alone, when the students come, decide on a meal, pick up the food, eat it at the table and then leave the cafeteria again.
This must be a big room.
Yes, with regard to the construction, that is a chal- lenge. A room where 1,500 students can eat naturally needs a certain size, it has specific spans; the whole technology must, so to speak, be housed in this construction. What’s more: a cafeteria like this is a key communication hub with-in a university and a campus facility. That’s where the students get together, where the ex-change takes place – between various subjects, too. I think that is very important. And this also means the cafeteria had to be shaped in a special way in order to fulfill these demands here. We have succeeded in bringing all of these framework conditions together so that an overall concept has been created and a cafete- ria is now being built that will serve as a core focus of the Garching location, too.
What will the cafeteria look like?
The cafeteria will have a flat, wooden outer shell. Very deliberately. Because this is a material that is not present on the campus yet in this form. We wanted to give the cafeteria a special status. We believe that at this location, in the middle of this building that is very technically oriented in terms of content and looks, a cafeteria with a haptic and, let me say now, emotional surface would be very good. It will therefore acquire a character that differs from the buildings standing else- where in Garching.
And the interior?
The theme of wood will also express itself in the interior space over the façades. Other than that, we have visible reinforced concrete ceilings, partially plastered walls, that is, a concept moves col-or-wise in the black/white range and has more of a neutral background. When you imagine that 1,500 students will eat there, that’s colorful and varied enough.
The cafeteria has a courtyard, too, right?
Yes, that is the cafeteria’s special feature. You have to im- agine it like this: the dining hall is on the first floor, in other words, when you’re sitting in the dining hall, which has glass on all sides, you virtually see over the courtyard, that subdivides this large cafeteria room into several smaller rooms. You can look from one side across this courtyard to the other side, where the other students are sitting, but it is a view through greenery. Our idea is that pine trees will be planted there in the courtyard.
In your opinion, what is the characteristic feature of your projects?
I think it is the idea that alongside functional and design requirements, buildings should also have high atmos- pheric qualities. That characterizes my work. This also includes a serious analysis of the framework conditions, that is, with the realities on site.
Are there favorite jobs you are working on: trans- posing a house in the city or in the countryside into the mountains, for example?
No, not really. I’m one of the few architects who is not specialized, and this very deliberately. I think there’s a new challenge behind every task. I take small things just as seriously as the big ones because when you take them seriously, they require just as much work, too. This challenge, that is inherent in each new task, is naturally also what keeps you alert, which is exciting.
Isn’t that difficult: that you continually have to gain insights into new things? For example, a church is a space that must function in a completely different way than that of a residential building.
The aim is to create rooms and spatial atmospheres. This is the recurrent leitmotif. The other things, func- tions, their details can change again and again for sin- gle-family homes as well. So it goes without saying that you adapt to that. The locations are always different anyway. That’s why I do not find it tough, but instead enriching that different tasks exist.
You’re a successful architect. How do you become one?
My time as a student was marked by work in large work rooms. We were 240 first-year students, spread over several design/drawing halls. That’s where we sat shoulder to shoulder and we worked off the entire exercises. That was really good because this enabled a lively exchange to take place with the other students. Today, I’m still in touch with a lot of the people who I studied with. And from the graduate studies as well, the intensive work situation especially sticks in my mind. We were able to apply for working space on Richard- Wagner-Straße so that we could work on projects there. The working atmosphere was very close there. We gave each other ad-vice, but also spurred each other on and talked about architecture. Quite often, we didn’t just stop working at six p.m., but sat there until mid- night. Dealing with a matter so intensively provides the opportunity to ignite enthusiasm for a course of studies or profession.
You call yourself an “architect of vocation and pas- sion.” So what brought you to architecture?
(smiles) Most people answer a question like that by say- ing they already played Lego when they were little kids. To be sure, I did that, too. But it wasn’t the case that I knew right from that start that I’d become an architect. I had a wide array of interests and in my view, studies in architecture from a cross-sectional angle, was the course of studies that took most of my interests into account in parallel. Undergraduate studies at TUM were relatively prosaic and especially gave you basic knowl- edge, but that’s what I’d decided to do, and at some point, I was then simply ignited by this enthusiasm and noticed: I have fun doing this, I want to do this, this is my cup of tea.
Are there experiences from your studies from which you can still tap today?
We learned an incredibly huge amount of facts. At that time, this was a really good foundation to be able to build on this later in the own office. This taught me a lot. For teaching, I especially took along project work as a very positive experience from my time at TUM. It plays a very big role in my work as a professor today.
What motivated you then to go into university teaching alongside your work as an architect? When I started up my own business, I realized relatively soon that besides work in the office, one aspect was now missing: the opportunity to share experiences with others and to think about things theoretically, too, that is, to put my focus on tasks at other levels. That’s why I ac- cepted teaching assignments, which then lead relatively quickly to the professorship at the University for Applied Sciences.
And you enjoy working with students?
Yes, I greatly value the direct contact with students and the discussions with them. It inspires me to think about things in a different way again myself. This is the freedom that a university offers: being able to try and sound out things, taking a risk – this isn’t easy later in everyday professional life. Together with the students, I enjoy working on issues for which there is no room in normal day-to-day office life. And this is exactly what students are looking for: teachers who come from actual practice, who can convey things to them, which are current and provide free spaces at the same time.
What do you do with your time when you’re not working?
I try to focus on building culture. I also have a number of engagements outside of the office, I advise cities and communities in advisory boards and design councils. I sit on competition juries and am, for example, commit- ted to TUM’s architecture museum. I think it’s important to deliver my contribution here, too.
Don’t you think that is part of your work?
No. When work is fun, then it is, so to speak, a hobby, right? You mentioned the word vocation before. I think that’s really good. I like that more than profession. I say this to the students all the time, too. Vocation translates into enthusiasm for something, and I mean when you’re ex-cited about your job, have fun doing it, then there is no separation between work and leisure time, between job and hobby.
What is the best thing about your job for you?
The best thing is certainly that I can deliver a contribu- tion to building culture. So buildings that have turned out successfully, which are erected in the cityscape or site’s landscape and positively contribute to those who pass by and to those who live in and use the buildings. I think this is a wonderful aspect of our profession.
What are your feelings when you, yourself, pass by the homes you’ve built? Do you sometimes drive to them specifically?
Not that often, I must admit. I’m someone who is future-oriented and interested in new tasks. But of course, it is the case that I’m repeatedly confronted with my earlier works, sometimes by chance, sometimes due to follow-up orders, for example, adaptations to the building after years of changes in use. Then I take another look at the buildings. For me, it is impor- tant that buildings age particularly well. This is a central concern of mine: that you don’t make trendy things, but instead try to build things so that they can grow old with dignity over time. This does still actually work very well for many of my buildings.
What does good architecture look like for you? Is there a most beautiful building in the world?
That’s a tough question. There are lots of beautiful buildings. Right now, I couldn’t say which one impress- es me the most. I’ve learned something that tends to be different: that alongside architectural icons, it is actually quite often the everyday architecture that is far more decisive. That is to say, the rooms in which we work and live each single day.
Is there such a beautiful room for you?
Yes, as a matter of fact, that is the University of Munich on Karlstraße, a building from the 1950s, crafted by well-known architects of that time: Alois Seifert, Rolfter Haerst and Franz Ruf. The building has a wonderful atri- um. And I really look forward to each day when I work there: going through this atrium, soaking up the atmos- phere, seeing the students in the galleries, the light, the floor coverings. Those are such places that, alongside the major architectural icons, make my life better, and I think this is great, that is a beautiful place for me.
As an architect, you’re very successful and have already achieved a lot. What is the next challenge for you?
I’ve also been working as an urban planner for quite some time now and in the process, I deal with the plan- ning of built urban structures, starting with the city on to by all means smaller settlement structures, and very deliberately also the question of moving to the country, that is, to outdoor nature.
Urban planning is especially a challenge for metropolises like Munich.
Yes, urban planning in Munich needs good and, first and foremost, creative solutions for the missing living space. Living is a term that is relatively hard to define. Everyone has a different understanding of this. The days when only classical family structures existed
are outdated. To-day, we’re talking about mosaic life stories and patchwork families. But construction of residential housing still assumes that there is either the single apartment or the 3-room apartment for parents with a child. Construction is often done according to traditional standard layouts: kitchen, dining room, living room, and the bedroom. That is somehow bypassing the future.
You provide several counter-models to standard architecture with your drafts, and are therefore one of the most sought-after architects in Germany. How do you deal with your success?
Awards and recognitions are always nice because you get a positive response to the work you’ve done. In principle, however, what interests me more is doing something, designing a building, instead of keeping an eye on prizes. After all, prizes do not have anything to do with the real order situation. At the end of the day, work today isn’t that much different for me than it was when I started my career: you must make your best efforts for every contract because you start all over again from scratch each time with a project. This is the demanding, but also the wonderful thing about architecture.
Prof. Andreas Meck
Degree in Architecture 1985
Andreas Meck studied architecture from 1979 to 1985 at TUM. Following studies at the Architectur- al Association in London, he founded his first ar- chitecture office in Munich in 1989; the firm meck architekten has been active since 2001. He has been working as a registered urban planner since 2008, too. Among others, his works include the library and lecture buildings of the Bauhaus-University in Weimar (2005), the Catholic Dominikus Center (Katholische Dominikuszentrum) in Munich- Nordheide (2008) and the Memorial for the Federal Armed Forces (Ehrenmal der Bundeswehr) in Ber- lin (2009). Currently, Andreas Meck is managing the new construction of the cafeteria on the TUM cam- pus in Garching. In addition, he’s actively involved in the Support Association of TUM’s ar- chitecture museum, where he was chairman until 2018. He was an assistant for the chair of interior design and drafting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, took over the professorship for drafting and structural design at the University of Applied Sciences Munich in 1998 and since 2013, he is also the dean of the faculty for architecture there. In 2015, he was awarded with the architecture prize of the state capital Munich. In the process, the jury underscored his keen sense for the mate- rial, spatial effects and the inclusion of light. He won the competition for the new cafeteria build- ing in Garching, among other reasons, due to his integrative, urbanistic approach and a “powerful, clear-cut and intensely room-focused architectural language.”