INTERVIEW | Martin Rein-Cano

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Image left: Martin Rein-Cano with the Section 2018 team.

XSection had the opportunity to sit down with Martin Rein-Cano, founding director of TOPOTEK1, during his visit to Aotearoa in October of this year.

Born in Buenos Aires in 1967, Rein-Cano went on to study the History of Art at Frankfurt University and Landscape Architecture at the Technical Universities of Hannover and Karlsruhe. Following his education, he lecturedat internationally renowned universities, contributed to a number of academic journals, and regularly served on international competition juries.

Martin founded TOPOTEK1 in 1996, an award-winning multidisciplinary firm, which focusses on the re-contextualization of objects and spaces. The firm has been involved in a range of projects, including the famed Superkilenproject, in Copenhagen.

XSection: To start o can you just brie y introduce yourself and your work.

Martin : My name is Martin Rein-Cano, I am the founding director of Topotek 1, alandscape architecture design rm based in Berlin. If I had to characterize our work in very few words I would say, maybe what makes us special is, since we’ve been founded we’ve been researching the edges of the profession, jaunting into a number of related elds such as art and architecture. We are also interested in diversity as well. We want to work in di erent places, with different populations, doing different collaborations with different disciplines.

XSection: You have described yourself as a traveler that works around the eld of landscape architecture, what was your vision when you rst started Topotek 1, and how has this developed over the past 22 years?

Martin : I don’t know if I had a vision actually. To tell you the truth, I was 28 years old, I was as old as you guys are now or older. No, I didn’t have a vision. In the end, it’s not like you have the ten commandments before you start the Bible. It’s probably the other way around, you get them afterward, or as you go along. I could make up something, but in the end, no, I was just curious - and I still am. Landscape architecture involves a lot of trial and error, we try to be open-minded and see where opportunities and challenges can take us and our work. Sometimes it’s coincidence, sometimes it’s on purpose.

I think there are designers setting up an agenda and going for it - I wasn’t like that. I was reading a sentence in the newspaper on my way here by a German writer that said; “convictions actually hinder thinking.” So, if you’re convinced of something you stop thinking because you think that’s it; you don’t need to think about things anymore. It was, for me, natural not to be convinced of anything.

XSection: Can you touch on operating as a multi-disciplinary design practice, in regard to its importance in contemporary design?

Martin : Yes, I think that it’s not only in our field, but in many professional elds thatpeople are testing the borders of their work. If you look at scientists today, they work with musicians and so on, it’s this kind of cross-over working that seems to be becoming a bit of a thing of our generation now.

People seem to feel that their own profession is too stiff, especially when developing new ideas. So, it’s good to work with other people with di erentmindsets, to question your own mindset. In that respect, I think we arejust children of our time and that professions are really beginning to ndthemselves, and their scope. This is because the tasks they undertake are changing; we are at a time of change in many areas.

I think we as landscape architects have to be aware of change as well, otherwise, we will be eaten up by someone else. We have to be the ones that are eating, otherwise, we will be the victim to closely related professions such as architecture.

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Image left: Hota Outdoor Stage, Gold Coast. Credit: Aaron Poupard

XSection: How do you think future generations of landscape architects coming into the field might be able to benefit it?

Martin: Well, to tell you the truth, I have been kind of disappointed. The reason as towhy TOPOTEK1’s work is shifting and exploring the boundaries of landscape architecture is because I never was very happy with the profession. I’ve always thought it’s really conservative, and a little bit naive; a combination of these do good-ers and wall-savers, that in the end, only produce talk or hot air.

So, I don’t know what kind of a future the profession has, I think like every profession you have to expand your repertoire. If you want to be seriously part of a discussion, you have to be let’s say multilingual, you have to speak in a lot of ways to confront the problems of planning today and in the future.

And now professionally, in that respect, it’s a little bit mono-cultural. It’s very protestant traditionally, it’s very romantic. It doesn’t have, let’s say, the intelligent pragmatism that maybe other professions have. That can be very nice and joyful, but also a total impediment, a conviction. The architects had the Bauhaus movement where they got rid of the ornament, that never happened to us. So, we still work with the ornament like in the 19th Century. We are still decorators.

All of the environmental talk is huge, but not really professional, because usually we apply the half-knowledge we have on the matter. So, let’s say, we are a new trend of decoration because we do things that might seem sustainable, but only to make the people feel that it’s that way. But it’s reallynot. In reality, it’s just as arti cial as a nice ower bed.

So, there are a lot of problems around the profession. I think if landscape architecture wants to survive in competition with other creative professions, it must expand its repertoire. happened to us. So, we still work with the ornament like in the 19th Century.

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XSection: How do you think the education system can better prepare students who are entering into landscape-based practice when the traditional boundaries of our eld are becoming more and more blurred?

Martin: Well, first of all, I think that many borders are dissolving, between genders,professions, and also between generations. I think the cleanness of generations that we use to have, when people used to be really old, and people used to bereally young, is becoming more of a personal decision, defined by moments inyour life and your character.

There are many things that make you seem young or old; there are young people that seem older than my grandpa and the other way around. So, thereis no longer this kind of clarity in the definitions of generations - the future and the past isn’t as sorted as it used to be, it’s much more of a ow that is not clear. If you look at the world, we all think that there is a kind of continual positive progress to some extent, and now we’re seeing political and socialdevelopments that are very contradictory. On one side it looks like a brightfuture ahead, and on the other side, it looks to be disastrous and very unclear.

In terms of education, I think a pure education that we are used to having is maybe not as useful as we once perceived it to be. When I was teaching at Penn, in America, I remember my best students were actually those doing a double degree. They were studying architecture and landscape architecture at the same time and would decide in the end what direction to go. Because then you are able to get the best of both worlds. In education, I think that your personal investment is as important as what you get taught or shown.

Everyone is different, our ambitions, our possibilities, our curiosity - theseshould set a track for you, and you should follow it. Try to make your studies as personal as possible, because, like many other things in life, you have to find out what best suits you.

There are many possibilities in the profession, so you have to start earning your education, you have to start thinking about where your motivation lies,and where you want to continue to develop. Maybe you want to change fields.I studied art history before I studied landscape architecture and I feel it was useful for me, perhaps self-confusion, but this can be useful.

In the end, learning is not something that someone teaches you, at the levelof university, you have to nd a way to get what you need from education. I think that this is different, not for everyone, but there are differences depending on what you are looking for and where you are in your ownpersonal development. What is always good is to study in di erent places, because it gives you a culturally di erent perspective and different truths, so that helps too.

XSection: Auckland is a very culturally diverse city, we are the fourth most foreign-born population in the world with 39% of the population being born overseas. How can we use this to our advantage when designing shared spaces for people from di erent backgrounds?

Martin: Good relations in societies manage let’s say two or three things. One of them, to a certain extent, is to pro t from diversity. Everyone has a different cultural background; different cuisines, different languages, and also different ways of implementing public space, which can be really interesting. In Thailand, for example, they have boxing rings in the streets, so people box on public ground. In Jamaica, they have sound boxes everywhere and they play music in the public ground, etc., etc. So, speaking earlier of expanding landscape architecture’s repertoire, we have the opportunity to expand the possible uses of public space by looking at topics like diversity. If you look at the romantic public ground generally, it’s actually more interesting for dogs than for people in the end - for lonesome people with their lonesome dog. The idea is that you walk and you don’t meet anyone and there’s a dog with you to talk to. So, it’s not really interactive, it’s not engaging.

I think good cities should offer or profit from these kinds of experiences. If you look at New York or London, the most natural experience you can have is to take the tube; it smells, you touch people you never will see again, from all different cultures. So, this is a big city, this is an existential encounter where you start to accept and see that there are very different ways of living with very different people, and you experience that it’s possible to live together without killing each other - even when sitting in an awful tube. In my opinion, it’s actually necessary for productive cities of high density to demonstrate these sorts of social encounters. Like people that are more exposed to nature get fewer allergies, people who are exposed to more social encounters are less anti-social. It’s quite simple.

But it’s also in the context of necessity as well. A place like Auckland, it’s so empty and there’s so much space that in the end it’s perhaps not needed. You can’t force things like that to happen. You can’t make a metro just for the sake of having people encounter each other in such situations.

I think immigration brings di erent knowledge; in terms of repertoire,and in terms of culture. The question though is how you implement it, and how people may respond to it. People will lose their own roots, and develop attitudes around defending this, and attitudes around how to integrate into new societies. It’s one of the big issues of our time because people are really mobile and, in many cases, have a choice where to go.

And now, with the internet, you can stay connected with your culture. You might even watch television or listen to the radio from your original country, so you’re not forced as much to mingle into the new. I think that certainnatures of cultures also survive much longer in parallel. So, you get a different type of sensation than you used to get. If you look in the United States, you can see how strong Spanish is in certain areas of the country, and how it becomes almost a second language there as well.

And actually, we also have kind of a traveling circus as well, people don’t necessarily come to a place to stay. Maybe they go, they study there, maybe they meet someone, stay, maybe not, they go back, they go away again. It’s kind of a constant movement. This is very interesting, and also very bad for the environment, but it’s where we are as a society. It’s easy to become mobile because we are beginning to see places a world apart becoming much more common. Countries are not as different anymore; you get the same stu , just tuned slightly differently. It’s easy to move around and look for new opportunities, that’s part of the globalisation of people, no?

For me personally, it’s actually the richness of looking. How do different people live? How do they live like that? Maybe I should try it. We try the food from the places we visit, so why don’t we try different ways of using space?

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Image left: BUGA Schwerin 2009 Ufegarten

Image Credit: Hans Joosten

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