Hans Ulrich Obrist: You’ve frequently worked at the junctures between art and architecture. Could you tell us about your early work in exhibition design as well as exhibitions of your own art?
Hans Hollein: My earliest endeavors in that direction date to 1956, when I’d completed my architecture studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. I hadn’t received any commissions, but I started to develop ideas. My first studies for a purposeless or—my term at the time—absolute architecture were located on the boundary between architecture and visual art or, more specifically, between architecture and sculpture. I never believed in a neat division between architecture and the other visual arts. I fleshed out my ideas in drawings and models and then won a fellowship to go to the US for two years. I used the time to study at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago and get a master’s degree at Berkeley.
HUO: Who were your teachers in Chicago?
HH: I started studying with Mies van der Rohe, but soon after I got there he withdrew from the IIT due to internal differences, although I continued to see him privately. I then took urban planning classes with Hilberseimer and Peterhans. In my second year, I moved to California. But the real main purpose of my stay was to work free of constraints and really get to know America. I logged around sixty thousand miles driving around the country, with a wide variety of intentions and research foci. For example, at one point I went on a trip to visit every Vienna in the US. I also looked at every single building by Frank Lloyd Wright. That was when I was first confronted with the reality of his designs. I’d known his architecture only from photographs, so the three-dimensional reality was very imposing. I looked at everything he’d done, down to the pigpens he’d built in Alabama. Shortly before his death, he invited me to come up to Taliesin in Wisconsin for a weekend. Another subject I was interested in very early on was Native American architecture. I went to the Southwest several times to study the pueblos more closely.
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