Architecture through discussion
Zürich, CH

F.A.T. is a horizontal teaching-learning program, based in Zürich and founded by Fabio Don and Marco Zelli, based on an open debate about fundamental topics concerning architecture. With a nomadic attitude to workspaces, their meetings revolve around a “jour-fixe” that helps them maintain an overview of their various activities.


Meeting in Zürich

We first got to know each other in Venice. After several years of studying, traveling and working abroad (Germany, Portugal, Japan…) we ended up in Switzerland, and, funnily enough, being employed by the same architect: we used to collaborate in facts with Andrea Deplazes, one at his office and the other one at his chair at the ETH. Since our new encounter in Zurich, we started developing the platform F.A.T. together.


Inspirational figures

One of the first goals of our project was to push architects (including ourselves) to develop their critical consciousness. To do so implies a certain “Kill Your Darlings “ approach. We used texts and generally tended to abstraction to overcome the attachment to certain poetics and escape the charm of prominent figures of the current architectural scene. We have to confess though that these same figures sometimes demonstrated an extraordinary freshness and receptivity to this same approach. We once had the great chance to run one session in the former atelier of the artist Hans Josephson, which, since he died in 2012, serves as an archive. Fascinated by the topic of the discussion (a text by Philip Ursprung focusing on the relationship between architecture, design and the arts in the 70s) the swiss architect Peter Märkli, who has his atelier in the same building, decided spontaneously to join the round table and to jump into the arena. 


Meetings without appointments

We have a rather open system of collaboration. This depends also on the fact that we have quite different schedules and working methods. What we have implemented in our agenda is a so-called “Jour-Fixe“ (fixed day) which is a broadly used tool of coordination and development on Swiss construction sites. We meet regularly (once a week) without making an appointment. During the J-F we have a look over the different projects we are working on and we get from each other an update on the latest developments. It’s a “same time - same place“ kind of thing. Our lives outside and inside the office are continuously merging. We like to combine these two aspects as much as possible.


A nomadic approach

We don’t have a “classic“ studio space. We like to work in different environments. It could be our ateliers, our apartments, a cafe. It’s a rather nomadic approach to work and life. Our learning/teaching program adopts the very same strategy. With our panels, we like to “activate“ and “charge“ different spaces: public spaces like universities or galleries, semi-private spaces like entry-halls, parking-lots or offices. We take the time to find a place that has the potential to frame the ritual of the debate. The aim is to keep the structure of the project and the program as open and horizontal as possible, engaging with new people, conditions and situations.


Standing against professionalism

Our experience as practising architects made us conscious of the current tendency to isolate the practical side of architecture from the speculative. We are aware that our technology-driven society is demanding very peculiar know-how, but the architect keeps cultivating a generalist approach, to remain omnivorous. The market that is receptive to our project tries to reduce us to one of the sides we are trying to keep together, but we are consciously reacting to this tendency with new projects articulating the spectrum to the width we believe it should have. Our aim is basically to stand against professionalism, reintegrating theoretical intelligence within the practice and vice versa.  


Collaboration for research and pedagogy

We are currently working on several collaborations to develop our research and teaching program further.

Our contribution to the Triennale in Lisbon is an implementation and at the same time a reaction to the topic put forward from Éric Lapierre: "The Poetics of Reason”. Within this topic, we proposed to analyse the tendency of reason to structure phenomena according to the modality of automatism. “On Automaton” in fact speculates about the ambiguity of the term itself, the English acceptation vs the Aristotelic one. The workshop addresses mainly students but involves several special guests, among scholars and practitioners, coming from Portugal and from abroad. 

A further program we will take part in is “Creating Homes for Tomorrow“ by CANactions. Based in Kyiv and Amsterdam, CANactions is an interdisciplinary educational program in the fields of architecture and urban development. Together with a group of international postgraduate students, we will explore innovative approaches for creating locally specific urban strategies and answering globally relevant questions. 

The collaboration with the Mies van Der Rohe Foundation is going to be a curatorial work with selected architects, assessing the cultural Legacy of Mies. In this case, we will explore new means for articulating the relation between theory and project. This fundamental relation lies at the very core of our Program and will be a guideline for the future in the long term.


F.A.T as a strategic and research tool

Ultimately the biggest challenge will be to embody the figure of the “architect as intellectual”, fighting the current dividing tendency and making all the time more clear to which extent thinking is already “project”. In this regard F.A.T. serves as a strategic and research tool, enlarging the table of discussion to several different partners: foundations, public and private education institutions and programs, political forces and even private groups like building cooperatives or real estate developers.

F.A.T 2019 Foto by Douglas Mandry 01 Fabio Don

Photography Douglas Mandry

F.A.T Atelier Hans Josephsohn 2018 Foto by Tibor Bielicky Fabio Don

Photography Tibor Bielicky

F.A.T Atelier Hans Josephsohn 2018 Foto by Fabio Don 01 Fabio Don

F.A.T 2019 Session 06 with Peter Markli 02 Fabio Don

F.A.T Atelier Hans Josephsohn 2018 Foto by Fabio Don 02 Fabio Don

Photography Fabio Don

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