Lasting impression

The Art of Ageing Well


I’ve always been told that as an architect you have to love Le Corbusier – and I have totally failed. I love his logic and his clarity and the gusto of his writings, but when I stand inside his buildings, I think: he’s right, this is a machine that people happen to live in, and I don’t want to live in a machine! But there is one that really moves me – his chapel at Ronchamp, Notre Dame du Haut (1) (1954). You climb these winding streets, and there it is, standing there as if a giant had moulded it.

It’s like when you see a clay pot, you can almost feel the human hand, the warmth. Just walking in, you sense the atmosphere. I’m not a particularly religious person but that moment was so human, so different from the experience you get from gothic churches. It’s fascinating how religious elements are manifested in different times and places.

At Ronchamp or Tadao Ando’s Church of Light in Japan, you have this very sculptural expression in concrete. But then Jørn Utzon’s Bagsværd church (2) in Denmark (1976) is completely different. It’s so blocky outside, you think is this a crematorium or an office building? And then the inside is crazy – it bears no relation to the exterior! I don’t know what he was thinking or what his brief was. I haven’t visited it, but I really want to.

We’re designing a social housing development in London with precast-concrete structural cladding, and I’m exploring how you can manufacture reliefs and surface patinations, in a similar way to Níall McLaughlin’s athletes’ housing for the London Olympics (3) (2011). I’m really interested in how they went through the process – producing the mould, creating the effect. I personally dislike how very flat surfaces age – whether it’s glass or concrete, algae and dirt gather in a very uncontrolled manner.

But as soon as you put folds in, and they get older and deeper, you give the process character. Look at our faces: as we get older, the creases show the essence of a human being, our nature. I like that.

Je Ahn is the founding director of Studio Weave

Photos Collection Artedia/VIEW, seier+seier/Flickr, Edmund Sumner/VIEW