HomeNewsAlumnus of the month September 2013

Alumnus of the month September 2013

Paul Körner, top graduate of the Master’s degree programme in Architecture and Planning in the class of 2009, is now an architect and member of management at the Zurich architecture firm Dietrich Schwarz. He compares the creative atmosphere in the office to that of the large studio at the university.

“The university has become my second family”

Paul Körner, top graduate of the Master’s degree programme in Architecture and Planning in the class of 2009, is now an architect and member of management at the Zurich architecture firm Dietrich Schwarz. He compares the creative atmosphere in the office to that of the large studio at the university.

Mr. Körner, architecture is a broad, overarching term. What does architecture mean for you?
As an architect I engage with people and materials, and in doing so I am able to change a place. The way I arrange a space is an intensive engagement with the surroundings. How I design the building is a question of construction. In our office we focus a lot on sustainability. This means we get caught up in the tug of war between form and function. The trick is to find your own way of expressing your ideas within a particular framework.

What fascinates you about it?

As an architect, I don’t know what a design will look like when it’s finished, so the motivation to push on is huge. The stricter the budget of the client, the more need there is for alternative ideas. This also involves asking the right questions – and of course finding the right answers to those questions. 

Do you see yourself more as an artist or as a service provider?

Obviously we are service providers for the institutions we work with. But for me it’s more about the artistic challenge and defending this aspect of our work to the client. This often causes arguments. But I am able to use the functionality of construction to justify the artistic aspects of the ornamentation and design.

Paul Körner in front of the high-rise residential building near Rietpark Schlieren, the first high-rise residential building in compliance with the Minergie-P-ECO standard

What led you in 2003 to the degree programme in Architecture at what was then the University of Applied Sciences in Liechtenstein?

I had wanted to be an architect since I was eight years old. While I was still at high school, I was convinced that I had to go to Italy to study architecture, but I couldn’t speak Italian. So, I started looking for alternatives in the Alpine region, and while researching I became aware of the Institute of Architecture and Planning at what is now the University of Liechtenstein.

What exactly drew you to it?

The description of the institute online met my expectations exactly: small and well organized, personal and individual. As an avid skier, the location in the Alps also played no minor role in my decision. Yet after one semester I wanted to change universities. 

What happened?

We were supposed to design a “suitcase room” – a transportable room which could be constructed from one material, and which would facilitate us spending the night outside during winter. That exasperated me. I wanted to build houses. I didn’t know where to start with this task. Now I know that the exercise was all about material, about the small, individual space and about creativity. 

What persuaded you to stay?
Back then I asked myself if I really wanted to be the only one who quit and started again from square one at another university, all because of a small project like this. Eventually I realized that I had learnt a lot from the exercise, so I pulled myself together and got on with it.

Looking back, what makes the University of Liechtenstein special?
The university became my second family. I got on really well with the lecturers, administrative staff and my fellow students. The individual support and encouragement was really unique. 

Is that why you decided to pursue your Master’s degree there too?
After my Bachelor’s degree I worked in Milan for a year. Some of my colleagues at the architecture firm Metrogramma were teaching at the Politecnico di Milano and asked me if I wanted to study there. But I came back to the University of Liechtenstein for my Master’s degree, I learnt so much and felt so at home here.

What lessons from your studies have you been able to put into practice in your work?

One sentence that always follows me is: “Leave the material as it is.” It sounds a bit mundane, but it means nothing more than keeping it simple with the material. I try to put that into practice in my daily work. What I also learnt in my studies is to spur myself on, to push myself. The atmosphere in the large studio at the university was very constructive.

In what way?

You weren’t closed away working on your own – you could follow the progress of your fellow students. It was kind of like a competition without really being in competition with one another. In fact, towards the end of each semester we helped each other. The same creative atmosphere among my colleagues here at the office still spurs me on today.

You met your current employer Dietrich Schwarz while you were still studying at the University of Liechtenstein. What ultimately led to you starting your career at his firm after your studies?
Dietrich Schwarz was a lecturer in my focus area design theory, but I didn’t really have much contact with him in that context. However, all of the lecturers are in attendance for the presentation of the final projects. He was especially impressed by my work and my presentation, so he asked me if I wanted to come to his office in Zurich for an interview.

An opportunity you gladly took up?

Because of my time abroad it was a while before I could seize the chance. But I always had the offer in the back of my mind. It became clear that Dietrich Schwarz and I had a lot in common and shared some quite similar ways of thinking in our work. In him I have found a mentor who recognizes my artistic qualities and understands how to tease the creative potential out of me. Even though I’ve only been part of the team for three years, I’m already a member of management – I’m delighted about that.

Paul Körner 

(born 1983) is a member of management at the firm Dietrich Schwarz Architekten AG in Zurich. The architecture firm has 18 employees. After a Bachelor’s degree in Architecture and Planning at the Liechtenstein University of Applied Sciences, he went to Milan for one year’s work experience.

After that he returned to the University of Liechtenstein for his Master’s degree. In 2009 he graduated as the best in his year. In 2010 he joined the Zurich architecture firm Dietrich Schwarz. In 2012 and 2013 he worked as a researcher at Dietrich Schwarz’s Sustainable Design studio at the University of Liechtenstein. 

Further information about Paul Körner’s work can be found at www.schwarz-architekten.com