We recently caught up with Jost Kreussler, head of our German office, to find out a bit more about his career to date. This includes his experience of designing part of the Palm Jebel Ali in Dubai, why he became an architect and which buildings from around the world inspire him the most.
Why did you choose architecture as a career?
Every building is a unique challenge that requires a creative process to reach a solution. I enjoy drawing as a communication tool – although every concept starts in our imagination the final result is visible and touchable.
I like working in a profession that can create tension between new and existing built environments in order to avoid boredom for the observer. I enjoy the challenge of the mix between creativity during the design process and the hard realities of construction cost and project delivery.
My interest in architecture as a career goes back to my childhood when I lived in Paris for a couple of years and spent my spare time after school in one of the big shopping malls close to where we lived. I was attracted by the variety of shops, the bustle, smells, colours, lighting and leisure facilities for kids – I’d never seen anything like it back in Germany. One day I asked myself why I felt so comfortable in this environment and realised that I wanted to become part of the design and development process behind such buildings. I wanted to learn how ‘all that’ links together on a design drawing and discovered that this was called ‘architecture’.
What are you most proud of in your career to date?
Being able to fulfil my ambition to work overseas with international colleagues on a wide range of project types and sizes. As a student I dreamt of designing a city in the desert. Twenty years later I was employed by Nakheel PJSC and in charge of developing the design vision for the ‘trunk’ area of Palm Jebel Ali, the second island out of the palm island trilogy off the shores of Dubai.
The development was to include 1,000 townhouses, 40 skyscrapers and a commercial and retail district, and at night I’d go to the beaches of Jebel Ali (Mountain Ali) looking over the sea towards the island and try to imagine what I would expect the new skyline to look like. I concluded that it would require a new hillside sloping down to a cove-lined coast that would involve dramatically elevating the central main road along the full length of the ‘trunk’ area of Palm Jebel Ali.
To convince the client of the merits of this radical design proposal I decided to make a physical 3-D 1:1000 model from hand-cut Styrofoam showing each and every building in location on a paper-print of the site plan on my office floor. It took me three weeks, during which time rumours went around about the crazy German guy playing with LEGO-blocks in his office, but once the model was made the Managing Director of the client company gave me the go-ahead. That was a good day!
What has been the biggest challenge of your career to date?
My biggest challenge was setting up my first business in 1992 in Bad Doberan, former East Germany. As a West German citizen, I underestimated the difference in culture and the negativity around anything that came from West Germany. Building authorities initially didn’t accept my background and tried to reject or at least delay building applications I submitted. However, I was working within a booming industry providing many opportunities, although it took two years to win trust and clients.
It was also a big challenge to get the Chetwoods office up and running in Germany – although this was mainly due to unfortunate timing. In March 2020 we had just set up the office space when the Covid-19 Pandemic hit Europe and business life changed overnight. Meeting potential clients and networking in person was no longer possible. Like other businesses we had to adapt fast. Luckily, we managed it. Today we’ve developed good relationships with many international developers and have a promising project pipeline, particularly in the logistics sector.
Name your favourite building in the world?
I would have to say the Chrysler Building in New York. I like its timeless elegance and energy. Although it is a straight vertical building, it has a graceful staggered massing and a spectacular top – something that most high-profile high-rise buildings don’t have, their tops are often just cut off without any meaningful statement.
I also love the Louvre on Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi. I like the way the massing is sensitively spread over the site to provide open and wide public rooms, while the overarching canopy provides shelter. I felt embraced by the building when I visited it.
Who do you most admire in the architectural profession?
I would have to say Antonio Gaudi. I don’t understand how a human brain can envisage and design a building like the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. Casa Mila and Casa Battlo are further examples of a wonderful combination of extraordinary creativity, imagination and technical expertise. Many architects have talents in one field or another, but cannot successfully combine them.
Also, Herzog & de Meuron’s design for the Elb-Philharmonic in Hamburg created a building that finally puts Hamburg on the map for world-class-architecture. Although it has a huge mass, the building seems to flow or to fly, and I like the way the easy but impressive shape digs into your memory creating a sense of deja-vu.
If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be?
I’d like there to be more trust in architects’ expertise, less focus on profit and more room for creativity. Chetwoods is producing some really forward-thinking schemes with innovative clients who are open to ideas; I just wish the whole industry was more focused on progressive design and thinking outside of the box.
What is the most helpful advice that you have been given?
During my first days in the profession, I was working in an office with architects and structural engineers. My mentor was a senior structural engineer whose role was to review all my designs. He constantly said: “Whatever you design must be constructable”.
Please sum up your approach to design in 5 words
The design doctrine ‘Form Follows Function’ should become ‘Form and Function should be one’ (Frank Lloyd Wright). I appreciate that’s six words!
How do you approach a client brief?
I spend time with the client and understand exactly what the brief is, try to read between the lines and then find solutions and options.
What is the most challenging part of a project?
Fully understanding the client project brief makes it easier to find the right design direction, but not all briefs are equal.
The shortest brief I’ve ever received was from Majid Al Futtaim, owner of the biggest Dubai-based developer of shopping malls in the MENA-Region. As Head of Architects in his in-house team, I was responsible for his business and private real estate developments as well as the interior design of his fleet of up to five motorboats.
The Deira City Centre in Dubai was being refurbished and one of my jobs was to re-design the Jewellery Court to give it a themed look. Before Majid left on a business-trip to Europe, he instructed me to make “a nice design”. In response to my request for a more detailed brief, he replied “you will know”. Speaking to his secretary the following day, I learned that Majid had gone to Milan for a week: at that moment I knew exactly what the brief was!
Do you have a life philosophy?
I believe in Karma.
What is your most prized possession?
My kids and my health.
Who is your favourite artist?
Do you have a favourite book?
‘The Navigator’ by Bernhard Kay.
What’s something that would surprise people about you?
That I do not like hard-rock music.
If you could live anywhere where would that be?
Valencia or Villefranche-sur-Mer.
What changes do you predict in the German property market over the next five years?
There will be more focus on sustainability in general, and in particular the use of renewable energy sources for heating, cooling, and power generation. At the same time the use of materials and rising construction costs will also be under review. My prediction is that construction methodologies will change to be more modular and will use more renewable resources such as wood, something our Thrive experts are helping us develop in our own work at Chetwoods.