Conradin Clavuot graduated in architecture from the ETH Zurich in 1988. In the same year he opened his own practice and has since realised projects in the fields of architecture and water management. He develops buildings of all sizes and complexities and collaborates with various universities and researchers as well as with Ladakh/India regarding water management in the high mountains. He was also a guest lecturer at ETH Zurich from 2003 to 2006 and a visiting professor at the University of Liechtenstein from 2010 to 2016. Conradin Clavuot says of himself: ‘Fortunately, I am still eager to explore and take a look around every corner…’ The 58-year-old architect now lives in Chur. He is married and the father of four children. In his spare time he devotes himself to rock climbing, ski touring, biking, reading and his family.
Where and how did you grow up?
Could you describe your professional background?
Primary school six years. Grammar school seven years (type B, languages), ETH Zurich six years.
Opening of own architectural practice, initially as general contractor on my own :).
Were there certain events or stages that were formative for your career?
My internship with Peter Zumthor (1985) and my teachers at the ETH in the upper five semesters and the diploma: Fabio Reinhart and Miroslav Sik.
The preparation and publication of our book ‘The power plant buildings in the canton of Graubünden’, in collaboration with Jürg Ragettli.
Were there certain people who were formative for your career?
See above. In addition of course my wife Claudia.
Has your environment supported you in your career?
Always. My father even came to a final exam at ETH – the only father ever to do so…! My wife already helped me during my studies with the submission plans and model building.. She is much better than me at model making :).
What are your current activities?
Construction of an emergency ward at the Waldhaus Psychiatric Clinic, Chur/GR (24 million)
New construction of residential accommodation for senior citizens in Ilanz/GR (28 million)
Conversion of a former nurses’ school into residential and office space in Ilanz/GR (8 million)
Three new school buildings for the community of Laax/GR (10 million)
Conversion of an old school building into cooperative living in Chur/GR (5 million)
30 new senior citizens’ flats in Cadonau, Chur/GR (10 million)
Residential buildings in my old surroundings Weisstorkel Chur/GR (6 million)
Does what you are currently doing fulfil you?
As Marcel Meili once said: ‘You need 80% of your time to prevent the worst from happening…’ Well it’s not quite that bad :).
Since I also do the paperwork in my 10-person office (excl. accounting), I’m a jack of all trades. That works for me: I’m bad when I get bored or have to do something twice. In that respect I have found an absolutely brilliant job that suits me perfectly and I have the freedom to make the decisions in my practice.
Since I still relate my work to my environment seven days a week, I don’t see any possibility of stopping my work. If I were to stop, everything would just degenerate into theory and I would have lost the application. So I will continue to work for a little longer….
Do you think that you yourself have an influence on whether your activities are fulfilling?
I certainly have. I go through the world thinking positively and putting things into perspective, trying to generate fulfilling work with my partners and co-workers. Every person must have the feeling that they can contribute something to the whole, and that they can also develop and contribute their best.
I look for projects in my immediate surroundings in Graubünden. This way I don’t waste resources unnecessarily on travel, foreign laws, endless discussions about accounting things that don’t interest me, etc.
What or who inspires you in everyday life?
Myself. Then my wife. She always brings a new perspective on things. I have very good people in the office.
I walk quietly through the landscape and observe, study, compare.
I don’t read any magazines on architecture.
What or who gives you strength and energy in everyday life?
The family: peace must be fulfilment. Mountains, nature itself, good books about architecture, contact with fellow human beings, new and interesting ongoing projects.
There are ‘magic moments’ when everything seems to fit. Moments that fulfil, inspire and give strength. Moments that confirm that the effort is worthwhile and that what you do is meaningful and valuable. Have you already experienced such moments in relation to your own activities?
At the end of my studies I once went up to the Paxmal alone (a memorial on the Walenstadtberg/SG). It was autumn, the vast landscape was already covered in white. As I stood in this contained space facing the western mountains, a ‘voice’ told me that I was on the right path. I should just keep going. This moment was followed by tears and goose bumps all over my body. This amazed me a lot, of course it inspired me and I got even more confidence in myself.
I suppose this moment encapsulated a variety of things: I could exhibit in the museum in Frankfurt, my studies were over, I was looking forward to a new life in Graubünden, to being with my girlfriend (still Claudia), I had no constraints, was open to everything, saw the snow over the landscape as a ‘purifier’ of man’s work (and thus gained additional trust in nature). I made a note of that elation and I am still proud that I was once allowed to experience this super-beautiful feeling.
I think this period (between my 23rd and 26th year) was the time of becoming an adult for me. I also vowed never to lie again (not even in the grey zone), to stop smoking (I did that for five years and it always bothered me), I learned that I am my best and safest asset and that I can build on that.
Do you actively do something for it, so that such ‘magic’ moments can happen?
I don’t know if one can aim to achieve that. Maybe with special techniques?
I know that when I walk alone for hours in the mountains, I have moments of the greatest concentration. I think such a feeling stems from many factors and can probably not be artificially prepped for a perfect outcome. Who knows…?
Are there moments when you doubt what you are doing?
You give everything and not everyone always sees it that way. When you get strange reactions you think, what am I doing it for? Fortunately these moments are not a daily occurrence.
I always deal with these moments, questions and problems as quickly as possible. Otherwise it would eat me up.
Then the moments of fulfilment, of discovery, of doubting the project, of catching the moment of the idea, open up again. Then I am quickly happy again.
In retrospect, can you find something positive in difficult moments?
No. Fortunately my wife taught me that I have to work through these moments as quickly as possible. I was brought up to bottle it all up. That would be a very bad strategy as the owner of an architectural practice.
Is there anything you would do differently in retrospect?
What can I say? I think I made my decisions not only from my gut, but also strategically. I could have taught at ETH permanently, but I didn’t want to miss out on my family, which was young at the time. Sometimes you have to decide. And I’m still happy. The whole thing with decisions probably has more to do with your mentality and your ‘going through life’ than with the decisions themselves. You have to see that all decisions have their advantages and you have to use them. Then it will turn out well anyway.
Do you want to contribute to society with your activities?
I want the users and viewers of my buildings to recognise that I am interested in life.
And I want to pass on this interest in life – in a positive sense – to those around me.
Is the recognition of other people or the public important to you?
Yes sometimes you certainly need this recognition. Whether you win a competition or receive a prize for a building you’ve created: that motivates.. I still have a certain competitive spirit, even if I don’t publish anything myself or deliver anything to editors.
I’m happy when I have peace and quiet for my work. But if someone is interested, someone I didn’t initiate myself…, then I go along with it :).
The recognition of other people is less important to me. I know where I have my weaknesses and don’t need to hide them.
My family however is in everything the most important thing to me.. They are always behind me and that’s what I need.
How well can you live from what you do professionally?
I have been running the practice for 33 years and the money has only sometimes been missing. But I usually have it under control :).
Ice Stupa Roseg, large-scale project Glacier Growing MortAlive, 2016
Is there something that is particularly occupying you at the moment?
No, nothing out of the ordinary.
Is there something you would like to (increasingly) spend time on in the future?
Maybe I’ll go back to teach again for one or two semesters at a good university.
Then there will be a new monograph about my work. It will be brilliant! It will probably be published in 2022.
What are you most grateful for in life?
When I reach 100, as well as my family and when we are happy.
This interview is part of the project ‘Magic Moments’ by Kunstverein Schichtwechsel, in which people are interviewed about their careers, activities and their magical as well as difficult moments.
Curated by Stefani Andersen and Laura Hilti, Kunstverein Schichtwechsel.
Supported by Kulturstiftung Liechtenstein and Stiftung Fürstl. Kommerzienrat Guido Feger.
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