Thomas Willemeit

Thomas Willemeit, a Berlin-based architect, founded GRAFT in 1998, alongside Wolfram Putz and Lars Krückeberg. Today, GRAFT is a pioneer in the architecture world with locations in multiple continents and established projects in several fields.
Werner Aisslinger is an acclaimed industrial designer working and living in Berlin, Germany. With the latest technologies and the newest materials, Werner provides new impulses in the product design world.

“We are a catalyst for what is about to become reality.”

Graft architects are located in three different and contrasting cities. What are the advantages of Graft being  in these locations?

Cities are like people, you try to understand the best of them and not criticize them. You try to understand what makes each city special, to discover the curiosity that is driving these cities. Berlin, for example, is a city that has had a really long life and is facing dead ends, like an old person who is jumping into a new life. Los Angeles, on the other hand, is like an open script that allows you to use it as an open-ended user interface. Los Angeles is a grown up city, that is aware of its negative aspects, but at the same time has a unique sense of self-confidence. China is also very interesting, in the way that it is so willing to grow and explore the future. China is young, fast-growing, and maybe is trying a little too hard. China is looking to the world for influences, it’s so eager to develop, like an energetic teenager — but with the memory of an ancient being. To feel the energy of each city and understand it, that is the advantage of different locations.

In projects where you are repurposing old buildings, how do you honor historic aspects but also bring in new ideas?

We acknowledge that there are traditions, but we can only survive if we bring in new ideas into those historic backgrounds. The great thing about traditions and old ideas is that they bring stability, which is something that is very underestimated. We believe that we have to use that stability for explorations in a more radical way. This radical experimentation could lead to more advantages. If you take historical ideas for granted, then you're trapped. You need to use historical traditions as an advantage.

How is there a different approach to more social-innovation projects that Graft takes on?

We as human beings need to jump out of our comfort zone and try to make positive change in society. I hope that we can all be successful in a way where you have time to promote or initiate something that’s not just fulfilling a client's needs. As soon as you're not contracted to complete a project, but operating at another level of engagement, you can come up with an idea that somebody important could pick up. You will be successful if you try, because as a designer you could come up with an idea that is better than from a common developer. We overestimate the terminology of gentrification. Why do people move? Because there is a certain dynamic between people with creative drive and run-down urban areas. People’s behavior and living needs change as they grow, and that might drive the city and the changes in the city. A city that doesn’t allow for these dynamic changes anymore, will die. At the end of the day, economic development of a city is what we all depend on.

What would you do if you did not have limitations? How does the name “Graft” apply to the dynamic growth of cities?

We talked and heard a lot about the idea of graft and what it means “to graft”. The process of grafting something is essentially bringing in an idea to a different location and see how a hybrid grows out of two things that didn’t originally belong together. We learned about how a bug was once brought in by trade to Europe and wiped out most of the local vineyards. The solution by European winemakers was to use the bug-resistant root that they found in Texas and to bring that back to graft their European wine growing upon that root on European soil. We were able to survive by grafting on something foreign. That’s why we need to understand foreign ideas. The world revolves around new ideas.

How to you encourage healthy collaboration within such a big group of people?

You need to sit down and find a platform of interaction. Allow for as many moments of unexpected change as possible. Allow your team collaboration to never be stuck with one tool or in one room. You can try to jump into a new working method that one person might be more familiar than the others. Try to explore strategies and ideas that can activate empathy. Empathy will lead to positive results.

COVID-19 has affected the creative industry worldwide, yet Berlin creatives have come up with new ways present their craft and to interact. Berlin has always been known for its resourcefulness, and creatives have applied this ingenuity here, innovating in the digital social scene by using existing tools in new ways to create new experiences.

Below are some unique ways Berlin creatives are tackling the issues brought by the virus:

The Collective Action Nightlife Emergency Fun

Locals have come together to collect emergency funding for at-risk nightlife workers in Berlin. The shutting down of nightclubs means these people are out of jobs, and this emergency funding helps mitigate the economic damage that COVID-19 is creating.

Questions for you:

What changes once we make these social spaces digital?

Will the digital event become a more normalized way to socialize?

Are people more open to attending these digital events?

Special Thanks to

Editor: Ming Li Chang
Interviewer: Pheobe Hsu
Camera: Ira Zheng

Additional Images: