INTerview: Blank Space

Blank Space, an online platform for architecture founded by Matthew Hoffman and Francesca Giuliani, is an office for thought provocation. It seeks to challenge the field of Architecture and its role in society. They've proven this by organizing successful Architectural competitions, publications and various projects.

Their philosophy may sound straightforward, but what they are doing is revolutionary.  In a sense, they are progressing the field of Architecture in an intelligent, immediate way that a physical space could never accomplish. Additionally, they are completely changing the concept of Architectural competitions and making it possible for participants from various backgrounds to create new conversations about innovative topics.

In an exclusive interview with Interiors, we talked to Blank Space about their platform, their philosophies and their competitions.  

INT: Where did the inspiration for Blank Space come from? Was the original concept different from what you are doing now or has the goal stayed the same?

MH: Blank Space was born from a lot of conversations and brainstorming between Francesca and I. We came to understand that architecture as a form of media is the slowest in the world - but the world we all live in communicates at the speed of light. We set out to craft experiments that made architecture immediate. You can't construct a building in a day (at least not yet!), but you can spark a conversation that creates new opportunities for design to engage the world.

FG: With the Fairy Tales competition we've had about 2,000 participants from 65+ countries around the world. We're aiming to build upon this success with a few exciting projects that we'll launch later this year. We're going to be enhancing the competition model to become a more educational one for all involved. Our goal is to create competitions that operate more like a studio class, and less like a lottery. In this way, they will be positive learning experiences for everyone who participates - not just the winners.

INT: You've discussed how Architecture should rethink its role in society and speak about things everybody can relate to. In what ways do you think Architecture should be doing more?

MH: Perhaps my biggest beef with architecture is that it remains a service profession. Architects are always waiting around for a client, and architects are always working to realize someone else's architectural vision. Architecture competitions have existed for hundreds and hundreds of years - and they are based on the exact same premise that holds back architecture - except the "client" is replaced by the "brief". With our competitions we set out to invert the whole process and place architects and designers in the driving seat. An added benefit of lowering the entry barrier to architecture is that we have lots of non-designers participate in our competitions. Everyone wants to be an "architect" in some capacity - we aim to create opportunities that allow for that.

INT: Are there certain Architects, Firms, or Groups that you feel are progressing the field of Architecture in the right direction? Where do you see Architecture going in the next 5-10 years?

MH: We've been honored to have a wide range of superstars on our competition juries. In many ways they represent our "heroes" from the design, architecture, and business fields. Folks like Mitchell Joachim at Terreform ONE, where they are creating a fantastic architectural laboratory in the Brooklyn Navy Yards; to the team at Bruce Mau Design who are constantly pushing the design and communications envelope; to the radical personality that Matthias Hollwich and Marc Kushner at HWKN Architects have been able to inject into their architecture projects. There are many more people and companies pushing at the edge of architecture, and we couldn't be happier to work with them.

FG: One of the biggest take-aways from the entries we've received is that younger generations are keen to produce really innovative ideas that reach far beyond traditional architecture. There is a great interest in affecting the world beyond the typical Schematic Design to Construction Administration phases. This ability to act as a catalyst for change is paramount - it means that the newest generation of architects are breaking tradition from architecture as a service profession, to developing their own ideas and then figuring out how to realize them of their own accord. This is a fundamental shift, and a much needed one, and we couldn't be more excited to contribute.

 Fairy Tales: Volume 1

Fairy Tales: Volume 1

 Fairy Tales: Volume 2

Fairy Tales: Volume 2

INT: You've put together some amazing Architectural competitions, including Fairy Tales: Volume 1 and 2 and your latest competition, Dear Architecture. Can you talk about where the ideas for these competitions came from?

MH: Starting Blank Space was not a fast process. Deciding on the topic of our first competition, Fairy Tales, was actually the toughest part of getting off the ground. I think it took Francesca and I about 6 months to settle on Fairy Tales. Of course we wanted to do something different than typical competitions, which wasn't very hard because they all ask you to design 1. A Skyscraper, 2. A Museum or 3. A House. So those three options were out - and we started searching for something else - something powerful that elicits an immediate reaction. We ran with Fairy Tales because it is exactly that - it embodies a very strong subject, yet it is completely open to interpretation. Each person has their own personal fairy tale.

FG: Dear Architecture is our third competition - we just launched it a month ago as a new experiment and things are going well so far. With Dear Architecture we wanted to tackle one of the most pervasive and influential formats of all time - the simple letter. Well-crafted letters have changed the world and circulated innovative, game-changing ideas. We expect the entries to Dear Architecture to do nothing short of that.

INT: You've created such a unique and interesting platform with Blank Space. Where do you see the office going? Are there certain areas you would still like to explore? 

FG: The Fairy Tales and Dear Architecture competitions have worked well so far, but they are hardly the only topics we want to cover. We're developing a new competition for this fall that will take a more science-based approach. We're excited to explore new territories - it's really an adventure for us. The reality is that every time we launch a new project we have only a faint inkling of what the final results might be. Each participants uses the brief as a catapult to explore previously uncharted territory for architecture. The unknowability of the final results is where the real magic comes from.

Blank Space is an online platform for architecture, founded in 2013 by Matthew Hoffman and Francesca Giuliani.