top of page

Elena Schütz

'The state of crisis is where the other becomes thinkable. It is thus a driver for change' (Elena Schütz)

Elena Schütz co-founded “Something Fantastic” in 2010 – a Manifesto, a practice and an office committed to smart, simple, touching architecture, with the idea to work on transdisciplinary, using design on all scales and in various media. The mission is clear: to help making the world a socially fair, ecologically healthy and culturally vivid place. 

She has lectured amongst other at the Northern Association of Norwegian Architects in Oslo, Bauhausuniversitaet Weimar and ETH Zurich, TU Berlin, Olafur Eliasson’s Institut für Raumexperimente, Berlin. Something Fantastic’s work has been part of exhibitions at Biennale Architettura di Venezia, Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, and Haus der Kulturen der Welt Berlin.


Can art foster social change, and what role can artists and their work play in this? More in depth, can they take a leading role?


Sure they could. I do believe that artists, and also architects and designers can and should promote change. I generally think that they have the ability to imagine ‘the other’, and also they have techniques and tools to communicate those ideas. What I am wondering is ‘do they want to?’, and, if yes, ‘are they using that full potential or are there still powerful untapped transformative potentials?’ Being trained as an engineer, my point of view is that artistic practices tend to lack a motivation to actually solve problems. 


The Studio for Immediate Spaces at Sandberg Institute in Amsterdam which we are heading together with Ludwig Engel, is part of an Arts School, but it is open for practitioners from various disciplines, as we think that spatial questions, and I believe that space is closely to connected to anything else, should and could be answered by architects and artists just as much as by product designers, conservationists, cooks, social workers, etc. 


We try to create a framework that allows participants to develop an alternative idea of a spatial practice  somewhere between critical artistic position, the applicability of design and the discourse of architecture and urbanism. This can manifest in or outside of galleries or museums, it can take all kinds of scales and contexts, and it should definitely not answer every spatial question with a building.


In a time of radical upheaval and crisis, can we still hope for a better future? What impact can narrative have on the process of building such a future?


Of course we can and we definitely should. But as much as I think that it is important to have visions and discuss and share them, I think we are beyond that point. We desperately need actual transformation, and that is much more about how to start than about the far goal. Concretely, I have much more hope for initiatives, in people gathering to do something, to invent and develop products, policies, to just do things in different ways. So if you want to put it in the shape of a narrative, it would be those that talk about how to get going, not about where we might end up.


What could be the premises of a transdisciplinary dialogue (between art, culture and other disciplines) capable of triggering a social transformation? In your own work, what expertise or practices could go in the direction of such transdisciplinarity?


We call our office an undisciplinary one. Yet, an undisciplinary architectural practice. For us this means to work in architecture and urbanism, however, not according to the conventional job description of what an architect does. Generally, the moment you are leaving the boundaries of your profession, obviously, expertise plays a smaller role, and more general abilities, strategies, techniques, and transparent motivations play a larger role. You have to act in a more resilient, universal way. But also, you can. And your ‘outsider’ position in some way allows to be more free, and, also, but not only, to disappoint expectations. 


There is a set of themes in our minds and in our office that we care about and that comes up in our work, and I think that it helps us to ‘play them out’ in changing contexts and media in order to develop them further, and really get close to their essence. In that way, it is also a creative technique. 


Thinking about the preconditions for such ways of collaborating and working, I made the experience that the openness towards trying something new often rises with limitations, like, for example, if there is limited budget available, people know that they need to be flexible and cannot just do a standard procedure. And on the other hand, in cost-intense projects, and that is what most building projects are, there is less openness, just because there is a lot to loose. This is, by the way, a rather big problem in architecture. It develops slowly, as decisions are often fear-driven.



Assuming it is possible to build a better world on the ruins of the old one, what might it look like? What would you hope for in a better world?


It is hard for me to imagine this scenario. I don’t think there will be such thing like a cut, I imagine the future as some kind of evolution of the present. Evolution instead of revolution. Looking at it from that point of view, I find elements in the present that give me hope for the future. Be it rising awareness for environmental issues, especially within the younger generation, or how young women, at least in our direct context in Western Europe, seem to be more conscious about what they can achieve and how. 


Coming back to evolution, I also see potential in crises. The state of crisis is not only one where things fall apart, but also one where ‘the other’ becomes thinkable. It is, thus, a driver for change. 




It is often said that artists (and creative people at large) have a unique ability to constantly search for the new, starting from scratch again and again, relentlessly. What strategies or rituals do you use when you start a new project?


For me, it is working with others. My two partners and me are rather close, and we do not only discuss and share our ideas with each other, but we have also been sharing uncounted experiences over the last years that we can build upon. We are a collaborative office and often team up with others. I am also inspired by other people’s work and I think there is much too much fear of ideas being ‘stolen’, which I think is a fundamental misunderstanding of what ideas are. But also the work with our students in Amsterdam or Dusseldorf, or talking to builders or clients is most inspiring to me. 

The interview was conducted in July 2021 

bottom of page