Composing a Playful Architecture Through Images / Andrew Kovacs

On August 22nd, 2019 we had a cool and interesting conversation with Andrew Kovacs.

Kovacs, is an academic professor and an architect, he is a faculty at UCLA and the creator and curator of Archive of Affinities, a website devoted to the collection and display of architectural b-sides. Kovacs’ work on architecture and urbanism has been published widely including Pidgin, Project, Perspecta, Manifest, Metropolis, Clog, Domus, and Fulcrum. His recent design work includes a proposal for a haute dog park in downtown Los Angeles and the renovation of an airstream trailer into a mobile retail store that travels the Pacific Coast Highway.

Archive of Affinities is the longest project he has ever worked on and all of the research and work he does emerges from it. It is a project with no deadline, no client, and no budget. Therefore it is a project that has no outside impositions and is free to be a project of pure passion. Archive of Affinities is both deeply personal and extremely public. Archive of Affinities is a constantly updated collection of architectural images that exploits the dual meaning of affinity and the likeness associated with the word as both personal predilection and the relationship between things.

In this episode, Andrew and I talk about his life-long project called Archive of Affinities, he tells all of us how and why he started the longest projects of his career yet. He describes the relationship he has found along useless images as he calls it, to the architectural field, and how this archive can be of great help for designers to understand architecture better. We talk about his process, how he finds an image and then proceeds to scan it and publish it. We also talk about what he has learned through the archive and how he brought that knowledge with him to do amazing projects for his studio, Studio Kovacs. He then talks about why architecture should be playful and communicative, instead of boring and dull and finally, how we must have fun doing what we love and pursue it. 


Tell me a little bit about Archive of Affinities. It is your longest project, a passion and where all your research emerges from.

  1. How did this project start? What you actually looking for? 

  2. I love one of your quotes which I heard from your lecture in Berlin: “I have an affinity for architectural oddities, anomalies, accidents, mishaps, mistakes, jokes, scraps, fragments, junks, frauds…” And the list goes on… What does all that mean to you?

  3. Why do you call these objects, relationships or images as “jokes,” “fragments,” or “junk”? And how can you make architecture out of these scraps?

  4. You basically work as a curator for architectural images, what have you learned from the process of curation and publishing?

  5. How do you select an image for the curation process? 

  6. How has the knowledge you have gotten from seeing these images and their relationships to one another affect your practical work in Office Kovacs?

  7. How do your models relate back to the Archive of Affinities? What is the process of investigation within these models?

  8. In your opinion, how can this editorial publishing of images affect the architectural field worldwide?

  9. Architecture is supposed to be something serious, and your projects and proposals have the element of play. What do you think of that statement?

  10. Is there something you wish people understood better about the Archive of Affinities?

  11. What was your experience building the installation for Coachella?

  12. Finally, what is a piece of advice you want to give a current student?

Listen on:

Interview Transcript:

M: Hi Andrew! How are you?

A: Good, how are you?

M: I’m fine. Thank you so much for being in the podcast, I’m very excited about this conversation.

A: I'm excited to be here thank you for asking me to do it.

 M:  Awesome. So tell me a little bit about yourself, about your longest project, go ahead

A:  Okay so my name is Andrew Kovacs.  I'm an architectural designer and educator based in Los Angeles. And the longest project that you mentioned is the longest project I've been working on since I was a graduate student. It's a project called Archive of affinities. So this project has no deadline no client and no budget. and effectively it has become an image collection project. And this image collection project then takes its place on various social media platforms, but also acts as a crucible or origin point, or the groundwork for the design work of my design studio, office Kovacs.

M:  okay, so you mentioned that you started it when you were a graduate student right? why do you started? What was the project about, what was the brief?

A:  there was no brief, so I was just going into the library and looking up things that I was interested in, or things that were related to projects that I was working on at the time as a graduate student. just looking for a work that I had never seen before. So this was in 2010 and at that time, oh, it's true you cannot find everything on the internet but sometimes you can’t.  and so I would hear someone mention an architect or a project and I would become curious of that architect or project and I wouldn't be able to find certain images or documentation of the architect or project or artist online. I want to go to the library and kind of scan images from books or old Media or magazines, Etc… that's kind of how the project started there wasn't really a brief, for a long time I was just collecting images and saving it from the internet around the 2000s before Pinterest or Tumblr.  so I was kind of generating this image Bank from images I would find on the internet. and at some point instead of saving images from the internet I started to upload them instead.

M: Right, and I'm sure doing this for some time, what did you get out of it? what did you learn from this process curating all these images?

A:  yeah that's a good question, I think in one aspect I started to refine my own visual Sensibility. or my own visual preferences  from things that I liked. And I branched out from a typical understanding of what was architecture right? I was looking for architectural work that was not necessarily in the center of the discipline but in the periphery.  for a long. Of time I would have called those types of projects architectural b-sides oh, so not like the hits or the a sides, but rather David Kingsbury the content on the flip side. I was looking for a work made by artists that had an architectural resonance. I was looking for lesser-known work by well-known architects or different views of well-known projects. Maybe that was a kind of brief that I made for myself. 

 but what it really did was to refine my visual sensibility or preferences for what I'm drawn to. so Affinity is a nice word because it can either represent something that I have a predilection for or general liking for or something that has our relationship to something else. I mean I'm still kind of learning from doing it, and it's a project that I really enjoy doing because it forces me to find architecture that I have never seen before.

M:  yeah and I was actually going to ask you about that, because I saw one of your lectures in Berlin when you were talking about these images as “ scrubs, junks, fragments, accidents,”  and I wanted to know why specifically you use those types of words on those images. But you kind of already mentioned that they were things that you couldn't really find a normally but to you they were actually very valuable.

A:  sure, yeah. Maybe that's where the term b-sides comes from. 

M:  so how do you go about selecting an image  for the selection process? What kind of images are you actually looking for?

A:  Yeah, there is no direct answer to that. (Laughs). 

M:  basically anything you find attractive.

A:  yeah, it also depends on what I'm working on with my design studio. like for example, recently I have been interested in advertisements that appear in architectural magazines from the second half of the 20th century , so that also comes out from an interest in Bernard tschumi advertisements for architecture, but also how these advertisements frame everyday, mundane  architectural Products in a different way. I usually go to the library, and I just sort of cysts through the stacks pick up books I find appealing. I slept through them and whatever I find appealing, I scan. After that I edit them slightly on Photoshop and upload them. so there's a kind of process of how things are selected usually depends on what I'm working on at the moment.

At one point, I was looking for floor plans and I started getting a wide selection of them, I scanned them and use the parts or the whole assemble a new floor plan. so that sort of method also translates into a bunch of other directions. in some ways Archive of affinities is a two-fold, a collection project but in another level, the collection of images become a collection of things to create a new image.

M:  exactly, how do you think that the archive of affinities helps you in your architectural practice? Have the projects that you've been working on changed after you started archive of affinities?

A:  Well I don't really know how to answer that, because when I started Archive of affinities I was either a student or working for someone else. Archive of affinities in its own project is a project that is important to me in terms of understanding what the discipline of Architecture is.  in many ways, it might seem that Archive of affinities is not influencing my projects, but it does influence the method of collecting things for my firm. just like the simple thing using ready-mades or to create models.

M:  yeah because I have seen some of the models that you make, and they almost look like a collage of found objects put together to represent an idea. Which I love by the way.

A:  Yep, that's exactly what they are. Three-dimensional collages that represent a proposal. And sometimes that is also governed by the start of a project, like is it a competition or something else. For example, the Coachella project, that we made a number of different model the first started off very conceptual and college like. And other projects that I've done, for example, like the renovation of an Airstream, we use found objects as an apparatus from where you can hang things to be displayed. in the Coachella projects for example, the scraps were reflectors.  reflectors that you would find in between the lanes of a highway. Or even use pre-existing windows that we find in a salvage yard.

M:  okay I have two questions, and I guess this is a two-part question I guess. but the first one is, did you ever have the idea that this was going to become such a big impact on students and architect? Because honestly you are on every platform. and second, how do you think that this publishing, your work and doing this, is going to affect the architectural field?

A:  yeah, very good questions. (Laughs). I mean honestly, I'm not sure what the actual impact is, but I guess I saw that since I wasn't interested in some thing others would be as well. I didn't think that it was going to be a huge impact, but I thought that a maybe since I was looking for something, maybe someone else was as well oh, that's why there was the idea of sharing it on the internet. In terms of the impact on the architectural field, it sounds quite intense but….  if anything, this project is going to create a broader audience for the field of architecture. so hopefully, it widens who is interested in architecture, so it's not just Architects sharing images with architect, but a broadening the overall interest in who might be interested in architecture. A I think that architecture is not only for architects, it should be for everyone..

M:  Yeah, that makes sense. it could even be an archive for designers, people that are looking for pretty images, inspiration, I think it's really cool.

A: yeah, I think that other people really do find it interesting and I hope that it rodents the interest in the world of architecture.

M:  I just thought about the fact that it is almost like a personal Pinterest. (Laughs).  Like an inspiration board. I also have a question, which saw someone asking you this before in a video, but I would like to ask you again, because I find it funny when they ask. The question goes, architecture is supposed to be something serious, and your work is very playful. What do you think about that statement?

A: yes, architecture is very serious. it is a very serious field and discipline, and buildings are very serious. But I think that buildings can also be fun and playful. I think that if they're playful, fun, inviting, they might reach a greater audience or a broader appeal.  at the same time, I like to have fun and enjoy what I'm doing, so I want to make it fun. 

M:  I agree, I think the same way.  do you have anything that you wish people would understand better about  Archive of affinity. Because just like any long-term project, there's some things that a lot of people don't quite get.

A:  I think I'm always asking myself that question. like, what is it that I'm really doing here with this project? It share something new everyday but it doesn't mean that I'm actually working on it everyday, but it has been a project that just started for fun and it morphed into all these different Avenues. it is a project that I want to keep on doing, even though I make no money from it. (Laughs). it is a project and fun. the thing is that I'm also trying to figure out different Avenues where this project can go, if that makes sense.

M:  yeah, I believe though that sometimes when you do things out of pure passion and you don't make money out of it, people kind of get offended by it. And they're like “ why are you not getting any money out of it?”  for yourself, you know?

Also, you mentioned that you had an installation for Coachella right? Which basically came from the archive of affinities’ mentality.  what was your experience building this installation?

A:  Well, it was an amazing experience but it was a very long process. The project is basically seven large structures that are meant to look like cacti. They are Loosely arranged in a spiraling ring, to form a Plaza at the festival grounds. There's some plinths  that allows users to stand up or sit, listen to music, me and Friends, Etc… up close the cacti are all different colors to make it a fun background to produce an image. But from a distance it almost like appears as a Skyline. A lot of people took pictures of it, kind of as a background for selfies, and that was one of the things that we were most interested in. That way, people have a different relationship than to what they have for the building. I like the idea that this installation is basically recirculating throughout these pictures profiles online. (Laughs)

M: Okay now, for the final question. I asked this to everyone, what is a piece of advice that you want to give a current student or a recent graduate?

A:  That's a tough question.  I guess I would say the find out what you're really interested in, and what you really like, and go after it 100%. do what you want to do, find out what you're passionate about, what you enjoy doing about architecture or design, and just go after at 100%.

M:  awesome, thank you so much.  oh wait, I have another question because I actually want to know this, I want to know what is your future goal of archive of affinities. Where do you see it in the next 5 years?

A: I think I'm going to continue to collect images and sharing them, but I'm not really sure if I have a super long or brand plan about what could happen to it

M:  have you ever thought of publishing it? Like in a book format?

A:  I mean, that is a great idea. It has been published before in different articles, different magazines, when I did my thesis I published it as a book for months, but right now there are over 5,000 images that I have shared oh, so even if it's one image per page it's a very long book. maybe it could become a series of books, or an encyclopedia sorts. 

M: Yeah, well I wish you the best of luck, in your  long process and passionate working project that you have in your hand, I'm very happy that you came in today, so thank you so much for being so open as well.

A:  for sure, thank you so much for having me and I wish you the best of luck as well.