Ascan Mergenthaler

Name: Ascan Mergenthaler
Profession: Architect
Location: Basel
Age: 52

Questionnaire: Ascan Mergenthaler

Describe yourself in a single sentence?
– Most likely an optimist with a slight hint of nostalgia and a dash of a dreamer.

What is the first thing you think about when you wake up?
– First thing: Nice Day! Second: Coffee!

Describe your bedroom. What objects do you surround yourself with?
– I don’t like the idea of a classical bedroom. That’s why our bedroom is also a study and a private living room. It is a place to listen to records, enjoy the fire in the open fireplace or watch a movie that we project onto the wall in the evenings. It is a large and open, almost loft-like space. We sleep on a Japanese futon on the floor surrounded by books and magazines. The windows look out onto the top of the trees in our garden. We don’t have curtains or a blackout. I like that shadows, light and reflections are constantly changing depending on the time of the day, weather or season. Above the bed I placed a simple half mirror bulb that reflects the entire room. It is nice that when you are in bed and look at the ceiling that you can see the space in its totality concentrated in this one spot. I like the play with precisely placed reflecting or mirroring surfaces throughout the house. If done subtly they allow you to perceive a space in so many more ways.

What are you working on right now?
– On 12 projects around the globe. But unexpected intense and fascinating was, and still is, the work on our private garden project. It is based on the idea to create an urban jungle paired with the elegance of an inner-city park. The goal was to enhance and intensify what is already there – but also to create moments of surprise and unexpected contrast. Within its relatively small footprint the garden has three distinct zones – the jungle-esque Sauna garden, the central lawn framed by solitaire plants and trees, and the gravel garden by the house with a more Mediterranean feel. I like the beautiful names of the plants we have chosen – Albizia Jul Ombrella, Fatsia Japonica, Eryobotria Japonica, Magnolia Grandiflora, Amelanchier Lamarckii, Osmanthus Heterophillus, Mahonia X Media and Trachycarpus Fortuneii, just to name a few.

If you could give your younger self any advice what would it be?
– Don’t rush into professional life – take your time to visit places and follow your passion.

Is talent something you’re born with or something you can learn?
– It is something you are born with and if it’s only a small seed - but from the moment on you have discovered it, you have to constantly work on it, exercise it and never give up learning.

What do you think about sports?
– I am not into sports. But I like walking and observing, in cities and in nature. I find this very relaxing and inspiring.

Why do you create?
– I love the process of creating, namely working together with people to create something of significance for people.

Do you listen to music when you work?
– I listen to music in the evenings or while travelling. During work I find it distracting and I prefer to focus on what I am doing.

What’s your biggest load?
– The side effects of creating, all these things that are also necessary when you create, the administrative and managerial tasks.

What is your favourite book and why?
– Carlino Caramel by Sempé – a wonderful book about friendship and the uniqueness of every human being. It also has beautiful, simple and yet so precise and telling drawings oscillating between our built environment and nature.

What historical event fascinates you the most?
– For some reason I have a certain fascination for my year of birth 1969 – it is this combination of significant progress in science, like the first human on the moon, or the maiden flights of Concorde and Boeing 747, and at the same time pivotal changes in society with the student protests and the sexual revolution. Now 50 something years later, I believe that we are in a similar situation, where science made revolutionary progress in technology and medicine and at the same time our society will have to fundamentally change due to climate change and the pandemic.

Is there anything else you would like to tell us?
– It would be wonderful if we all - everybody who participated in this portrait series - would celebrate Midsummer in Sweden together with you.

Photography by Robert Rieger.
Photography, garden: Ascan Mergenthaler.
April 2021, Basel, Switzerland.