François Valentiny: an eulogy on departure (and return)
Valentiny’s offices are in Remerschen, a stone’s throw from Schengen, and a few metres from the house of his birth. Highly symbolic for a man who is continually leaving and returning, full of new ideas.
When he thinks back to his student days in Vienna, François Valentiny remembers being very sensitive, like a dry, empty desert. He thoroughly absorbed Austrian culture and its architectural heritage. His career began with a number of projects in Luxembourg, but he always kept a foot in Austria, and then placed another one in Berlin. For fifteen years, he moved between this triangle. Then he had a family and lost some of his flexibility, but the growth of his business gave him the freedom to work everywhere, on some very stimulating projects. In his eyes, an architect is not independent of society. He must above all deal with a client, who sets the budget and the requirements: you need to find a solution for getting from A to B while keeping to the deadlines. However, beyond these essential imperatives, the architect can begin to ‘stir things up’ by imagining detours and options to transform a brief into a personal event. “That’s when it starts to get interesting!”
“The most courageous buildings that Luxembourg has allowed me to build have been in other countries.”
A starting point
His offices are in Remerschen, next to his house. He was also born in the village, so it’s his absolute starting point. He loves his country, which he compares to the City States of Ancient Greece, where society worked well and everyone knew each other. He lives here, surrounded by many friends, but his real life is elsewhere. He is always leaving, and always coming back. He loves this way of living, and says that if he were not able to leave, he would feel suffocated. He needs the friction and excitement of other places.
His designs include the Luxembourg pavilion for the Shanghai Universal Expo, and the new KPMG offices in Kirchberg. A unique style. He is not able to work in the city, as it lacks calm; he prefers to design alone, concentrated, even at the weekends. Isolation helps him to be closer to the project and the culture of the place, to be closer to people and avoid mixed influences. If he had one criticism of his country, it would be that while it has a lot of courage beyond its borders, it has a tendency to clip the wings of initiatives launched at home. “With all its assets, if Luxembourg had the same courage at home, it would be world leader in many sectors!”
Luxembourg is very much appreciated all over the world. Larger countries love small countries like an older brother loves his younger brother. The fact that we have managed to survive, and that we have renowned politicians among our illustrious citizens, and have played such a role in European construction, is a great asset. A small country does not do any harm, it is not aggressive. The Chinese remember that in 1910, all the European forces were present in Shanghai, except for Luxembourg!
The New World
Whilst he has always had close contacts with China, François Valentiny is currently working on a most unusual project in Brazil. It all began with the Mozarteum, a concert hall in Salzburg which he renovated in 2005. He made contacts during the music festivals, in particular with a Brazilian Countess. He visited her in Brazil a few years later, and the idea of a festival in Bahia was formed over dinner. Starting with pencil drawings, and after many telephone calls, they located a canyon where an open-air auditorium will be built out of wood. It’s bound to be a success, as there are only two concert venues within a 1,000 km radius. The CEO of Occitane en Provence, a friend of the Countess, is funding the concrete part of the construction. Here’s to the next festival!