A humane high-tech: Interview with Werner Sobek

Werner Sobek (b. 1953, Aalen, Germany) is a world-famous German engineer and designer. A researcher and inventor, he works on lightweight materials and structures, as well as cutting-edge environmentally-friendly technology, all the time pushing back the limits of what is possible in the built environment and creating prototypes for an architecture of the future.

A humane high-tech: Interview with Werner Sobek

You combine research and teaching while also carrying out design work asa structural engineer and as an architect. Howdid you come to be a man of so many parts? And what would you describe as your principal sphere of interests?

Lightweight structures are my main sphere of interests. This means the reduction of materials and the cutting of our consumption
of natural resources, as well as a reduction of
the expenditure of man-hours and energy on the manufacture and transport of materials (what is known as ‘grey resp. embodied energy’). As for what has made me such a multi-faceted individual, that is probably my innate dualism. Part of me
is a designer who wants to create forms and images, be that buildings, everyday objects or cars. But then again, I also bene ted from a superb grounding and education in the natural sciences. And it is the eld of lightweight construction that provides the best opportunity to bring together these two strands.

Did you realise right from an early age what you would do when you grow up?

No, not in the slightest. As I child I dreamed about living in a soap bubble. During my student years I forgot about that, but later on the idea came back to me. And subsequently I was able
to realise it. I always wanted to live in a space
lled with light that was uncon ned by any walls, where there were balconies without balustrades — in other words, in an unrestricted space at one with nature. What today is termed sustainability is something for which I have always had an af nity.

Where did this need come from?

I find it difficult to pin-point that exactly. Perhaps from the surroundings where I grew
up, from my home town of Aalen in the east of Württemberg. The oldest industrial site in the world is to be found there. The region was always relatively poor, and yet at the same time very
rich — rich in the quality of the products that were manufactured there. Another typical feature is the untarnished beauty of the landscape as well as the silence to be found there. Of course, all that had a big in uence on me. I should also mention the large amount of travelling that I did while still a student.

Audi exhibition stand. Architect: Christoph Ingenhoven. 2000Audi exhibition stand. Architect: Christoph Ingenhoven. 2000 © Hisao Suzuki

Kunstmuseum Stuttgart, Stuttgart/ Germany. Architects: Hascher, Jehle & Assoziierte, Berlin. 2004Kunstmuseum Stuttgart, Stuttgart/ Germany. Architects: Hascher, Jehle & Assoziierte, Berlin. 2004 © Roland Halbe

H 16. Emission-free, zero-energy house. Tieringen, Germany, 2000H 16. Emission-free, zero-energy house. Tieringen, Germany, 2000 © Zooey Braun

Main images © Christoph Reichelt, Dresden/Germany / Rainer Viertlböck