Stefan A. Schumer
„atomos project – monumental lightness“

The exhibition opened in the UNSA Academy of Fine Arts Gallery, September 7, 2022

Editor: Academy of Fine Arts, Sarajevo; with an introductory essay by Peter Noever and contributions by Valentin Inzko, Elisabeth von Samsonow and Salih Teskeredžić.

→ University of Sarajevo - News Website

Exhibition Poster "monumental lightness", 2022

Exhibition opening in the UNSA Academy of Fine Arts Gallery, September 7, 2022

<h4>Stefan A. Schumer "the atomos project ___monumental lightness" opened in the UNSA Academy of Fine Arts Gallery, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina 2022 © stefan a. schumer architects</h4>
<p>Stefan A. Schumer "the atomos project ___monumental lightness", UNSA Academy of Fine Arts Gallery, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina 2022 © stefan a. schumer architects</p>
<p>Stefan A. Schumer "the atomos project ___monumental lightness", UNSA Academy of Fine Arts Gallery, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina 2022 © stefan a. schumer architects</p>
<p>Stefan A. Schumer "the atomos project ___monumental lightness", UNSA Academy of Fine Arts Gallery, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina 2022 © stefan a. schumer architects</p>
<p>Stefan A. Schumer "the atomos project ___monumental lightness", UNSA Academy of Fine Arts Gallery, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina 2022 © archive studio noever design</p>
<p>Stefan A. Schumer "the atomos project ___monumental lightness", UNSA Academy of Fine Arts Gallery, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina 2022 © stefan a. schumer architects</p>

publication cover – stefan a. schumer „atomos project – monumental lightness“, 2022; editor: academy of fine arts, sarajevo; with an introductory essay by peter noever.

Introductory essay by peter noever

over 142 meters and 192 steps. wide at its lower end and narrow at its top, the potemkin stairway that leads up from the port to the city center is an illusionistic masterpiece.

situated at the interface between orient and occident, it is something like the mascot of an urban metropolis that has been inhabited by people from over 130 nations. 

constructed so as to produce a foreshortening effect, these stairs optically draw the city toward the port and the sea beyond. conversely, the same skillful distortion of perceptions also gives an impression of reaching up to touch the sky - an endlessly ascending sea of steps, with the small vertical distance they cover exaggerated so as to appear insurmountable and the city seemingly enthroned in the heavens. 

it is the complexity of its design’s simplicity that lends this construction a character that is monumental and simultaneously both dignified and majestic. 

as i attempt to construct a brief text on stefan schumer’s monumental and visionary project atomos, sitting at the edge of the eurasian steppe in the excessive summer heat, this deliberately staged work of urban planning comes to mind again and again. perhaps it is this unexpected otherness, their character as urban (mega-)structures, that is common to and unites these two ideas. 

atomos is, in any case, an unambiguous avowal that the design of living environments be kept lively and made visible from far off. it is only natural that this would seem surprising precisely in the midst of a society-wide phase of increasing uncertainty and anxiety in which the loss of our future is the ultimate fear. 

does the discipline of architecture have any say whatsoever, these days? 

what influence do architects actually have on how our cities look?

on “life designs”, on our living environment, on social, collective, ecological, philosophical, and artistic aspects? 

leaving the larger context over to investors, developers, speculators, bureaucrats, and politicians has led to dreary anonymity, appalling mediocrity, desolate city centers, and frequently also a misanthropic overall structure. 

stefan schumer, with his floating archaic elements, chasms, broken stone, landscapes, aerial images, and urban regions, is not a destroyer of worlds: he pushes back vehemently against the relevance of reigning interests’ irrelevance, and he is conscious of how there exists no point of return. 

climate change, expanding deserts, parched harvests, forests aglow with flames, empty riverbeds, increasingly widespread poverty, pandemics, and war in europe.... 

conditions have deteriorated, have become perilous. combining unreserved acknowledgement
of this fact with an imperturbable creative drive is the true challenge. and meanwhile, as if not yet satisfied by radical destabilization, catastrophes, and ongoing global warming, politicians have responded to the attack on ukraine by committing head over heels to a wartime logic that is increasingly taking on a life of its own, thereby risking our infection with the very depravity we are fighting through the very act of fighting it. 

nie wieder krieg [no more war] is the title of an essay by the influential 20th-century artist donald judd. in vienna, i worked together with judd at the mak to prepare the exhibition architecture, his first on the eponymous topic. but in january of 1991, just a few weeks prior to this exhibition’s scheduled opening, the gulf war broke out - whereupon judd had the exhibition summarily canceled. “war is failure. war is caused by carelessness, wastefulness, thoughtlessness, incompetence, complacency and laziness.”* 

and with that, over five years of contemplating and preparing a special exhibition project seemed to have failed abruptly on 17 january 1991 - the moment the initial rocket, bomb, and missile attacks were conducted on targets in iraq and kuwait by the us-led coalition of the gulf war, attacks in which the injured and killed included civilians. in a moment where america was at war, judd was neither capable of nor had any desire to hold an art exhibition. firmly convinced of the possibility of “the absence of war”, he instead authored the aforementioned text in a state of shock. 

jannis kounellis, another great artist who was both incapable of separating art and life in his oeuvre and outright possessed by his urge to be direct, whose artistic modus operandi repeatedly involved historical references and in particular his awareness of europe’s history, was shocked and distraught at the initial reports of war and feared the daily escalation that would inevitably unfold as fodder for sensation-hungry media.  that was back in 1999.** 

it was during the run-up to his mak exhibition, which he then dubbed il sacrofago degli sposi. i remember how kounellis spent days pacing endlessly around the large exhibition hall without producing even the slightest trace of a work. he was near-unresponsive, deeply immersed in a state both hectic and absent-seeming. 

ultimately, and i believe that it took weeks, he succeeded in confronting his senses with elemental materiality and transformed his “battle space” into a quiescent locus of sculpture - with tons of coalsacks, iron, tarpaulins sewn out of cloth, and massive antitank barriers.
the space as an archetypical image. a space full of soberness that did, however, enable one to discern the vibrations of the underlying creative process as well as a specific odor. “a space, an image, his own iconography, the mercilessly reflective nature of our existence - between art, vitality, destruction, and death!”*** 

places are not interchangeable. sarajevo is not only a unique, multicultural place but also a city from which one can learn in many respects. for lebbeus woods, an architect consistently devoted to experimentation who was also one of the most important architectural teachers of our era, the “architecture of crisis” was always 

a central theme. beginning in the early 1990s, woods took an interest in how people deal with the loss of parts of their cities, of their living environments - and in his “radical reconstruction” projects for cities such as havana**** (capital flight) and sarajevo***** (war), he broke with the tradition to which such projects had been beholden. 

"my answer was that architecture, as a social and primarily constructive act, could heal the wounds, by creating entirely new types of space in the city. these would be what i had called ‘freespaces’, spaces without predetermined programs of use, but whose strong forms demanded the invention of new programs corresponding to the new, post-war conditions.”
lebbeus woods, injection parasite, sarajevo, 1992-93 

the place, point in time, and theme in connection with which stefan schumer is presenting to the public his at once utopian and dystopian project atomos, developed over a period of many years, are appropriate, relevant, and significant. 

especially before the backdrop of increasingly trivial realized architecture and looming catastrophe, such confrontation with architectural visions, architectonic and literary utopias, and reoriented living environments; with the newly conceived “mesa city” (paolo soleri), “broadacre city” (frank lloyd wright), and “eco-city” (ab elise architekten); and, 

naturally, with the oeuvre of frederick kiesler is of inestimable importance. 

utopia is indispensable.
visions for a better world are essential. 


* | donald judd: “nie wieder krieg,” in architecture | architektur, ed. peter noever, 2nd ed. (ostfildern: hatje cantz, 2003), p. 20–28. 

** | sarajevo was a special theme for jannis kounellis. in 2004, at the invitation of the ars aevi museum of contemporary art with curation by bruno corà, 

jannis kounellis spent one month in sarajevo building his monumental installation inside the walls of the ruined library. the national library, which was bombed using incendiary munitions and burned to the ground on the night 

of 25 august 1992 during the siege of sarajevo, remains one of this city’s iconic symbols. photographer almin zrno followed him in this 

process, thus creating a remarkable testimonial to destruction and creation, fragility and perseverance, presence and memory. 

*** | jannis kounellis, il sacrofago degli sposi, ed. peter noever (hatje cantz, 1999). catalog of the 1999 mak exhibition. 

the specific event that so affected kounellis was the nato bombing of yugoslavia during the kosovo war. 

**** | lebbeus woods, “statements from a manifesto,” the havana project. architecture again, ed. peter noever for mak 

vienna and the mak center for art and architecture los angeles (munich: prestel verlag, 1996), p. 134–145. 

spanish edition: el proyecto habana. arquitectura otra vez (munich: prestel verlag, 1999). 

international conference on architecture in havana, cuba (1994/95). participants: coop himmelb(l)au, morphosis/ thom mayne, eric owen moss, carme pinós, 

lebbeus woods, and c.p.p.n. authors: fidel castro ruz, mario coyula, emilio escobar, peter noever, and aleksandra wagner. 

***** | lebbeus woods: war and architecture. pamphlet architecture 15. (princeton: princeton architectural press, 1993).