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Ample space for castles in the air

Toni Büchel © Cristian Castelnuovo

Toni seeks out sources of friction between himself and his surroundings. That includes meeting up with people who have contrasting views to his own and his own living environment. ‘It’s the only way for something new to materialise,’ he explains.

Trains are the perfect place for striking up a conversation with strangers. Toni commutes between his native Liechtenstein and Austria’s capital Vienna, where he’s studying history and digital humanities. Alongside his studies he works for a newspaper, he conducts research into local history and genealogy for a municipality in Liechtenstein, and during the summer vacation he marshals tourist coaches and works at the road maintenance depot.

It’s those chance encounters you have in everyday life that really inspire him. Trying to seek out such encounters is pointless. ‘That’s as stupid as seeking your fortune,’ he says. Yet perhaps, through his many activities, he does contribute in some small measure to seeking out sources of friction.

But Toni is not like some explorer who sets off into the jungle without a plan or a water bottle. Instead, he makes his way purposefully, always ready to pause for a moment whenever the inspiration takes him – or indeed, turn back. He is very much a thinker and thinks along big lines. His profound approach contrasts sharply with his mischievous laugh and his impishly bobbing locks.

Sometimes his encounters compel him to rethink his view of the world. He says he needs space for these ‘castles in the air’, as he calls them. A narrow and rigid environment is not conducive. He finds it easier to build his castles in the air high up on a mountain top or looking out at sea, places where the landscape offers his thoughts the length and breadth they need. And ultimately the same is true of social innovations. They too need space; they need ears and arms that are open and receptive, so they can spring forth from the sources of friction between the old and the new.