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Interview with Patrik Schumacher
Thomas Redl speaks with Patrik Schumacher, Vienna, 30.01.2014
Published in C-LIVE MAGAZINE Architektur/Raum/Kunst, Graz-Wien-Hamburg, June 2014
Thomas Redl: How important was the exhibition "Deconstructivist Architecture", which took place in 1988 at MOMA in New York, with regard to the development of architecture in general and the development of the architectural work of Zaha Hadid in particular?
Patrik Schumacher: The exhibition brought together what was already there in development, i.e. it did not initiate anything. However, it is important to pick up terms and concepts in the discussion from time to time in order to define and understand what is actually going on and which trends and tendencies are currently developing. Thus, an acceleration of development and convergence of the creative forces in this field can be achieved. This was an important moment, it was the time of Postmodernism, and the exhibition marked the attempt to collect tendencies that were actually in contradiction to it. One of the Postmodernist subtendencies was the recollection of historical models which was latently present in Postmodernism. The tendency which was finally shown in the “Deconstructivism” exhibition represented the attempt to take a radical opposite position and to stand for abstract innovation with little hindsight, and if taking a retrospective look, then at radical tendencies of the early Modernism in order adopt them in the sense of radical innovation towards greater complexity. The group was rather small, there could have participated more, but for this Group of Seven the exhibition meant a huge career boost. I got known to Zaha Hadid at the time of the exhibition and met her at the symposium “The Deconstructors” at the TATE Gallery and then I applied for a job at her office. I had known and estimated the work of Zaha Hadid already before, but the symposium was decisive. I was very ambitious and wanted to join this new and hip trend.
TR: The group of architects exhibiting included Frank O. Gehry, Peter Eisenman, Bernard Tschumi, Coop Himmelb(l)au, Daniel Libeskind, Rem Kohlhaas and Zaha Hadid; and it was Jacques Derrida, who developed the concept of deconstruction.
PS: Jacques Derrida developed the concept of deconstruction as a notion of method of a technique of philosophical criticism. The masterminds in this discipline Peter Eisenman and Bernard Tschumi, who have been engaged in philosophy, invited Derrida to cooperate with them because they were inspired by him and saw certain parallels. The term emerged from this cooperation, although it originally goes back to Joseph Giovannini, at least he claims to have coined the term as stylistic concept of architecture, i.e. this “ism” does in this form not originate from Derrida, but is derived from the architectural discourse based on the philosophical concept of deconstruction.
TR: What influence did the Russian Constructivism and Suprematism have on the group and Zaha Hadid? Hadid said that she had been trying to tie up with these movements.
PS: The radical tendencies of modern art and architecture played a decisive role. Suprematism was important especially for Zaha Hadid, but also for Rem Kohlhaas. Bernard Tschumi was rather influenced by constructivism and Yakov Chernikhov, whereas Daniel Libeskind was more oriented towards Cubism and collage techniques. But all of them were closely related in their search for radically new concepts which were to imply more intensity, dynamics and complexity than the concepts of classical Modernism. There was a return to trends which had taken their origins in the 1920s, but did not prevail in the 1930s, '40s and '50s, such as Constructivism and Suprematism, or Cubism in the fields of art.
TR: Almost 20 years later, the solo exhibition of Zaha Hadid took place at Guggenheim Museum in New York which marked the second internationally significant milestone with regard to the representation of her architecture. What effects did this exhibition have, how did it influence and improve the order situation of Zaha Hadid’s office?
PS: The decisive turn in the order situation and public perception of Zaha Hadid resulted from two components. On the one hand, in the late 1990s, after 15 years of radical design research activities, the breakthrough was achieved by winning some major competitions: Cincinnatti, Wolfsburg, Rome. The completion of the Lois & Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinnatti gave way to the Pritzker Prize which marked a crucial milestone for Zaha Hadid. This provided the basis for the Guggenheim exhibition which considerably contributed to strengthen the international reputation and profile of Zaha Hadid and, thus, fostered the breakthrough of her work. Since then we have largely expanded and were assigned with a lot of new and also bigger projects. To a certain extent this was due also to a “zeitgeist”, there was a spirit of optimism, an atmosphere of change, a period of boom. Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao was a contribution to the idea of realizing more complex and spectacular buildings, too.
TR: Coop Himmelb(l)au underwent a similar development and got into the architectural scene on an international level as well. There was a point in time when clients had developed the willingness and courage to commission such projects.
PS: It always takes a while. The Deconstructivism exhibition was the origin, the original marker of this trend and the careers. A crucial question also was who would be the persons to prevail in the next cycle. A result of this was, for example, the Pritzker Prize, the Guggenheim exhibition and, thus, the potentiation of presence. Meanwhile, it can be said that Zaha Hadid Architects and Zaha Hadid are far ahead the most prominent architectural firm in the world, if, for example, Google references are taken as a measure, followed far behind by Frank Gehry and others like Herzog & de Meuron Architekten.
GENESIS OF BUILDINGS
TR: The first building by Zaha Hadid in Europe, the Vitra fire station in Weil am Rhein, is a landmark for these new architectural forms. How did Zaha Hadid Architects develop and which are the most important buildings realized?
PS: After the Vitra fire station we were commissioned only very few projects for quite a while. A smaller pavilion on the occasion of the State Garden Show in Weil am Rhein was one of them. But during almost the entire decade, there did not happen very much. At the end of the 1990s Zaha Hadid Architects won the commission for the Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati, the Phæno Science Center in Wolfsburg and MAXXI, the National Museum of the 21st Century Arts in Rome. This probably was the crucial breakthrough into the top league of international architects. Since then some more milestones have occurred – the Guangzhou Opera House, the London Aquatics Centre, and the Galaxy SOHO in Beijing. At the moment we have about 50-60 scheduled projects and 10-15 ongoing building sites, and some more realized museums. We are also constructing high-rise buildings and bigger building complexes and we are active in city planning now. We cover a broadly diversified spectrum. But the breakthrough was the year 2000 when we were selected to design the museums.
TR: Due to this development the ZHA office has largely expanded. By now several hundred people are employed.
PS: We are about 450 employees at the moment which is unusually big for an office having an artistically inspired leadership. It is the only architectural firm of this size with an artistic management. A very different architect in the sense of building artist who is even bigger is Norman Foster. Among the hundred biggest firms of the world there is no other artistically ambitious protagonist to be found. Following Foster we are the biggest artistically motivated architectural firm in the world.
TR: Networks and team working play a crucial role in organizations of this size. How does the structure of your firm look like in this respect?
PS: We have a very open network of staff members with flat hierarchies. Our team is rather young and most of the senior employees are former students. There is a very intimate and highly inspiring team environment which we are working in. We do expect a high level of individual initiative and creativity from our employees, but, in turn, we provide great artistic freedom to them. We also attach great importance to the principles and values which govern our work and which we all share in our cooperation. My main contribution is to initiate new agendas, principles, and values which I am injecting into the creative processes by means of internal lectures and slogans. I am placing emphasis on making innovative statistical principles visible and effective, e.g. differentiated skeletons in high-rise design, or shell structures and tensile structures in more horizontally aligned projects with large span widths.
TR: So, it is not an army of technical draftsmen sitting at their computers and doing the construction planning.
PS: No. We are working in a creative environment where a lot of experiments are taking place. There are certain aesthetic criteria, various methods and design techniques uniting us into a coherent whole, and there are constantly arising new demands for further development. The internal slogans and pragmatic projects exercise their influence onto each of our team members. The issues which Zaha Hadid and I are dealing with initiate parallel and creative processes on many levels. Often, they are elaborated in academic contexts first, e.g. at the University of Applied Arts Vienna or at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London, in short AA, where I have been teaching for 16 years.
TR: How many offices are there at the moment?
PS: The headquarter is located in London, the second focus is on Asia with bureaus in Beijing and Hong Kong, as we have some projects in China, Singapore, Hong Kong, Korea, Malaysia and Indonesia in addition to the many smaller, temporary site offices.
TR: You have developed your own architectural theory and introduced the concept of Parametricism. Could you briefly explain this concept?
PS: There are two levels of definition. First, the conceptual one: Parametricism is based on the term of parameters understood as variables. The idea is that each element of an architectural composition is assigned to variables making these elements plastic, changeable, and adjustable in order that they can relate to each other, adapt to one another, and transform and overform themselves by and towards each other. Other than compositions with given rigid geometric figures, they can flexibly adapt to context situations and result in fluid compositions due to the elements having become plastic by means of parameters.
The second definition is on the operationalizing level where principles and criteria are defined according to which these objects are designed as genotypes bestowed with variables and multiply themselves into systems by means of computer-aided processes. The requirement is that these systems have to be differentiable, with gradients to a differential field in contrast to the modernist, monotonous series field and that these differential fields become subsystems in a more complex multisystem configuration and correlate with each other via associative logics. The concept of differentiation leads to the idea of correlation of several differentiated systems which are not indifferent and which must not be simply collaged, instead, they depend on and relate to each other, and, thus, reflect each other, and can be derived from each other. This is the crucial operational mode of Parametricism. This is the reason why in Parametricism different spaces and compositional parts communicate, fit together, and context-sensitively adjust themselves to an environment. This is sort of a priori of
Parametricism: It is all about adjusting and embedding of architectural elements into specific contexts instead of imposing a preconceived form into any context.
TR: In Parametricism, you are talking about replacing the language of architectural forms that strongly shaped the 20th century as, for example, Bauhaus did, and about replacing Fordism which extensively used stereotyped forms as grid patterns which are also evident in the urban designs of Le Corbusier.
PS: The main contrast for me actually is the contrast between Parametricism and Modernism. I do have in mind epochal styles, whereas Postmodernism and Deconstructivism represent transitory styles. Modernism of the 20th century was the architectural reflection or correlate of the socio-economic aera of Fordism. I am talking about Parametricism today as the new epochal style of the 21st century which does not implement the directives of Fordism, but of the Post-Fordist network society where it is about intensifying of relationships and interactions, and no longer about sorting out of different areas of life into separate stereotypes and merely repeating them. This was the city of Modernism. Today a diversity of living areas and environments has to be differentiated, interconnected and related to each other. This is what happens in Parametricism.
The transition from Modernism to Parametricism is characterized by transitory style trends which indicate the urge to move away from monotony and to enrich the architectural language with diversity and complexity. This took place in Postmodernism which then developed into Deconstructivism. They have been intermediate stages leading to Parametricism. Parametricism takes up the ideas of complexity, diversity, and also the readiness for dealing with conflicts arising in this interplay. But, other than Deconstructivism, Parametricism does not assume that it is all about collision, collage, and mere fitting together of forms, but tries to dissolve and transfer all this into a new complex order, to comprehensibly determine and locate complexity, and thus to organize it in such a way that this order becomes readable and understandable. Whereas in Deconstructivism diversity has agglomerated only in an unfinished state, in Parametricism diversity and complexity are worked through, clarified and made transparent. The result is a complex, organic order making our dense social world navigable. Deconstructivism has led to a disorienting visual chaos when a certain degree of complexity was achieved. Therefore, Deconstructivism constitutes only an intermediate stage and was active only for about a decade until Parametricism evolved out of it. Meanwhile it is prevailing to a far broader and more comprehensive extent and it is much easier to generalize. Deconstructivism has identified a problem, delivered a polemic, but the working out of these issues and the realization of the indicated potencies are taking place now in Parametricism.
TR: Which contemporary architects do you associate with this new direction in style?
PS: There is a whole generation of architects who participate and work in this way. Zaha Hadid Architects is the world leading office acting internationally on a large scale, but there a lot of more architects who are cooperating and who made equally creative contributions to the development process of Parametricism. These are people who do not only teach architecture at schools, but increasingly work also in practice, e.g. Greg Lynn, Reiser & Umemoto, Hani Rashid and Lise Anne Couture with Asymptote Architecture, or Ali Rahim and Hina Jamelle with Contemporary Architecture Practice from New York. Wolf Prix and Coop Himmelb(l)au have also developed into this direction. Maybe on a less algorithmic basis, but in his artistic tendencies also Frank Gehry has developed from Deconstructivism into Parametricism. There is a convergence. These tendencies are to be noticed even in some works by Norman Foster’s subteams. And there are a lot of young architects and architectural offices who have not achieved their breakthrough yet. Parametricism is a worldwide phenomenon. It does not prevail only in Europe and Northern America, but also in Asia, in the Middle East, and in Latin America. In Beijing, for example, the young architectural firm MAD Architects, my former students and staff members of Zaha Hadid Architects, has already become very successful. I personally know a lot of architects and designers in Eastern Europe who are working in the direction of parametric style. I am currently preparing a big, new exhibition which is to take place in 2016 in order to show how global and resounding this architectural movement has become.
TR: Do you see a general paradigm shift taking place in architecture, and if so, is it possible that the geometrically hierarchical architecture which, strictly speaking, has been prevailing since European antiquity, i.e. not only since Modernism, but also during Classicism and other epochs, is replaced by a new non-hierarchical, dynamically flowing language of architecture?
PS: This is well formulated. The term “paradigm shift” is important as the transition we are undergoing at the moment proves to be deeper and more radical than any stylistic upheaval before. If these essential changes taking place now are compared with the architectural development over the past several hundred years starting with the Renaissance, it becomes clear that something very radical is happening. Of course, this is also due to the radically new design methods and production techniques which have become possible by microelectronics and computer-aided design processes. We work much more closely in accordance with complex principles of organization and formation. We are able to create forms similarly as they develop in nature in accord with natural law, so to say, morphologies resulting from complexly interacting laws. This kind of processes we are developing on the basis of computers. There is a paradigm shift which is providing something what architecture always has been dreaming of, namely orientating itself towards nature – however, in a mere methodical and analog way. Actually, architecture is orientated towards social processes and the necessity to intensify communication in urban agglomerations. In this, it is essential that we are able to determine and articulate complexity in condensed situations by means of these fluid, dynamic architectures. As you mentioned before, it is a real shift in paradigms. We are talking about a new concept of order. The complex order which we are striving for and which we are now able to define and make understandable was formerly rejected as disorder because its complexity was not comprehensible. Chaos theory has brought about a radical change in this respect. Parametricism participates in this paradigm shift taking place in natural and social sciences.
TR: I would like to stress another socio-political aspect of architecture. The traditional, hierarchical representative architecture always served as presentation of political power. This is best demonstrated by the buildings of Vienna Schoenbrunn Palace or the Palace of Versailles representing absolutism. If the architectural language changes now, will there also be a paradigm shift leaving behind the representation of absolutistic and hierarchical systems in favor of reflecting new dynamic systems of our current society? Will architecture be able to influence, actively contribute to, and shape these processes?
PS: In any case. The architecture which we develop often organizes public space and working environments and permeates living, business and working areas. It provides a vivid image of social dynamics and reflects the multi-centre structure of cities and the simultaneity of various interaction offers where different audiences meet and partly overlap. This is a new image of society which has significantly changed compared to the considerably stratified image of society of the 18th century, but also compared to the model of society in Modernism which was coherent with socialistic trends in the sense of universalizing living standards and processes, and of a standardization going hand in hand with the mechanical reproduction mechanisms of Fordism. The living standard thus obtained was possible only at a certain price, namely, the price of homogenization. In present times, we are able to differentiate again without causing these enormous costs of specialization of crafts. By means of reprogrammable production processes and computer-aided design processes not only mass, but also spectrum can be created in fast cycles, and a differentiated product world and a world of differentiated experiences, areas, living standards and processes can be developed. The various audiences occurring in the globalized world and meeting in metropolis have very different life rhythms as division of labor, variety and dynamics of career opportunities are very diverse, whereas in Modernism most of it was still standardized. The proliferation of differences is reflected by the city’s physiognomy and has been taken up by an architectural tendency which is very sensitive to these issues and transfers them into aesthetics and operating methods. We encounter this today as a new style which is congenial with these processes and becomes their image, and not only their image, but the representation of society in general. By this describing itself it assists a better functioning of society because it is easier to find yourself and your interlocutors in such a cityscape again.
TR: It is alleged that more and more parts of our civilization will live in megacities. This is a big issue and a challenging task for current and future architecture. Can Parametricism be applied here in the sense of new urban geometry and logics, in the sense of an architectonic topography for newly occurring complexities which did not exist in this way before?
PS: You got right to the heart of the matter. This is exactly where I see the context and challenge. Global society will agglomerate in megacities. We have to design our constructed environment with regard to an extremely high degree of complexity and densification and, at the same time, to the need of orientation, readability, and intuitive navigation. Otherwise such a condensed conglomerate will crumble into a visual chaos which will be dysfunctional. We do not only live in megacities, we are also set free. We are no longer bound to our worktables, we are released into urban space with our mobile laptops and cell phones. We are able to roam the metropolis as social 360°, three-dimensional communication interfaces to gain new inspirations, stimulants, interlocutors, and impressions which we permanently need in order to always interlink anew with one another and load up relevance for what we will contribute to the division of labor in global society the next day, the next week. In network societies everyone is on the move to catch as much of what others do in order to always newly recalibrate what we will do ourselves. This is not possible when you are brooding over a project in splendid isolation at home. You have to permanently stay in communication and networking. These are working worlds, but also from leisure steadily new inputs and stimulants are received. Work and leisure time become blurred when work almost exclusively consists in communicating. Therefore, people who are “still trapped in the province” and not living in one of these megacities are much less productive as they are less up to date. Of course, mass media like television and especially internet bear a hand. But I often realize that I am learning much more in a direct interaction context and that I can much better keep track of the received impulses in the internet later in the evening than if I was lonely browsing the internet – I most likely would get lost in the cascade of links.
TR: But there is equally a danger that we experience a hyper-densification, an overflow of information. This is just happening in social networks as well as in the form of data traffic congestions. To which extent can this densification of communication be continued and how much freedom does a single human individually need, or, with regard to architecture, how much individual space free of information input has to be provided in these extremely condensed structures of megacities?
CAMPUS WU VIENNA, Library & Learning Center
PS: I have in mind the density of information which has been architecturally processed, organized, and structured. Using the example of our building at Campus WU Vienna this is the readability of structure, the networked hierarchy of spaces and subspaces, but also the simultaneity of interaction offers, for example, in the big atrium. It can be entered, but before physically stepping in you have already understood the hierarchies and you know where the reading room and the main elements are located. When actually entering you realize simultaneous interaction offers staggered in width and depth under you, above you, in all directions of you, because they are spatially organized and semiologically structured. From the main atrium several other atria develop, i.e. further simultaneous areas and gorges for light distribution and visual guidance. It is a space of continual development where permanently new views are opening up. Each step you do imparts new images and impressions. You are not in isolated rooms where moving around does not provide you with anything new as long as you do not leave the room. Instead, these are open, porous spaces with breakthroughs and gaps permitting an unobstructed view through. Media as natural light and the different materials used are structured in such a way that they serve as an orientation guide and make complexity navigable. The Campus WU and in particular our Library & Learning Center is an instance of this spatial networking of interactions and a concise image of this institution at the same time. However, it is not an image working symbolically, but an image of a networking society which actually exists and becomes plastic. This spatial image serves as communication instrument visualizing contexts and correlations and thus activating them.
TR: In my opinion the new Campus WU is a really successful urban development project. Significant for me is the functioning interplay between built and unspoilt space, the boulevards occurring as a result, the space which can be freely used, and, in parallel, the simultaneous functioning of different architectural languages on the campus.
PS: This is very interesting, indeed. Our building is a place of densification and fanning-out of communication offers as it is the central learning centre and the main library. But also reference to the outer world is important. There are always offered free views and looks-through providing the possibility to reorientate yourself with regard to the campus as a whole. You are always given the opportunity to take a look from the inner space of the building onto Vienna’s public park Prater, the neighboring buildings, and the forecourt. There are further orientation guides, e.g. the inclined walls. Thus, space is made dynamic and, on the one hand, induces the psychological moment of wanting to be pulled through. On the other hand, it is a simple information element indicating also on the deeper levels of the building where the entrance, forecourt, and main atrium are located. Going against the inclination of the walls means moving downwards, whereas by following the upward inclination you get to the central areas. Such orientation guides are important, this is sort of a semiotics of geometry. There is a semiotics of color and material texture as well, e.g. each vertical center of circulation is set off in exposed concrete. We have also developed a semiotics of window formation: The public areas are indicated outwards by deeper cut windows. Furthermore, these window surfaces have been executed as storey-high glazing in contrast to the ribbon windows of the non-public areas. These are laws in this building complex which is too large to be automatically understood and navigated through. For this reason we had to systematically implement these orientation and navigation aids as well as customized information. Otherwise the building would have taken on a rather labyrinthine character due to its complexity.
TR: Can this way of semiotic structuring be called the central design concept?
PS: Absolutely right. This is the central idea starting at the fact that we had to differentiate two intermeshing institutions one from another. We did this by using pale and dark grey colors and thus made them intertwining in a comprehensible way. If this intermeshing is wanted, differentiation becomes the reverse problem. In very simple compositions where you always can tell where left and right is such additional aids are of less need. But as we wanted to have things to be interwoven and interrelated, this semiotic modus operandi was necessary in order that the relevant identities and interaction units can be cognitively understood by the end-users.
TR: A central element in the Library & Learning Center is the huge reading room centrally opening up towards the green area of the Vienna Prater. The users are provided with the information of their books, and at the same time they are exposed to the influence of the light and green area outside of the building.
PS: This is a further orientation aid. You can have a look down onto the courtyard and watch people coming and going. Is there something brewing up? Why do people flock into the building just now? Am I missing something or can I participate in something? This is vital: You are locally concentrating on what you are doing, but from the corner of your eye you overlook, or at least, you become aware of all the processes going on simultaneously. You have to continue to network, you cannot rest your mind, hide yourself, and concentrate only on your book for the next few hours. You can do this at home. Maybe you decide to attend a lecture, seminar or presentation, or simply to have a look at what others are doing. This is all part of it and cannot be planned in advance. You simply have to expose yourself to this friction. Therefore places like this are important where there is a substantial likelihood that people meeting mean something for each other. At the same time, I think that it would be even better to more strongly embed the campus into the inner city network. We also have a project at the neighboring fair grounds and it is a pity that there are restrictions like security measurements demarcating areas which actually want to communicate with each other. Although the campus and the fair grounds are directly neighboring, they are separated by an impenetrable borderline. This demarcation line – as well as any border – should be permeable. What a networking society wants and Parametricism is striving for is to intensify the linkage and network of relations on the basis of the maxim that everything communicates with everything.
TR: Special furniture was developed for the building and produced by Austrian firms. Is the furnishing a major part of the total cosmos and of the overall concept of the building?
PS: For us, it is important that all subsystems are coherent, that they relate to each other, and that one accentuates the other. For this reason the floor coverings as a part of the semiotics emphasize functional areas, the different colors and forms serve the social order, and the centers and vertical connections are coded by exposed concrete. This includes also the furnishing which underlines the geometry, visually traces lines, and relates to its spatial environment. This is essential for the orientation in and the order of a building like this. Thus, furnishing means also structuring space. It structures and accentuates space at the same time.
TR: At certain significant places you find custom-made boards and big desks which were manufactured by the firm Cserni. With regards to their readability they constitute a subsystem of the total architecture. Is this right?
PS: This is absolutely right. It is important that such places become magnets and attract attention because they are functional information and contact points as well as orientation areas which have to be symbolically exaggerated and aesthetically upgraded in order to function. Aesthetics and formal accentuation are productive for the social functionality of such a building. For us, aesthetics and functionality go hand in hand as the aesthetic dimension is a dimension of perception and of attractiveness which we need to orientate ourselves. When moving in space we are guided very intuitively and emotionally.
TR: I saw the particular furniture objects during production at Cserni’s manufacturing site and for me they represented an architecture en miniature. I could read the language of Zaha Hadid in these objects and I liked the fact that the architectural intention was perceptible in the furniture also in raw state, i.e. not only embedded in the building, but even standing solitary at the manufacturing site.
PS: These are synergies and coherences as well as the idea that the interior space is a continuation of the outer image and that you understand that you are inside of the outer. It is essential to understand where you are and what is expecting you. You are synchronizing a sequence of impressions into a mental image; you never have the inside and outside, the back and the front, and the part and the whole in mind at the same time, this happens successively. Therefore redundancies and reminiscences have to be transferred from the outside to the inside, from the whole to the part. This is particularly important for intuitive orientation where you do not have to apply greater attention or to think hard about where you are because you understand that you are in the library of the learning center. And when sitting at one of these desks deeply absorbed in your reading matter you are reminded and know where you are.
TR: This reminds me of the Greek mnemonic technique whose practitioners went through architectures in their rhetorics. They stored mental experiences of architectures in their memory and thus passed on architecture before written and photographic records came into use.
PS: I also believe in the efficiency of mental order structures which are imparted and have to be imparted by physical mental order structures. You cannot calculate everything by doing mental arithmetic, you work also visually using paper and pencil or charts and graphic elements. Architectures are basically three-dimensional processings of logics as well as of organizational and knowledge structures.
TR: Dealing with design disciplines plays a decisive role in the bureau of Zaha Hadid. Do the developed designs represent a micro-cosmos of the architectural language of Zaha Hadid? Can they be read and interpreted in this way?
PS: Exactly. We apply any design style. Parametricism covers all design disciplines including urban development, interior design, furniture, product and fashion design, and graphic design because all these disciplines deal with communication design. This is my theory on the core competence of design and architecture: It is all about communication design. It is all an interface of communication by which you socially represent, present and express yourself and by which you signal your willingness to communicate. Into which room you go, which place you visit, to which district you move, and with which objects you surround yourself signals a mood, a topic you are engaged in, your readiness to communicate, and the relationships you are currently in. This is my fundamental thesis: Any design is communication design. However, a distinction has to be made between social functionality as task for designers and architects and technical functionality which is conducted by engineers. We have to cooperate with them, to interpret, instrumentalize and orchestrate them. Our core competence is social functionality. This means to create communicative density and intensity and to provide the communicative functioning of the built environment and of the world of artifacts. It has to be understood what it is all about. The engineer is responsible for the technical functioning; we hold the responsibility for the cognitive, emotional, and social functioning.
TR: The objects of Zaha Hadid emanate a strong dominance which is felt even in a classicistic Italian renaissance environment. Their communicative quality is so strong that they form a center also in historical contexts.
PS: This is right. But the developed configurations are non-classical, e.g. a sofa where people sit in different directions, a sofa which cannot be slid to the wall, which gets free from it and flexibly develops constellations with other elements. These are occurring communicative situations, constellations for specific situations, participants, and atmospheres.
TR: But this also works with objects not designed for use, e.g. with exhibition objects.
PS: As long as you only stare at the object, it does not have any functionality. You can imagine the function of the object and mentally use it, but there is a clear difference between arts and design. Design means to intervene in real life in everyday context, also if there are different everyday lifes. Arts, however, include the moment of contemplation, of detaching from everyday life and the possibility to imagine a different everyday life. Design means intervening into and creating situations, sometimes in an innovatively stimulating way. Design is no thesis, but a lever.
TR: These are perfect closing words. Thank you very much for this comprehensive interview.
Indeed, Bauhaus-inspired architecture did relate to industrial methods and the need for repetition to generate economies of scale. Hadid´s concept of architecture, born of rigorous logic and design, yet free of its Euclidean constraints, has been rendered possible by another industrial revolution driven by computer-assisted design and CNC milling. Desks can spring from walls and bridges can dance in sinusoidal undulations. Zaha Hadid has set architecture free, and it will never be the same again.
Philip Jodidio, Zaha Hadid: 1950 the Explosion Reforming Space. Complete Works 1979-2013, Taschen America Llc, 2012
We moved away from the idea of creating large objects and we looked at topography and the ground. We looked at the many layers of public space and how to interpret what is above ground and what is below. From there the natural move was to look at (...) nature.
Architectures are basically three-dimensional processings of logics as well as of organizational and knowledge structures.
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