Saturday, June 28, 2008

'build it like zaha'

Interview with Patrik Schumacher

You just compared what you are doing to the work of the early Modernists; what is Zaha Hadid Architects giving to architecture? If people look back in future, what would you hope architectural historians would say you have achieved?

It’s a good question. I sometimes look back at 5,000 years of architecture and try to see what… from found spaces like caves, to the first moments of architecture – the introduction of geometry, in Egypt, in Greece. And it crystallises. Then you go on to Rome. In Greece and Egypt they established a single geometric significant piece: a collonade, a certain crystal. And in Rome you have a typology that develops into multiple organs of a complex system, and they introduced one more technique, which is vaulting. And then there is not much else until the renaissance, until Baroque; curvilinearity.

Actually the baroque is interesting because it brings continuity between pieces. The renaissance was pushing platonic bodies into a proportioned ensemble, but each of them was an autonomous piece with its own symmetry. The baroque for the first time breaks the symmetry of the original piece and they become radicals, so you build up a kind of global complexity. So they become larger complexes that are drawn together and unified.

This is interesting but then there’s not much going on really until Modernism. Eclecticism and Historicism are just kind of trying to cope with the new complexities in an unconvincing, uncompelling way, an artificial way. To kind of… you suddenly have the Modernist period, which works on the notion of space. Composition comes into its own; before it was just about redesigning a given type – a palace, a villa. Even if you use it for other things, it’s a certain organism. You are not bringing things together; you are not trying out random arrangements.

So composition is something very late; and we still do that. Looking back on history shows you that the game of what it is to design changes radically. Before it was just reproducing a type; then suddenly you can compose, which is quite outside the previous thinking. And we have these kind of breaks in the 20th century. For instance It’s very important this idea that you’re not only composing elements in an arrangement to make a composition.

There are two things: one is the interpenetration of the elements; you compose a site, then you compose it again in this layered way. You build up intricacies. This is radical, this is unheard of. It’s a major thing. Zaha was involved at the beginning. This is something that you could say is a strong and new paradigm in the late 20th century.

But also this idea of going from composition, which involves a number of parts, to a field, which is made up of particles, none of which has a name or a number or an identity. It’s only the field effects and qualities that matter; the particles are just fragments of a global mass. This is a totally different attitude, a different way of handling things; it’s not about composition, because we don’t care about any of [the individual elements]. It’s just a drift; the distribution, the directionality, the intensities you have; there’s a looseness. And so that’s something we’ve been involved in pushing.

Also the lawfulness of a composition, where you just make sure that the line, the hand, has a law and a trajectory, but it doesn’t give you a shape; it doesn’t have a front and back. It’s a new ontology of what you consider to be an environment. And then you realise it’s nature-like. These are major breakthroughs. This notion of field – like our Rome museum – it not something you have an image of. It’s not something you hold onto like an object but something you immerse yourself into and you follow certain laws of proliferation. You’re drawn through it.

These are major contributions that you can then bring to urbanism. So you can now give an order to an urban area that isn’t like the kind like the gods’ top view with a clear boundary and three parts, but a field logic.

This is a fundamentally new type of thinking I think which pertains to urbanism and large buildings. It has a lot to do with the late 20th century, where cities totally grow out of that comprehensible thing, where you can grasp and know whether you’re in front, in the middle or behind. So these new sensibilities have a lot to do with new social processes and the way life operates on the planet.

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