For many observers, Thom Mayne might easily be considered the most unpredictable personality in architecture. Once labeled the “bad boy of architecture” by critics—a moniker which he has, at times, enthusiastically adopted and even encouraged—Mayne's actions in the architecture world can range from something as responsible as designing one of the United States' most sustainable university campuses to something as outrageous as proposing one of the world's tallest towers in a revered Austrian mountain town. In this interview, the latest from Vladimir Belogolovsky's “City of Ideas” series, Mayne discusses his ideas, his past statements on architecture, and where he thinks the profession will go next. The interview was originally published by the Berlin-based SPEECH Magazine.
Soo Chan: “Architecture is About Preserving a Way of Life, Not Simply Introducing a New Formal Language”
By combining such concepts as phenomenology, sustainability and formal exploration, which have become part of a particularly Singaporean conception of architecture, Soo Chan of SCDA Architects occupies an unusual niche within the architecture profession. To complement this wide range of interests, his firm also engages in a wide range of activities, working on architecture, landscape, and interiors projects, and even acting as its own developer on a number of occasions. In this latest interview from Vladimir Belogolovsky's “City of Ideas” column, Chan discusses the early experiences that led to his current understanding of architecture, and how the context of Singapore has affected his designs.
Vladimir Belogolovsky: Was architecture on your mind from an early age? What was it that first attracted you to the discipline?
Soo Chan: I was deeply influenced by the house I grew up in, the Khoo Kongsi compound in Penang, an island off the west coast of Malaysia. Khoo Kongsi was planned around a central communal courtyard where many generations of my extended family lived, and it is a UNESCO World Heritage site today. I can still picture the spatial and light qualities of the long and narrow house I grew up in, punctuated with open air wells. I remember the smell of fresh rain coming deep into the house on to the sunken courts, and the pockets of light and darkness in the house.
Paul Andreu: "I Would Only Take On a Project if the Ideas Were Mine. Otherwise, I Am Not Interested."
For 40 years, Paul Andreu was among the world's foremost airport design experts. Reflecting on this before the turn of the millennium, he stated that architectural historians of the future might consider the 1990s as “the age of the air terminal.” But shortly after this, he left the arena of airport design to focus on other large projects, many of them in China. In this interview, the latest of Vladimir Belogolovsky's “City of Ideas” series, Andreu explains why he made the switch and shares his thoughts on how good architecture is made—saying it often depends more on what you don't tell your client than what you do.
Paul Andreu: Before we start, I must explain something. I am an architect and engineer. For a long time I was not an independent architect but worked at and then was the head of airport works at Aéroports de Paris Ingénierie or ADPi, a subsidiary of Aéroports de Paris (ADP). This public establishment is not only in charge of the planning, design, and operation of three Paris-region airports, but is also involved in airport works all around the world, as well as other large-scale architectural projects. First, we did airports in France, then in the Middle East and Africa, then in China and all over Asia, and then we developed projects in other parts of the world. Most of the time we developed our projects from concept all the way through construction; although once we did just the concept for Kansai airport on a specially built island in the Bay of Osaka. As you know, it was designed by Renzo Piano and I consulted for him on function and circulation aspects.
While many of the pioneers of green architecture could arguably be criticized as technocratic and dry, this has never applied to Emilio Ambasz. His concept of “green over gray” has been pushing the debate around sustainability forwards since the 1970s, but alongside this concept he has developed a critical approach to architectural meaning and form-making which competes with many of architecture's more poetic practitioners. Ahead Vladimir Belogolovsky's upcoming exhibition of Ambasz's work, “Emilio Ambasz: Architecture Toward Nature,” which is on show at the Singapore's Urban Redevelopment Center from February 6th – 28th, here Belogolovsky shares his interview with the architect – the latest interview in his “City of Ideas” column.
Vladimir Belogolovsky: I read that you knew you wanted to be an architect at an early age and when you were 11, you even dared to propose an exhibition on American architecture in Buenos Aires. What was it that prompted your initial interest in architecture?
Emilio Ambasz: I was interested in architecture since I was nine, I think. I am a person of steady ideas. Once I have an idea that’s it, I persist. I wanted to become an architect and that led to my applying to Princeton. I sent my application with a wax seal telling them that I went to bed every night with the idea of wanting to be an architect and woke up every morning with this idea…
Throughout the 60-year career of Álvaro Siza, his work has continuously defied categorization--having variously been described as “critical regionalism” and “poetic modernism,” with neither quite capturing the true essence of Siza's intuitive architecture. In this interview, the latest in Vladimir Belogolovsky's “City of Ideas” series, Siza discusses those attempts to categorize his work, his design approach and the role of beauty in his designs.
Vladimir Belogolovsky: Your student, Eduardo Souto de Moura said, “Siza’s houses are just like cats sleeping in the sun.”
Álvaro Siza: [Laughs.] Yes, he meant that my buildings assume the most natural postures on the site. There is also a reference in that to the human body.
After receiving his education at the Repin Institute for Painting, Sculpture and Architecture in St. Petersburg, Sergei Tchoban moved to Germany at the age of 30. He now runs parallel practices in both Berlin and Moscow, after becoming managing partner of nps tchoban voss in 2003 and co-founding SPEECH with Sergey Kuznetsov in 2006. In 2009, the Tchoban Foundation was formed in Berlin to celebrate the lost art of drawing through exhibitions and publications. The Foundation’s Museum for Architectural Drawing was built in Berlin in 2013 to Tchoban’s design. In this latest interview for his “City of Ideas” series, Vladimir Belogolovsky spoke to Tchoban during their recent meeting in Paris about architectural identities, inspirations, the architect’s fanatical passion for drawing, and such intangibles as beauty.
Alongside Camilla Block and David Jaggers, Neil Durbach of Durbach Block Jaggers has carved out a unique place in Australian architecture. Known primarily for their carefully sculpted modernist houses, the firm's architecture is simultaneously rich in architectural references and thoroughly original. In this interview, the latest in Vladimir Belogolovsky's “City of Ideas” series, Durbach explains the true inspirations behind their work, why these inspirations have little to do with the public descriptions of their projects, and why for him, the intention of all of his architecture “is to win Corb’s approval.”
Neil Durbach: Yes, I first came to Australia as an exchange student while still in high school.
VB: So you have seen the Opera under construction then. How special was that? Did that building change anything in particular in you?
ND: Well, at that time I wanted to be an artist. A friend took me on a boat to see it. It was kind of staggering... And I thought – you know, this is much more interesting than art. And I felt – maybe architecture is what I should pursue.
Interview with WOHA: “The Only Way to Preserve Nature is to Integrate it into Our Built Environment”
Driven by the hyper-density of the city-state from which they operate, WOHA have emerged as Singapore's quintessential architects. Combining a locally-specific approach to climate control and spatial planning with an international approach to form and materials, their work holds lessons that can be instructive to architects in all climates. In this interview, the latest in his “City of Ideas” column, Vladimir Belogolovsky speaks to WOHA founders Wong Mun Summ and Richard Hassell about their environmental approach and the future of our global cities.
Jeanne Gang, the founder of Studio Gang Architects, has made a name for herself as a designer who can design both show-stopping skyscrapers and sensitive small-scale buildings. From her breakout 2009 Aqua Tower project, to the hypothetical “Polis Station” proposal presented at last year's Chicago Architecture Biennial, Gang has established herself as perhaps Chicago's leading architect.
Gang is also included as part of Vladimir Belogolovsky's ongoing City of Ideas exhibition tour, representing Chicago among 9 other significant architects, each from a different global city. With the exhibition currently in Gang's home city at the Chicago Design Museum until February 25th, here as part of his City of Ideas column on ArchDaily Belogolovsky presents a shortened version of the interview featured in the exhibition.
Bijoy Jain, the founder of Indian practice Studio Mumbai, has long been well-known for his earth-bound material sensibilities, and an approach to architecture that bridges the gap between Modernism and vernacular construction. The recent opening of the third annual MPavilion in Melbourne, this year designed by Jain, offered an opportunity to present this architectural approach on a global stage. In this interview as part of his “City of Ideas” series, Vladimir Belogolovsky speaks with Bijoy Jain about his design for the MPavilion and his architecture of “gravity, equilibrium, light, air and water.”
Paulo Mendes da Rocha is one of Brazil's most celebrated architects. And, in spite of the fact that very little of his work can be found outside São Paulo, his “Paulista Brutalism” is revered worldwide, earning him the Pritzker Prize in 2006 and, just last week, the Royal Institute of British Architects' Gold Medal. In light of the RIBA Gold Medal news, as part of his “City of Ideas” column, Vladimir Belogolovsky here shares an interview conducted with Mendes da Rocha in 2014. The interview was conducted in Mendes da Rocha's office in São Paulo with the help of Brazilian architect Wilson Barbosa Neto acting as translator, and was originally published in Belogolovsky's book, “Conversations with Architects in the Age of Celebrity.”
Vladimir Belogolovsky: In your short text "The Americas, Architecture and Nature," you say that “for Brazilians and Americans in general, the historical experience begins with the modern world. There is a difference between rebuilding old cities in Europe and building new cities in the Americas.” Could you elaborate this thought?
Paulo Mendes da Rocha: Of course, there is a difference in attitude when one builds in such a new place as Brazil or the American continent in general as opposed to Europe. The landscapes are different, cities are different, cultures are different. How can you compare St. Petersburg in Russia and Vitória, my hometown, in Brazil?
To the uninitiated, Ricardo Bofill might come across as something of a chameleon. Comparing the post-modernism of his projects in Paris of the 1980s, his recent glass-and-steel towers, and the stark stoicism of his own home and studio which he renovated in the 1980s, one would be forgiven for thinking that there is no consistent thread present throughout his work. However, as Bofill reveals in this interview from Vladimir Belogolovsky's “City of Ideas” series, his designs are actually rooted in concepts of regionalism and process which, while recently popular with the architectural community at large, have underpinned his architectural mind since his twenties.
Vladimir Belogolovsky: Your office, a former cement factory, La Fabrica, built back in late 19th century here in Barcelona is fascinating. Would you say it is a manifesto project and is it a work in progress for you or is it finished?
Ricardo Bofill: No, this is not a manifesto. This place is my home. I have lived and worked here for over 40 years. It is not finished and it will never be finished. I think architecture can never be finished. It always needs more work. We started this project by doing demolition, destruction, and deconstruction work first. I loved this place when I first discovered it because it was never planned or designed. Instead, it developed over many years, expanding and rebuilding every time new technology was introduced. It was an homage to industry. The factory reminded me of vernacular architecture. It was industrial vernacular that attracted me. Also there were so many surreal moments such as stairs and bridges going nowhere and arches and porticos in the most unexpected places… I started with a very romantic idea to bring nature into this industrial place. There are plants everywhere. There is a whole ecological layer planted on top of the original industrial complex.
Yuri Grigoryan founded Project Meganom in 1999 in Moscow with his partners Alexandra Pavlova, Iliya Kuleshov, and Pavel Ivanchikov. Together, the group all graduated from Moscow’s Architectural Institute, MArchI in 1991, the year of the Soviet Union’s collapse, and then practiced at the studio of Moscow architect Alexander Larin. Today Project Meganom is headed by Grigoryan, Iliya Kuleshov, Artem Staborovsky, and Elena Uglovskaya, and keeps in close contact with the theoretical side of architecture: Grigoryan teaches at his alma mater and until recently he was the Director of Education at Strelka Institute, founded in 2009 under the creative leadership of Rem Koolhaas, while in 2008 the practice was involved in the Venice Architecture Biennale with their San Stae project for curator Yuri Avvakumov's “BornHouse” exhibition. All of this gives Grigoryan an interesting overview of Russia's unique architectural context. In this interview from his “City of Ideas” column, Vladimir Belogolovsky speaks with Grigoryan about the issues facing Russian architecture and how Project Meganom has responded to those challenges.
Vladimir Belogolovsky: You travel often and participate in student critiques in the West and in Russia. Do you notice any particular difference in approaches?
Yuri Grigoryan: First, the West is not homogeneous. For example, in the late 1980s, during what was then a very rare trip to the USA I had a chance to visit some of the leading studios and schools. I remember how during our visit to the IIT in Chicago the students would sit and methodically place four pieces of paper, forming laconic spaces precisely following Mies van der Rohe’s principles. That was very strange and I did not see any influences coming from outside of that particular school of thought. I could say the same about Russia. At the height of the Constructivist movement, the teachings of our great educators Nikolai Ladovsky and his students Ivan Lamtsov and Mikhail Turkus at Vkhutemas lead to the situation where the figure of a teacher lost its meaning; it was replaced with methodology that was to be obeyed as if it were a sort of religion.
Throughout the course of his career, the forms present in Zvi Hecker's work have undergone significant changes – from the rigidly geometric shapes of his early work such as his Ramot Polin housing and Synagogue in the Negev Desert, to his more freeform recent works like the Jewish School he designed in Berlin. Hecker, though, sees all of his works as both consistent with each other and individual, describing himself as “an artist whose profession is architecture.” In this interview from his “City of Ideas” column, Vladimir Belogolovsky speaks with Hecker about his inspirations and the ideas that underpin his career.
Vladimir Belogolovsky: I visited the Heinz-Galinski school here in Berlin where your original idea came from the pattern of sunflower seeds; it was not the first time you used it. Could you talk about your fascination with the sunflower, and why you think it is a good guiding principle for a building?
Zvi Hecker: Well, one can’t qualify it as a blueprint for every building. This one was the first Jewish school built in Berlin after the Holocaust. Coming from Israel, I wondered—what could I bring to the children of Berlin? A flower is a natural present and a sunflower is a common flower in Israel. What began as a sunflower evolved into a series of continuously changing images. Already in the construction stage, it looked to some like a kind of a small city with winding streets and courtyards, not really a building. Later on when the schematic model of the load-bearing walls was made, we were surprised to find out that “pages of an open book” were hidden in our design. We didn’t realize it earlier—in Hebrew, school is Beth-Sefer, which literally means “house of the book.”
As a Japanese immigrant who has spent much of her life in the United States, the architecture of Toshiko Mori occupies an interesting space: on one hand, the material and tectonic culture of Japan is, as she puts it, her “DNA.” On the other hand, her work clearly draws inspiration from the Modernists of 20th century America, and most notably from Mies van der Rohe. In this interview from his “City of Ideas” series, Vladimir Belogolovsky speaks with Mori (his former architecture professor) about materials, details, and the inspiration behind her work.
Vladimir Belogolovsky: You came to the US as a teenager with your parents from Japan in the 1960s. Were you interested in art early on back in Japan or was it something that you discovered already here?
Toshiko Mori: I was already interested in art as a child, always drawing, painting, making sculptures and models. I continued doing that here.
As one of the most revered and often reviled architects of the latter part of the 20th century, Peter Eisenman has courted controversy throughout his 50-year career, often attempting to distance himself from the work of his contemporaries and standing in firm opposition to popular trends. In this interview, Eisenman elaborates on his beliefs about architecture and the new direction he has taken in recent years – while simultaneously pulling no punches when discussing the work of others, including Rem Koolhaas, Richard Meier, and even his younger self.
The interview is a shortened version of the latest of three interviews with Peter Eisenman (from October 2003, June 2009, and February 2016) that comprise the upcoming book by Vladimir Belogolovsky “Conversations with Peter Eisenman.” The book, published by Berlin-based DOM Publishers will be presented during the opening days at the 15th Venice Architecture Biennale in late May this year.
As the founder of SITE, an architecture firm most widely-known for their seminal series of stores for BEST in the 1970s, James Wines has become something of an anomaly in the field of architecture: originally an artist, his approach of creating architecture as a form of cultural criticism struck a chord almost universally, delighting critics and the public alike. In this interview, the latest in Vladimir Belogolovsky's “City of Ideas” column, Wines explains the ideas behind those early designs and how his subsequent works have continued that thread of ideas.
Vladimir Belogolovsky: You were born in Oak Park near Chicago, a town known for its many houses designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Were you aware of them early on and did this fact play a particular role in your interest in architecture?
James Wines: Even as a child, I was very aware of Wright as the generator of really “different” kinds of buildings. Subliminally, this exposure to a neighborhood of masterworks must have played a major role in shaping my aesthetic choices in life. I was born and lived in Oak Park until my first year of high school. My mother seemed to dislike Wright-designed houses and, since her aesthetic tastes were very much molded by middle-American conservatism, she actually felt that his houses had ruined the neighborhood. [Laughs.]
Founded in 1989, Asymptote Architecture is one of those rare practices that gained their initial notoriety despite the fact that in the early years of their practice most of their designs went unbuilt. As a result, only in the last decade or so have the practice's futuristic and parametric forms truly been tested as physical architecture, with projects such as the Yas Viceroy Hotel in Abu Dhabi. In this installment of his “City of Ideas” column,Vladimir Belogolovsky speaks with Asymptote founders Hani Rashid and Lise Anne Couture about their inspirations, the creation of space and whether architecture can ever be thought of as solving problems.
Vladimir Belogolovsky: I noticed little arrows at your reception saying, “Administration” to the left, “Picabia” to the left, “Studio 2” to the left, “Duchamp” to the right…What are these things?
Hani Rashid: These are the names we have attributed to our meeting spaces using the names of the influences that are acting on us, our cultural ghosts. For example, the room we are now in is “Constant” referring to the great visionary Constant Nieuwenhuys but also a play on “constant” as a verb meaning something is always happening here. [Laughs.] And this naming system also serves to remind us that the work that we do here is not only about the “business” of designing buildings but more importantly, it has to do with the nature of our thinking and a shared passion in this office for developing new and insightful ideas.