It was in 1988, at London’s Tate Gallery during the Deconstructivism conference held in anticipation of MoMA’s eponymous exhibition that I first encountered Zaha Hadid in person. She was lecturing among her six co-exhibitors: Peter Eisenman, Rem Koolhaas, Frank Gehry, Wolf Prix, Bernard Tschumi, and Daniel Libeskind. I had encountered her work a few years earlier as a young architecture student (at Stuttgart University) and was stunned and thrilled by the unprecedented degrees of compositional freedom, versatility and dynamism in her work. Up until then I had not been so sure if architecture was such a good career choice for me. I was rather underwhelmed and bored by architecture but, through my encounter with Zaha’s incredible work, architectural design unexpectedly transformed into an adventure. The bounds of architectural possibilities had shifted. Thirty years later, this sense of adventure continues. Zaha changed our field and changed everything for me.
Neoliberal post-fordism poses a dramatic challenge to urbanism as we have come to know it since the early 20th century. The public planning process has become more and more an embarrassment and obstacle to urban and economic flourishing. It’s a relic of a bygone era. The high point of urban planning was the post-war era of socialist planning and re-construction of the built environment. With respect to this period we can speak about physical or perhaps ‘positive planning’, in the sense of governments formulating concrete plans and designs about what to build. This era has long gone as society evolved beyond the simple fordist society of mechanical mass production to our current post-fordist networked society. When a few basic standards were functionally separate, optimized and endlessly repeated, central planning could still cope with the pace of societal progress. The world we live in today is far too multi-faceted, complex and dynamic to be entrusted to a central planning agency. The old model broke apart as it could not handle the level of complexity we live with and our cities should accommodate. The decentralized information processing mechanism of the market was indeed capable of managing such levels of complexity and, for this reason, has effectively taken over all positive decision-making processes.