At 92 years of age, for his entire career Yona Friedman has occupied an unusual spot within the architecture world; his signature concept, the Ville Spatiale which he first proposed in 1956, combines the top-down megastructural thinking visible in later projects such as Archigram's Plug-In City with a total freedom for occupants to design and build their own homes within the structure. In this installment of his “City of Ideas” column, Vladimir Belogolovsky interviews Friedman at his home in Paris to talk about the Ville Spatiale and his theories of mobile and improvised architecture.
VLADIMIR BELOGOLOVSKY is the founder of the New York-based non-profit Curatorial Project. Trained as an architect at Cooper Union in New York, he has written nine books, including New York: Architectural Guide (DOM, 2019), Conversations with Architects in the Age of Celebrity (DOM, 2015), Harry Seidler: LIFEWORK (Rizzoli, 2014), and Soviet Modernism: 1955-1985 (TATLIN, 2010). Among his numerous exhibitions: world tours of the work of Harry Seidler (since 2012), Emilio Ambasz (2017- 18), Sergei Tchoban (since 2016), Colombia: Transformed (American Tour, 2013-15), and Chess Game for Russian Pavilion at the 11th Venice Architecture Biennale (2008). Belogolovsky is the American correspondent for Berlin-based architectural journal SPEECH. In 2018, he was a visiting scholar at Tsinghua University in Beijing. He has lectured at universities and museums in more than 30 countries. Belogolovsky’s column, City of Ideas, introduces ArchDaily’s readers to his latest conversations with the most innovative international architects. Since 2002, he interviewed over 300 architects. These intimate conversations are featured in the curator’s ongoing site-specific installations made up of voice recordings and thought- provoking quotes.
Interview with Yona Friedman: “Imagine, Having Improvised Volumes ‘Floating’ In Space, Like Balloons”
I am fortunate to have seen numerous beautiful buildings and spaces, so when I recently went to Olot near Girona, Spain, to explore the works of 2017 Pritzker Prize Laureates, RCR Arquitectes, I thought I was all prepared. But even though I was familiar with their works through publications, what I encountered firsthand, moved me in the most surprising and delightful ways. The sheer ingenuity and brilliance of these structures, so integral to their places and consequential of their given programs, empower architecture and yield sensations that are truly special and unforgettable.
"It is a Divine Feeling When You Can Leave the First Mark on the Ground”: In Conversation with Eli Armon
Eliezer Armon was born in Tel Aviv, Israel in 1955. He tried a number of career choices, including studying engineering, mathematics, and serving three and a half years in the Israeli Defense Forces, before, at the age of 25, deciding on pursuing architecture. Along the way, he also dedicated himself to becoming a Kabala scholar and a martial artist, and after 50 years of practice he is a 6th Dan master in Dennis survival Jiu-Jitsu method. Both fascinations have contributed profoundly to his work as an architect. Also, after years of duty in reserve at the Israeli Defense Forces, he was discharged with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Armon graduated from the Architecture School at the Technion in Haifa in 1985. After working at a large office in Tel Aviv he was hired as the chief engineer of Immanuel, a small settlement in Samaria. A few years later he became the chief engineer of Be'er Sheva, the capital of the Negev and the largest city in the south of Israel, becoming, at the age of 35, the youngest city engineer in all of Israel. He was responsible for planning housing and infrastructure in the region, leading the design and construction of 10,000 dwelling units in Be’er Sheva, resulting in a rapid growth of the city.
Odile Decq was born in 1955 in Laval, France and studied at École Régionale d'Architecture in Rennes, Brittany. She graduated from the École Nationale Supérieure D'architecture in Paris-La Villette in 1978 and received her diploma from the Paris Institute of Political Studies in 1979. Decq set up her practice in Paris the same year and soon met Benoît Cornette who was studying medicine at the time but switched to architecture. By 1985 he received his architecture degree and the couple renamed their firm into ODBC. In 1996, ODBC won the Golden Lion in Venice for their drawings, selected out of a pool of invited emerging voices that included Zaha Hadid, Enric Miralles, and Liz Diller and Ric Scofidio. That was the beginning of the computer drawings, expressing movement, ambiguities, layering, and overall new dynamics that characterize Decq’s liberated forms and spaces.
Boris Bernaskoni (born 1977, Moscow, Russia) is the leading Russian architect of his generation. He is interested in what technology can do today, so his architecture would be able to utilize it tomorrow. His work is not about façade aesthetics, which the architect says is the thing of the past. Instead, he is proposing radically new methodologies and prototypes. In the future, Bernaskoni believes, buildings will be immortal because they will continuously evolve and attune themselves to the most current technologies and demands. The ability to transform with the times will be architecture’s most precious commodity.
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 2016 “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.
Architect Giorgi Khmaladze was born in Tbilisi, Georgia in 1982. After graduating from the Tbilisi State Academy of Art in 2002, he was accepted to AA in London but at that time he could not afford studying there. He remained in Georgia, working on his own projects, as well as taking part in various international architecture competitions. In 2010, Khmaladze became the first Georgian who was accepted to Harvard’s GSD on full scholarship, which was provided partially by the university and partially by the Georgian government. He graduated with Master’s in Architecture in 2012 and returned to his practice in Tbilisi. In 2014, his groundbreaking Gas Station/McDonald’s in Batumi won 2014 ArchDaily Building of the Year Award in Commercial Architecture. The architect’s other projects include Georgia National Pavilion at 2010 Shanghai Expo and Coffee Production Plant in Tbilisi. We met at the architect’s small office located at an attractive prismatic glass volume with a pronounced concrete exoskeleton to his own design. We discussed the architect’s intentions, inspirations, and that every one of his projects starts from scratch.
Cities’ greatness should be judged by whether they have succeeded in accumulating extraordinary works of architecture. They can be fantastic for their food, music, or lifestyle overall, but if there is no architecture, they are hard to grasp, they are not anchored, not grounded, not memorable… not real, in a way. Maybe I am a maximalist but there are a number of cities that I visited with just one goal in mind – to see a single extraordinary building. For the record, these cities are Fort Worth, Bilbao, Valencia, San Sebastian, Guangzhou, Sydney, and Kuala Lumpur, among others. The last one on this list has acquired its instantly recognizable image in 1996, when the 88-story Petronas Twin Towers have risen high above it. These unique buildings remained the world’s tallest until 2004. This iconic structure was designed by Argentine-American architect César Pelli who passed away last week at the age of 92.
New York-based architect Eran Chen (b. 1970) was born and grew up in Be'er Sheva, Israel where his Polish-born grandparents, Holocaust survivors, settled right after World War Two. Early on the original long Polish surname was abbreviated to short Chen, which is pronounced “Khen.” In Hebrew, it stands for charm. After four years in the army, following high school, Chen studied architecture at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem, the top architecture school in the country. Upon graduation in 1999, he ventured to New York to gain professional experience. He was hired by Perkins Eastman, a global New York-based giant of over 1,000 architects. In just a few years Chen was made the youngest principal in the company to oversee the design of his own diverse projects, including several competition-winning entries. By then he got married, became a father, a licensed architect, and settled in the city that he now calls home. In 2007, Chen decided to strike on his own. He focused on working with developers on residential projects, mainly in New York, as well as other major cities in the US and around the world. Many of Chen’s projects are situated in dense urban places. They are about reinventing the familiar living typology of buildings as extruded boxes. We met at the architect’s busy Manhattan office of over 100 young, ambitious architects helping Chen to make our cities more livable. We discussed his concept of vertical urban village and the truly democratic idea that every apartment, no matter where it is positioned in the building, can be turned into a penthouse.
As the founder of SITE (Sculpture in the Environment), an architecture firm most widely-known for its seminal series of buildings for the BEST discount-store chain in the 1970s, James Wines (b. 1932, Oak Park, Illinois), originally an artist, introduced his unique approach of practicing architecture as a form of cultural criticism. It struck a chord by delighting the public and infuriating many architects and critics for corrupting architecture with his witty ideas. His buildings were among the first to engage nature head-on, both for pure delight and to raise environmental issues.
“Buildings Have their own Philosophical Backgrounds”: In Conversation with Nikoloz Lekveishvili and Natia Lekveishvili of TIMM Architecture, Tbilisi, Georgia
Nikoloz Lekveishvili (b. 1986), originally from Tbilisi, Georgia, has left his country in 2004 for his bachelor studies to Istanbul Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University and to get Master of Architecture at Politecnico Di Milano. He then practiced architecture in Italy, Germany, Turkey, and India until 2017, when he was attracted back to his home country by emerging economic opportunities and bustling creative scene in this former Soviet republic in the Caucasus. Nikoloz has started his practice, TIMM Architecture the same year together with his younger sister, Natia Lekveishvili (b. 1989) who has graduated from Georgian Technical University in 2012 and worked in local architectural and design-build firms.
The partners’ studio is located in the heart of old Tbilisi in the same building where their parents, architecture professors and practitioners, lead their own research-based office known for documenting historical monuments in the region. We met with Nikoloz and Natia at their studio which also serves as an architectural salon where young architects and students are welcome. In the following conversation, the architects spoke about a journey of emotions, transitioning from light to darkness, being interested in Kintsugi, traces of time, treating buildings like human beings, and of the importance of being selfish in order to create architecture that’s unique and personal.
"If You Can’t Do Beautiful Things You Are Doomed": in Conversation with Zhang Li of Atelier TeamMinus
I live in a bubble. I hop from conversation to conversation with architects who live in their own bubbles. I bounce from one bubble to the next. These bubbles are formed by the gross misalignments and discrepancies between what these architects say and what they do. I like venturing into their fascinating minds; they form the mythology of architecture that I love to inhabit. In the following interview Beijing-based architect, educator, and critic Zhang Li helped me to diagnose these discrepancies. He said, “No matter how moral, how ethical, how correct you are if you can’t do beautiful things you are doomed… Architecture is great because it is beautiful.”
Zhang Li graduated from Tsinghua University in Beijing and taught at prestigious European and American universities. He has been a Professor of Architecture and Chair of the Architecture Department in the School of Architecture, Tsinghua University, China’s most prestigious university. His 50-person practice Atelier TeamMinus was founded in 2001. Since 2012, the architect has been serving as the Editor-in-Chief of the leading Chinese monthly magazine World Architecture. The following is an excerpt from our recent conversation at his Beijing studio.
“One Day All the Dreamers Will Get Together to Build a Fantastic World”: In Conversation with Massimiliano and Doriana Fuksas
Italian architects Massimiliano and Doriana Fuksas were both born and grew up in Rome. Both graduated from La Sapienza University – he in 1969, she a decade later. He started his studies as a painter, she initially persued the history of art. In the early 60s, Massimiliano assisted Giorgio De Chirico and after graduation worked for Archigram in London and then for Henning Larsen and Jørn Utzon in Copenhagen. He started his first practice, the GRANMA in 1967. Doriana joined him in 1985 and became an equal partner in 1997. Subsequent offices were opened in Paris (1989) and in Shenzhen (2004). In 2000, Massimiliano Fuksas served as the Director of the 7th Venice Architecture Biennale under the theme "Less Aesthetics, More Ethics." The duo’s most recognized built works include Museum of Graffiti in Ariege, France; Shenzen Bao'an International Airport; EUR Convention Centre in Rome; New Milan Trade Fair, Rho-Pero; Zenith Music Hall in Strasbourg; and Peres Peace House in Jaffa, Tel Aviv. I met with the architects during their recent visit to New York where so far, they completed only one project, Armani 5th Avenue Flagship Store. We discussed how they start again with every project, their preoccupation with the future, and why buildings should try to become something else.
“As Architects, We Should Be Confident in Our Work”: In Conversation with Weiping Shao of Beijing Institute of Architectural Design and UFo
Contemporary Chinese architects can be divided into two main categories. One is a huge network of government and university-owned design institutes and the other –independent, privately-run architects’ studios, a phenomenon that was started by Beijing-based architect Yung Ho Chang when he opened the very first such practice in 1993. While it is these independent architects that succeeded in producing many, mostly small-scale original works that collectively established a new architectural identity that is unmistakably Chinese, it is the design institutes that produce the greatest bulk of the built environment in the country. For this reason, I wanted to talk to Weiping Shao, the Chief Executive Architect of the Beijing Institute of Architectural Design, BIAD. In a way, Mr. Shao is the chief architect of the Chinese capital. He also serves as the Executive Director of the Architectural Society of China. Shao graduated from Tongji University in Shanghai in 1984 with a master’s degree. Apart from heading BIAD’s design efforts, the architect is the head and leading designer of his 30-architect studio called UFo, which was founded in 2003. We met at Shao’s office, full of international magazines and with an expansive view over Downtown Beijing and spoke with the help of translator and architect Zewo Zhou who works at the studio.