Educating the Architect

Alejandro Zaera-Polo in conversation with Roemer van Toorn

The Berlage Institute from A to Z

RvT Universities and schools of architecture help people to become an architect, in the same way you learn to be a lawyer or a doctor. With Wiel Arets as dean the Berlage-Institute was after another kind of teaching. The students who apply at the Berlage-Institute are already practicing architects and come here – after years of frustration being in an office working for other architects – to develop their own agenda. While he stressed the making Wiel also brought in more theoretical reflections. The Institute was furthermore not only providing a service for each individual to develop his or her thesis. We confronted the students with assignments from within the Netherlands. What will be the next step for the Berlage-Institute, according to you Alejandro, as the new dean?
AZP I was invited to the Berlage-Institute by Wiel Arets in the very beginning of his term. During those first contacts I met some of the students who were at the Institute during the deanship of Herman Hertzberger, who were still into the system. My impression is that the Hertzberger period was a very exciting time, almost the hippie-period of the Berlage, orgy like … Probably it did not have yet a very clear structure, nor a clear didactic program, but great excitement and very motivated people. Typical heroic period… I think Wiel’s term has been a period of consolidation, both of academic and financial consolidation He has provided a more structured organization and probably a more focused direction to the research in the Institute. I think that what we should aim now is to develop a more special profile that will make the Institute a unique International institution.
As a Postgraduate Laboratory, the Berlage should find a specificity that distinguishes it from a school that makes it specific in respect to American schools but also in respect to other European postgraduate programs. Obviously the Berlage has already built up an important and worldwide known reputation andnetwork. There are no such institutions in America or Asia. 
The fact that the Berlage-Institute is in Holland – and obviously Holland has been forthe last 15 years one of the most interesting places generating newarchitecture – makes it a very strategic location in the international debate. Maybe this is a kind of optimistic perspective but I believe as theEuropean consolidation advances, industries tend to concentrate in certainregions: automotive industry in Germany, luxury manufacturing in Northern Italy, telecommunications in Scandinavia … Why not toimagine that Rotterdam may become the centre of architectural and urbanplanning services in Europe, taking advantage of a very well built local,cultural and productive infrastructure? If so, the Berlage may become acrucial part of this infrastructure. The target would be to make theBerlage a European research institution based in the Netherlands, ratherthan just a local architectural school. 
RvT During Wiel’s period the Berlage-Institute became famous for itsurban research, for its architecture critique, bringing cultural studies intothe field of architecture, and for its critical brief writing from theperspective of the program of architecture and urbanism. What kind of directions have you in mind with the Berlage-Institute Alejandro? 
AZP I am also fundamentally interested in the Berlage as a laboratoryrather than as a school. I am interested in doing more applied research,rather than defining general themes of research. Search for opportunities of research in specific cases of reality. I am interested in a kind of opportunistic research that is able to engage very directly in the processesof transformation of the built environment. I am interested in reality as afield of research that is able to offer a certain level of friction to the research and that can provide certain accountability to the work in theInstitute. I am interested in developing an institution that will have atransformative impact both on the built environment and in thecontemporary culture in a very concrete and direct manner. In order to produce the convergence of speculative practice with realisticperformance, the identification of concrete domains of operation, eithergeographical zones, media, formats or subjects is crucial. Both the knowledge and the debate within the Institute should have an effectivecapacity of transformation, rather than remain as a purely speculativepractice. 
I am not at all interested in visionary projects, or in individual authors. Contemporary postgraduate architectural education is basicallyformed in the ‘80s author-centred practices rather than focusing onsubjects or problems. Students seem to go to postgraduate schoolslooking to become the next great prophet of architecture without realisingthat not only the statistic probabilities for that to happen are very small,but also that even the greatest figures need to develop a great capacity tounderstand the situation where they operate and its relationships withtheir field of interest. We are in an expanding disciplinary field andobviously, what can you better teach to people -aiming at a higher level of education -is how to be resourceful in getting information and how toput things together rather than telling them what Architecture is, as arecipe, that is obviously something of the past. All the good schools like the AA and Columbia are based on this model. However, the model theyhave developed is largely based on the 80’s model of architect, withstrong character and “vision”. The architect-artist or the architect-performer. That type of architect is unable to engage effectively in theswarm-like, complex reality where most architects have to operate today.Is not about constructing individualities but about understandingmultiplicities. Is not about visions but about opportunities. I am convinced that the Liberal Arts Model in which all these Schools are based is exhausted and has reached its limits by deriving into thesystematic production of eccentricity and authorship rather thandeveloping models to handle the generic, the multiple, the impersonal…Understand the effect on the swarm that small changes of direction mayhave, rather than embracing vision and originality as our operative mode.In this sense the 80’s postgraduate education “a la carte” is unable to generate solid knowledge able to be used outside the institutions, andworst, produces over-educated professionals that are usually unable toengage productively in anything for several years, doomed under theweight of their own personal visions. 
Also, I am interested in exploring anew breed of architectural knowledge, that in a way has been left aside bythe educational institutions in the last ten years. Individuals are formed as a by product of knowledge, rather than the other way around.Contemporary research is typically directed towards fields of knowledgethat are basically supra-disciplinary (economics, sociology,philosophy…) or sub-disciplinary (engineering, constructionmanagement…) In this landscape, the possibility of producing knowledgeable to effectively analyse and articulate both levels of knowledge is aniche to exploit to which the structure of the Institute is particularlyadequate. 
Furthermore I believe that postgraduate education, as we knowit and how it is refined at most important institutions, is starting tobecome a little bit obsolete. In the last years there has been an ever-expanding domain in the architecture discipline that has lead the researchor experimental practices to direct themselves very closely to discusstheoretically what architecture is, what the discipline is formally. What is lacking now in the current landscape is an institution that focuses moreon structuring the thinking on how to make a project. Now it seems that when you talk about “research” in an architectural school it means reading, theorizing, doing cultural studies or gathering statistics. Issues of technology, geometry, structural design, and typological analysis … have been overlooked by current research. Research is very much equal to the production of text and graphics. Text is not necessarily the only form of research that you can do. Architectural research has to deal specificallywith the tools and matters of architecture, and has to be fundamentallyaimed at architecture as a product.
RvT Perhaps the trick of the strategies devices Wiel put forward each year – challenging everybody at the institute to define, to interpret, togive meaning to a word like “Conflict”, “Forces”, “Field” or “Double Dutch” is that this culture of different expertise interpretations promoteda stimulating culture of debate and research. The climate of confrontation and support by different voices – positions in and outside architecture ­helps the student to orient him/herself beyond mainstream platitudes, to develop his/her own cultural agenda and menatlity. The technique ofmaking you can learn relatively easy while it is much more difficult todevelop an independent and critical position towards society. How would you see the focus of the institute? Would you allow a same kind of widerange of interpretations as Wiel put forward to orient and challenge thestudent? Or would you prefer more specificity because the educationalmethod of the past didn’t bring deep enough research results?
AZP If you are able to channel more the research then the output wouldbe more sophisticated. I am not at all interested in students who think they know what they are about, but in those who are prepared to find outby engaging in research they did not even know before. I am 15 yearsolder than them and I am happy not to know what I am about yet. And what I am involved in now I hope it will change in the future. If you aretruly interested in learning things you have to keep your mind open andlet things happen, learn to fly in a swarm… This idea of the school “a la carte” is a product of the consumer education and produces products likeMacDonald’s. When you go to MacDonald’s, especially in the US, theymake you believe you have enormous choice, when at the end everythingtastes the same. I would rather go to a Kaiseki restaurant where there isonly one menu and you can not choose, but everything is extremelysophisticated and new. I am more interested in that approach to the designof the future Berlage menu, and I am more interested in a clientele opento experience new flavors rather than rejoice in the ones they know. 
RvT How do you see the relation between the development of the thesisof the student and the institutional research the berlage is interested in? Ishere a conflict between what the institute wants and the student is lookingfor or earlier a synergy (and how do you see that synergy then)? How doyou guarantee good education and high profile research at the same time?
AZP I think a thesis is a format that belongs to other disciplines, likephilosophy, literature, physics… An architect’s thesis is a kind of imposition on the dynamics of the architectural practice that I am not sureyet it works… I would rather structure architectural research around a concrete project, the development of a prototype, a new technique for synthesizing hybrid programs or to design with viscoelastic joints…When you talk about a thesis you already precluding the output to awritten one. You are giving priority to non architectural technology.Firstly I am much more interested in developing research that is specificto the discipline and its instruments. Secondly, I do not think that morethan 5% of the students engaged in postgraduate education are capable intwo years of producing a truly interesting piece of research bythemselves. To think that as a single individual you can compete in termsof producing architectural research with offices, companies andinstitutions with large and experienced teams and abundant resources iskind of naïve. When you have been in the academic circuit for ten years,like myself, you get really bored to travel 7000 miles to be in a jurywhere you see the same kind of smart guys trying to impress you withoriginal and unique research that you have seen already ten times in otherschools. It is much more informative, for example, to talk to people fromthe research department of a construction company on how to reducemanufacturing costs by using a certain arrangement… A certain awareness that the relevant subjects in a certain age are just a few and thereal sophistication and originality is to find a new personal perspective onthem is a very necessary reflection to offer to the students. If a student comes to you with a research on, let’s say the ionic order, you should tryto dissuade him or her from proceeding. You may be foreclosinggroundbreaking research and suppressing the desires of an individual, butthe likelihood that will not lead into anything worthwhile is too large torisk valuable time and resources in it. To identify those frames of relevantresearch is the job of the Dean of the Institute. And of course, to be ableto identify when someone is proposing something that is worthconsidering despite not being comprised in the main frame of research.But to take for granted that every individual in the school will make asignificant individual research is not only unbelievably optimistic, butalso irresponsible as a management strategy. I believe that the individualism to that degree is culturally a dead end already for a fewdecades. The real education consist today in constructing individuals thatare able to understand their multiplicity and the mediation andconstruction of all desires through a very complex network of relations,and to be able to operate within these constraints.
RvT Herman Hertzberger philosophy was that students should do 15designs in one year and should learn to do a lot of things at the same time.The Berlage Institute should prepare the student for the architecturepractice were you have to act fast, be creative, present well, do research,work in teams. In simple words the education program was mimicking ahigh quality innovative architecture practice. The students were always very busy even when they did not know precisely what they were doingthemselves.
AZP Postgraduate education, as it is defined now in the mostsophisticated institutions, is very much based on a star architecturemodel, in which students go to Columbia, the AA or the Berlage Instituteto study with a certain guy or personality, because that’s what you see inthe magazines. Students want to become another star architect. Things don’t work like that. There are a lot of very bright architects from mygeneration that didn’t hit the big times while other less capable ones havemanaged to get their own practices. 
I am much more interested to developa type of research and therefore education that is based in issues andsubjects that are out there, and by doing that being engaged with theproduction of the institute in process. You don’t come to work here to work with a certain person. You come to the Berlage because you areinterested in certain issues you like to work on with highly qualifiedexperts. Maybe that will be a certain drawback – without branding theinstitute through stars could be a problem to get students in -hopefullywe will be able to come up with challenging research proposals engagedin reality that counteracts the 80s education; turning education around.Looking for research not so much with someone but aiming directly ataffecting the world outside.
Another important point for me in myprogram is that we will work with third parties outside the institute. Like municipalities, institutions, the government, developers, etc. who say;“we have a problem here, can you help us solving this problem?”Whereby the Institute will research a problem that is directly involvedwith reality. I am very interested in the model of direct action as opposedto the ivory tower that speculative research tends to become. That is the opposite of going to ask a well-known personality, because he or she isfamous and cool, “what do you want to do?” I am much more interested in looking outside and getting clients involved who will tell us what isneeded, where are the opportunities for action.
RvT The institute teaches students to be independent researchers in thefield of architecture and urbanism, to present and foremost to intervenewith projects in society in an innovative, independent, critical andrelevant manner. How can we, as institute move beyond an agenda set bythe much needed independent, innovative and critical individual practice?
AZP I must say that the paradigm of the “critical” is in my opinion partof the intellectual models that became operative in the early 20th centuryand presumed that in order to succeed we should take a kind of“negative” view towards reality, in order to be creative, in order to produce new possibilities. In my opinion, today the critical individualpractice that has characterized intellectual correctness for most of the20th Century is no longer particularly adequate to deal with a culturedetermined by processes of transformation on a scale and complexitydifficult to understand. Talking about the critical individual may be evendemagogic, especially when selling it to the students. I would rather be more sincere, avoid to make false illusions, and rather talk about a new“productive” rather than “critical” paradigm in which the criticaldecisions can not be made on the whole system, -let’s say capitalismversus Marxism or Democracy versus Fundamentalism -but on a much more concrete and haptic level. That means that you have to befundamentally engaged in the processes and learn to manipulate themfrom the inside. You never get that far into the process as a critical individual. If we talk in terms of the construction of subjectivity, thecritical belongs to Freud a Lacan, what I called “productive”, to Deleuze. 

What should the architect enact tomorrow?
RvT On the occasion of the farewell of Wiel Arets and your welcome asnew dean of the Institute I asked many architects, theoreticians, curatorsand alumni of the Berlage to reflect upon the question “What will/should the architect enact tomorrow?” 
Elia Zenghelis talked about the need to “Start again” in architecture and urbanism. “The retro-active manifesto has come to an end”, he said. The systematic idealization of data (oftensubversive in its contradiction) generated by the latest phase of capitalism
– which made Dutch architecture (in developing new concepts) for ourSecond Modernity so famous -is no longer able to propose innovativeand foremost progressive prototypes. The culture of sprawl whereeverything is submerging in consumerism and atomisation (even in itsmost subversive or ironic pragmatism), but also the inherent politicalclimate of corporate globalism, are both developments which peoplemore and more start to question as being an appropriate to projectalternatives for live in space. Elia Zenghelis, like Peter Eisenman,believes that the structure, the language of architecture, the formal insteadof the program is capable today to counter the culture of sprawl. What they propose is to investigate the syntax of matter instead of thesociology of space. 
AZP I think that this is a polemical statement that is interesting in someways, as a whole generation of architects, to whom I belong, has grownup thinking that to be idealistic, to be visionary, to try to impose formalvisions onto the world is nonsense. If you were to ask 15 years ago toarchitects of the generation that today is around 55, what they thought about developers, shopping malls, etc. they would have probably said it was bad. They looked at themselves and at architecture as an activity of“resistance”. If you ask today to any of the around 40 generation, wewould all tell you that we think those are very interesting worlds toengage with and that contemporary architecture is about surfing in thoseworlds. Rem was probably the first architect of that generation whochanged the chip and started to propose that complicity was a far moreproductive attitude than resistance, and he used the “retroactive manifesto” to explain that precisely the most insane and mundaneconditions have produced the most interesting architecture, by looking atNew York, Singapore, Lagos. The engagement of my generation withcomplicity, quantitative analysis, factual data, consumerism and so on is adevelopment of that shift initiated in the retroactive manifesto, and I stillbelieve in it, I still believe that visionary architecture and politicalresistance are very unproductive attitudes to sustain for architects wholead a whole generation of architects to loose the chances to effectivelyengage in the transformation of the environment. So I believe that the path open by the retroactive manifesto is a good one, and complicity is agood antidote for idealism and barren visionary attitudes. I think that going back to language and formalism would be to forget the valuablelessons of the retroactive manifesto. What I would say after ten years ofdata and shopping malls is that the retroactive manifesto is not enough,and that we need to set up new references so that people do not think thatthe fact that they use data, build shopping malls and deal with developersconclude that they are making substantial contributions to the world ofarchitecture. Those worlds do not need architects to exist. What is important to define is what an architect does within those worlds, andhow can we assess its performance from the perspective of the disciplineof architecture. 
The fundamental question here is how to operate beyonda fixed system of values and conventions, in order to survive the constantchanges of conditions in which we have to operate. The practice ofarchitecture as a reference to discourses, a system of values orconventions, as a language etc. has been greatly destabilized by theprocesses of change that characterize our productive context. In this context, operations on productive processes appear to be moreappropriate as creative postures and generators of new possibilities thancriticism. Architecture today is more than ever an experimental activitygiven the growing difficulty of operating with a priori discernment, eitherof a critical or a visionary nature. To practice like a judge, or as atheoretician that reflects on reality and questions what has up until nowbeen considered as good practice. But to judge we need references, systems of value, comparisons … and these are more than ever before difficult to find in solid form.
The problem is that we can’t absolutely give
up judgement a posteriora either. The question is how to overcome theoperative paradigm that has come to dominates all disciplines and theintellectual or productive practices: the critical process. The solution perhaps lies within the interior of the construction process; to be able toconstruct sequences of micro-judgements that operate on very specificand concrete aspects of the project. To take down the great paradigms ofreferences into chains of small local decisions in time and space, that wecan realize without resorting to grand visions, or absolute references. 
RvT Isn’t there a risk that architecture, by concentrating on its technique,forgets the engagement with the social? Lars Lerup answers one of thequestions I asked him to write about in Hunch 6 with a statement: “Our task is to build and rebuild the democratic city. Operate beyond the borders of your project. Make a Gift to the Street! Ethics!” Are you not afraid that with the much needed “start again manifest” the Berlage endsup celebrating the autonomy of architecture? That the designed (sublime)object can either solve it all can just be self-referential or provide aservice? (I fear the Swiss and Singapore democracy).
AZP I do not know if there is a risk, but in any case it would be a riskworth taking if the outcome were good architecture. You do not need to keep reminding yourself that you are engaged with the social: the socialis one of the materials of architecture, and you need to work with it. What I do not believe is that the purpose of architecture should be set in socialor political objectives. 
All of the cultural analysis that architecture wentthrough in the eighties does not seem particularly adequate to deal withthe production of an architecture that has to operate in an increasinglymixed and unstable cultural background. Perhaps as a reaction to that sortof architectural discourse, focused almost exclusively on social, political,and cultural developments, we have tried to put the emphasis of ourpractice on the architectural construct, on the materiality of the project,and on its organizational qualities. Geometry, construction, organization,materiality, technique, and pragmatics have become an alternative for atemporary suspension of the exclusivity of cultural analysis. This is not to neglect the value of a theoretical perspective for the practice ofarchitecture. Those architects who are not able to construct a theoretical perspective on their work die very young, and run out of possibilities todevelop. To think theoretically generates a certain capacity to look at thework not purely from inside but to see it in an economic or social context.What is less evident is the kind of thought that can actually contribute tothe practice of architecture. There are certain theoretical approaches thatare completely inoperative as a focus for an architectural practice. At most, what these approaches can do is to turn an architectural practice, ­fundamentally a form of production-, into a practice of cultural critique.This can also be interesting, but as a practitioner I am more interested in aperspective that allows us to problematise architectural techniquesspecifically, to develop an architectural discourse out of the productiverather than out of the critical. 
As an architect, involvement in thoseexternal processes finally becomes significant if they are used as anexcuse to open new architectural potentials. It is irrelevant whether we are doing malls and transportation buildings or churches and schools.Malls or theme parks do not need an architect to come into being: theyhappen spontaneously. We need to make these developments internal tothe logic of the discipline; and you don’t do that by writing more andmore about minorities, migrations, gender, globalisation, or new culturalpatterns but by finding a correlation between the emergent political,economical and social processes and certain architectural techniques,geometries and organizations.
We have been through a decade of politicalcorrectness in architecture that has not produced a single good architect.If I look at the architects that interest me, Le Corbusier dealt with Vichy,Mies sold himself to American corporations, Rem is an accomplish ofcommercial interests and Jacques Herzog is making beautiful enclosuresfor the international high culture… And so what? They are all inevitablyengaged with the social, is part of the materials they handle, but thedriving force of their practice is not to produce social effects, butarchitectural ones. Lars’ statement seem to me totally irrelevant in termsof defining what architecture should be, and Swiss democracy hasproduced a generation of the best architects in the world.
RvT How do you relate the fact that we need to know more about the lifeand times surrounding buildings and the much needed revitalization ofthe profession with its own specific language?
AZP I am not sure if I understand the question properly. If you refer tothe relevance that program has acquired as an architectural material in thepast 15 years, it is obvious that we can not longer ignore thatprogrammatic factors are of great relevance in the assemblage ofmaterials of different sorts that construct architectural organizations. I think they have always been, the difference between now and let’s say,the Enlightenment, when the array of building typologies started to haveentity as an urban science, society’s rhythm of change has acceleratedenormously and the life cycle of buildings decreased substantially. This means that we have to rethink the nature of the assemblage betweenmaterial program and other materials to increase the capacity of buildingsto deal with the different consistencies that those components acquire inthe contemporary conditions. 
However, the idea that an architecture is
interesting simply because it has an innovative program is somehowovervalued. Legions of architects are now trying to justify their projectsby the programmatic composition. Certain forms of architectural programs are very interesting as cultural or social phenomena, but thatdoes not guarantee their architectural value. For example, in Tokyo thereare thousands of buildings with really weird programmes and very littlearchitectural value. Even worse is that the way in which architects usuallytalk about programmatic composition. Even in the highest academic circles, it is embarrassingly imprecise. There are several disciplines thatcan talk about this matter with far more precision. To be serious about our capacity to operate with program, we should be able to look at thetechniques that other disciplines use to deal with activities, to learn howto quantify, to use statistics, and to model the effects of a programmaticdistribution. And not only to develop forms of engineering program, butto discern the capacity to produce architectural effects. That is what the prophets of program have not answered yet.
The hybrid as program hasbecome one of the key themes of contemporary architecture culture.Nevertheless it is treated with a laughable degree of imprecision. It seems that the mere joining together of an office with a tennis court or adiscotheque with a church is sufficient to have made architecture with”hybrids”. One of the aspects of real interest, that we have concentratedour academic investigation on since 1993 is the possibility ofunderstanding that activities have physical, material and geometricproperties: weight, friction, hardness, cohesion, durability, and texture…For this reason they can be used to construct in a similar way as to howwe use traditional physical materials. The objective would be to transcendthe social and linguistic consistency of the program, to learn its materialproperties and the form of building with them. At the current time, thereis an absurd proliferation of coloured plans with scattered activity keys orpictograms which attempt to become the new instruments for the makingof an architecture of “the program”. This is a mistaken instrument that probably will never produce any architecture of value. From designingrestaurants, we have learnt a lot about the physical properties of this typeof program. Now we know that the proportion and scale of the dining hallis crucial in producing determined ambient affects; the distances betweenfellow diners or the geometry of the tables and the service circulation. We know the material and we can manipulate it to produce certain effects,although these effects are effectively determined by the culture where theprogram is situated. So you want to join a gymnasium with an office?Very good, but as of yet, we are not talking about architecture. If you ask me why, I’ll tell you if you are making architecture or a socialcommentary or writing a movie script.
RvT After the 11th of September architecture will be confronted moreand more with social and political issues. Does architecture have to choose a certain side? Or is surfing the contemporianety of late capitalismenough, the only possibility?

AZP This is a very complicated question and difficult to answer in ashort time. I am not so sure if the world after 11 September is going tochange so drastically. However, I think that we will go through sometime in which we will be increasingly held accountable for the forms weproduce beyond the architectural domain. I don’t think that it will helpvery much when an architect justifies his or her practice on the fact that ithas a particular political orientation, or that it aims to yield a particular“political effect”. Good architecture produces fundamentally interestingor new architectural effects, and those have an effect in politics and theeconomy, but as a secondary stage. That doesn’t mean that politics arenot a huge force from all these various forces that we have to deal withwhen we are doing a commission or a project. So you need to beconscious that what you are doing has a political color and has a politicaleffect and are to some degree also the results of a political context, but itis difficult to justify your architectural performance in your politicalalignment.
RvT Perhaps the problem is not so much to make political architecture,as to make architecture politically? Or in the words of Benjamin: “Instead of asking, ‘what is the attitude of a work to the relations of production ofits time? Does it accept them, is it reactionary? Or does it aim atoverthrowing them, is it revolutionary?’ – Instead of this question, or atany rate before it, I would like to propose another. Rather than asking,‘What is the attitude of a work to the relations of production of its time?’I would like to ask, ‘What is its true position in them?’ This questiondirectly concerns the function the work has within the literary relations ofproduction of its time. It is concerned, in other words, directly with theliterary technique of works. In bringing up technique, I have named theconcept that makes the literary product accessible to an immediatelysocial, and therefore materialist, analysis. At the same time, the conceptof technique provides the dialectical starting point from which theunfruitful antithesis of form and content can be surpassed.”
AZP I always rejected to give to my students any kind of politicaldirection. I was educated in a very politically charged environment. I consider myself someone with a very strong political awareness simplyfor a biographical reason: I grew up in Franco’s Spain, I was seven yearsold when Franco died and I remember very clearly that we had to learn “how to vote” at school. Learning democracy was a very important partof my upbringing, and that is an experience that most of the people I meetfrom my generation in this profession have not gone through. I have a very clear consciousness that political freedom and democracy are not agiven, you have to construct them. At the architecture school, your workhad to be loaded with political content, but this did not necessarily leadsinto a very interesting production. My friends who became more activelyinvolved in political action are no longer architects today. They became politicians or developers. I think that no matter how politically motivatedwe are as architects, the pleasure we get and give out of building is notpolitical. Our work is finally relevant because we managed to dosomething that relates to a certain architectural tradition and architecturaldiscipline. I think that today, after a decade of cultural theory andpolitical correctness, there is a very important task in finding alsointrinsic values of architectural organization.
RvT Zaha Hadid, Patrik Schumacher but also Hans Ulrich Obrist areorganizing exhibitions around the issue of Utopia. They believe, and Iagree with them, that every time needs its utopia(s). Zaha and Patrik write in their introduction of the exhibition “Latent utopias” that “There is no sense any more in projecting and articulating the Zeitgeist. Everyarchitectural concept or trope is relative with respect to divergentperspectives and interests. Every architectural form multiplies in thekaleidoscope of multiple, temporary audiences. The total social processhas become far too complex to be anticipated within a single vision andutopian image. Other strategies are called for.” Although the utopianspeculation is rather dubious today how do you see the much neededprinciple of hope (as Ernst Bloch put it)?
AZP I would rather operate with the principle of “no hope, no fear” as Michael Speaks puts it. I agree with the idea that utopias can only bemultiple and ephemeral today. They relate to specific environments orsituations, and can be used only temporarily as a guideline. However I still believe that there is a certain Zeitgeist, a certain consistency acrossall those multiple environments that we need to be able to effectivelyunderstand. Call it capitalism, democracy or world-wide-web, thoselocales that are not connected through them are outside the domains thateverybody who will read this interview operates within. Yes there are aboriginal tribes out there which may be very interesting from ananthropological perspective but beyond our field of operation; there arealso fundamentalisms that decide not to enter into these global processesand remain local in time and space. But they are not interesting to me,they are not multicultural by ignorance or will. The idea that everything is local and that there is no Zeitgeist, no consistence across locals is finallyvery dangerous to sustain because ultimately will lead us to a position ofno discussion and no debate. There is a Zeitgeist that can not be anylonger represented in a singular utopian vision, but in a multiplicity of,let’s say, local utopian tendencies. In the show, in which we arerepresented too there will be a great deal of consistency. Leon Krier, andthe Prince of Wales, nor the Taliban, are in the list of exhibits.
This interview is a short version of an conversation between Wiel Arets, Alejandro ZaeraPolo and Roemer van Toorn, published in Hunch 6/7 The Berlage Report edited by JenniferSigler and Roemer van Toorn, Episode publishers, june 2003.