Indesign editor Alice Blackwood chats to Patrik Schumacher, principal of Zaha Hadid Architects.
December 6th, 2017
AB: Tell me briefly about yourself – your background and what has led you to this point, as principal of Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA)?
PS: I studied architecture at the University of Stuttgart and then London’s Southbank University where I first became aware of Zaha’s work. I was getting impatient as a student, and her work was like a lightning-rod to me. It demonstrated the remarkable possibilities for design to be something so different – so much more exciting and dynamic – and had a huge influence on me. One of Zaha’s greatest achievements was the radical transformation of what it means to design; originating from the fluidity and dynamism that she explored in her paintings.
I began working with Zaha almost 30 years ago – there was just four of us at that time – and became the project architect of the Vitra Fire Station, Zaha’s first completed project.
We soon began to experiment with curvature in order to articulate the dynamism of contemporary life. We realised that curvature helped to maintain visual legibility on the increasingly complex programs required by our clients and also helped to facilitate navigation through complex projects.
At the time, we realised these fluid geometries would have been incredibly labour intensive to build, but our research into computer modelling and new construction technologies eventually made it possible, as well as making them economically viable. These advancements led to the realisation of some of our most ambitious designs. Through continuous research and innovation, we’ve developed a very strong DNA at Zaha Hadid Architects that does seem to appeal to the public and clients around the world. We currently have 59 projects in 27 countries under construction or in design development, more than at any time in the firm’s history.
Tell me about ZHA’s approach to designing for high-density living. What makes ZHA’s approach unique among global design firms?
We live in an era of renewed urban concentration with new 21st century challenges and opportunities that make this urban renaissance very different from previous urbanisation processes, especially very different from the process of 20th century suburbanisation.
Architecture does not follow fashion or economic cycles – it follows the cycles of innovation generated by social and technological developments. We believe that architecture must change with these new patterns of life to meet increasing demands of their users. Future generations will continue to see even greater levels of complexity and connectivity. Therefore, architecture must move beyond the 20th century architecture of repetitive square blocks of Henry Ford’s era, towards an architecture that addresses the complexities, dynamism and densities of contemporary living in today’s post-Fordist network society.
Our evolving architectural work is gearing up to meet these challenges, working with the latest design methodologies, material research and construction technologies.
ZHA is probably most widely known for its expressive architectural forms. Tell me about the rigour, discipline and design thinking that underpins the ZHA approach?
Architecture does not exist in a bubble. Technologies such as virtual reality, artificial intelligence, big data, robotics and 3D printing are enabling architects to address complex issues. We’ve always deeply believed in this multidisciplinary collaborative approach to architecture and these new technologies are changing the way we will design and construct in the future.
We are researching new design techniques, materials, and construction methods that bring significant environmental benefits, encourage social integration and offer economic savings. As these different clusters of research come together, we are beginning to develop solutions to the important challenges of our era.
Our designs encourage continual progress in the development of new technologies, and our collaborators continue to respond by providing ever more advanced design and construction applications that are pushed into the mainstream to benefit all. There is a strong reciprocal relationship whereby our more avant-garde designs encourage the development of new digital technologies and fabrication techniques – and those new developments, in turn, inspire us to push the design envelope even further. Great things come from this method of working!
Check out the London Science Museum by ZHA.
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