THE MAJORITY OF THE WORLD’S POPULATION LIVE IN CITIES THAT
ARE AFFECTED BY THE WORST CHALLENGES. CITIES MUST CONSTANTLY
INNOVATE TO RESPOND TO THESE CHALLENGES. WHAT IS ARCHITECTURE’S
One role of the architect is to speculate and to dream. In the
context of major demographic shifts, economic growth and policy,
the architect can be the person who thinks a little bit beyond the
process and more about the world at large. Architects are very
observant: they study everything, they compare one city to another
and they can share that knowledge with other people involved in the
process. The most an architect can contribute is really what he
sees, and then speculate about how something could be different.
That is the fundamental role of the architect.
WHEN WE LOOK AT THE STYLE, ARCHITECTS HAVE OFTEN BECOME
KNOWN FOR BIG, LOUD, SEXY OBJECTS THAT ARE MORE ABOUT THEMSELVES
THAN ABOUT MAKING A CITY.
I am hoping we are nearing the end of that era. I live in a tower
in the middle of central London, which is unusual in London because
most people live in houses. I look out at all this construction on
the horizon and everything from the last thirty years is a bit of a
disappointment: there is so much metal and glass, it feels
fractured and the individual buildings feel like consumer products.
It is the older buildings, like the cathedrals and stone buildings,
that your eye rests on and which offer a feeling of calm. Working
in London, you have an obligation to think about the street, to
think about the spaces between buildings first, as opposed to the
building as an object.
At this moment in time, we have to think of buildings as the
inverse of an icon, as a kind of anti-icon. Think of buildings,
cities and streets as networks that are more visible, with an
architecture that is more invisible. A good example is here in
Munich, right next-door: the Fünf Höfe is a system of courtyards
and passages from maybe 15 years ago, by Herzog de Meuron. The
design is remarkable and quite powerful. It is a beautiful design
because the interventions work together with the existing fabric,
finding new synergies between existing things. Also it has no form.
It is just a space between things, and that type of development is
very exciting. It is similar to some things we are doing in Covent
Garden, in London, working with the historic grain, discovering and
analyzing the spaces in which people like to spend time. Often,
traditional city centers have a human scale, a kind of texture, a
variety and a sense of discovery that people really enjoy. These
are the most valued parts of major cities. If you are lucky enough
to work in that context, you can learn from it and dream and
speculate when someone asks you to work in a totally new place, or
to think about new cities and new contexts based on that
experience. To have this dialogue between the past and the present
is something very inspiring for me.
WHAT FEEDS YOUR HOPES?
At times, it can seem that architecture, like fashion, is
accelerating almost into the realm of entertainment, of reality
television. I find it staggering that an architect could be treated
like a fashion celebrity, because buildings have to last forever,
they have to transcend time. I am very concerned about that,
because what evidence is there that this will stop? It may be a
naive hope, but I saw it at last year’s Biennale where there was a
decided change. People were talking about things like the
vernacular. Even the form and configuration of many of the projects
that were shown were quite different. It was much more about
context and inhabi- tation: the scale, the dwelling, the scale of
the person. It was very exciting. I think that is beyond publicity,
and beyond celebrity, in a way.
DO ARCHITECTS REALLY CONTRIBUTE TO ENERGY-EFFICIENT, SUSTAINABLE
CITIES? OR DO HIGH-PROFILE PROJECTS OFTEN COMPROMISE THE EXPERIENCE
AT STREET- LEVEL FOR THE BENEFIT OF A GRAND DESIGN
Some buildings conceived as autonomous forms can be perceived as
impositions on their context. There is a whole other way of
thinking about cities as networks and how architecture can emerge
from the network. This is consistent with technology today in terms
of the most powerful, dynamic corporations and organizations of the
world: they work as networks, or platforms, and more horizontal
systems. It is not so much about individual, imposed ideas – the
ideas emerge from within the system.