Your buildings are very bold. Most of the buildings that we make lack this boldness--you make a statement when you make a building.
If you want to restructure [and invigorate the urban] periphera, where many of these buildings are built, [the building must be strong]. One of the first commissions I had was to build a bridge in Barcelona in a very poor neighborhood. The strength of the [design] helped to regenerate the area.
Many of these buildings [were designed and built] for very low cost. [This was accomplished through the use of modest] materials--simple materials like steel, concrete, glass, and sometimes a little bit of stone were utilized.
[Whatever materials I've used were] exposed. I could never imagine making a pillar in steel and cladding it in something else, such as stone, because it was unaffordable. You have to work very hard with material and economical resources and insist on the formal quality of the objects that you are producing and also the constructive efficiency.
So we invented things like rhythm. I repeated the same pillar in Lyon many times. You create a bridge, you know, and then you repeat it. And so I am [bringing] a certain daring [to the designs], trying to do spans that are unusual, because the other resource that is nonmaterial is the human resource.
In talking about this sort of boldness, let's just say "forthrightness" in making these statements, it almost seems that you are exploring and describing the nature of the physical universe. It's almost as if you are, in an abstract way, diagramming the forces of nature. I mean you're drawing them to their most elemental and re-presenting them in a way that, well, doesn't exaggerate them because it shows them as they are, but it purifies them, maybe that's the word. It brought them into a very basic, fundamental understanding.
Many achievements of scientists were done through pure observation and the recreation of models, [which can provide] an answer about the physical phenomenon that we are observing. So, observing the natural, physical phenomena is also very modern, very twentieth century. The nineteenth century was perhaps a little different. But if you look at the Romantics, Caspar David Friedrich or those guys, you know the ones that draw themselves watching a landscape, the idea of observing the natural and trying to recreate models to [mimic] it--is [this] another kind of greed?
(Laughing.) That's very interesting.
It's a more modern greed, do you understand what I mean? Because you create a scheme that gives, when you press here, you get a consequence there, which is similar to the force that makes the dream move. This idea of the synthetic understanding of nature is also very generous. You can see it in some drawings of Klee and Piet Mondrian, people watching a tree, you know, or something like that. You can see it in the worlds of some American painters like Rothko or Kelly, who bring more internal emotions, but still today the school is alive with a huge force.?
Believe me, I give much more for this school than for the neo-rationalist. I don't give anything to them, you know. Often you feel really deeply about the research of models of transmission of emotions. You understand what I mean? I think looking at the natural and making simple models of behavior [is wonderful]. The idea of breathing is astonishing, or the movement the body creates by breathing is astonishing. The idea that our fingers can move, the branches of trees or the waves of the water can move when the wind comes, are all astonishing ideas.
In any case, whatever you do, even if you create the most realistic copy, as soon as you choose an object of the natural and put it in your camera, it won't belong to the natural any more. It is abstract, even in the most hyper-realistic representation it is still abstract. Because as soon as you feel it with your mind, [subject it to] a conscious process, you are picking up subjects of the natural and making it belong to your own cosmology, to your own life. This is a beautiful process and the basis of any artistic [process we go through]. I pay [homage] to this word "abstraction." I think this influence is still alive today. If you look at the last works of Ellsworth Kelly, for example, or Rothko, whom I admire very much, there is this intuitive aspect.
You mentioned these few artists. Who are other artists, thinkers, writers, sculptors or people that you've admired in the near past or present, people that have moved you?
There is a Russian writer who lives in America, but also spends time here in Europe--his name is Brodsky.
Yes, I think his style is very clean and I like it. In terms of sculptors, I have a huge admiration of Brancusi.
I can see that downstairs.
I also have [a deep] admiration for Arp. [I admire] Rodin in terms of being the father of this generation, you know. And you can see in my drawings of the human body, there is a certain similar admiration and a love for the human body [to Rodin's although my work is] not so accurate and inspired as his. The person whom I can't stop being astonished about is Picasso. He is such a revolutionary man. Even people defending his ideas like Frank Lloyd Wright were in a way so moderate by comparison.
He's still very revolutionary.
In terms of the language he was so moderated and so beautiful and so integrated and so organic.
What about architects?
Well, let's start with Frank Lloyd Wright. I think he is one of the biggest. His work is so full of emotion. One of the moving things that happened to me was to go Taliesin West and to see these buildings, [which are] falling apart because it's all done in cardboard and wood, and it is so beautiful. Frank Lloyd Wright brought the understanding of modern architecture, of function, of technology, of materials to a high, high, high profile of poetry, like very few others had done before.
And he articulated this sort of organic understanding. I mean, he literally would look at how nature organized itself [and see how] a building should look.
Yes, yes, but the most memorable thing is the deep intuitive quality revealed in his buildings. You feel this other dimension in his buildings of sympathy with nature and you know it can only come from intuition, from the idea that architecture can be something sublime. I also very much like that Frank Lloyd Wright is a revolutionary [and interested in] designing [inexpensive] housing. I like that very much.
Who else [besides] Frank Lloyd Wright?
Someone that I like because he paints a lot is Scottish architect, Mackintosh. At the end of his life, he quit working and finished his life painting. His work is full of poetry. [But also] I'm proud to be an architect and also to be an engineer, because I have the pleasure to admire and try to understand the work of architects and engineers. So I am full of admiration for many, many things.
I love that the Park Avenue in New York [City ends in] Grand Central Station and [I love its golden ceiling]. I think it is so moving. I think the skyline of Manhattan is one of the most beautiful achievements of the twentieth century--just the skyline. Even with all the contrast, [the wealth and the poverty] that you can see around, [it's beautiful and] makes one believe in the twentieth century.
The twentieth century has brought a lot of very beautiful achievements. Here in Switzerland we have tiny houses designed by [Marcel] Breuer. There are two houses here designed by Breuer. I would like not only to underline the work of masters, [but also the work of modest] people who pour out their hearts as real artists.
I think we are living in an exciting moment because there are a lot of commissions. We are fortunately in a time of [prosperity], and it is very interesting to think about.