Photo courtesy Patrik Schumacher
Architects are in charge of the form of the built environment—not its content. We need to grasp this and run with this despite all the moralizing that seems designed to paralyze us. If you take a politically correct stance, and don’t want to get your hands dirty in the world, there are very few places you can go, very few projects you can touch. It’s not realistic. We only go to places where we can do our open, communicative, anti-monumental spaces.
Is it your choice to be working so much in the East?
We need to stop talking about West versus East; these are obsolete and counterproductive constructs. The truth is while there have been setbacks caused by economic stagnation in much of the developed world, the emerging economies are going strong. And I love places where there are institutions in the state of formation. To be part of that formation is very exciting. Our projects will have a role in these societies.
Your New York project—a condo building in West Chelsea—seems pretty straightforward, compared to some of your parametric work in Asia.
It’s pretty complex, with different entry levels, the High Line to attach to, and an L-shaped site. It’s actually quite a compact, intense nugget.
Are you glad to have a project in New York?
Yes, and I want more. The developers of New York have discovered European architects, and they want the x-factor for their projects.
You mean the Z-factor?
(Laughs) The Z-factor, as an interesting specimen of the general concept of x-factor…
How have you managed the rapid growth of your firm?
We have an internal culture of very flat hierarchies. It’s not about top-down instruction, but about internal discourse. Luckily, most of the architects have been our students, which makes for a very strong organization.
And you’re involved in every project?
Zaha and I are involved in every project, as instigators, interlocutors, sounding boards, critics.
Do the two of you agree on everything?
We argue about projects but in the end we are on the same wavelength, pulling in the same direction.
And what direction is that?
Well, one direction is greater density. Mega cities, and mega-mega cities are the way forward. Our task is to maintain legibility in the face of increasing density, complexity, diversity and dynamism. And we’re getting into infrastructure, which is new for us. We’re on the short-short lists for two major airports, in Beijing and Mexico City.
Does it bother you to work in Zaha’s shadow?
Within the profession, I’m very well established. Sure, the mainstream media focuses on one person. That makes the firm seem like a figurehead organization. But in reality we have a multitude of talent.
Do you have a favorite project?
I love all of them. The bigger and more complex, the better.