Dr.-Phil., Dipl.-Ing., Architect, RIBA, ARB.
Partner at Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA)
Co-director AA Design Research Lab (AADRL)
Univ.-Prof. Institute for Experimental Architecture, Innsbruck
Guest Professor, University of Applied Arts, Vienna
Patrik Schumacher "Zaha Hadid Architects" içinde en önemli isimlerden biri. Yazar, eğitimci ve teorisyen. Aşağıda kendisi ile yapılan söyleşiyi İngilizce olarak okuyabilirsiniz.
Interview: Patrik Schumacher, published in: MAD Dinner, by MAD.exe office, Beijing, published by Actar Barcelona, New York, 2007
MAD: The Modernist architects of the last century, such as Mies and Frank Lloyd Wright, created provocative relationships between manmade structures and nature, but in ways that accentuated the technologies of their era. One tool that they did not have access to is the computer. How do you think the development of digital tools has influenced the relationship between architecture and nature?
MAD: What greater clarity does this transition from the physical to the virtual provide?
PS: The kinds of morphologies which come out of it are inherently lawful and coherent. There were prior attempts to establish this kind of coherency and law, either through talent and composing, where architects attempted to intuitively mimic the dynamic equilibrium, for instance, you find in nature or to just restrict themselves to platonic geometries and symmetries - very basic orders. To have a more complex order, rather than some kind of ugly disorder, is possible with these new tools and, of course, there is a whole world of tools that exist for all sorts of purposes outside of architecture that can be harnessed, like RealFlow, etc. And their whole sensibility, in a sense, relates back to the perception of natural systems. Lately, both at the DRL and the office, we’re going into scripted logics - iterative, recursive scripts - which, in a sense, also build up quasi-nature and reflect principles that operate in nature. They’re similar, but perhaps initially more controllable and simpler than the animation tools that I talked about earlier. You have force fields, Newton fields, particle strips, etc., and these scripted logics are based on components and component iterations and modulations which follow particular laws of gradual change. Of course we are in communication with other researchers who are able to do more, but we’re trying now to build up a scripting unit within the office. We’ve gathered quite a few people who are working with Autodesk and other software companies to expedite this kind of expertise.
MAD: How does your position as a teacher inform this process?
PS: Within the office context, we are much more straightforwardly moving into projects with the repertoires that come out of prior office research or come through all the teaching research. In terms of a systematic investigation, it’s [done in] an academic context, which we then bring into the office work. One big topic for Zaha over the years was the concept of an artificial landscape. Using the landscape analogy to inject a new range of opportunities and options into architecture - going away from discreet objects and segmentation of territories with harsh boundaries into gradient, smooth transitions, etc. That was happening according to a knowledge which had not been systematically investigated. But it had a big impact on the office work anyway. In the mid ‘90s we taught a studio in Hamburg where we set out to systematically study landscape formations - oceans or certain types of mountain ranges and geological formations, glaciers, etc. These were rather specific topics within the natural landscape that we then investigated in greater detail by looking at the scientists’ tools and how they investigate, track and trace, and graphically represent these formations. We studied, for example, how they were formed - through the concepts of strata and faulting and so on - then tried to draw principles and inspiration from that based on this more systematic study and the appropriation of the work of the scientists. Then at Yale we taught another studio where we looked at organic life - quite broadly. It ranged from the microscopic to the macroscopic, and we encouraged [the students] to challenge the idea of a single whole by looking at cellular structures, subsystems of the body. Any phenomena in the animal kingdom was a possible topic of investigation. We were especially interested in system-environment relationships, the imbedding of organisms, etc. We studied, for instance, collective organisms, which break into individualized parts that have their own autonomy, but when you look closer break into further subparts, or seemingly form complete entities that aggregate into what we call a “collective organism”. In general we looked at principles, systems, and morphologies. But again there was an attempt to gain depth, unlike in a competition setting where one would maybe pick up an image and be inspired. We wanted to go a bit deeper and give it a few weeks of research and investigation in order to discover and elaborate fertile analogies and transferences into the domain of architecture.
MAD: What future uses do you imagine for the knowledge generated by these kinds of investigation?
PS: Of course we are still working more on the side of visual analogues. There are obviously efforts within architecture to go beyond purely visual and morphological input and have more performative principles incorporated. I think with respect to environmental engineering there is a kind of overlap where, for instance, currently we’re looking closely at component differentiation - the way components can populate surfaces and differentiate themselves according to scripts, picking up on the surface curvature and surface orientation. You can feed in orientation with respect to the environment - sunlight, etc. - and so we’re looking at shading elements - facades, balconies, etc. - that would be set up such that they would be adaptive to orientation conditions and weather conditions. Here you’re going directly into adaptive systems and responsive systems, which also would then deliver the kind of morphology that we would like to see where you perceive that logic. You see a consistently differentiated field of elements - in this case shading elements - which you need to couple not with a box but with a blob-like surface, where, as the surface swings around and into the sunlight, along the changing surface condition these shading elements would increase or shift angles as you move from south to west for instance. This becomes quite beautiful, but also very effective. You can script very precise laws that determine how this system responds to the selected factors. This is a more direct and literal embedding of an architectural system into a natural environment in a relationship of adaptation, which is in fact how all natural systems fit with each other.
MAD: Earlier you mentioned doing studies of biology, even microscopic biology, as a means to derive new forms and systems. Could you tell us more about what this kind of work reveals?
PS: We did a studio in Vienna that was inspired by the work of Frei Otto, with his investigation of natural systems and their extrapolation into the domain of building structure. This work was absolutely seminal and forward-looking all through the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s. We tried to do something like that with respect to biological systems, taking up particular concepts, like the distinction between homology and analogy. Again you don’t only look at the phenomenon - for instance an ant colony - by itself, but you also read up on the science and tools that explore and simulate that phenomenon. You can look at microscopic photography, but you can also look at computer simulations, and there’s a whole world feeding into that. Architects are not the only ones: nearly every design discipline is looking at nature and investigating natural systems as models and analogues. And you can also go to this second layer of already digested and transformed representations of nature.
MAD: How do you then jump from investigations at a micro scale into applications in macro scale - urbanism, planning, etc.?
PS: One of our crucial contributions in terms of the office, DRL, and some of the other teaching venues is something that we call “Parametric Urbanism”. The idea behind it is that, when talking about large sites with hundreds of buildings, how do we script the genotypes or conceive of genotypes as the typical building blocks
that would populate a site that has different conditions? It starts with simple geometry: at the center of the site you have more relationality than along the edges of the site. We’re trying to use the concept of genotype and phenotype to set up a genotype that has an inherent adaptive capacity or self-differentiating capacity, and to set up a field of continuously differentiating buildings that shift in height, depth, but also in terms of the interarticulation of their subsystems, i.e. the way the volume is dissected into floors, the way voids appear within the volume, and the way a navigational space is driven through that mass. So it’s an urban massing model plus. A prototype of this is the Science-Hub masterplan in Singapore, but we’ve applied it at a larger scale in a big urban masterplan that we’re doing for Istanbul, Turkey. We have two primary genotypes: a tower type and perimeter block type, which then differentiate and interarticulate and create all sorts of interesting conditions where the perimeter block pulls up at the corner to create a corner tower condition, the blocks open up to allow for the interlacing and continuous flow of courtyards, etc. The crucial thing is how this [system] adapts with urban geometry, because we’re not talking about orthogonal blocks, but blocks which follow the flow lines of the existing topography of an urban fabric. We’re managing now to script those systems.
MAD: So, in this case, scripting allows you to work in controlled way from an aerial perspective?
PS: We’re using scripting to handle a whole urban fabric where you cannot be so concerned with an individual building. We’re trying to create a parametric system which results in a beautifully differentiated field that adapts to its edge conditions, allows for the imbedding of singularities, but which, in the end, you can navigate better, because you have gradients of what we call “laws of transformation” radiating through that field. So you can follow these vectors of transformation and navigate that field, because it’s based on two or three laws or logics of how the field transforms, and you can track and understand that, even quite intuitively. And this also appears to have the beauty of nature. In an experimental setting, we exhibited at the Tate Modern Museum a big study for the Thames Gateway, a very large eastern expansion of London, where we showed morphogenetic animations of the way these fabrics have been constituted and how they then settle and differentiate in that territory and also how two or three types can interarticulate. So that’s a big headline for us: Parametric Urbanism - using the nature analogy to create a quasi-nature which becomes a kind of hypernatural urban fabric. On the one side it contrasts with the ‘70s new towns, which are all based on the order of repetition and seriality, and on the other the chaos of the ‘80s and ‘90s metropolitan growth where you have an anything goes condition and a visually indigestible chaos. We’re developing a new paradigm that avoids both monotony and chaos, and offers coherency and logic and a quasi-natural lawfulness instead.
MAD: Do you find that these references to natural forms and spaces make unusual urban ideas more palatable to their users?
PS: It’s not necessarily recognizable as being similar to something, particularly not to familiar landscapes necessarily. We’re talking about swarm organisms, the swarming and flocking of buildings by orientating them towards each other. But it’s not that you would necessarily make this association as a user or visitor. Although it also wouldn’t be detrimental either. We’re not forcing that, otherwise it becomes representational, and the danger is that you have a one-liner. In nature, so many forms and systems are yet unknown to us. So it’s not about making it familiar, but the principles follow through. Even with something quite new and unexpected, you could navigate it intuitively if it has these quasi-laws of nature. Not necessarily of a familiar cliche of a winding river or something like this, something meant to be comforting. That’s not what we have in mind.
MAD: Designing a system of navigation or orientation that is intuitively readable is a kind of Holy Grail for planners. How do these parametric systems that you’re describing achieve or at least attempt to strike that intuitive chord with users?
PS: What I mean by intuitive navigation is: there’s an inborn capacity to recognize pattern and be curious about pattern. If they are intricate and complex, it inspires even more curiosity and alertness to try to find out what is going on, what the hidden laws are. And that should pay off. There should be such hidden laws; you should then be able to follow the build up of density to find central functions, for instance. You should be able to figure out and find and follow these kinds of logic - not necessarily through an analytical process. I think if you drift through nature you have the same capacity. That’s something that we’re banking on - pattern recognition and the way we respond and are alerted to systems rather than random agglomerations. If you have a garbage heap spilled on the ground, you’ll pass by without giving a second glance, but if there were a certain geometric pattern to it you would kind of stop and try to find out more.