` 200 NOV 2011 VOL 25 (3)
Footprints E.A.R.T.H SPASM Design Architects Manasaram Architects
Interiors: Vertex Inc.
Bernard Tschumi Architects Atelier Peter Zumthor & Partners
18 IA&B - NOV 2011
Theory Bernard Tschumi talks about architecture as a form of knowledge as he comments on his practice and his idea of built theories in an interview with IA&B. Photograph: courtesy Bernard Tschumi Architects
Bernard Tschumi spearheads Bernard Tschumi Architects, an experimental practice with offices in New York and Paris. Known widely for his iconic Parc de La Villette in Paris and the intriguing ‘Event Cities’, Bernard Tschumi is one of the most vital thinkers on contemporary architecture. Tschumi’s practice is highly acclaimed and his architecture and writing is widely and frequently published and debated. Tschumi’s work has been exhibited at The Museum of Modern Art in New York amongst many other galleries and institutions. Bernard Tschumi has taught Architectural Association in London, Princeton University, and The Cooper Union in New York. He was Dean of the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation at Columbia University from 1988 to 2003 and is currently a Professor at the Graduate School of Architecture. Bernard Tschumi Architects has established a worldwide reputation for its innovative design solutions to client concerns of different sizes and scales, from small facilities to large-scale master plans.
IA&B: Tell us about your practice. How do you define your philosophy of work? BT: Architecture is the invention of concepts and ideas. What distinguishes architecture from mere building is ideas and concepts. I would also add that architecture is the materialisation of concepts. So our practice is very much informed by these simple facts.
IA&B: Your designs have multiple and overlapping programmes juxtaposed as layers. Is this a design strategy in all your work? BT: Again, the invention of concepts is the common strategy to all works. However, these concepts will often differ from project to project, even if there are some recurrent interest such as programmatic combination and recombination.
IA&B: Your practice intuitively connects architecture and culture. Do you see profound links between the two? Can you elaborate on the “interface”? BT: Architecture is not simply knowledge of forms. More importantly, it is a form of knowledge, like mathematics, like literature, like art. It helps us to grasp and understand the world around us. So it is important to establish a dialogue between different forms of culture: an import and export between them and architecture.
IA&B: The Acropolis Museum comes across as a geometric abstraction of the themes of Parthenon. Does your architecture use such abstractions as starting points for design? BT: Concepts are abstractions that need to be materialized in architecture. So it is correct to say that there is an abstract aspect to the Acropolis Museum. However, in this case, due to all the site and historical constraints, the context had to be the starting point of the work. The challenge consisted in conceptualising that context.
IA&B: Parc de la Villette and the Manhattan Transcripts. Which would you term as defining work in your practice? BT: Both. The difference between the Manhattan Transcripts and the Parc de la Villette is that the Transcripts were a theoretical project, while the Parc was a built theory, with all the objective constraints that go with it. Both are still important in the context of my current work.
IA&B: Architecture and Theory. What relation do the two have according to you? Do you see theory as a point of departure or as general framework? BT: I would say “Practice and Theory,” rather than “Architecture and Theory.” It is important to remember that theory and practice constantly inform one another. In the early days, the theoretical work had a major influence on my practice, today it is often the other way around: Practice often leads to theory. So it should always go back and forth.
IA&B: You have advocated the influence of occupation on architecture. In other words, according to you, “events” define architecture. Why would you stress on “activity” as a defining element in architecture? BT: Rather than “occupation”, I would say “programme.” There is no architecture without something that happens in it. The relation between the space and what happens in it can be a relation of reciprocity (functionalist), or of indifference (multi-use and neutral space) or of conflict (when you purposefully make them clash). The architect chooses the type of relation in order to reinforce the concept. IA&B: Since Parc de la Villette, your firm has designed and executed many projects. Can we see this body of work as a continuous inquiry on the lines of the Parc or do you see each project standing independent? BT: Both. There is a general approach trying to develop concepts that started with La Villette, but then each project is generally considered its own right.
IA&B: Do you design buildings or do you design conditions in which an activity can happen? BT: Both, actually. It is what makes architecture a social art. IA&B: Do you see a relationship between architecture and art? BT: Art can be self-initiated by the artist, while architecture generally starts with a programme, a budget, a site, etc., i.e. a whole series of constraints. That is what makes architecture so exciting: to transform constraints into creative opportunities.
To read more about Bernard Tschumi Architects’ work, refer to the article titled ‘The Parthenon Marble’.