On Thursday, May 18th, the lecture hall at the Slovak capital’s Faculty of Architecture was filled with spectators; the audience was queuing up behind the hall’s doors, sitting on the hall’s staircases or watching the lecture via the prepared live-streaming system. Patrik Schumacher, as well as the presentation he showed and explained, gave off the same vibe so typical for the famous studio’s architecture. ‘Force of explosion’, ‘movement’, ’empowering’, ‘magnetism’, ‘distortion’, fluidity’ and ‘energising’ – those may very well be listed as keywords not only for the lecture, but also for ZHA‘s philosophy. 

What many of the projects have in common, is mainly the concept of “making architecture landscape-like”, creating man-made version of natural shapes, as the building itself blends into the ground in organic waves, folds its envelope so that there is no more distinguishing between vertical and horizontal elements, interior or exterior surfaces.

While some of the buildings by ZHA respect their surroundings in terms of the urban grid, a noteworthy example of this being the MAXXI Museum, Rome; there is still a great number of projects that claim the dominant position within the urban structure. In a location where a solitaire object is necessary and appreciated, this quality is priceless. However, in a town structure with cultural, historical or other significant values which require a sensitive approach, this apparent indifference towards the surroundings can be considered as insensitive.

Don’t be too comfortable in your comfort zone

The atmosphere at the lecture hall turned a bit heated once the Q&A session was announced. One of the students, having analysed the Galaxy SOHO building in Beijing for a school assignment (and drawing a conclusion that many details of the building may induce feelings of discomfort and unease for the users of the space), asked Patrik whether there was a possibility that they valued the form of the building more than the comfort of the users. To which he replied that comfort (inside an office building) is not exactly the latest trend of working morale, and that the many people who like the building actually feel energised, empowered and “dynamic”.

He also claimed that society is used to working in ways which are not up-to-date anymore. As an architect, he feels that his role is to challenge these stereotypes and that the current trend is to see what is going on, to communicate and participate. His answer to the student? “Don’t be too comfortable in your comfort zone.”

You should be bored out of your wits with modernism and minimalism

Another question from the audience was more of a statement: “I sometimes can’t help myself being bored by all those curvatures”, implying that in his opinion, this was not the way to go. Patrik pointed out that there is a major amount of prejudice against the organic, fluid form, yet it offers a much more variety and flexibility than all of the past styles combined. He declared that we should be bored out of our wits with modernism and minimalism, being much more limited in terms of design options.

Whether the future of architecture and urban planning proves these principles to be genuinely effective and satisfying, is yet to be witnessed. 

© 2017 Written by Andrea Klimko Architects.  Photo by Andrea Klimko. All rights reserved.