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8/14/2010 Vladimir Belogolovsky, Intercontinent…

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Bernard Tschumi Architects

227 West 17th Street, second floor
New York, New York 10011
New York, Paris

Interview with Bernard Tschumi

January 2, 2004

Vladimir Belogolovsky: How did you become intereste

Bernard Tschumi: I became interested in cities before archi

exchange student in Minnesota and visited Chicago. I was v
so I decided to become an architect. Well, I intended to go m
seeing that city and then New York made me want to be an
My father Jean Tschumi was an architect. But it is really citie

VB: When you say Chicago and New York you mean s

BT: Absolutely, but you know, the reason why I organized m

these cities I like the best and not because of my family or p
skyscrapers, in New York there are only skyscrapers. So I b

VB: Your architecture is deconstructivist, right?

BT: Well, so it is labeled. (Laughter)

VB: How do you define deconstructivist architecture?

BT: Well, let’s go back a little bit into history. The year is 198
historicist postmodernism. Most architects are rediscoverin
and symbols, coming from 18th or 19th century. The big cor
on their buildings and so on. A few architects, at the time ar
legacy of avant-garde. Among these few architects are peo
Rem Koolhaas, Peter Eisenman, Coop Himmelblau (Wolf P
Among us there were at least two architects who were inter
deconstruction by Jack Derrida. So curators of the show inv
which is deconstruction plus Russian constructivism. But, as
is not a school. It is the title of the exhibition. But what is inte
period in architecture in the 20th century. And we, those few
that conservative period and now look – everybody is doing

VB: You are referring to the historic exhibit at MoMA in

Architecture.” As an introduction to so called deconst
by the Russian constructivists. So what are the differe
constructivism and deconstructivism?

BT: Oh! Many! First of all these are time and geography, tim
social, economic, and political context. So there is a very bi
They are: a wish to reinvent architecture, to discover a new
new programs. The Differences are, of course, social, politi
because all of the conservative institutions: the family, the st
series of certainties were destroyed. Russia was an extraor
architecture but in cinema, in poetry, and so on. This was no

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VB: Who in your view was first to use deconstructivis

BT: Well, it is hard for me to name one person. You have Fr

bricolage of materials in a very liberated way and then later
do complex curvilinear geometry. You have Peter Eisenman
and theoretical discourse. He is also interested in what is h
Prix who in a very intuitive way, in the early 1970’s is testing
compressions in materials. You have Rem Koolhaas who is
am interested in film theory and literary theory, and new soc
is interested in symbolism. You have Zaha Hadid who has a
So I took you chronologically at who was first developing ce

VB: Were you all aware of each other?

BT: Oh yes, absolutely!

VB: So some of you influenced the others, right?

BT: No, I don’t think so. I think it was about the spirit of that p

VB: Did you ever meet to discuss your work?

BT: We didn’t meet as a group, but we all new each other. In

Libeskind, Zaha Hadid, and myself were all at the Architectu
1970’s Peter Eisenman, Rem Koolhaas again, and myself
Architecture and Urban Studies. So we all knew each other

VB: Why do you think all of these architects from Lon

Los Angeles simultaneously developed deconstructiv

BT: Please, don’t call it deconstructivist! Call it contempora

time and today none of us would consider our architecture d
We wanted to be contemporary. We didn’t want to be anoth
go. They are born and then they die. But we wanted to be th

VB: You keep saying that deconstructivism was not a

became a movement?

BT: Simply because it was never meant to be a movement.

wanted to avoid to what happened to Postmodernism, whic

VB: You lived and worked in Paris in 1968, the year of


BT: What happened then was a radical questioning of all so

number of people of my generation became radically critica
decided to explore the definition and the limits of architectu
architecture beyond all the preconceived ideas and clichés
with questioning.

VB: Who influenced you most as an architect?

BT: You know it is not an architect; it is a filmmaker Sergey

architecture. And interestingly enough, now we are working
I’m rediscovering his studies of the dynamics and the move
Dziga Vertov, again another Russian filmmaker whose tech
more contemporary filmmakers Jean-Luc Godard and Wim
comes from film studies.

VB: And Parc de La Villette in Paris is conceived as th

film strip.

BT: Yes, this idea was developed before La Villette. It was a

many ways La Villette is based on my research.

VB: You said that you are suspicious of architecture t

explain your famous slogan – “Form follows fiction?”

BT: That’s a good question. Let’s try to make a difference b

of course, a play on famous formula – form follows function,
and fiction. This has to do with a program, or how architectu
about form, but about ideas and what it can do. Instead of s
requirements, such as so many square feet for a bathroom
literature or film. Here is an example. In the 17th century ther
invented in order to introduce privacy. That is not an archite
let’s look at literature. What are the changing cultural sensib
really meant – let’s look for what is before function. Because
culture, there is fiction. But I have to admit it was just an eas

VB: After teaching at the AA in London for a decade w

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And that is the role of the media. In the 1970’s the media wa
were architectural historians, architectural theorists, and arc
But there are architectural journalists and architecture is pub
manner. And that is an interesting shift.

VB: What about the place of New York in the world?

BT: It is amazingly alive. It is not the only place, by the way, b

culture of architecture in England and Spain, much less in F
thanks also to a lot of support from the Dutch government. I
much strategic support. In any case, the world of architectur
words, the polemics are everywhere. The strength of New Y
its institutions. Whenever something happens it has a world
were able to make Columbia the most powerful school in th
Everybody comes through New York and we are all fascinat

VB: Speaking of “The Manhattan Transcripts” you sa

being about functional standards, is about love and d

BT: I think so. These are some of the key pieces of architec
and risk, which are rarely discussed. So I wanted to introduc
beyond professionalism, right? Because everything about o
has, no matter six thousand years ago or today.

VB: How would you describe your architecture?

BT: Areas of my investigations over the years are in the ide

architecture is always about movement. Another area of my
intersection of three terms: concept, content, and context. In
play with one another or exclude one another. Concept, bec
ideas. Forms are not important, ideas are. Context, becaus
including nowhere. Nowhere is somewhere. I’m not talking a
more about political, economic, cultural, and also city conte
always about events that happen in space. And these three
predictable way and this is part of my investigation. So my a

VB: Do you have a set of questions that you usually a

BT: Generally, I always start fresh, as it were the first project

architecture is like a theorem. Architecture is the demonstra
before we make a statement. And I’m more interested in str

VB: That is a lot of work!

BT: Yes, but I don’t like when clients ask me to produce a qu

project, similar to what I have done in the past. For that they
predictable range. Those who come to me are more interes

VB: The Lerner Center at Columbia University is a ver

strict zoning requirements within the University camp
middle part, the glass atrium where you had the most
who use the building say it is not functional. As an arc

BT: Because it is not meant to be functional. It is meant to b

Low Library. It is not functional either, right? But it is used as
student Lerner Center and its ramps is a place where you c
large building and it is a vertical building. So as an architec
vertical community? How do you establish a vertical connec

VB: Why have you decided to step down as the dean


BT: There are two reasons. I’m first of all an architect and I h
I’ve been the dean for fifteen years and that is a generation
major statement about architectural education. And now ano

VB: How did you select the faculty at Columbia?

BT: Generally, I looked for people who had a capability to b

of students, but also in terms of themselves. In other words,
laboratory of research in design and architecture. In my view
faculty was selected among the most creative people of the
for young American architects, especially in New York City t
are in their mid 30’s and early 40’s, who are full of energy a
teachers. You know the names: Greg Lynn, Jesse Reiser, S
of them were very young faculty members, when they started

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challenge. I’m very much against the teachers who try to rea
way around. I have a preconceived starting point, but I have
astonished by what the goal is.

VB: Will the new Acropolis Museum open on time for t

BT: I would be very surprised. The politics of Greece are ex

can not imaging... Look, we finished our work and submitted
ago. Now we are waiting for the work permit, which is issue

VB: What about the Elgin marbles?

BT: The Marbles is another political thing. That will be intere

museum is built the Marbles will come back. I feel the marbl
tired of being in exile.

VB: While working on the Museum what did you learn

aware of before? And to what extend do you use know

BT: I knew a fare amount about the Parthenon. I have been

I was quite aware of its history. So I rediscovered its history
no major surprises. I rediscovered the fascination with the P
Corbusier, who spent three months there. So all this was int
my work was not direct. What we have in common is a very
extraordinary beauties of the Parthenon is the coherence, w
stone. I would like to have that relentless coherence in three
marble, and concrete. But I’m aware that I’m giving it a cont
Greek temple was conceived in wood and then built in stone
right? And that’s where the difference is. But what I find fasc
reading and the mathematical rigor. If I can achieve that with

VB: What about the fact that there is not a single straig

BT: Well, the equivalent of that, in our project is captured in

the building. And that is about a perception in movement. D
building a museum. I’m not building for the God; I’m building

VB: What is your view of the WTC rebuilding process?

BT: It is a very difficult issue, because of the layer of symbol

with the political symbolism. I think architecture should be in
examples are the fascist architecture or the Stalinist archite
representation. I have a problem with buildings that remind
Liberty. The whole discourse hides enormous deficiencies.
should be and what it should do. One needs to ask not what
do. The enormous complexity of ownership and interests m
voice. Therefore the lowest common denominator was a ve

VB: Some critics see contemporary architecture in a c

searching for new ideas and directions, while others s
reasons. What is your view?

BT: Yes, it is flourishing. It is very alive now! Before, let’s sa

work and theoretical work, but there were very few good bui
is a very good time!

VB: What is your dream project?

BT: Well…there is no one project. As I said, I’m fascinated w

conflict, and the contradictions.

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