“Contemporary architecture must be at the forefront of progressive thinking” - Евразийская Премия
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“Contemporary architecture must be at the forefront of progressive thinking”

Christos Passas, CEO of Zaha Hadid Architects, jury member of the 16th season of the Eurasian Prize, about profession, trends, and competitions.


On December 15, 2021, in Yekaterinburg, the winners of the 16th season of the international competition of architecture and design «Eurasian Prize» will be named. From July to October the projects from 29 countries will be evaluated by a grand jury, members of which are worldwide standing in architecture and design. The Organizing Committee of the competition «Eurasian Prize» interacted with several of them about the future of the profession, actual trends.
About positive developments in the global world after the COVID-19 pandemic, about who has a chance to get a job in the ZHA bureau, about the prime responsibility of architects, in an interview with Zaha Hadid Architects CEO Christos Passas.

— Have your approaches changed (both in the organization of processes within ZHA and in the work on architectural projects) after lockdown and COVID-19? What new trends in global architecture would you note as being influenced by a pandemic?

Certainly, there have been several changes that came out of this pandemic. For example, our office has become mostly “virtual” these days and people are working mostly from home.  One can imagine that the interactions, collaborations, and also design creation is happening in a different way now.
That is not to say that the culture and ethos of the office have changed. It was that people have shown agility and have adapted to the new means of working.
There is a real human need to interact and interrelate and people globally were proactive to adapt and to be able to make the most of the new situation.
In terms of the global outlook, we have observed that people are now more interested in the quality of life, better interactions, more sensitivity about the environment. So despite the negatives, there has been a lot of positive, progressive change and I feel it is for the better.

— You have one of the most famous the bureau, including the general public outside of the professional community. Many students and young architects dream of gaining experience in your team. Can you tell me how you are selecting new frames and what hard and soft skills a successful candidate should have for collaboration with Zaha Hadid Architects?

I think the work that we do always took an extra effort. We often spoke about the idea that “if one wants an easy life then they shouldn’t become an architect”. That said there is a lot of skilled young professionals out there and also people who show drive, determination and commitment to the practice of architecture.  These are the types of people that we want to work with. Working, with strong ethos and good architectural sensibilities being willing to explore new ideas and always work to improve.

— Your bureau works all over the world, please, in which countries do you think the demand for modern architecture is particularly high today?

I think the country that drives the additional demand today is undoubtedly China however there are many other countries where significant developments are happening in terms, for example, of technological advancements or in terms of architectural thinking. The main issues today have to do, in my opinion, with the integration of ecology and technology. Whether In large urban developments or in designing micro-districts or even buildings there is a need now to establish tangible sustainability targets and human centric design.

— What is the reason for this request? Is it a response to global trends, societal demands, favourable political or economic conditions?

Contemporary architecture must be at the forefront of progressive thinking and always engage with the current challenges cities are facing. Cities demand the transformation of the urban environments, upgrading the quality of life, adapting to the new technologies and making those accessible, improving standards of living, education, work and social liberties in a sustainable manner.

— ZHA focuses on sustainable development and ecology. Who examines green technologies and their application in your projects – employees or units within the bureau or external specialists, external companies, research institutes?

We constantly experiment, do tests, review then assess and implement, review. It’s a constant learning process and playing with the different means through which-architectural ideas  can be applied. We work with a wide variety of consultants or specialists and we also have “in-house” units that specialise In the fields of programming, environmental analysis, facades, urban planning, varied building typologies, infrastructure et cetera. We have a very broad development structure and also very wide base of activities that give us the opportunity to share and implement a lot of our research.

— Can you tell us more about the principles and criteria by which you select the technologies or technologies that you will eventually use to create innovative projects?

Technology is an ever-changing constant. In that sense it’s not so much about the selection of technologies but of particular methods. Their success depends on their viability and their usefulness, how it enables us to rethink and approach an old challenge from a new angle.

— I read that in June you signed a partnership agreement with Hyperloop Italia. Can you tell us more about ZHA’s involvement? There’s a lot of skeptics around the world about the future of this technology, so tell me, why do you believe in this project? How soon will Hyperloop become a reality?

As I understand Hyperloop  is interested in developing components and sections or terminals for the expansion of their system. ZHA’s collaboration is aimed at developing some key elements on this system and can be an important partner in this endeavour.

— The Eurasian Prize is headquartered in Yekaterinburg, we cannot but ask about the Project of Sverdlovsk Philharmonic. Do you follow the fate of the new object, what kind of participation are you taking at this stage? Taking into account that the construction was delayed and the opening date of the Philharmonic Society was pushed back from 2023 to 2025, whether the original design would face any changes before construction began. I’m not talking about the concept, I’m talking about materials and technology in the first place?

I have been in contact with the client sporadically over the past couple of years, so I can’t really say that I follow the fate of the project very closely. I do certainly hope that it will restart. What the Philharmonic aspires to and with this particular design combine to what is a great concept. This project would be a great new addition to what the city of Yekaterinburg has to offer.  The philharmonic is a great institution, one with lots of truly great people on all levels and it deserves the best house it can get.

— What can you say about the mission of architecture in 2021, what is it for you personally? What is the importance of solving today within the profession?

For me the role of architecture in the year 2021 and beyond is to develop the eco-technological habitat. That is to develop extended notions of how living ecosystems should be, by taking into account the human activities but also the rhythms of nature in the ecology and bring the two in a harmonious unison.

— You’re on the jury for the Eurasian Prize. In your opinion, what do independent competitions give to the architectural professional community? Can these formats be of interest to a layman? If so, why?

I think the role of architectural competitions is extremely important. On one hand, the contestants have a chance to propose solutions, radical as they may be, that can enrich and push forward the architectural thought and the discourse of architecture beyond the bounds of academia and formal institutions.
The publication of the results can also be very engaging process, as it offers the possibility of direct access into the works and essentially what can be possible in architectural terms.
Of course certain solutions need to be explained carefully and clearly so that they are not misunderstood. In that sense the role of theorists is important because they can help bridge the gap between an architectural drawing and the presentation of the results in a way that can be understood by most people.

— In conclusion, do you have the opportunity to address the participants of the Eurasian Prize Contest, which would you like to advise or wish them?

I would wish that everybody find the courage to propose their most genuine proposals. To think outside the box and to look at things from different angles. Everyone’s contribution is important. I wish everybody good luck and great success!

Photos and illustrations courtesy of the ZHA office