Architects Climate Action Network


Let’s Talk about Climate Action with Lauren Shevills and Joe Penn

We are in extraordinary times; a lot of us working remotely and meeting daily to keep in touch, and make sure our business is moving forward. As Anylabtalks we help to stay connected and meet new people talking about the things we are most passionate about. In this episode host Nurgul Yardim Mericliler talks with Lauren Shevills and Joe Penn from the Architects Climate Action Network. Enjoy our talk, stay safe and stay connected!

Lauren Shevills / Coordinator at Architects Climate Action Network, Architect at Mæ

She defines herself as creative individual, dabbling in mediums ranging from design to fabrication and lots of other things in between. She has personal interests for socio-political research and architectural activism which focus on delivering quality architecture for positive social and planetary change.

Joe Penn / Coordinator at Architects Climate Action Network, Architect at Rock Townsend

He studied Political Architecture and Critical Sustainability, previously working in architectural practice in Denmark and the UK. Joe’s passion lies in the creation of social and joyful architecture through a process of collaboration and craft.


Selected Links from the Episode

Show Notes

  • Episode Introduction
  • Extinction Rebellion protest on Waterloo Bridge
  • Starting ACAN
  • Architects Declare
  • How to take part at ACAN
  • How to be an optimistic about future
  • Episode Outro

Episode Transcript

 *This interview was recorded in London on Jan. 27, 2020. Some parts of the conversation have been transcribed and edited and slightly condensed for clarity. With huge thanks to Lauren Shevills and Joe Penn for their interest, efforts, and time. Thanks, as well, to Bobby Jewell for helping set up this discussion.

“It means that if your office hasn’t declared, you can still be a member of ACAN and work, form campaigns, opinions, direct actions, come to the meetings and have a voice basically” – Lauren Shevills, ACAN

Nurgul Yardim Mericliler (Host): Hello and welcome to Anylabtalks. These are extraordinary times. a lot of us working remotely and meeting daily to keep in touch, and make sure our business is moving forward. As Anylabtalks we help to stay connected and meet new people talking about the things we are most passionate about. In this episode my guests are Lauren and Joe from the Architects Climate Action Network. Lauren defines herself as creative individual in between mediums from design to fabrication. Professionally trained in architecture, with personal interests for socio-political research and architectural activism for social change. And, Joe is an architect and studied Political Architecture and Critical Sustainability in Denmark. His passion lies in the creation of social and joyful architecture through a process of collaboration and craft. For now, enjoy our talk, stay safe and stay connected!


Nurgul Yardim Mericliler (Host): Thanks for joining us today. I have a question I generally ask everyone I interview, whoever they are, just wondering about the architectural or design background of their childhood, however they understand that now. How do you remember the houses you grew up & How did your interest in architecture develop if you relate your childhood memories to these days now?

Lauren Shevills (ACAN):I can take this one first. I’ve only grown up in two houses before I moved to university, so I was in a very smooth to up to down semidetached house that had this kind of crazy paving effect on the front of the house and our back garden opened up into the shopping car park, which is where I learned to ride my bike. So, you know, not exactly the most inspirational architectural home. I then quickly realized that I had a fascination with things like Lego, and you know, kind of the games that I would play with all to do with building blocks. And then, I had a strong interest in that artistic subjects at school, so I’m thinking that’s kind of, you know, where I was coming from. My houses weren’t particularly inspiring. The house that I grew up in for most of my life had these really fake, ionic columns on the front door.

Joe Penn (ACAN):So, I guess similar for me in terms of the house that I grew up in. I basically grew up in the one house from when I was about six months. But my parents did a lot of things within the kind of 70s house build that they could manage, kind of go along archways in various forms in house, and it’s kind of changed the colour schemes and this kind of stuff. But it was more about the sort of things we would do on holiday. I think that has a lot of influence. My grandparents have bigger influence that I was doing a lot of different art projects. My grandpa would sketch all the time, so whenever we were on holiday with my grandparents, then I would have notably done a lot of drawing as well. And I think that had a big influence. And then we also would visit a lot of kind of old buildings, castles, the national trust kind of places and also a lot of art galleries. So, lots of things are filtering in from different places.


NYM: I feel that these adventures you have been is full of the realities and discoveries on both architecture and social impact. So, especially today, I think they all lead us to talk about the ACAN. When exactly did “Architects Climate Action Network” start and what motivated you to come together?

JP:Well, it first took place at the Extinction Rebellion protest on Waterloo Bridge, April last year. We were kind of going to these some of the extinction, rebellion, protest, and that was getting us really a kind of awareness. This, we’re being socially sustainably conscious for a while. That was really the point when we were aware of the extremity of the situation, and I think that Extinction Rebellion was doing a really great job of bringing it into the public awareness, but for us, there was just something really lacking within the architectural profession. We know so many architects that care about the climate and how they are building that project, but it’s not necessarily an option when you are working within the current framework of architectural practice in the UK especially.

LS:I think XR has just done, I’m really fantastic job of putting the climate emergency back on the agenda and in the mainstream media as well. People who might not have been talking about the climate emergency are really discussing it now. When we were stood on the Waterloo Bridge occupation, we were just looking at the backdrop of the city, and I think all three of us had a real penny drop moment of, you know. We started looking and realizing how much embodied carbon was around us. Our industries are incredibly fossil fuel intensive, and if you just look at the backdrop of the skyscrapers, you begin to realize just how much energy went into space. And actually there, we felt there was a gap within architecture and architectural activism. We have such a political and social subject and you know; we are so engaged with policy making and social sciences and anthropology, cultural points of reference as well. I think from that moment onwards, ACAN basically born.

JP:Yeah. I think that’s a really good point. I think that there are other groups or organizations within the field that are really good at disseminating knowledge on the built materials or experiments in new materials. But, actually to have this opportunity to maybe do direct action or really be individual voices was something that we felt really importantly. It can be very difficult to really say what you feel particularly. We both just started our career as architects. I mean, graduated from the master’s in Copenhagen, and when you first join an office, it can be difficult to have any say on the way that a project goes. And that is something that we wanted to try to change.

LS:I think also as well this happened in April and for a long time, we were a very small group of about 10 who were trying to form what ACAN could be. And then Architects Declarelaunched their declaration of the emergency in May or June. And we realized that actually that was great. And getting the profession behind practices and behind these really big names within the architectural community. And for us that was great because we realized also that we were different in a way to them. Because we’re based on individual membership and not practice membership. It means that if your office hasn’t declared, you can still be a member of ACAN and work, form campaigns, opinions, direct actions, come to the meetings and have a voice. Basically, what we’re kind of hoping that ACAN achieve the filling that gap and providing a voice to people who may be feel a bit less underrepresented.


NYM: I think the individual part is very important when I’m looking at your website, because like, although not only architects and the building environment sector individuals also can join.

LS:We really must stress that even though architects is in the title, it’s not just for architects, it’s, you know, it’s about built environment professionals and we’re so lucky that we have such a diverse range of people in the group. We have photographers, we have graphic designers, we have communication people, we have people in PR. They don’t necessarily work within architecture on their day to day jobs either. So, I don’t know how we’ve got so lucky with the broad scope of people.


NYM: There’s a shift happening in the industry as well. So, architect’s role in the society is changing. Like we are always talking about the social change. For example, I interviewed with Chris Hildrey; he is doing a Proxy Address for the homeless people. Like we have always making these things happen as our backgrounds allow us. What will be the role of architecture in contemporary society?

JP:It’s a very difficult question. I think it’s something that’s being discussed all the time at the minute particularly. And I think there are a couple of different camps in some senses. People are thinking that the traditional role of the architect is, is being lost perhaps to some degree which I would hate to tell about. I don’t agree with it, but I think we’ve seen over the last five to 10 years, the huge diversification of architects and the kind of work that they do. I think there’s some really interesting practices like Forensic Architecture, for example, who are using the tools of an architect but for completely different work to kind of challenge legal arguments. It’s just difficult to say any one direction. I think it’s more that we’re just finding roles.


NYM: Any plans for the future?

LS:There are big plans; both with regards to education and outreach. So, at the moment we’re London based group. But there is such a strong appetite for regional ACANs. So that’s one very exciting step. And actually, if people are listening and they’d like to set up a regional ACAN, this is something that we’re going to be doing very soon. We’ve already had a huge moment of trust from Bristow, Sheffield. We’re kind of running before we can walk. We always doing things so quickly, so we’re just having to catch up with the demand for these.  I think if I may just say we have these high level aims of ACAN. The number one decarbonize now, number two we want ecological regeneration and number three cultural transformation. And I think the cultural transformation is really important.


NYM: How individuals within architecture and related built environment professions will take action in ACAN?

 JP:We have regular meeting every couple of weeks. So, we would just say come along to one of those, but also just get in touch if people have any kind of ideas for projects or they want to start another ACAN somewhere else. It’s just important that we all talk about it as much as possible, I think, and it doesn’t matter how small a part we all play, it’s just about having numbers for a lot of it. If we are to be able to convince the government change a piece of legislation or clients, developers to shift the way that they build projects. We need as many people as possible to sign up and say, say, this is just really sheer numbers that have changed things, sharing things on Twitter, or just talking to your own office about it. All of that works for the same, so that’s really important.

LS:I would encourage people to visit our website which is https://www.architectscan.organd you can sign up to our mailing list and follow us on Twitter and Instagram and all of that.


NYM: Finally, I would like to hear from both of you; regarding the future, what are you optimistic about?  

LS:I think that is a cultural shift. I think people are much, much more aware of the damage that we’re doing to the planet. And we have very close relationship with Architects Declare and the fact that, you know very well-respected professionals are taking this so seriously. I feel like that this is a reason to be optimistic. And you know, the facts that green initiatives and green products are getting such a good. I haven’t such good outreach as well. You know, it’s, it’s amazing, but there’s still a lot of work to be done. I mean, you know, now we’ve woken up, so it’s, it’s also terrifying, but I mean, yeah, kind of optimistic.

JP:I think, it’s come from a number of things. Something I was listening to another podcast today, and it was talking about a recent legal challenge that happened in Holland and how a group of climate lawyers have challenged the Dutch government in the courts and are holding them accountable for climate emissions in terms of that kind of work, like humanitarian crisis kind of. That’s how they approached the court challenge. But I think there have been a few instances now of the legal system where it’s really coming into play, that actually, if you have a really clear case in terms of the human rights and also of that kind of commitment in that certain governments are making. There were also other cases in the UK. There were things that me, I managed to be pushed through the court and I think the best people who are willing to take on these really big challenges at whole big corporations or even governments to account is. It’s potentially really exciting. We need this kind of shift of scale who is an accountable for everything that something’s been posted by.

Gilles Retsin


What is the value of challenges in architecture?

*This interview was recorded in UCL Bartlett School of Architecture in London on May 13, 2019. Some parts of the conversation have been transcribed and edited and slightly condensed for clarity.

Nurgul Yardim: What projects you are currently working on that you are especially excited about?

Gilles Retsin: I’m pushing quite hard to, to enter this kind of question about domesticity. How do we live today? Who constructs this housing? And so part of those projects are speculative. They really need kind of setting out to field of like how we could, you know, how I think about housing? So that’s, I’m really excited to kind of work on these questions.

NY: As technology keeps progressing, what will be the role of architects in the future?

GR: Our role is very important because we are facing incredible challenges. We are facing challenges on one hand come from climate change, but also like changing populations, densities. How our cities are going to work, a lot of challenges in terms of housing. I don’t know the numbers by heart, but like there’s like an incredible 2 billion people or something will need new housing in like the next so many years. So there’s basically demand for creativity and understanding of this built environment right now. The reality is that in a way architects have kind of put themselves  in a very difficult position to answer those challenges because we haven’t really been answered other challenges. And especially I think with the, and it’s obviously the thing I keep repeating in terms of like the digital technologies that architects have completely missed the boat, right? It’s like you could actually, like the project that architects have built with the digital is really about. You know, doing something we come to by hand. It’s just, sorry. That is not to challenge that the world for the world right now is asking us like;

  • What do we do?
  • How do we make our cities more resilient?
  • Who is constructing housing?
  • How can we construct it quicker?
  • How can we maintain quality?
  • How can we own a house in a different way?
  • How can we protect our citizens from climate change?

And, like the sounds or like functional requirements, maybe you could say like, that’s not necessarily for designers, but I think they were a good set of constraints for us to like start to basically question how we can operate within those within these fields. And especially digital type technologies have a lot of answers there. But the premise that hasn’t really been asked, so no one is really kind of taking that very seriously on board.

I can recommend  Reinier de Graaf’s book “Four Walls and a Roof” which explains basically how the hero architect of modernism, who was a public figure that was engaged in political debates, that was in a way a star, but not a star as a kind of starchitect, but someone who’s actually engaged in debates about housing. And they will tell people how to live, they will talk about how we should live as a society. That figure has completely disappeared and partially that’s of course like Reinier describes this in his book that it’s partially because of the economic system. The shifts to kind of neoliberal and postmodern economic system where then an architect is just a business who tries to market itself. It is certainly like language and then not necessarily answering any of these kinds of societal questions anymore. But also things have changed now because we have such a clear, such a key challenge that that’s kind of postmodern complicacy is over.

Like as an architect, if you try to follow that model today, it’s like economically very difficult, plus also there is like not that desire there. So, I think what we’re going to start to see is that a lot of really big, for the moment, mainly American tech companies are starting to fill in the questions that we have not asked or itself, or that we have not managed to kind of push forwards as architects herself. They’re obviously hiring architects to help them formulate those questions. They’re employing them, which is great, but at the same time, they are starting to become owners of those debates. So “WeWork” is an incredible example. They’re now the biggest office owner in London in three years time. So that’s really  something. And they will obviously go into “we live” and like start to provide housing and this starts to question like what the housing is like? It’s important that this is like a dual conversation because on the one hand it’s easy to say that those tech companies are evil but on the other hand we all love Airbnb and Uber and you know.

I was just in Brussels using this electric scooter. Fantastic, right? Obviously these are ideas that come from Silicon Valley, and I think they’ll also need to praise this kind of utopian and interesting way how they offer fantastic surfaces, right? So in a way, it’s really becoming a challenge to start to see how we can, take ownership of some of those ideas and start to kind of develop also visions that; on the one hand inspire, the tech side, but also inspire governments to maybe equalize the situation more. So that it’s not just these companies kind of innovate monetizing that stuff.

I think there’s a lot of space for architects, but we really need to make a radical change in how we situate ourselves. And that, again, that doesn’t mean that we need to give up like creativity, etc. For example, a lot of schools that we consider good schools still really built on this idea of like that every little student there has to be some kind of blossoming star, which that needs to express the kind of deep. And also like on the one hand, that’s fine, right? Because it’s maybe also kind of certain romantic attitudes to the profession and I think it’s important. But on the other hand, it maybe also sends a little bit of a wrong image to works or roles in society. So like what do we actually do in society? I think that’s a little bit difficult, but because we don’t want to end up, obviously in, in kind of pure engineering schools, they are not allowed to express your kind of creativity and we desperately need kind of genuine creativity and individual thinking. But on the other hand, you also don’t want to make little starchitects and kind of jump them in the world. And then one out of like three thousands makes it, and the other ones are frustrated.

So, I think it’s interesting to architects to also understand what our positions there are and maybe situates or how can you be an architect today in other ways? And I think in that sense it’s getting very interesting what we can actually do. We can make companies, you can do podcasts, you can start to do so many things with our education. For example, at my colleague Manu, who has a 3D printing company, another colleague is doing like, software consultancy. We’re starting a company now called AUAR automated architecture, which is also doing consultancy for big companies to understand what automation means for them. So there’s so many ways we can use  knowledge, I would like to be optimistic as well. Like it’s very important to keep studying architecture and we will have other challenges to face.

NY: Regarding the future, what are you optimistic about?

GR: It’s such a difficult question today. We are faced with climate change, we’re faced with a professional that is increasingly in trouble. As I said before, I would like to kind of be optimistic in a way about believing that we have agency and power to change that trend and that in a way we are facing, like sometimes it’s good to face a very clear battles but sometimes I bet that’s better than being in a, in a time of like complicacy. It’s like there is something we need action, so many things we need to respond.So I think, although there are these big challenges, I think in one way it’s kind of maybe a very interesting time to be alive and to kind of face those challenges. So let’s be optimistic about those and let’s think that we kind of, as architects can really better knowledge is needed and that we can really contribute to the world. And we’ll do that in more and more different forms. 


This episode features



Mina Hasman & Phil Obayda / SOM


We’re happy to be back on the air with our second season. In this episode*, our guests are Mina Hasman and Phil Obayda. 

*This interview was recorded in Skidmore, Owings & Merrill London headquarter at SOM-designed Broadgate Tower on April 17, 2019. 


Mina Hasman has been an associate at SOM since 2012. She graduated from Cornell University, and she did her masters at AA on Sustainable and Environmental Design and Engineering. Mina leads SOM’s sustainability and wellness operations and long-term vision. She challenges existing best-practices by developing new systematic and design-based approaches applied and tested in complex, international projects. Mina has been elected to RIBA Expert Advisory Group of Sustainable Futures, and UK Green Building Council’s Future Leaders Programme.


Phil Obayda is an associate director at SOM and RIBA Housing Expert Advisory Group Member. Before joining SOM, he has worked with renowned architectural practices like Foster and Partners, Kisho Kurokawa Architects and bere architects in the UK, Tokyo and Abu Dhabi. Since joining, he has worked on a broad range of projects including residential, commercial, educational, transport and hospitality schemes in the UK and overseas. In collaboration with his US colleagues, he also leads the SOM UK office’s efforts of researching and promoting the use of structural timber in the projects they undertake.


In this episode, Mina and Phil discuss their path in SOM; sustainability within the building industry and how we all come together & help to shape the future. I hope you enjoy the first episode of Season 2, as well as the stellar guests we have lined up.


This episode features:

RIBA Expert Advisory Groups

The terraced roofs of the former Weyerhaeuser Corporate Headquarters building


What Ever Happened to the “Original Green Building”? short article

SOM’s Sustainable Design perspective


Listen to the episode 



Apple Podcasts

Google Play




Dezeen Day

dezeen day anylabtalks

In this episode anylabtalks featuring “Dezeen Day”, an international architecture and design conference took place on 30 October. This episode’s guests are Paola Antonelli, Arthur Mamou-Mani, Rachel Armstrong, Liam Young, Benedict Hobson, Patrik Schumacher and Dara Huang. 

The interviews were recorded in Dezeen Day at BFI Southbank, London. In this exclusive interviews Nurgul Yardim Mericliler and Emre Erdogan have talked with high-profile speakers and asked their motivation behind their speeches. 

Thanks Dezeen for the opportunity & collaboration! Enjoy the episode!

0:43 Paola Antonelli is an author, editor and curator. She is currently the Senior Curator of the Department of Architecture and Design at The Museum of Modern Art in New York.

02:15 Arthur Mamou-Mani is an architect and director of Mamou-Mani Architects and a specialist in digital fabrication and advanced bioplastics.

07:42 Liam Young is an architect who operates in the spaces between design, fiction and futures. He is the founder of Tomorrows Thoughts Today and runs the programme on Fiction and Entertainment at SCI-Arc.  

10:33 Benedict Hobson is the Dezeen’s chief content officer. 

11:41 Rachel Armstrong is professor of experimental architecture at Newcastle University, she is a pioneer of living architecture, an approach that seeks to give buildings some of the qualities of natural systems.

13:58 Patrik Schumacher is the principal at Zaha Hadid Architects and founder of Design Research Unit at the Architecture Association.

17:48 Dara Huang is an architect and founder of Design Haus Liberty and co-founder of Vivahouse.


Arch+Dsgn Summit

Arch+Dsgn -Podcast

Anylabtalks Podcast LIVE: Role of the global architect with Kirsten Lees

This special podcast recording and live audience Q&A took place at the İzmir Architecture Center, Turkey on Thursday 26 September. Moderated by Anylab founder and #anylabTALKS podcast host Nurgul Yardim Mericliler, the talk explored Kirsten Lees’ thoughts on the role of the global architect, the inter-relationship between architecture, place and the city.

Kirsten Lees is the Grimshaw London studio’s Managing Partner and Partner in Charge of the design Arter Museum, recently opened in İstanbul, Turkey.

The talk was a part of Arch Dsgn Summit İzmir and be hold at the İzmir Architecture Center in İzmir, Turkey.


Mat Barnes


This episode’s guest is Mat Barnes, director of CAN: Critical Architecture Network in London. CAN is an architecture studio that designs buildings, environments and installations. Prior to founding CAN, Mat was an Associate at Studio 54 Architecture where he was responsible for the award-winning Peabody infill housing projects. He has been a guest critic at a number of universities including Oxford Brookes and Westminster. Recently his design of Lomax Studio project picked up a Royal Institute of British Architects  London regional award. In this interview, we talk about experiences, McDonald’s, ornament in architecture and how to make a great city. I hope you enjoy our talk.

Listen to the episode 


Transcript of the episode’s last question

*This interview was recorded in WeWork Mansion House London on April  18, 2019. The transcript has been edited and slightly condensed for clarity.

Nurgül Yardım Meriçliler (host):  Regarding the future, what are you optimistic about?

Mat Barnes (founder CAN): I’m optimistic about everything. I mean, there are a lot of things in the political sphere that you shouldn’t be optimistic about which I’m not. But generally, I think as an architect, you have to be optimistic. I’d say about 80 percent of the projects that we pitch or do, fail. So we’re more used to rejection than success. I think unless you keep your optimism then you do any work or you’ll give up.

“What I like about architecture is that you never know who the next client is going to be or where the next brief is going to and it’s never what you expect.”

Not knowing is exciting and you are hoping the big projects going to be the next one comes in. One of our main things is that you can take inspiration from all aspects of life, like low culture, high culture. And you know, working in McDonald’s when I was younger that has influenced my creative sort of ideas as much as going to visit buildings in Venice or wherever. So, I think you should embrace everything, and that will inform what you want to do.


Angela Dapper

anylab episode 8

This episode’s guest is Angela Dapper, principle of Grimshaw Architects; leading hotel, commercial and cultural projects. This interview was recorded in Grimshaw Architects in London. Angela is currently focused on research and development of people based on buildings integrated with public space. Before joining Grimshaw, she was a Partner at Denton Corker Marshall Architects where she was involved in several landmark London projects. She led the design and construction of Stonehenge Exhibition and Visitor Centre. Following this success, Angela was shortlisted for the Architect’s Journal Emerging Woman Architect of the Year. We talk about the culture of architecture, human-based design and gender equality in the discipline. 


Listen to the episode 


Transcript of the episode -last question-

*This interview was recorded in Grimshaw Architects London office on May 8, 2019. The transcript has been edited and slightly condensed for clarity.

Nurgül Yardım Meriçliler (host):  Regarding the future, what are you optimistic about?

Angela Dapper (principal Grimshaw Architects): I’m optimistic about doing things better. I do a lot of commercial work, and I’ve been speaking to a lot of commercial developers.  They are not interested anymore in just doing a building in a site; they’re interested in making a community making and a neighbourhood. How we are impacting people, how we are creating connections, how we are improving the surrounds… I think this is important and where it goes back to “people-focused”. So less about the money on people will say, okay. It’s not about gross to the net anymore. It’s not about just the areas we can squeeze out of a building. Because we have fewer areas, but we have a better quality of building just like… Hallelujah! This is what we want to hear as architects. Because we’re interested in what we’re creating and it shouldn’t be a formula, it shouldn’t be about making money. Because successful building should be about people enjoying, working in them, living in them or sharing them.


Love this episode? Share it on Instagram and tag @anylabco and #anylabtalks! And if you want to subscribe, rate, and review the podcast, that would be so fab.


anylabTALKS episode #7

anylabtalks 7In this episode, AnylabTALKS guest is Patrik Schumacher principal of Zaha Hadid Architects. This exclusive interview was recorded in Zaha Hadid Architects Studio in London. Patrik is one of the most influential figures in architecture today, with his educational background in both philosophy and architecture. We talk about his leadership in a world-famed firm carrying one of the biggest names in modern architecture, Zaha Hadid; his passion for being creative and the era of computational intelligence.

Listen to the episode 


Transcript of the episode 

*This interview was recorded in Zaha Hadid Architects Studio in London on May 7, 2019. The transcript has been edited and slightly condensed for clarity.


Nurgül Yardım, host: It’s awesome to be with you here Patrik, such an honour. I want to begin with what originally made you become an architect. It’s long ago…


Patrik Schumacher: Well too long ago… I mean I was fascinated with architecture as a teenager. Actually when I came across images of Mies Van Der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion in art class and also the time there was a film running on German television about the work of Mies. So I like that modern architecture that dematerialised, elegant, steel and glass kind of architecture is very different and implied transformed the future world. So, that attracted me to architecture. 


NY: Then I’m wondering how your involvement with Zaha Hadid Architects and how this journey exactly shaped your life. 


PS: Well, it’s most of my life, it’s a lot going so… Well, I was still a student, and I was in London. I started architecture in Stuttgart, and I came across some of her work. She had won the Peak competition. There was a small publication from the AA called Planetary Architecture, and I saw some of the drawings. Anyway, I was bored with Germany and Stuttgart is very ordinary so I was attracted to London. I started here and then also followed up on her work and she won some competitions again. So I was aware that she is a global architect with her drawings, and I thought this is the most intense, beautiful and intricate work. And while I was a student after my first year of studying as an exchange student, refuse to go back to my school and instead join the firm. The studio is this space actually, so that’s where it started. She had just opened and got these spaces I think a year earlier. And it’s just this room and other room with only a handful of people. And so there was maybe like four or five employees. When we did competitions, more people also came ex-students and current students too. She couldn’t hire permanently, but who would help so. And I got into it, a lot of work, every day until midnight and more. And then very soon after I joined them to key designer. 


NY: It’s a beautiful place as well as with the remembrance of a lot of things…


PS: It’s very memorable; we’re sitting in the same room today.


NY: I think architecture coming with these feelings along with us. And I know this is a naive and difficult question but could you sum up in your view how ZHA has changed over the last three years after Zaha passed away? 


PS: The main development Zaha Hadid Architects happened through the ’90s and the first decade of 2000, the 21st century where we matured and became a large firm willing and eager to build. We established the organization in the last few years before that she was passing and we had become a very professional organization with the board of directors with proper processes. These were hard times that you had to be very professional and very efficient. So all of that is in place, and we’ve been working, myself and Zaha are on everything together for many years with the teams as a lot of independence. Zaha was missing as a friend, as somebody who was around, charming and energetic but in terms of the work process, everything continued and luckily clients stayed with us. We were also invited to new competitions for some jobs. We won new important works. So there is no much change in terms of the work experience here and the portfolio and types of projects, and that’s we’re grateful that we’ve been allowed to continue without our charismatic leader. 


NY: It’s kind of, and I would like to quote you. “That’s different from maybe other studios that are more centred on one creator. We created more of a creative culture where we give a lot of scope and leverage”. How would you describe this creative culture here?


PS: Well, a lot of the architects joining us have a passion for architecture. They are great talents that have designed our term because design in this fashion is not easy; it’s non-trivial. A lot of them come to this facility through on our teaching studios. I mean, I’ve taught in Vienna for 15 years, a lot of talent coming through that; AA and UAL for over 20 years, a lot of the staff here and ex-students also from Yale, Columbia and from Harvard. So that’s the way they’ve been trained up and already come to us with a certain passion and coherence of outlook values. So that’s why we can let people create and we’ve never done it. It was never Zaha’s thing or my thing that insisting the best idea, the best sketch or the best version. We are in the selection committee like we sometimes do our own things. I still designed as well but a large complex building you can’t design by yourself. A lot of furniture designed fully for the last few years, but with the buildings, it’s always a collective process.


NY: Also, your role as a theorist and thinker and at the same time you are leading representative of Zaha Hadid Architects. How is it affecting your practice? How do you mediate between pure research and leadership?


PS: I let a lot of things move. I’m around to inspire, and that takes some time, of course, we are also interested in building the organization, but I don’t have enough time because I’m travelling a lot. That’s where I do my reading, my research. I’m lecturing a lot that’s why I do my reflection, building up the lectures, collecting up the work, ordering it and to arguing forward. I’ve been invited to a lot of articles. So I’m quick at these, but it’s where your thinking keeps being really directed through topics that I want to address so that it feeds back into the work after a lecture or after a piece of writing. It’s very important that these things interact. So I think I would be a worse designer if I hadn’t the theory and teaching and I wouldn’t be a great teacher and thinker if I didn’t know what it means to design in the real world. So I think most of the great theorists of discipline were themselves were practising architecture like Le Corbusier, Rem Koolhaas.


NY: So where this passion comes from?


PS: I mean, even in the philosophy of science, you have a lot of actual working scientists who also often impact on the theory of science or the philosophy of science. So I think that that’s the way it works best. 


NY: In your recent interview with Marcus Fairs, you specifically mentioned that ZHA is a creative firm and needs to become a “creative brand”. Do you personally see this transition? Where do you feel like you are in this process today? 


PS: Brand is for the general market, and people need to be oriented. We don’t want to be easily recognizable, for instance. So if you say this is Zaha Hadid project, that’s not great. Is this a kind of 21st century parametrically informed project? Yes, that should always be recognizable and will be recognizable. So we don’t want to have an easily recognizable brand. We need the winning name for which stands for in creativity and innovation and an umbrella under which creators can push forward, and we also like to do collaborations with younger architects. So also their name can be put forward as well. To me, the whole project is a collective movement. Parametricism is the discipline to move it forward to bringing it into the 21st century. That’s for me the most important picture then the particulars of this firm is doing. I’m also supporting and promoting a lot of other firms to work in that direction, and I’m not afraid of the competition. 


NY: So what’s research currently informing your practice?


PS: We have lots of master planning urban design projects. So we had this research agenda while ago, permit requirements and it still comes in. We now want more diversity more richness, we can also imagine multi-author urban fields, and that connects me with the demanding and asking for greater degrees of freedom for those developers, clients, architects, designers, urban designers to shape this new city fabric. That’s one area of research. The other area of research is the research group of created between the University of Vienna and the office, looking at what I call “agent-based life process modelling” related to the semiology project. We had one of the ideas as well, it’s in the middle, and it’s moving quite well. How can we have very complex buildings with hundreds and thousands of people interacting in different departments? Maybe Google campus is something, that’s how can we arrange the various departments, meetings zones, social zones, entrances in a way that maximizes interaction and potentials between departments, across levels, status levels with internals and externals. So that’s non-trivial. So we need simulation media to get a handle on this. I mean the contemporary world, particularly the work environment, people don’t have fixed desks, and it becomes even more complex and dynamic and how to settle these zones. It’s not like people need places to sit for 10 hours and then go home and do their thing that will be easier then it’s just about making arrangements. So that’s what I’m doing here. I’m developing the methodology and hope that this will demonstrate. It’s already starting to demonstrate on the first results that parametricism that way of searching space without just grits and boxes, but with diagonals with open sections with curved trajectories blob-like intersecting domains that we get more intensity of communication going, and then you get in the end some scientific validation of the intuitions. We have the parametricism that is the most high-performance style, let’s say the kind of network society spaces we need. 


We like curves. We discovered other forms of complexity with sharp angles, lines, layered and superpositions deconstructivism. But if you try to build up complexity in this way, you very quickly reach a limit where you can’t even orient yourself in your own drawing anymore, but you lost in your own drawing. You can’t find them to places and where you’ve been drawing. So that means people will get lost. Nobody will be able to orient and grasp this so that the use of curvature to have a smooth trajectory which nevertheless as free and agile and having spaces which you can grasp because they have boundaries, you can follow rather than kind of zigzagging kaleidoscope. That’s the way we arrived at these repertoires, and they are and also the winning than of competitions through these methods also show that people the clients and other architects looking at a project it is and then they can find themselves understanding the complex composition. The constructivism was very limited in this way. But minimalism is limited even further because then you have to kind of strip everything down to a few zones which aren’t representing these institutions properly…


NY: Absolutely. And parametricism is evolving through human factors like productivity, social interaction, culture and well-being. How are these issues integrating with the future?


PS: Well, I think the well-being aspect is not something we particularly work on. These are relatively trivial matters, and you have a bit of sunlight, nice air change. These are engineering aspects, and I don’t believe there’s another how I’m pretty little green or something like this. So I think that’s going to be trivial. No, but  I think what well-being ultimately comes down to on as indirectly through if you feel productive. If you feel connected, if you come to a place and you feel you can understand what’s going on, who was where and that offerings transparent to you and you feel empowered rather than continuously missing your meetings and not noticing that something is going on another floor and another room that is frustrating. So well-being and productivity are close because we have an instinctual need to be productive. That’s why you also know that you want to live in the centre because you want to be part of something. You don’t want to be left behind and you feel that in your body you don’t have to be so that makes you unhappy if you sit in the suburbs and if you feel disconnected and you waste time commuting was also believed in densification. So well-being, I think, is very directly connected to productivity and productivity of course prosperity and in the end. You know that you will also then have been productive for the day for a week. And then you have a lot of freedom to rest, explore re-energized. But again, you also know it after two-three days will not shut the re-energizing there you read a book makes me smarter more productive for next week. So that’s the way we live today a very self-directed very self-responsible. We can’t be guaranteed that somebody else has nice things for us to do which are worth for a while into the future. So that’s why we need environments which empower to be to find our path through this network of collaboration. Let’s say which brings us to the city.


NY: Especially Richard Florida’s books, like creative class like creative cities. They all coming together…


PS: Well, that’s a way what works. I mean, like it’s called networked society. Everybody is not creative must be creative because we have to programme these fabrication systems daily, weekly whatever. You can work on a new service, package of the app and you can upload it. So literally in there could be no limit to how many new apps you could upload or how many new 3D printed products, innovations you can deliver. That’s very different from before. In the ’50s, there is no point in being creative because these assembly lines have to run without change. So there is no creativity required, and therefore, there are no creative industries. There were very few people and now it’s literally everybody. You’re creating something, what you put online and the next day you can do something new. 


NY: So speaking of this, how do you perceive the role of the global architect in the current world of the shared information? Does this role bring any new responsibilities for us?


PS: Well, yes for sure, it brings new tasks, and we need to upgrade the discipline. I’m thinking of myself as a leader of the field not only I’m doing x-number of jobs or get involved with but how should we. I mean the methodologies we discover here. I wish that many more architects would try to improve on them, discuss them, help with that research and develop a project rather than doing things which let’s say some retro style, something fancy or without argument, without push back. And so that leadership role is important, that’s the responsibility part. You are also responsible for each client on a larger scale. I feel responsible for the field for discipline because I think it is fragmented and unsure of its role, its rationale. 


NY: Bringing it back to your research side, what is special about Design Research Lab (DLR) at the Architectural Association(AA)? What is the core values nowadays?


PS: This was the beginning of computational architecture. You know, we founded in 95, Columbia Paperless Studio. I was teaching at Columbia and Harvard, that’s why I saw the beginnings. And once we started AA, we were full-on digital, and we were full-on the kind of discourse of folding in architecture; continues nurbs, surfaces, blobs, lots of absorption of Deleuze and Guattari. So we absorbed a lot of that and explored these repertoires and their values of complexity that we think of a network of dependency. Everything interacts and communicates with each other. These values are still there 20 years later, but we’ve worked them, we understood them, we have taken on issues like structure, envelope and apertures.


Now we’re taking on issues like environmental logics and new engineering logics, fabrication, robotic fabrication all of that, but most importantly, recently I mean, more and more you’re also taking up into the computational domain, social functionality social performance into action scenarios. That was so far. Always the layout and organization had remained an intuitive design process where we had all the algorithms. To execute and dramatically what we had intuited now I think the next stage is to use algorithms also to help us develop the social organizations in the level of sophistication so this paradigm has been stable in its basic values and principles for not 25 years. And so that’s why I called the “epochal style” whether the world at large has woken up or not. I do care, but it doesn’t change the fact. This is the paradigm for the 21st century; the way of doing architecture within a digital era. An era of computational intelligence, big data, AI and all of that new engineering capacities. Absorbing things like space syntax. 


It’s the margin of land in this one at large, but no doubt is nothing else of lasting value be the all other architects. Basically yes, they can do their projects; but the way they work is not any different from they could have worked 58 years ago or so and these are all retro approaches. 


So that’s why I’m very confident that in the end, even though the hurdle to get into this level is a bit harder in terms of grasping these projects and grasping and handling methodologies. It will succeed and becomes a more sophisticated discipline, and that like all other laws become more sophisticated. Medicine has become sophisticated, you have gene therapy, and many of you know you have. Algorithms are helping them as well and they money fold of potential therapies and so on. We have to upgrade all these disciplines. Finance is very much upgraded more sophisticated algorithmically driven etc. If you are asked to design a one-family house which hasn’t changed its diagram for the last 80 years, you can do that in your sleep. That can always be done. There will always be some scope for that. But to do Google Campus or do a new urban industry hub in Shenzhen is different, like now, we doing Shenzhen campus competition 2 million square meters. It’s just a pretence to think that you can sit down and have an idea and make a grid or something that you are doing something useful,  it’s just preposterous.


NY:  So we are accelerating like deeper and deeper into this new digital age. Does this excite you?


PS: It is exciting, and it is challenging. So that’s why I would hope that more people help to this research group perhaps in our people, but it’s slow. I mean, I hope they know more, and they’re not all computer scientists they learning some of the code. Then there is a social science aspect. There are so many tasks, and the team is too small. So I’m trying to see if I can get funding. I mean investors to make us bigger. We have the other research team for code developing geometries and relate to fabrication logics. They’re getting into new ideas of residences and marketing of residences. We develop this idea of forms of co-living, it is more complex and a bunch of apartments because you have to think about all the different. Shared zones and spaces that would be of utilization that makes it becomes more exciting and also then you have to kind of measure with the client we’re doing that as well. What is happening? What’s the utilization to change that? How big should be apartments? You know not taking a rule book an apartment has to be X that’s rubbish. I mean, that’s really absurd that means we waste a lot of resources by making all apartments with too big.


So what is the discovery process and how do you could actually residential community working on this in to become kind of a dating website where you actually can sign up to protect it and maybe see who else wants to live here. And who do you want to live next to me? The random agglomeration of residence is never community. I mean, I’ve never talked a single of my neighbours living in London for 30 years because we’re not good matches. Maybe we have ever given a very complex society where matching up is non-trivial and the random selection will never do. I mean, yeah kids in the same block. They can like each other. But in a co-living, you’ve curated that it’s just something like startup homes. There’s a kind of subgroup which is relevant to each other. And also if you would younger than, you-you’re more open and flexible and you can. You more or less set and there could be more stimulation through co-living, but it needs to be curated. So how do we curate that and use data and social media systems to make it happen? These are the kind of research we’re doing, and you can see that the very much oriented with respect to social progress.


NY: Right, so speaking of the digital age; We have seen your responses in the blogs, and you are using Facebook in a public way to share your ideas. How do you see these platforms for architectural communications?


PS: Well, it’s good. I mean, Facebook. Someone will feel that Facebook at the swamp. But I mean, we have not too many friends or what flies through the air is kind of morph used more random than it used to. And what I’m still putting out stuff happens. Like I get a sufficient number of feedback, it lost a little bit of that for me. It became more may be too much diluted by stuff. Maybe that’s just me. 


NY: You are like a kind of person that talks about political issues and housing debates. And how did you take criticism? 


PS: Maybe well, the criticism is necessary, of course, and we should have an open critical debate. What is problematic is the kind of recent tendency to go hostile to somebody with a different opinion to find it to moralize too much and not accept that. For instance, my positions, they actually every contribution to public debate. I think inherently has while I’m opening itself up to talk publicly is because I’m interested in the common wheel freedom prosperity for all how to do what’s best for everybody, what’s best for the society for the city for our lives and that includes everybody’s life.  And so that’s misunderstood. So if I’m coming in making certain propositions, it is denied. It’s kind of sad that I’m representing you know, the rich, minority that they hate the poor or something. That’s all false. And that I’m a fascist and that I deserve to be you know… Actually, I had been recently booted from a conference platform because some other speakers didn’t want me there and because I was talking about privatizing public spaces. And supposedly that the kind of taboo or no go. Well, a lot of beautiful public spaces are private, and I have good reason arguments for the benefit of a flourishing society for all why I think a lot of public spaces should be privatized should be much more scope for private initiative the domain of urban spaces. But there are some people who think that this is kind of impermissible opinion, I need to be pushed off the platform and shouldn’t be allowed to make such arguments. So that’s what I don’t like, and I get a lot of hostility a lot of ad hominem. You should never attack a person. And if I am criticizing a number of ideas and positions, I’m not there by meant to criticize and attack a person, that’s my attitude. I want to help myself to get pushed back. But also maybe help such a person to overcome that they’re kind of obsessed by maybe disempowering ideas. So I think even that includes criticism of various cultures and patterns;  we’re living in a multicultural society, we are living in a society where people from all over the world congregate with different perceptions of the good life. They can also be debated, how they well they fit with each other, what would fit the contemporary world, what is private forms of life which facilitate overall progress of society? So these things are becoming highly sensitized, and we need to get thick-skinned about them. Otherwise, we can’t get anywhere. We just exchanging politeness and maybe you talk behind closed doors, and that’s not helpful. So that’s my criticism. I know this is going on and I’m taking the hits rather than shutting up. But I’m always making this meta-argument, please even if I’m getting very very bad negative and it’s invective. I give a chance on Facebook as well. Come back friendly, asking for a reasonable asking for an argument, giving a person a chance because this is the culture they might have and often that works often. You overcome that initial kind of hostility that some of these also few famous lots of people kind of hate you all ready for that. And so I think that honestly just you know pompous and arrogant and look down on people, I’m none of this. So if they feel that I’m actually responding to giving him the time of an argument, that’s the respect that often. That’s why I do it, and I want to also learn from this.


NY: It’s a kind of process.


PS: It’s over positive to have social media debates, I think its a learning process. This invective is not productive, that’s what I don’t like. 


NY: And finally our last question; regarding future, what are you optimistic about?


PS: I’m optimistic about Brexit. I’m optimistic about that Europe eventually maybe through the UK, maybe through independent Scotland, it’s on a political front; will find to risk more degrees of freedom for entrepreneurs, more self responsibly for everybody to get out of this stagnation. So what I find frustrating that Europe is stagnating, even Germany you kind of had a little bit of a growth trajectory this now back to half a per cent growth per annum which is virtually zero per person, you can last 10 years no productivity gains virtually. 0.1 % over is scandalous. I mean, we’re living in an era of technological take off where we have I have powered everything, and yet we have the per person standard of living in the average GDP per person or and productivity particular which is behind that is absolutely stagnating, I think it’s all about. 


I mean all work much more freely again with less control and all of us could be so much richer and also I like the adventure of the human project in terms of what technology could be invested in but if we don’t invest in this because we just don’t we no longer productive. I mean, these are political barriers. It’s like the city can’t grow anymore because there are all these planning restrictions. But also so many other restrictions in terms of entrepreneurship and creative businesses creating finding new ways of working together because the normal employment contract is not. So that’s why I feel we want to, I want to break through politically, but it also relates to you know, architecture and it’s flourishing. So that’s why I became a Libertarian, I just want more degrees of freedom, and I’m not scared that this will be abused by everybody. I will trust in the self-regulating mechanism of the market and also in the positive spirit of entrepreneurs. I don’t think this is the kind of scary scenario that everybody has more freedom. 


And you know I’m not scared of Google, Facebook and Amazon. I adore these firms, and I think they’re great. They are giving us so many beautiful things and most of them for free. I’m using Amazon all the time, that’s why I have a fantastic Kindle library on my phone and, and I’m publishing as well, and I like the fact that my stuff will go along. So why should I have against Amazon or Facebook, which I’m using continuously Google whichever using and loving to use I mean we’re not doing any harm. So they need to be unleashed and not tied down. They unleashed then others can also be unleashed. It’s great young entrepreneurs have these. You do your thing, and then you hope to be absorbed with them and then your ideas can flourish within that or somebody else. They need to be much more freedom. I think we have much more stimulating lives. So that’s my hope, I mean, that’s why I’m talking about. Maybe I’m convincing you about this. then we one more…


NY: Thank you so much.


PS: My pleasure. It’s really a good conversation.