Spanish architect Alejandro Zaera-Polo, a founding partner of the London-based Foreign Office Architects, will come to Yale’s campus next fall as the first appointee in the visiting professorship Lord Norman Foster ARC ’62 endowed last week.
Zaera-Polo chatted with the News from London last Sunday about his plans for his new position, sustainability in architecture and being a “bright cookie” of the profession.
Q: What was your reaction to Yale’s invitation?
A: I was pleased to receive the offer from the school. There was a search for adequate candidates, and I scored high on that search. As a result, they came forward and offered me the post, which I was obviously pleased to accept.
Q: What do you hope to bring to Yale, to this new chair and to the School of Architecture?
A: I believe that one of the issues that [Norman Foster is] most interested in and I am most interested in is the question of sustainability and energy efficiency. I believe that this is a discipline that is now being addressed by many schools worldwide, and there is already quite an important contingent of people investigating those issues. But as far as I know, there is no school that has tried in any way to integrate architecture and aesthetics, or architecture and design, or style and beauty to the subject of sustainability, which still remains largely a technical, a purely technical, domain. That may be the link that I am thinking.
Q: Can you tell us how you have integrated the ideas of sustainability into your own work?
A: What we have tried to do is to use environmental performance — like thermal insulation or thermal performance or water collection — as a way of producing differential effects on the scheme of the building. Basically, the schemes of buildings are subject to differential forces — differential degrees of solar exposure or differential degrees of thermal requirements — and that is something that can transform building technologies into material effects. This is something we have tried with the shopping center that we completed a couple of years ago in Istanbul and with an office complex that we are doing in London, the Trinity EC3, and with social affordable housing in Madrid, where we have also used schemes of recyclable materials — such as bamboo and removable partitions — as a way of producing effects that were both spatial and temporal.
So there are a number of those exploration where I believe some sort of latent political and aesthetic desires that you can see across most of contemporary architecture can actually find an excuse if you want a very interesting and very adequate excuse. I think that will enable architecture in the future to put the concerns of energy conservation and sustainability together with more aesthetic or representational devices.
Q: Everybody is talking about sustainability in architecture today. The School of Architecture currently has an exhibition about sustainability. Why do you think sustainability in architecture is so important?
A: Everybody knows that this is a major problem today. There are some people who still resist to admit that this is a problem, but I am totally convinced this it is probably the most serious problem that we have to deal with. I think this is a very interesting and very important field of research for many of us who are doing buildings worldwide, but is not yet fully integrated or there isn’t yet a specific architecture discipline that relates to these issues. And that’s where I believe there’s a lot of work to be done.
Q: School of Architecture professor Peter Eisenman called you one of the “three bright cookies we have in architecture today.” Do you think you are a bright cookie?
A: Yeah. I mean, seen from his perspective, I am probably a cookie. I don’t know who are the cookies now in Peter’s list, but it’s very nice to hear that he said that of me.