Andrew ZAGO speaks on topological novelty and the sectional object problem, incusion, architecture as discipline or profession, the role of precedent and history in architecture education today, and more.
suckerPUNCH: Could you tell us a bit about the recent studios and seminars you have taught?
Andrew ZAGO: The last few years have been an opportunity to expand on a handful of formal interests that have developed in my practice. These range from hazarding literal figuration (counterintuitively, as path to a new abstract condition), introducing topological novelty to the sectional object problem (through what I call an involute), and moving from my earlier weak-form work to buildings whose exteriors are purely shaped by negative volumes (incusion). The later work in particular has taken off like kudzu across SCI-Arc—showing up even in Platform for Architecture + Research’s recent entry for the Helsinki Library competition.
More recently, my studios have focused on trying to articulate architecture’s political dimension. This entails first articulating the difference between the discipline of architecture and the profession.
By my definition, the discipline of architecture concerns itself with the advancement of the field as an art form, and the profession of architecture with its advancement as a reliable, affordable, and sustainable commodity. While those architects active in the discipline may well also provide reliability, affordability, and sustainability, it is the discipline alone that takes responsibility for advancing the public imagination. This is a unique form of politics that architecture shares with other art forms but whose effect on the public, owing to architecture’s sheer size and permanence, is more direct and more pervasive. Unlike other forms of political engagement that the profession of architecture shares with other fields (policy, advocacy, social responsibility), this capacity is unique to the discipline.
sP: What do you see as the role of precedent and history in architecture education today?
AZ: Those are both loaded terms given where architecture has been over the past few decades. While I recoil in horror from the acultural boosterism of the parametric orthodoxy, I am equally disturbed by recent work that dabbles in neo-historicism. Architecture is born of and shapes culture. Every architect has the responsibility to understand and engage that culture, but as an ongoing dialog of which one is an active part, not as a history to study or mimic. In architecture education, students must be steeped in architecture past and present, but as a coconspirator, not an historian.
sP: Are there any strange or interesting precedents you see students or professors putting into the mix lately?
AZ: In my studios, human contortionists and SpongeBob SquarePants.
sP: What do you see as the role of (professional) practice in architecture education today?
AZ: Not everything can be covered in the three, four, or five years of an architecture education. Therefore, every school makes a decision—consciously or not—about what it includes and what it omits from its curriculum. The question then becomes, What things can be uniquely or best taught in school rather than after graduation? It’s important to keep this in mind every time one hears some self-appointed voice of the profession bemoan the lack of professional training in schools. I would argue that school is a bad place to provide that.
I would say my teaching, as well as the schools I am involved with, are committed to the discipline rather than to the profession (as defined above). The accomplishments of the discipline’s creative explorations, whether done in school or in practice, eventually become the stylistic themes of the profession. It’s a hierarchical relationship in which the profession depends upon the work of the discipline. If a school commits itself to the discipline, rather than the profession, it should regard that decision as taking on an important responsibility toward architecture.