Interviewed in New York, April 20th 2007
Bernard Tschumi is a Swiss-born US architect (Lausanne, 1944) with residence in New York and Paris. He is one of the most influential theoreticians and practitioners in contemporary architecture. He came into the architectural spotlight with his texts, pedagogic works and conceptual projects. Through exploration of means for mediating architecture (poster, collage, text, diagram…) and conceptual strategies, he developed an expanded concept of architecture. Tschumi insists on idea of event and focuses on potentials provided by the program as the key design topic. His first realisation was built in Paris, where he won at the competition for Parc de la Villette, applying the principle of “structure deconstruction”. Later, he won a series of competitions and built several projects. The New Acropolis Museum in Athens is nearing completion. It is being built on important excavations, beneath Acropolis. Bernard Tschumi was the dean of the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation at the University of Columbia, New York, and a guest professor on many universities around the world.
ORIS: During the first part of your professional life in the seventies, you were mostly involved with conceptual projects, with teaching, research, writing and reflecting on the fundaments of architecture. In a way, your engagement was close to the spirit of the time, not only in architecture. It was a period of growth of conceptual art and shift away from artistic artefact to the different notions of artistic practices.
Tschumi: Maybe it was the spirit of the time, but maybe it was more than that. There was really a need to question what architecture was all about. In other words, throughout the 20th century, there had been first a number of certainties that were established through the statements made by the modern movement, trying to define what architecture was. Think of Le Corbusier and the five points of architecture. These certainties had proved somehow not workable. Namely, it may have promised a lot but delivered very little. Take the way the new city quarters were designed, these cities proved to be not workable. They did not fulfil their promises in terms of social, cultural and other contexts.