What’s the architect’s role nowadays? How do you change the world when it is constantly changing? How important is it for an architect to be part of a community? Arch. Angel Zahariev, co-founder of A&A Architects shared the answers for all the curiosities that we had in an interview for share-architects.com.
Andreea Movila: How do you see the role of the architect today and how do you envision it for the future?
Angel Zahariev: Well, as Ian Ritchie said, there is a common opinion that the architect should be a servant of the society. This is my opinion too. The main task of the architect is actually to make a better world for the rest of the people and for themselves. We are dealing with space and the human lives who occupy this space, that’s why the most important thing is not to create the most beautiful building, but improve people’s lives.
A.M: How does this reflect in your work?
A.Z: This concept is deeply involved in our work because in each project that we’re working on we’re not just delivering a product, but we’re trying to change something: to change the market, to change the trend, to change the location and the way of thinking of the occupants. Sometimes we succeed, sometimes not, but it’s interesting that we cannot always predict what the change would be. Sometimes it is going in a completely different direction.
A.M: This is a specific way of dealing with the future. We deal as architects with the future because we project for the future, so we do not know what to expect from it.
A.Z: Yes, I think this is very important now; the word that is describing in the most appropriate way the current world that we’re living in is acceleration because all the processes are accelerating starting with technology, with new inventions, with the life span, with the urban population, with the rise of temperature in the oceans, the extinction of species and so on. Everything is accelerating and this affects architecture in several ways. First of all, the lifespan of the building as we knew it before has shortened. This means we need to create more adaptive buildings than before. Secondly, different types of industries are developing in a different way. Unfortunately, the construction industry is probably the slowest compared with the other ones. If you consider the automotive industry or IT services, there is a big inertia compared to these ones. What happens is that we have bigger acceleration of technology, innovation and product design.
A.M: So is the role of the architect to catch up with the other fields?
A.Z: Yes, we as architects have a very slow process compared to the other processes of creating buildings. This means we start from the design, then there is the construction phase and the world has already changed by the time the building is delivered. That means we have to think in advance for the future and foresee the future much more than before. When we start planning we have to think even deeper about what is going to happen in the next ten years.
A.M: Should this be one of the characteristics of our training from faculty? Should we have been trained in this way?
A.Z: Yes, I think so. Maybe the best way to study architecture is to study innovations and try to be innovative. This would probably be the most important thing for the architect in the future. If we say that someday Artificial Intelligence will probably take our job too, then the only way to survive is to be more creative than the Artificial Intelligence.
A.M: There are many talks nowadays about this topic. It is commonly considered a hot topic and there are many people who try to establish some regulations like the ethical code and similar things. How do you feel about it?
A.Z: There is a danger, really. If we think about how the world has changed in the past ten years and how much the computing power has increased, we realize we don’t know where the end is. We can end in the Matrix or another type of dystopia. There is also an optimistic way of thinking because our brains and thinking process are also developing. If you imagine the first movie from a hundred and some years ago – it was just a projection of a very bad image of a train going directly to the public and the people were standing up being afraid the train would run over them. If you see this today, you’ll start laughing.
A.M: The human brain evolves together with time.
A.Z: Yes, even now if we see the best rendering of a thing, we’ll still be able to distinguish it from the real picture. Our brain is taught each day how to deal with new technologies and it will be much more difficult to cheat against it. That’s why it will be just equal development and the problem occurs when we’re developing slower than the technologies. I don’t know when we’ll come to this point – that will be the crucial point for Artificial Intelligence.
A.M: Maybe in this sense it is not the history that is important, but the information that travels through history and transcends history. For instance, in the last two years there has been stored more information than it has for the last two thousand years.
A.Z: It is a matter of how we are using this information.
A.M: Yes, maybe this states that the threat related to Artificial Intelligence is not the information itself, but the way some people might abuse of it.
A.Z: Yes, but that’s again a human problem because some people will use it in way that will hurt other people. The human is the problem, not Artificial Intelligence itself. [laughter]
A.M: What would be the qualities that young architects should invest in the most today?
A.Z: Creativity is the first one because this is really what separates us from machines and the other species. Then I’d say flexibility because they are both connected. In this constantly changing world we need to be flexible and know how to change our behaviour, intentions and even reactions at some point. Architects should also know from the beginning that our profession is about serving the public and the society and our main task is to improve the world and people’s lives. This should be the line we have to follow all the time. I’m teaching at the university and I see that some students become architects because they want to be rich and I always explain them that you cannot get rich with architecture; if you want to be rich, just create some application or invent some new technology.
A.M: It’s like a mission. Doctors have the mission of healing the people, so architects’ mission is to heal the environment.
A.Z: The other thing is that we have to fight the ego because the architect’s ego isn’t like we used to call it during education when you had to stand alone and fight to be the best and compete with other architects. Now we’re living in a more complex world when the architect is not the Renaissance guy from the past (where he was on his own, he was a master) anymore; we’re working much more as a team and I’d say we’ve already passed the time when we worked as a team – now we are working as a network. That’s why the other important thing is communication.
A.M: Networking and sharing maybe.
A.Z: Yes, that is why these kinds of events are very important because sharing the information and the skills of communicating with different people from different backgrounds is another crucial aspect to think about.
A.M: You were the student of the year and the architect of the year. What do you think that has been so much appreciated about your work?
A.Z: Well, it is very difficult to describe my work.
A.M: It should not be that way but objectively what do you think that you’ve promoted and what has been appreciated?
A.Z: One of the things is that we are trying to be innovative with everything. Maybe not on a global scale – it’s extremely difficult to be innovative on that scale. Combining different approaches which probably already exist somewhere and using them in innovative ways is enough. I think we are trying to do this.
A.M: Is this the approach for other practices in your country?
A.Z: Yes, we’re trying to find even in the smallest project something that we’ll be innovative for the purpose.
A.M: As we’ve heard, we have an innovative gene in our DNA.
A.Z: Yes, we see from practice that if something is successful it becomes a model really fast. This is one of the ways architects can really influence the people and make a really good job in the society by creating new models.
A.M: We should not try to save the world, but do our jobs very, very well and this will make a difference.
A.Z: Yes, even changing on the smaller scale is part of an additive process. If you add good innovations layer by layer, then the world will change.
A.M: Shortly, how would you describe the state of architecture in your country?
A.Z: Well, I can say that we are still in transition. This period of socialism is still deeply reflected in the work of the architects. We have experienced a very big gap between the generations that were educated in these times and the following generations.This gap occurred maybe ten years before me. There were some years after the changes in the ’90s – there was a sort of mess in the society.
A.M: So now the transition is positive?
A.Z: No, no, we’re still in a constant transition because we started from zero, let’s say. We started learning how to do contemporary architectural practice but we were just following some models that already existed somewhere. We were looking at what was going on in Western Europe and then applied it.
A.M: You’re now trying to find your own identity.
A.Z: Yes, now it’s the time when we have to develop our identity. This is maybe the main task for our region – the Balkans – because if you open an atlas of architecture, you’ll find out that ten years ago there were one or two projects in our region compared to hundreds in Western Europe. So we have to stand out from the crowd.
A.M: Maybe you should work on building a collective identity.
A.Z: Yes, I do not know what the solution would be, but we have to help each other.
A.M: Thank you so much for your time!