Interview With Zetta Kotsioni & Dimitris Kolonis of Zaha Hadid Architects
We are more than happy to welcome Zetta Kotsioni and Dimitris Kolonis, Lead Architects at Zaha Hadid Architects to the upcoming ESO Conference 2017! Within this context we had a short conversation with them, discussing various aspects of the architectural practice in one of the most renowned firms of our times along with Zetta's and Dimitri's personal perspective on the architectural education and their Greek background.
You are employed by one of the most active and successful offices worldwide. How easy would it be for an architect with working experience from the Greek environment to adapt to the international standards of Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA)? What are the specific skills that someone would need to acquire or sharpen and what of their previous knowledge they would might have to reconsider?
We both came to work to Zaha Hadid Architects after having our own practice in Greece for 12 years. Moving from our practice to ZHA there were apparently important differences. The first thing you notice is how much design is appreciated and how much it is respected on every decision taken in the making of a project. This allows for a distinctive architectural language, perceived as such globally, regardless cultural differences. Another thing that is impressive is to experience how an office of this scale operates, where people of various expertise work together sharing the same design vision.
Previous experience feeds into your work and may establish your position in the team. For us, having already the experience from own practice on construction and administration aspects rendered us valuable players in our teams right from the start. There is a vast variety of countries of origin for the staff and very different educational and professional backgrounds. The variety of their skills is something that the office appreciates and tries to take advantage of. Regarding special skills, of course the knowledge of specific software is essential but is also very accessible while in the office.
Now, as far your studies are concerned, to what extent were you prepared for this level of work (in ΖΗΑ and/or in previous positions) after your graduation?
We both completed our undergraduate studies at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, following a program aiming to provide a theoretical background on which an artistic expression could be developed. We then continued our studies with our MArch in programs that were focusing on experimental processes of producing architecture and design and therefore were in line with the design process followed in ZHA. Zetta acquired her master's degree in the Design Research Laboratory (DRL) program at the Architectural Association and Dimitris at Pratt University.
The post graduate schools urged you to connect and exchange experiences with students from other universities and different departments, attend lectures and exhibitions of art and architecture, creating a multi disciplinary context of ideas and shared knowledge. The objective and environment of our studies, as well as the cities where we studied which were controversial, multicultural and innovative, gave us the necessary stimulus and helped us develop a wider and open minded perception towards design and architecture. These were crucial factors in order to be creative in a working environment like ZHA.
Apart from our studies, the education we have acquired from our family environment - as we come from families of engineers - has been equally important and necessary while setting up our own business , equipping us with practical knowledge for our work.
How was Zaha's presence perceived in the office? Have you had any personal contact with her?
Zaha had a very strong and demanding personality. She would push everyone to their boundaries but that was because she would see more in you that you did in yourself. She was the one who believed that everything is possible. As Rem Koolhass recently remarked about Zaha, 'There are geniuses who doubt everything and others who doubt nothing. Zaha was in the second category'.
Zetta had a more personal relationship with Zaha when she first joined the office in 2002, when the size of the practice was smaller. Since the office has grown, Patrik's presence - as well as that of all other Directors - has been equally strong in the business and as he was a tutor in AA, we always kept a direct relationship with him.
What was the most demanding project in which you were engaged so far and what were its difficulties?
Every project has its challenges regardless of the scale or its requirements. The office engages the same effort in all projects whether it is a decorative object or a tower building, aiming always to create a design of special attributes and high design quality. The process of translating the design into a real object of architecture is always the most difficult part as the choices on construction methods, rationalization of the form, materials and texture, is what will lead to a high quality of the completed product and will reflect the efficiency of the design.
Your office has always been characterized by a highly innovative thinking regarding new technologies. What is your estimation on the change of the architectural practice in the light of 3d construction methods? Do you feel that these developments will falter the architect’s position?
New technologies and techniques are always introduced in the practice at their earliest stages, as we feel that they are valuable tools that enhance the design and allow for experimentation on forms not able to be achieved before. For example, we are currently working on a 3d-steel-printing technology that allows us to make canopies we were not able to build a few years ago.
The introduction of new technologies has always been an important factor of progressing Architectural expression, constantly pushing the boundaries of design, widening the perspectives for creation. With the use of technology design becomes more powerful and there is more quality and control in construction.
In this quest, the architect has always been the one driving the production, using these tools to his advantage in order to take the design to another level. The tools are available to everyone but the ways to use them lead to advanced thinking and innovation.
Do you believe that architectural practices are able to follow a more corporate model or are they still person centered?
As a result of the globalization and technological advancement, practices grew significantly in order to be able to resolve bigger projects, dealing with more complicated programs, increasing the quality of the detail and providing a large degree of differentiation to the designed space.
Every architectural practice, upon creation, follows a design that is driven by the vision of its founder, his perspective and disciplines. In time it establishes a design identity described by its work and the evolution of it. It creates a profile and obtains an audience. This identity remains strong despite the size of a practice and the way it functions.
In a firm with a potent character and design identity, what are the margins for individual creativity?
Even in an environment with a strong design identity as ZHA, the individuality of people with strong vision is always recognized. An architectural or design idea can evolve in so many different directions, that even starting from the same initial concept the final result will vary significantly being developed by different people in the practice.
In projects that are of bigger scale there is inevitably team work and brake down of tasks, where there is a lot of space for individual input, 'readable' at the finished project. In such projects the challenge is transferred to another level, putting together many strong voices creating a coherent and solid project.
Although there is a discrete design vocabulary in the work that the office produces, the more you engage with the design the more you get to understand it's variations, mutations and evolution.
Zaha Hadid is no longer with us, but her ideas and presence have been marking architecture for almost four decades. What is the most significant aspect of her work that will greatly affect the next generations of architects, according to your opinion?
Zaha has developed an authentic architectural language based on her personality and her unique perception of the world. This was established very early in her work and was distinctively demonstrated in her first paintings. She was visualising a world without stereotypes and spatial order. She challenged form and gravity, bringing innovation and inspiration. This alternative spatial quality is the characteristic of her work that will continue to inspire future architects.
Would you consider the possibility of returning to Greece? What would be a good reason for you to come back?
There is an important background, amount of work and way of thinking of remarkable architects of the past and today in Greece from whom we have been taught and admire. There is also a lot of space for a new architecture based on new people and ideas in Greece. The canvas has been left white for some time due to the instability and economical crisis.
There is always the challenge of returning in order to be part of a new beginning of the architectural setting. There is a lot of talent waiting for the opportunity to unfold their ideas into spatial forms. We would like to be part of this new order of things and continue our work in Greece, having the valuable experience obtained in London.
What can we expect from your presentation in the upcoming ESO Conference 2017?
We will drive the audience through the process of making architecture at ZHA using examples from some of the latest projects of the office. We will focus on complex applications which engage various types of scientific knowledge and expertise and try to demonstrate how the synthetic capability of bringing these aspects together leads to architecture of high standards.