You were awarded the prestigious Schelling prize for theory in 2018, but describe yourself as an architect, and have designed buildings for Ai WeiWei/Herzog de Meuron’s “village” in Mongolia and have also staged theatre plays. Is theory and practice basically the same field of work for you?
For me, it’s the same. The theory I have been working on is changing habits of mind about design to confront intractable contemporary political and environmental problems. So everything is related to design. That is not always the case in architectural theory. Theorists are often keepers of knowledge, keepers of networks of thoughts. And I’m responsible for that, too. But for me it’s crucial that speculation impacts design.
Is there also a historical dimension to your research, or are you focusing on diagnostics of the present?
I have investigated historical parallels, and history is crucial. But I also decided to develop a methodology for looking at contemporary architectural evidence of architecture. There is no comfortable archive to visit. You are often grazing over global news wires, or eavesdropping on the promotional materials that global powers present. The world makes space by the 1,000s of acres a day—in a firehose blast. I wanted to ask the question: If it is space, and if it is making some of the most radical changes to the globalizing world, there is a chance we designers know something about it—maybe even more about this than McKinsey consultant or Deloitte consultant who is given authority to make global decisions. So I have been asking how we can put between our hands the space that is considered to be out of our hands.
Speaking of this evidence: Some of the thoughts you elaborate come from watching promotional videos about urban developments in Arabia and East Asia – so called special economic zones. You describe them as Free Zones. Could you elaborate on that? What information did you gather from these films?
Every country is trying to attract foreign investment, and these promotional videos are all the same. There is always a drop down through clouds from the atmosphere to identify what is supposed to be the new centre of the Earth. Cartoon skylines, sun flares, identical villas and golf courses, thundering music in the background. That is part of what has become a cultural habit for building and promoting this urban epidemic of free zones.