Interview With Nasrin Seraji by Ahmad Zohadi (03/01/2016)

Theme: 2A Asia Architectural Award
Autumn 2015

The interview has been published in 2A Magazine issue #39

Ahmad Zohadi: How can architects, Planners and landscape designers intervene to alleviate the human afflictions in the realm of the built environment?

Nasrin Seraji: Architects, planners and landscape architects need to reconsider the way that they work together as well as the way they look at sites. The complexity of territories related to their economies and their development are presenting our disciplines with many urgent questions.
Specificity and the local conditions are primordial, hence the understanding of the site of intervention, its social specificities, its political and economical characteristics, its climatic conditions and its genetic code are of utmost importance to the way that we propose projects. We have to carefully read and describe the sites before “writing” anything on it. Architecture can only have an effect on our society if the lay people understand it and want it. Architects have for too long alienated the public from the necessity of architecture by using an internalized jargon foreign to all other disciplines. We need to propagate the idea of intelligent minimum; minimum material, minimum cost, minimum intervention, etc... in order to slow down and eventually alleviate the destruction of our environments.

Ahmad: Please follow this idea:
Between the countries from different civilizations in the Asia continent, there has been a constant history of trade, migration and sharing of cultural practices, which has extended strongly, even in the field of architecture.
I realized these countries have a deep and true connection with moral principles, which has affected all aspects of its society (Culture, Architecture, Art and their identity in general), their root and identity has influenced their architecture.
I also understood that their traditional architecture has been naturally developed in a sustainable manner, I believe that the underlying cultural, historical and spiritual values has
led to creation of this form of natural sustainability.
" It is the differing uses of history, to create varied sets of architectural languages within our contemporary framework that is of interest. This is especially true in the context of globalization, which has a powerful tendency to homogenize.”
- Hence, I would like to ask you as a member of the jury of Asia Architecture Award, do you consider this thought when you judge the projects?

Nasrin: I did not judge the projects based on cultural exchange nor on cultural similarities. Every architect has a wide circle of knowledge: visual, cultural as well as an understanding of techniques, structure, craftsmanship, technologies and material availability. The shortlisted projects showed a varied level of formal and conceptual dexterity. Each project was a witness to the conditions in which architecture is being produced and commissioned. I tried to discuss with the other members of the jury as to the relevance of these visible elements and to ask everyone to consider the specificity of the place and the context in which the works have been produced. It is true that globalization, facebook, Deezeen, Pinterest and the digital media have created a flatter world, but there is still the reality of local conditions and historical relevance when it comes to architecture.

Ahmad: In order to understand the contemporary architectural and urban landscapes of Asia, in your opinion, what are the emergent manifestations of Asia in contemporary Architecture and Urbanism?

Nasrin: We are absolutely astonished at the speed of development in Asia (even though it has been slowing down in the past few years). However it is not a simple affair to understand the contemporary architectural and urban landscapes of Asia as it is an immense continent with very varied histories and traditions. From East of Turkey to Japan there are many countries, cultures, societies, economies that are quintessentially different from one another with some similarities such as the relationship of landscape and the built form present in Iranian miniatures and Chinese paintings of the Qing dynasty, or the Japanese and Korean attention to illustration and the relationship of people to architecture, or the colours of India and the intensity of the discovery of landscape through architecture. Generally speaking there is a trend of "search for identity", identity of ancient cultures that are struggling with situating themselves as full members of a global new culture of architecture and urbanism. This however results in very different ideologies: those which are simply formal resemblance of the past drawn to be a symbolic understanding of the regional signs of identities, or in the best case a kind of critical collage of local materials specific to a region or a country forming a familiar architecture of late modernism.
The question is a critical one as Asia needs to reconstruct the glory of its past through a painful uncertain future.

Ahmad: How important is context in Contemporary Architectural Design? As a professional, researcher and educator working in Asia, what are factors, criteria or even constrains that have influential impact on your profession?

Nasrin: The word context disappeared for almost a decade from the vocabulary of architects due to a grave misunderstanding of the famous “fuck context” by Rem Koolhaas. We are at a crossroads when context has become so crucial that it is almost everything, the younger generation has started to inhabit it and most projects are mostly descriptive rather than proposals. Context is the ground on which we as architects, urbanists and landscape architects need to build our questioning of the status quo.
The ground is both a physical and conceptual platform from which we need to problematise architectural interventions. The specific context is the only way that we can avoid to do cookie cutter architecture. The economy with which we build in France is very different from that in Iran, so how can we produce the same form and architecture? The capacity of labour and the relationship between technology and construction cannot be compared from Japan to Sri Lanka. There is a great film by the late Harun Farocki, the very well known German filmmaker, author, and lecturer in film, that illustrates this point very well by showing brick production and construction in various times and places. “In Comparison”( Zum Vergleich) is the name of this film. I recommend it to every one who is remotely interested in specificity, the generic and more importantly architecture.