Tim interviews Patrik Schumacher, Director of Zaha Hadid Architects, at the Zaha Hadid Design Gallery in London. Topics include:

  • Architectural theory
  • The style of parametricism
  • Patrik’s journey from Marxism to anarcho-capitalism
  • Rule-based order through bottom-up convergences
  • How do we communicate radical ideas, whether architectural or political?
  • Is there value in shock value?
  • What is the role and limits of urban planning?
  • Parametric urbanism
  • The future of market-based urban order


So that’s one of the ideas of parametricism, and parametric urbanism, that we, with that new style, and that’s my thesis, should be able to build up new regional and path-dependent cumulative urban identities which are nature-like in a sense, like a multi-species ecology. So this is all premised on a much more market-driven process, and I’m talking about market-based urban order, and I believe that we can develop a sense of urban order without relying on a central plan, on a blueprint, on a designed city.

It can be evolving bottom-up through entrepreneurial interventions calling on architects to develop a multi-species ecology like the jungle or natural environments. There’s nobody who’s designing those. They come out of bottom-up processes of overlaying different species, different systems, different interventions, but with the sensibility of, and the necessity of, inter-articulating and fitting in.

So central planning, no; forms of emergent collective action processes, yes.


  • What is architectural theory, and why is it important?
    • Essential ingredient of the discipline of architecture
    • Alberti (Renaissance) – Drawings and theory separated architecture from tradition-bound building
    • Theory needs to be updated to an evolving societal context. Styles develop responds to socio-economic eras.
    • Post-fordist network society requires a new style – Parametricism
  • What is the style of Parametricism?
    • Derived from intuitive innovations about reinhabiting the historic city, complex contexts
    • Computational design techniques
    • Design tools which keep many form parameters at play and malleable in a process an adaptive coordination of spaces and buildings to each other
    • Organic, fluid, complex. multi-faced forms. Complexity of many spaces is resolved with curvature to make it more legible.
  • Is there a right and wrong way to design buildings?
    • Not right or wrong; more or less advantageous for the socio-economic era.
    • Modernism went into crisis in the 1970s. Mass-reproduced, sterile blocks and separation through zoning.
    • Modernism was congenial to Fordist society of mass-production
    • Post-fordism is based on micro-electronic revolution. Mass-customization, reprogramming, less separation of live/ work, reconfiguration of firms.
    • More complex, market-driven society. Post-modernism – expressed diversity.
    • Deconstructivism – contingent juxtapositions, interpenetration of spaces.
    • Parametricism enables complexity but also delivers order
    • Garbage-spill urban organization
    • Parametric urbanism should be able to build up new regional path-dependent cumulative identities
    • Can evolve bottom up like the beauty and order of a multi-species ecology.
    • Post-fordist society can lead to much more free-reign for entrepreneurship.
    • Parametricism could give form and legibility to this.
  • Politico-economic theory – from Marxism to Libertarianism
    • Marxist historical materialism – Understand societal process based on economic processes. Comprehensive theory.
    • Concern about ownership and class relationships being barriers to full participation within the production process
    • Nirvana fallacy – Marxism lacked a viable alternative to capitalism
    • After collapse of eastern bloc socialism – shift to Market Socialism, then mainstream social democracy through 90s and 2000s
    • 2008 financial crisis – Shock and challenge to comprehend. No longer found leftist Keynesian explanations credible
    • Discovered Austrian economics – Tom Woods, Peter Schiff, Mises, Hayek, Rothbard – Prescient about crisis
    • Attempts to get out of crisis using same policies that caused it has led to stagnation in Europe
    • How might this be coherent with parametricism?
    • More ordered built environment
    • Rule-based, but doesn’t need a top-down uniform hand, just a shared ethos about varied ways of continuing an urban texture
    • Parametricism could be congenial to a radicalized libertarian form of urban development
  • Parallel between rule-based, multi-author urban design and libertarian systems of rules based on the non-aggression principle
    • Bottom-up convergences towards standards, as in industry
    • One-size-fits-all, top down rules are inflexible
    • Sciences – certain convincing paradigms become dominant. Concept of architectural style is parallel to paradigms in sciences.
    • Abstract imperatives – contextual embedding, affiliation, continuities within the context. Many ways one could participate in the building of an overall texture. Buildings maintain their own identity.
    • Rationality of projects is reflected in success with clients and occupants
    • Enterpreneurs must have freedom to choose parcels, determine density, program, and unit mix. Architects should be given scope to give this a formal characterization.
    • Entrepreneurs discover synergies in locating programmatic elements.
    • Architect gives a formal expression, making it legible, easy to navigate, easy to communicate. No role for a central plan to be anything but a hindrance.
    • Collective actions – landowner associations, private development of larger parcels
    • London – Prescribes program categories, residential unit types, room sizes, facade – Takes away architect’s core competency of making the environment speak to users
    • Central planning was viable when you had a very simple pattern of living with a unified consumption standard. It is not viable with the contemporary fluctuation synergies within dense urban centers.
    • Severe under-utilization of all land use due to use zoning. Milieu protection rigidifies use zoning.
    • Sometimes central government gets it right, when they break up rigid local controls in favor of development rights.
  • Promoting avant-garde architectural theory and radical libertarian theory. How do we communicate radical ideas?
    • In the 1990’s Parametricism was converting a new generation of young architects. More design repertoire, new tools to build complexity, scripting rather than drawing lines
    • 2008 Financial crisis – Stopped a lot of projects. Interrupted forward looking spirit and background of optimism and development flourish
    • Political discourse and distraction – Occupy movement, European debt crisis, Arab Spring – Anti-capitalist. Broke the trajectory of parametricism.
    • People became skeptical. Had to explain socio-economic rationale for parametricism. Wrote books, articles, facebook posts
    • Parametricism associated with neo-liberalism. Perception of extravagance.
    • Interested in the end point of a stateless condition. Privatization of all space. Fascinating, radical proposals.
    • What is the direction of travel? Allow more personal freedom, risk and responsibility; or more state regulation to prevent risks. Route to stagnation.
    • Europe – State is 50% of GDP. Highly problematic.
    • Tenacious, one on one discussion for weeks to change peoples’ minds. Ideas need time to be digested and gestate.
  • Tradition-bound thinking. Some people don’t have a competing theory, they have no theory at all.
    • Left-Liberal consensus is deeply ingrained, developed since 19th century, pro-socialist
    • Economics, academics tend to be pro-statist because of career opportunities in government. Decades long inertia of beliefs.
    • “Political vocabulary is very poor” – anyone not leftist must be right wing, like Steve Bannon. Heightened politicization of breaking “good taste”
    • “I’m not withdrawing anything I’ve said.”
    • Libertarian society will have less inequality due to benefits of global markets, less inflated financial markets, also fewer underclass ghettos – “remedy becomes a poison chalice”
  • When communicating radical ideas (political or architectural), is there value in shock value?
    • This is not something I seek (in architectural design). I’m not out there to shock.
    • Stimulating appearance can be positive to express new organizational orders and processes
    • Decoding and making strange can allow for new ideas
    • Political ideas – Not consciously provoking for notoriety
    • Sometimes one can throw in a provocation, but even the Hyde Park proposal is not absolutely out of the question. There is always a tradeoff.
    • If you want to keep the image of a city static (i.e. historic preservation), that’s not compatible with the most vibrant, dynamic, and prosperous metropolis.
  • Centralized Urban Planning. In light of the ideas of Mises and Hayek (tacit knowledge, challenges of central economic planning) what is the role of urban planning and what are its limits?
    • Some form of planning is required for shared infrastructures. Rules for continuous street network, could depend on negotiation between private developments
    • Transaction costs – would certain collective actions be more efficient?
    • Gurgaon – traffic system, private bus lines. Problems with sewage and electric (originally provided by local government). Deficiencies, but also a great dynamic.
    • Trust planning to land-owner associations. Issues with hold-outs and free-riders. Can be pragmatic about this.
    • Prefer issue-based politics with interested parties rather than a state with a monopoly of violence.
    • Collective associations may have their own means of “soft” enforcement.
    • The idea of a central authority with universal competency is only one model, and is relatively new. Mocked up in other countries in name, but function differently.
    • Central planning – No; Emergent collective action processes – Yes.
  • What forms can parametricism take in the built environment? What are the tools to inject it into urban design?
    • A patchwork. Architects working on individual sites could respond to shared infrastructure (i.e. a monorail) with different adaptations.
    • Colleagues within the discourse of architecture watching, admiring, and criticizing each other is a force for organic coherence with diversity.
    • Public space as private ventures is fascinating. Current public space is a bleak sameness. There are multiple publics looking for different types of spaces. They emerge bottom-up.
    • There are various ways of generating revenues for privately-owned public space.
    • You wouldn’t want bars and pubs and clubs that were all state-provided where they’re all required to be safe for three-year-olds. Catering to the lowest common denominator is not an improvement on a city.
  • Are you optimistic about the future for a market-based urban order?
    • It’s mixed. The state expands in some areas and shrinks in others. Overall government taking of GDP has increased, which is worrisome.
    • Thatcher is fascinating. Instincts, Hayek, and courage.
    • We may need a deepening of a crisis before libertarian leadership can emerge. Perhaps Scotland going independent and demonstrating the disaster of socialism over 5-10 years.
    • Maybe then libertarian voices would have to be heard. Leftist voices would be covered in shame.
    • Thatcher was a beacon, inspiring neo-liberal transformations around the world. We need a signal like this. It will happen in my lifetime!


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