‘Never dramatize, always simplify’ Interview with Studio PEZ

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Studio PEZ is an international architecture studio based in Basel (Switzerland) and in Tel-Aviv (Israel). The studio is formed by two architects, Pedro Peña (Spain) and Daniel Zarhy (Israel). They met each other when they were working in Herzog&de Meuron. They have worked in both big and pretigious studios, like Herzog & de Meuron and OMA, and small studios but more realistic ones. With this mix of experiences they achieve the perfect balance to find simple answers to difficult questions.

Under the leitmotiv ‘Never dramatize, always simplify’ they try to identify what is essential and important in a project to give the architecture what it needed.pez-bslStudio PEZ office in Basel

‘To participate in competitions is a way of training yourself, like going to the gym a bit, but in this case you train your ideas’

 

How did the idea of the studio arise?

We met five years ago when we were working in Basel for Herzog & de Meuron. We started doing a couple of competitions outside work hours and we actually won them! One was EUROPAN 11 in Holland and the other one was an Ideas Competition for an Opera House in Busan, South Korea. After winning both first prizes, we said to ourselves: ‘maybe that means something; we need to start to do things together’. By the way, neither of them happened in the end, but it made us start our Studio! Now we have a leg here in Basel, and another one in Tel Aviv.

 

As you have explained, you have participated in many competitions with very good results. Do you think this is the best way to get to build projects nowadays?

Financially not really! However, it is a way to think and experiment in projects that you normally don’t get the chance to do. In addition, it’s a way to train yourself, like going to an architecture gym where you test ideas in laboratory conditions. Apart from that, it helps you to build a portfolio and a reputation, you get published and you get more and more recognition. In terms of cost-effectiveness it’s doubtable – we invest a lot of time, effort and emotions, and unfortunately the chances are not high. Luis Mansilla used to say, ‘winning one every 10 is good average’, we try to fit in these statistics!

It’s also important to say that winning is just the first phase. To make it happen, to get the building built is a whole different story. From the winning letter to the first invoice there’s a very long “pregnancy”.

 

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Busan Opera House, Busan por Studio PEZ

 

Your leitmotiv or the phrase that defines your philosophy is “Never dramatize, always Simplify” – Could you explain what you mean by this? What do you understand by the term simplify?

For us it means to find what is essential. To find coherence, logic and hierarchy – what is important for each project, what defines the concept.

It is not simple, in some projects, we’ve achieved it on a higher level – For example in the Jerusalem Court House, the “not dramatization” was to consider very seriously how the three circulation systems: judges, public and prisoners were working. Through that we tried to find a way to articulate the volume differently from other courthouses. While most courthouses have two ‘sides’: the public and the judges, we divided it into different volumes, each facing a different side. Thereby we got a building that is different, that challenges the typology’s “usual suspects” and creates a new typology.

Another meaning comes from the translation of simple and abstract to Hebrew – they both come from the same stem and we feel there’s a strong connection between simplicity and abstraction. It is like this drawing of Picasso’s bull – from a figurative drawing he gets to a line drawings, but one can still understand it is a bull! He realized what is the absolute minimum that makes a drawing be read as a bull. I.e. in the process of abstraction, only the essentials are left. This kind of accuracy and clarity is what we seek in architecture too, it is not that easy!

 

‘By abstraction only the essential things are left. This kind of accuracy and clarity is what we seek in architecture too, but it is not that easy.’

 

Daniel has worked in OMA and Herzog&de Meuron and Pedro in Herzog&de Meuron. They both are studies that typically handle large projects and budgets. Has this influenced your way of working?

Definitely, in a lot of senses. OMA for me (Daniel) was eye-opening. There were a lot of young people and it was a real collaboration. Rem Koolhaas is (obviously) a genius, not only is he intelligent, but also because he lets people work and “uses” their creativity. He doesn’t only expect that everybody executes what he says.

At H&dM first of all we both learnt how to put a building together. In addition one can see how two people who know each other since kindergarten have built a relationship with a lot of respect, complementing each other and pushing the limits of the profession. They built a culture of training, of working in a team, of creating a design process. Their system is especially interesting since a project takes a lot of time and involves plenty of people; it is therefore not trivial to succeed to keep its soul, its concept and its freshness without compromising the construction quality.

 

Do you think it is important to work first for something else?

Yeah, we think it is essential to work for something else. You learn the profession through. For the first time you know the project has phases, and what is important everywhere. You learn how to think things, to analyse them, to test them… Something that is very hard to learn by yourself.

Schools are usually either very technical or super theoretical. So the practice is a good taste of reality. If possible, it’s good to have experience in different types of practices: not only super fancy offices but also rather small, down to earth studios. For both of us working helped to shape the way we work and think – we both worked from the very beginning of our studies, second year, as trainees. It definitely gives you another perspective. On the other hand – it’s important also not to stay too long and to try to go for what you believe in! 

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Nanoscience and Nanotechnology Building, Tel Aviv por Studio PEZ

 

Given that today many young people are planning to form a team and create a studio, it would be interesting to know you opinion about which are the strengths and difficulties they have to face. What advice could you give to these young entrepreneurs?

First of all, optimism. You have to be a bit crazy, to have pink glasses to see the reality through. It is crucial to find good partners – communication and collaboration are essential, they make work a lot of fun but also allow to generate ideas and points of view that are hard to find by yourself. For us collaboration means that one has to be open to criticism, leave ego away, build something together and go for the best direction.

In is also important to remember that in the end, architecture is also a business and there are a lot of things you should know that you really don’t realize in the beginning: how to communicate with a client, how to manage your cash flow etc. This is also part of the partnership – each one has a different strength on these things. To conclude – it is about being optimistic and at the same time to have both feet on the ground.

 

‘Collaboration means that one has to be open to criticism, leave ego away, build something together and go for the best direction’

 

What is your vision on architecture nowadays?

We feel that architecture lacks sanity, it needs to go back to its roots. We need to find what is essential in each project, to try to get the maximum results with minimum means and to try to find coherence. We believe that at the end of the day from sanity, from coherence, ultimately comes beauty. 

 

Interview: Laura López & Angela Montagud

Translation: Miren León

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