Asif Khan: sometimes you have to discover the creator in yourself, because no one believes that your idea is real

27 November 2018

Master of interdisciplinary projects at the intersection of architecture, art and newtechnologies, architect and artist from the UK Asif Khan spoke at the section «Creative Environment and Urban Studies». His lecture about experimental architecture ininternational events was visited by about 450 people. We managed to ask the author of the"the darkest building on Earth" a few questions.

 You are talking about an architecture that should adapt to people, but all your projectsare innovative and, one might say, irrelevant to the life of citizens. In addition, many ofthem are temporary. Is there any connection between them and the real city?

 I understand why you are asking about this and yes, I agree we do not live in the future, butnevertheless, you have a mobile phone in front of you, and you hold a pen in your hands — andthese are products of different eras. And we are lucky that we live at a time when contactlenses or implants allow us to see, hear or move better, and we learned to treat geneticdiseases. And these three things — genetic changes, biological changes and technologicalchanges have become so familiar in our world that we use them without noticing and this is tosome extent a future.But I think that we face truly important global challenges.

These are climate change,population growth, food supplies and our resources in general. And we must takeresponsibility for the direction of development in which cities and humanity as a whole move.While we are in a very good position — humanity is waging fewer wars than we used to see inour entire history, we must use the opportunities that give us new urban growth such as majorexhibitions and events, such as Expo, to grow and make sure that we choose the right path.

If we do not make sensible decisions, then there is a chance that in 2-3 generations ourdescendants will not be able to do many things we can, perhaps even as simple as sitting inthe park. And I think that creative people should use all their energy to think about the futureas actively as the present. This is the first part of your question and the second — we are working not only temporary, but also on permanent projects. So are able to think about citiesat a different timescale.

For example, we are participating in a project to build a newmuseum building in London — this is the 22,000 sq m Museum of London, in the center of thecity — which should answer the question of how a museum can communicate with the city andwhat forms this communication should take (Asif Khan is one of the authors of the project,thanks to which the museum will expand its squares in the Smithfield market, located nearthe existing museum building , - editors’ note). We also are making a contemporary culturecenter in Almaty. This is a redevelopment project of the former Soviet cinema «Tselinny». (Theopening of the museum is scheduled for 2020).

You can say that this is a normal project, butour main goal is to give visitors the opportunity to realize and identify themselves in the newworld. When we meet with contemporary art, we want them to have the same powerful experience that people might have had when they first watched a movie in this cinema in the1950s. And we have to answer the question — how to transform such a building to give themthis experience today.

 You work with innovations that need to be explored, but on tight deadlines — how doesthis work? Do you have your own engineers, how do you find innovative materials?

 I’ve worked hard deadlines all my professional life. And I think the most important thing is toanswer the question of what is possible and what is impossible in a given time frame. And sometimes it is important to show something impossible. You can say, look, it cannot be donein this period, but we could create the beginning of something very interesting. Come back in a year, but now is the start. So depending on the timing and the type of deadline, I can recommend the client what to do. It should stimulate both of our imaginations in a new way. Maybe this is good advice for students — you should not try to find all the answers, you shouldcreate a project asking the right questions.

— How is this done technically? Do you find specialists, do you have regular partners?

 There are only 20 employees in my office, most of these are architects. The wide range ofprojects that I undertake means that we work with specialists in some very unique fields suchas physics and music, for example the musician Brian Eno, and the astro-physicist CatherineHeymans in the case of the UK Pavilion at Astana Expo 2017. I tend to know enough aboutmany subjects such as how technologies are arranged and work. Of course, this is not expertknowledge, it is a kind of initial knowledge, which does not preclude cooperation withengineers and scientists. In various projects I collaborated with specialists who work withglass, stone, carbon fibre etc.

My task is not so much to know as to understand what I do notknow. And know where to find it. And although the Internet is always faster, you should still have an idea about everyone with existing opportunities, and the Internet can help you withthis. And although cooperation with experts is very important, but sometimes you have to open the creator in yourself, because no one believes that your idea is real. And for this, youmust have a variety of knowledge in areas outside the architecture — humanitarian, economic, geopolitical knowledge and believe in your plan. Therefore, unfortunately, and at the sametime, fortunately for the architect, they must constantly learn and receive new knowledge.This is its value and the beauty of the profession.

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