Patrik Schumacher had some big shoes to fill. The architect and principal at London-based Zaha Hadid Architects stepped in to lead the firm in the wake of its founder’s passing, the legendary Zaha Hadid (the first woman to receive the Pritzker Architecture Prize), in 2016. “It was daunting,” he says. “But we pulled through with high spirits.”
Schumacher’s interest in architecture was sparked at age 13, when he beheld images of the Barcelona Pavilion, designed by German-American architect Mies van der Rohe and modernist designer Lilly Reich, in an art history class, remarking that he was stunned and excited by its otherworldly elegance. He chose to study the practice at the University of Stuttgart in Germany and earned his Diplom-Ingenieur in architecture in 1990. Two years prior, he had joined Zaha Hadid as an architectural assistant, and over time, he helped evolve the fledgling firm into the commanding global architecture firm it is today, complete with a team of some 440 people and more than 1000 completed projects around the world.
Of those many projects he credits is the MAXXI, Rome’s national museum of contemporary art, one of Schumacher’s favorites on which he worked. (The building opened in 2010 and was awarded the Stirling Prize of the Royal Institute of British Architects in that same year.) Also on his list are Dongdaemun Design Plaza in Seoul, South Korea; Galaxy Soho, an office, retail complex in Beijing; the flowing, futuristic Heydar Aliyev Centre in Baku, Azerbaijan, (its design a departure from the rigidity of the area’s Soviet-style architecture); and the dramatic Morpheus Hotel at City of Dreams in Macau, China. “It’s a pleasure to imagine these intricate, fluid spaces, and a thrill to experience them after years of hard work,” he says.
Schumacher describes his design approach as “focused on translating the complexity and dynamism of twenty-first-century life into dynamic compositions that make the required complexity legible.” He begins with form finding via computational design systems. Then, once a concept is established, he says “the painstaking work of crafting a detailed design starts, aiming at perfection and a sense of effortlessness.” In addition to his architectural work, he is committed to teaching: Schumacher founded the Design Research Laboratory at London’s Architectural Association in 1996. He currently serves as a guest professor at Tongji University in Shanghai.
Despite losing Hadid, a pivotal figure in his life, Schumacher’s memories—late-night working sessions and the thrill of opening buildings together—remain. But as a company, they press on, focusing on innovation with every competition and every project.
“The horizon is very open [for us],” he says. “We are still a relatively young firm, with a lot to learn, and a lot of space to progress and grow. I only hope the world economy remains stable enough in the next twenty years to allow us to develop our potential.”
Patrik Schumacher is a judge for the 2019 GRAY Awards. To get your tickets to the event, taking place on November 20 at Seattle’s Nordic Museum, visit grayawards.com.