Arts & Culture » Art Feature

Zoka Zola, the architect

'I shift the norm just enough to move or provoke our thoughts and the way that we live'


Zola, age withheld, is founder of Zoka Zola Architecture + Urban Design.

I want to work in different places. It is more exciting, because it is different in each place, different working methods, different architects, different objectives, different role in architecture for the client and the society. It is also more challenging, because I have to work hard to understand what is going on, to research the cultural circumstance, to adjust to very different contexts in which architecture is produced and used. It is more fun, because I get to travel, meet people of different dispositions, study sites with different climates. In Croatia I like to work in particular. It is my other home beside my current home here.

I am interested in the whole spectrum of architecture. But particularly what interests me is architecture's influence on the way people live and think, the way architecture makes us reflect on our lives, the way we could live our life with other people and the world. I shift the norm just enough to move or provoke our thoughts on the way that we live, but without architecture distracting our thinking. I like mute architecture that does not speak, or worse, chat. In that respect I am more interested in what architecture can do to us than in the object of architecture itself.

The other particular thing about architecture that interests me is the involvement of time as part of the concept for every project. Time is a subject in every project, but each project investigates time differently, making projects different. For example, Pfanner House is designed as a perpetual mobile, as if it is an endless house, because we are constantly forgetting about the existence of parts of it. Another example is Desert Walker, a 300-foot-tall tower in the desert for a solar power plant we just designed, which is designed like it is an animal that is a part of the desert but not anchored into a place.

The third particular thing I have been working on for a while is the idea of efficiency, what is often called "economy of means." I am interested in it in an alchemist kind of way, or laconic way. The point is not economy as much as avoiding means and parts of architecture that do not have magnificent efficiency.

I am mostly satisfied with my projects. I think it has to do more with my character than the projects, although some done quickly and without particular inspiration I am aware are not as good as those done with 100 percent care. I think partly the reason I am satisfied is that I am immediately interested to do a better one next time.

I am a Chicagoan for the last 14 years but work in several places around the world with some of the most demanding clients and the most brilliant engineers using technologies, materials, and work methods that broaden my awareness of possibilities. The many ways to think about things and do things is what I offer to Chicago. To the world I offer the Chicago way of broadness and freeness. —As told to Jerome Ludwig

Add a comment