We had the pleasure of meeting Hecker in his Berlin office in September 2017. Join us as we delve into an enlightening conversation with the renowned architect Zvi Hecker. Known for his unique approach to design and his emphasis on creativity, Hecker shares his thoughts on everything from beauty in architecture, the power of metaphor, and the evolution of his career. Within this insightful dialogue, we discover the depth of Hecker's philosophy and his visionary perspectives on the future of architecture. Hecker’s candid revelations underscore his distinctive approach to architecture and offer valuable insights for all enthusiasts and professionals in the field.
Zvi Hecker was a renowned architect and artist, with an impressive career that spanned over seven decades. Born in 1931 in Krakow, Poland, he survived the Holocaust and immigrated to Israel in 1950, where he began his journey in architectural education. Hecker was known for his unconventional and geometrically complex designs, marked by profound engagement with social and cultural contexts and possibly inspired by the geometric forms of Islamic architecture. His groundbreaking works, including the Bat Yam City Hall and the Spiral Apartment House, have left a substantial impact on modern architecture. He remained, until his passing in 2023 in Berlin, a fascinating and inspiring voice in the international architectural scene, and his influence continues to be felt.
Discover a collection of thought-provoking texts, generously shared with us by Zvi Hecker, awaiting your exploration:
Zvi Hecker: A friend of mine never wanted to give interviews. He said that interviews are something stiff. If you later change your mind, your interview will still be there. They say what you know or when you write, you can invent something new, but it takes more time…
Ficture Architecture: It's a pleasure to have you for this discussion today. To kick things off, could you expound on your understanding of innovation in the realm of architecture?
Zvi Hecker: The nature of innovation is that over time it loses its impact. It's incorporated into daily life, all the old innovations. Innovation in architecture needs to have a relevant impact. It has to be somehow related - connected to beauty. Because beauty lasts for a longer time than any innovation.
Ficture Architecture: That's insightful. Can you elaborate on the significance and influence of architecture and design?
Zvi Hecker: Well, basically, I believe architecture has no power. And I would compare it to horsepower, which was once very important. Because horses won all the wars, communication and transport were impossible without horses. And now horses are considered a luxury. And that's what I believe happened to architecture. From something very useful it became a merely ornamental luxury.
Ficture Architecture: In your perspective, how will architecture and design meet the evolving requirements of our society in the future?
Zvi Hecker: Well, predictions are always wrong. All predictions are wrong. But nevertheless, we would like to speculate on the future. But the future is already today. I believe, like in the Middle Ages, architecture was connected to security, to fortifications, to keep people safe. And the house is the first space for a human being to feel safe. So I believe architecture today has to return to its main purpose, which is keeping people safe.
Ficture Architecture: You mentioned beauty earlier, Mr. Hecker. Do you follow a particular design method to create beauty, or is it a more instinctive process?
Zvi Hecker: Um, I would say this. We never know if we can achieve anything which is called beauty, beautiful. That can only be a result of something which we try to do. We cannot arrive directly at beauty. That's a destination that we don't know where it is. And this destination, if we call beauty a destination, is not indicated on any maps. So there is no public transport to beauty. So we know that to achieve it, you have to build your own means of transport. For me, the transport, the vehicle to arrive at beauty is working and sketching. So sketches, which you have seen on the maps, on the walls, the sketches are kind of vehicles that take me to a destination which I don't know what it is. And hopefully, it will be the destination of beauty. So there's a kind of long process of arriving at a destination, which you don't know where it is.
Ficture Architecture: Do you set specific objectives when embarking on this journey? Could you share more about your starting point?
Zvi Hecker: God has given everybody 24 hours a day. So, in this way, we are all equal and we have equal time to develop. I invest my time in the process of design to make it as long as possible to develop the idea, because for me, an idea is not an end of the process, as many people think. But the beginning begins to act. A newborn baby. It cannot speak. It cannot walk. You have to help it. So, the process of design is like taking care of a new baby until it starts to speak and to tell what this baby wants to do. So, all the process of design is taking care of the baby to send it to universities, to let it develop its own character, to let it be what it wants to be. So, we shouldn't impose “IDEA” or “BEAUTY” or anything. We should try to develop the project, the design in such a way that its own character, its beauty will come by itself.
Ficture Architecture: That's a remarkable thought process. How did you come across this metaphor, and what does it specifically signify to you?
Zvi Hecker: Let`s say the design of the Jewish school started as a sunflower. At the time when I was working on the design, I was in Tel Aviv and taking part in the competition for this school in Berlin. It was for Jewish kids, who were supposed to study in this school. A flower is a good present, a good gift. So, my design of this school became based on the sunflower, which is a mathematical beauty. But later on, when people were walking through the construction, some people remarked that it doesn't look, of course, like a sunflower, but like a small city for small children. But at the end of the process, we discovered that this school is built like a house of a Book. Like the pages of an open Book. And the Hebrew name of it means “house of the book”. So this metaphor was changing from sunflower, to a city, to an open book. So the metaphor is a kind of another vehicle which gives the character, of what I called the new baby. But this character can change. Like we human beings, we also change during our lives. The metaphor has a special, special meaning for me. In nearly every project, I can say what is the meaning of this of this project? It's not only its design, it's not only its so-called beauty or good looking or whatever you call it, but there is something like an underlying character of the design of the building.
Ficture Architecture: You mentioned that people, too, undergo character changes. May I ask, have your architectural perceptions evolved over time?
Zvi Hecker: Yes, of course. In some way. You might not change your thinking too much, but the results of the thinking are changing. Probably you don't change yourself too much, but the results. A good architect doesn’t want to repeat himself. So what you have done in the past, is not exactly what you want to do in the future. So by this very fact that you don't want to repeat yourself, you are trying to find something different. You are changing, as people would say. But maybe it is not changing in the matter of the investment of time, in the way you are used to working. The results should be different… and maybe I also changed but one does not see it in himself.
Ficture Architecture: Your responses have led me to ponder about the routes you've traversed. May I ask, what are your roots?
Zvi Hecker: If we speak about architecture… Roots… So normally you believe they are the place you have been born. But I was born in Krakow. I was raised in Samarqand, I studied in Haifa. I opened an office in Tel Aviv. I am now in Berlin, I was teaching before in Canada and in the United States. So one can say I lost my roots, but it's not true. I carried my roots with me, all the time. And that's why some people believe that in my work, wherever I built. Whether it is in Amsterdam or whether it is in Berlin. You can see where my roots are, where I come from.
Ficture Architecture: How challenging was it for you to establish your practice in Tel Aviv, and subsequently in other locations? What kinds of trials did you encounter along your journey from Tel Aviv to Canada?
Zvi Hecker: I will first answer your first question. Architecture is not an easy profession. Painting, which I also do, is in a way much easier because you do your work yourself. Okay, you don't stretch the comfort zone of the forms, but you paint yourself. In Architecture you are dependent like a director of movie films and dependent on many people. So architecture by itself is a complicated profession. Sigmund Freud said that after all, whatever we do is for the love of women. Painting is still, I would say, normal for doing it for the love of women. But casting so much stone and so much concrete. For love of women, it's a little bit crazy profession, but that's what we do. And I myself have no recollection that I have more or less difficulties working in Tel Aviv or Amsterdam or Berlin. It's the process of designing and of convincing other people that is also okay. That is, to my mind, very similar all over the world.
Ficture Architecture: Your responses are indeed unique, mirroring your distinctive approach to architecture. It seems that your architecture is a manifestation of your unique worldview.
Zvi Hecker: When I was young I had fantastic professors. I think in this school I was recognized as a talented student. But I said to my professor, I can design, I can paint, but I cannot write. He said, there is nothing like this. Every artist is the philosopher of his own work. It can’t be, that you do what you do and you don’t understand what you do. But I do it mostly in a very condensed form not in long. Like they should make a competition where you submit an A4 sketch. Mm hmm. And from these A4 sketches, you take ten people, give them some money and they develop.
Ficture Architecture: A fast-paced, succinct approach indeed.
Zvi Hecker: Yeah the idea shouldn't be very advanced. You can put the idea. If a good jury can read it, it can understand. Nobody would lose an enormous amount of useless work and then you can give people some compensation for developing that idea. Later they could do the model and nice computer rendering… You know Oscar Niemeyer won the competition for Brasilia. He sent a stamped postcard with the sketch of Brasilia to the jury. There were some other entries into the competition. But as I know, Niemeyer just sent a postcard. When you can win an entry for city planning, you could also do something like that for a house too.
Ficture Architecture: You embarked on your architectural journey in a time of giants – figures like Oscar Niemeyer and Le Corbusier dominated the landscape. Were you influenced or inspired by their work?
Zvi Hecker: Yeah … Yeah, absolutely… Absolutely. I still look at books of every one of them, Alvar Aalto, Le Corbusier with pleasure. I look at these books, but I don't just absorb it. But I like to look at it. Friends of mine who are also architects copied these figures. They were very successful with it. But I say, when you copy, you can't create something original. In the end you will pay dearly for this in your career. So I tried not to go into it. It was so tasty, it was so nice to copy something you like. But I consciously try not to do it. But later on I didn't have a problem not to do it. Because you start to grow your own garden.
Ficture Architecture: Considering the current influence of parametric architecture, with firms like Zaha Hadid Architects leading the way, what advice or message would you give to aspiring architects and young professionals?
Zvi Hecker: No, I don't have a specific message which is different to what I said before.
Ficture Architecture: So maybe, cultivating one's own creative 'garden', so to speak, would be your recommendation perhaps. Thank you for sharing your time and insights with us. It was truly enlightening to listen to your experiences.
Zvi Hecker: Thank you