Through the process, the architects have developed a bond, discussing how things could be made better, in both countries. How does Chipperfield feel about his role as mentor? “Well, how does one mentor? It’s commonly a master and student
relationship, but this is something else and, in my experience, the best relationships are always based on mutual discussion: what common territory might we find?
“In some ways it might be easier in performance; think of music or dance where there is a common performative element. This is more like what you have with film-makers, where each visits the other’s set.”
Kretz agrees, and relates how he is following the project through with his students at the ETH, so that the questions and the ideas are allowed “to ripple through the world of the Swiss students and develop a life of their own beyond
the immediate mentor and protégé”.
He is enthusiastic about the outcome of discussions. “The comparison has given me a totally new view of our system [in Switzerland] and it has enabled us to bring two cultures together. It has made me understand what planning is essentially
Chipperfield elaborates: “We’re comparing two extremes. We’re pitting the Swiss, probably the most protected planning system, against the UK’s, the least protected. In the UK, the building is seen as a product. In Switzerland it is
seen as part of a city.”
“On the other hand,” adds Kretz, “in Zurich there is no real momentum for great stuff. Everything is so debated and discussed, the big, extreme projects just don’t get built.”
Summing up, Chipperfield says, “The debate is about what a building can contribute to the city. People feel that the city is something that happens to them, a process in which they have no voice.”
And that is the crux of the matter. How can citizens be empowered amid the constant renewal of the fabrics that form the cities in which they live? To what extent can they be involved in the complexities of planning, and to what extent
can people avoid becoming disaffected and feeling ignored, a strong theme in the present political turmoil in Europe. It is, in a way, a struggle for equity, with the city as the commons.