Farshid Moussavi (*1965)
Alejandro Zaera-Polo (*1963)



After their training under Rem Koolhaas in the Office for Metropolitan Architecture, Farshid Moussavi and Alejandro Zaera-Polo founded FOA in 1992, in Rotterdam, before establishing themselves in London. Their most spectacular project won the Yokohama Ferry Terminal competition in 1995. Their fundamental approach is one tending to transform the ground into "an active surface, a built-up layout plan from which architectural elements emerge as improbable and fluctuating forms". In the Yokohama terminal, the building itself becomes a surface of differing intensities and controlling traffic flows between the city and port, the inhabitants and the ship passengers. The surface becomes "pleated" to channel traffic lanes, while also playing its structural role. The ground swells up into an envelope to assert its operational role, enabling imperceptible movement between differing statuses that are both dynamic and static.
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FOREIGN OFFICE OF ARCHITECTURE : Reformulating the ground

With the interest to exploit mobile conditions of inhabitation - where the determination of the ground, its limits and its nature, become increasingly problematic - we have performed several experiments working consistently with surfaces. Only recently, we have realised that this experimentation has interesting connections with the theoretical agenda that we had proposed for the office, that the exploration of the surface was perhaps an intuition towards the problem we were facing : The re-configuration of the ground as an architectural problem. Peter Eisenman proposes that architecture is always framed by the ground it occupies : it is the ground in its broader sense that allows us to recognise the traits of architecture as a figure. This has raised several questions for us.
What happens when the ground - geographical, geological, cultural, economical - becomes distorted through mechanisms of temporal and spatial displacement that characterise our age ? How can we frame architecture within these increasingly shifting conditions of the ground ? And what is the nature of this ground ? The enormous interest in landscape - landscapes in the abstract, not in the literal sense - that sweeps contemporary architectural debate is clearly a recognition that we can no longer rely on the classical relationships between building and ground. As Lyotard explains, landscapes are the domains devoid of meaning, origin and destiny produced "when the mind is transported from one form of sensitive matter to another, but still retains the sensorial organisation characteristic of the former" ; landscape as the phenomenology of displaced sensibility rather than as a building type. Thinking about this matter, our surface projects are another approach to the problem, to that proposed by Eisenman. Whereas Eisenman's approach is to produce the "groundless", the void of ground, models to produce architectural figures without reference to a ground, in order to escape from composition as the organisation of figure and ground, our surface projects turn the ground into the figure, by cultivating, empowering the ground. We are beginning to examine the projects that we have been developing during the past years, as a series of experiments in which the surface of the ground is systematically subjected to deformations that project it beyond its flat coding, into an active field. This ambiguity between the two-dimensional and the three-dimensional is perhaps one of the most interests of this research, as an alternative to the opposition between the ground and the architectural figure. If conventional architecture relates to the horizontality of the ground as a vertical entity, the possibility of a surface that envelops space is interesting to us. Our series of surface projects are attempts at making the ground devoid of its traditional determination as datum, by turning it into an ungrounded surface, an envelope. In the Glass Centre, in Yokohama, in Kansai, in Pusan, we explored the possibility of a geology of the hollow, where the ground is no longer sustained in solid layers of matter perpendicular to the forces of gravity, but is structurally stable by virtue of a geometrical structure that moves stresses through the surface of that ground. (...) Architecture is matter. And that is perhaps an interesting path to follow in our attempt to treat the ground as a figure, the surface as a space...

YOKOHAMA PORT TERMINAL - Ni-Wa-Minato : a differential Meditation - Yokohama, Japon - competition 1995

This project, in process of being built, aims for a mediating device between the system of public spaces of Yokohama and the organisation of cruise passenger flow. The ground surface is used as the device to create a continuously varied form that articulates in a differential mode the various segments of the programme producing a public space that wraps around the terminals the first perpendicular penetration of the urban space within Yokohama Bay. The ground of the city is seamlessly connected to the boarding level and from there it bifurcates, encouraging interaction between the urban space and the terminal below. The terminal is organised as a seamless milieu, with the strategic provision of a small number of mobile or collapsible elements that substantially affect the definition of the domestic and international frontier, turning the terminal to an ideal battlefield that can be occupied by locals or invaded by foreigners.

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VIRTUAL HOUSE - competition organised by ANY Corporation, USA - 1997

The project was to operate with an abstracted band of ground - a band of " disruptive pattern material " - to produce alternative organisations to the conventional compartimentalization of domestic space. The manipulation of the ground in this case differs from the other FOA's projects, where they maintain the orientation of the surface in respect to gravity. In the " Virtual House " that relationship keeps reversing, every face of the surface shifting constantly between a " lining " and a " wrapping " condition. A diagonal shift in the plan increased the spatial complexity of this structure, making possible the stacking of different units to enable the unlimited proliferation of the body of the house. The FOA's concept of " hollow ground " acquired in this project a more paradigmatic state, where the possibility to proliferate the structure is an alternative development to the " unframed " quality of the ground explored by FOA.

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competition 1998

The FOA' proposal grasped the opportunity of a very large flat surface in an urban landscape that is characterised by a very strong topography. Urban sport, large scale performances, mass event, will be able to be located in a topography especially adequate : a kind of "space of possibility". The proposal consists in the construction of the programs to be placed on this area as a series of "pontoons", or piers grounded on the harbor platforms, able to both add to the site a variety of programs, and also solve the connection between the level of the city and the harbor platform, bridging over the harbor road, and ramping down smoothly. In order to provide a structural approach to the whole waterfront area, this project may become an overall strategy to treat the harbor domains, not as a single complex loosely controlled, but as a chain of independent islands intensively controlled, in space and in time.

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BELGO RESTAURANT - London, Great Britain- 1999

The main task for the Belgo restaurant in London has been to replace an existing roof and side walls to an existing building and to organise the space for its new use. FOA's proposal has concentrated on exploring structural surfaces and to use the same surface as a way of organising the construction of the new roofs and walls. Belgo Zuid is built like a moule : a shell structure, where a single roof hosts the two spaces for the guests : main dining hall and the bar. The roof, a factory-like shell, is cut open to capture light from the south while in extend laterally to produce the side walls and eventually a long bench on the east side. The wood finish to the internal face of this structural skin explores the theme of continuity. The internal face is cladded entirely in wood : ceilings, walls and furniture are continuous with other as if the inside of a beer barrel, or the surface of a velodrome.

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Tehran, Iran - 1997 competition

The Azadi Cineplex programme called for the arrangement of seven screening rooms (with 150 to 700 seats) and a series of exhibition and business areas on a 45 x 43 m plot in downtown Tehran, initially occupied by the city's most famous cinema. The FOA proposal pitted against this nostalgic and monumental project a figurative idea that was instantly turned into a formal argument : the organization of the project as oriented similarly to a film of folded celluloid. A strip of floor rises up in many folds, forming, stack-like, the spaces of the different rooms and circulation thoroughfares. At the same time, this surface forms the complex's load-bearing structure, producing tube-beams leaving the 43 m façade free. In order to maintain the activity of the floor outside the period when the screening rooms are in use, these are located in the middle of the section, leaving the ground floor for commercial activities and giving the restaurants and cultural areas the top of the building, with a view over the city.

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Foreign Office Architects Ltd.

Farshid Moussavi (1965)
Diplôme d'Architecture, Bartlett School of Architecture, Londres.
Master of Architecture, Harvard Graduate School of Design, Massachusetts.

Alejandro Zaera-Polo (1963)
Diplôme d'Architecture de l'E.T.S, Madrid.
Master d'Architecture, Harvard Graduate School of Design, Massachusetts.

Enseignement :
Enseignent l'un et l'autre régulièrement en Europe et aux USA depuis 1989.
1999 - F. Moussavi : Princeton University ; Berlage Institute ; AA School.
1999 - A. Zaera-Polo : Princeton University ; Berlage Institute, Amsterdam.

1995 - Fondent FOA - Foreign Office Architects à Londres.
Principaux projets et réalisations :
1999 / 1996 - " Yokohama International Ferry Terminal ", Yokohama (en cours).
1999 - " New Belgo Restaurant " (en cours), Londres.
1999 / 1998 - " Appartement Privé ", Londres.
1998 - " New Belgo Restaurant ", New-York ; " New-Belgo Restaurant ", Bristol ; " Rome Congrex Centre " (concours), Rome.
1998 / 1997 - " Link-Quay Waterfront " (concours), Santa Cruz.
1997 - " Bermondsey Antiques Market Design Commission ", Londres ; " Government Centre " (projet), Bonn. " Mirage City " (projet), Main Land, Chine ; " Azadi Multi Cinema Complex " (concours), Téhéran ; " Virtual House " (concours), Etats-Unis.
1996 - " Kansai-Kan National Diet Library " (concours), Kansai ; " Taichung New Governement Centre " (concours) Taiwan.
1995 - " Private House ", Hove
1994 - " National Glass Centre " (concours), Newcastle
1993 - " Europan 3 " (concours), Le Havre.
1992 - Consultation Internationale / Quaderns, Expo ‘92, Séville.

Expositions :
1998 - Collection du Design Museum, Londres.
1998 - Swedish Museum of Architecture, Stockholm.
1997 - " Critical Projects ", RIBA, Londres ; " Cyber Architecture " Imagina, Monaco.
1996 - 6th Biennale d'Architecture, Pavillon de la Corée, Venise.
1995 - MACBA (Musée d'Arts Contemporains), Barcelone ; " Work in Progress : Yokohama International Port Terminal ", AA, Londres.
Principales publications d'Alejandro Zaera-Polo :
1994 - " Jean Nouvel - Intensifying the Real ", El Croquis n°65/66, Madrid.
1992 - " Notes for a Topographic Survey ", El Croquis n°53, Madrid.

Bibliographie sélective :

1999 - " Belgo Projects ", Blue Print (janvier).
1998 - Building (novembre) ; The British Young Architects Directory, Grande-Bretagne.
1997 - " New Science = New Architecture ? ", Architectural Design n°129 ; New Geography ", Ten Plus One magazine n°11, Inax Publishing, Japon ; " Territoriality ", De Architect, Pays-Bas ; " After Geometry ", Architectural Design, Grande Bretagne ; GA Japan (janvier), Japon ; " Virtual House ", Building Design n°1309 et 1313.
1996 - " Architecture on the Horizon ", Architectural Design, Grande-Bretagne ; " Waterland ", Quaderns n°212 ; " Present and Futures : Architecture in Cities ", catalogue du XIXème Congrès de l'UIA ; Building Design n°1279 et 1281, Grande-Bretagne ; El Croquis n°76, Espagne.
1995 - " Monolithic Architecture ", Editions Prestel Verlag, Allemagne ; GA Japan (n°14), Japon ; Arch + (n°126, 128) Allemagne ; Architectural Design (octobre), Grande-Bretagne ; Building Design (n°1207) ; l'Arca (juin), Italie ; Bauwelt (mars), Allemagne.