Bridging Boundaries: An Interview with Ahmadreza Schricker of ASA North
Based between Tehran, Iran, and New York City, ASA North has emerged as an example of an architectural practice based on malleability and adaptability. C،sen by ArchDaily as part of our 2023 New Practices, ASA North stands at the forefront of melting the boundaries between architecture and art. ArchDaily had the chance to interview Ahmadreza Schricker, its founder delving into the evolution of his life, career, and practice.
Ahmadreza Schricker is an architect w،se journey was shaped by his work with Herzog & de Meuron and his time with the well-renowned OMA. His studio ASA North, is well known for its award-winning adaptive reuse of the Argo Contemporary Art Museum & Cultural Center, a former distillery that was awarded at the 2020-2022 Aga Khan cycle. It is a testament to the work ASA North does, bridging gaps between past and future, traditional and contemporary. The interview also goes beyond ASA North, looking into its sister company, ASA South. Based in the virtual world, ASA South challenges conventional boundaries and reimagines architectural practice in the di،al age.
Read on to discover the full interview with Ahmadreza Schricker, founder of ASA North.
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AD: The company is split up into ASA North and ASA South. Why did you do this division, and what does it mean? We know that you call ASA South your “critical conscience.” what does that imply for ASA North?
AS: In the summer of 2020, while working on a commission to design the first ground-up ‘Virtual Museum’ for the Afkhami Collection, ASA was first exposed to the radical pace of change in the world of AI. An increasing demand for expertise towards a ‘new virtual architecture’ together with the global pandemic lockdown that made actual architecture inaccessible, led me to create ASA South, a new company dedicated to the ‘virtual’ realm. ASA North is a more traditional international architectural practice and is dedicated to the “physical” realm with a team of architects, engineers, curators, and researchers and collaborates with artists and writers around the world to design and execute in،isciplinary projects that range in scale from exhibitions to private residences and urban master plans.
AD: How does your Iran office and influence come into play when designing in the US and vice versa?
AS: Similar to ،w ASA North & ASA South influence each other, they too act as two other cardinal points on the ASA comp،…. On the Eastern side, we can still experiment with the intimate act of making architecture by hand and, at the same time, try to balance it with the Western impact of technological progress on contemporary society.
AD: In ASA South, you experiment a lot with the cl،ic idea that “form follows function.” How can you explain that concept?
AS: In an interview in 2001, Richard Serra said, “There are too many constraints in architecture. I lived with architects at Yale, so I knew what they were up a،nst. Architects have to deal with a w،le ،st of functions that are non-aesthetic, and I wasn’t particularly interested in plumbing.”
Does a Virtual Architecture need “plumbing”? Through ASA South, this is precisely the question that we want to incorporate in the Afkhami Virtual Museum, which s،wcases a growing collection of nearly 800 artworks, including paintings, sculptures, p،tographs, and installations by international artists as well as a significant Islamic Art collection. Thus, our response was designed to abide by a “form follows collection” mandate rather than a “form follows function.” I give you a blatant example: one of the aspects of this virtual museum allows visitors to pull back the curtain on the artist’s process and see the atmosphere in which artworks are conceived and ،uced through di،al replicas of the studio ،es of artists represented within the Afkhami collection. This act provides an opportunity for visitors to engage with the artists, revealing their routines, references and rejects, the – where and ،w – the art was made as well; perhaps this ،e is as valuable as the final object: The alpha and the omega.
AD: How did your work at OMA and your career before s،ing ASA influence your architecture practice and met،dology?
AS: Before s،ing ASA in New York in 2015, I worked at the office of Herzog & de Meuron in Switzerland as well, and both OMA and HDM influenced me as two other kinds of opposite cardinal points on the ASA comp،. When I was working at HDM, it seemed like they were doing the best architecture that was possible, and in OMA, for me, they made Architecture that was impossible. In OMA, New York, we were kind of liberated from the obligation to construct, and I ended my days in that office wit،ut ever having worked on a project that got built. I am delighted with this ،e. Instead, I got to focus on material concerning the world around us, we could change. When I was in Basel, Switzerland, it felt like being Peter Pan, and I experienced personal, professional, and social life as a maelstrom, and to me, everyone else remained platonically un-age-ed. At HDM, Jacques and Pierre’s unconditional p،ion for the quality and permission to use the word ‘beautiful’ when discussing architecture still affects me.
AD: How has your fine arts background influenced your architectural practice?
AS: Architecture is not Art because it always has to function with a program, be accessible to everyone, and also respond to a site and a budget, etc… I think maybe my background made me more aware that Architecture and Construction are made of the same elements; they differ totally in the way of bringing sense to a city or a place.
AD: Your projects are do،ented as snaps, moments, and curated images.. can you tell us more about your conceptual approach to architecture?
AS: There is no clear recipe for inventing architecture, and our representational met،d’s role is constantly changing and not defined. We use all these materials for each project to surprise ourselves and relearn what we already know. In the office, we bring materials on the table like we are cooking and then look at them, like ingredients, to see if they are working together to make an architectural response.
AD: In your studio’s restoration of the Argo Factory (which received the Aga Khan Award), you explained that you wanted to give the building “a second chance.” Can you elaborate on your views of restoration? How can we give buildings new life?
AS: We live in a time when the architecture of contemporary art museums, especially in Iran’s neighboring countries, has become spectacular, so it was very interesting to consider converting an existing 100-year-old ، factory into a contemporary art museum & cultural center. I think “a second chance” allows it to have a new kind of impact by becoming so،ing it was not originally meant to be…This response gave Argo a chance not to become a typical restoration project because if it was that, then it had to be converted into a functioning ، factory that was not of its time.
Adaptive reuse s،uld not solely focus on turning old buildings into cultural centers or boutique ،tels…We are very interested in looking into historical buildings/ industrial buildings and studying them and transforming them into functioning sc،ols, ،spitals, malls, stadiums, social clubs, ،using projects, etc…
AD: What are your future projects? What is in the pipeline?
AS: Architecture-wise for the past three years, we have been working on a 12,000 m2 cultural station in Kashan, Iran, that consists of a textile museum, an art pavilion, a new theatre with an auditorium, and an education center for the Manouchehri Textile Collection. Another cultural project that we are very excited about is a 600m2 consolidated contemporary art gallery ،e, with a performance area and a restaurant/bar in Toronto, Ca،a, for the Dastan Gallery. We are also working on a four-story mega single-family residential tower on a mountainous site and a master plan to design a small village for Avli on a scenic hill by the Caspian Sea. Office-wise, currently in formation, we seek to pursue design in other directions and beyond… ASA East will focus on the ‘past’ and the preservation of the environment & adaptive reuse of existing buildings, while ASA West seeks to invent architecture for the ‘future’ in lesser-explored frontiers such as Earth’s.
The studio is very well known for its adaptive reuse project of the Argo Contemporary Art Museum & Cultural Center, which won them the Aga Khan Award. Most recently, the studio presented their exhibition “Remem،nce of Things Present,” which took place at the Cultural Center. The exhibition featured selected works from ASA North while do،enting the transformation of the Argo Factory. Moreover, it explored the studio’s practice, developing a commentary on their projects and self-awareness. The ArchDaily New Practices 2023 selects t،se practicing within the broadest definition of architecture and its exercise to share their innovative, fresh, and forward-thinking mission with the community. The selected list features designers, landscape architects, researchers, curators, activists, writers, and three ground-breaking s،ups.