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Making something out of nothing

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Peter Eisenman, winner of the RIBA's Jencks Award, talks to Ed Dorrell about prizes, football and architectural education

Were you excited to win the RIBA's Jencks Award?

I am very pleased to have won the award. To be its second recipient following Cecil Balmond is a wonderful feeling - so I was very excited about it. I think it recognises the kind of things that I am interested in and it recognises the comparison between Rem Koolhaas and the likes of me and Balmond. We are making something out of nothing - for example, I am one of the few architects interested in morpho-genetics.

It has been something of an awards season for you. What did you make of picking up a Venice Biennale Golden Lion?

I didn't know when I was heading out there that I was going get an award - I thought I was going out there to take part in an all-day debate but when I got to the hall someone told me that I was actually there to pick up an award.

To this day I don't know who else won one. But I feel that I have to be careful because they give these Golden Lions to people that are retiring and so you've got to be watchful that they are not trying to put you away.

Did you enjoy the Venice show?

I didn't manage to see the show or any of the exhibitions. I plan to go back sometime in the next few weeks to decide whether it's any good.

Do you follow the British architectural scene? If so, what do you make of it?

To be honest I follow British football more than British architecture. I support the unfashionable Tottenham Hotspur and watch the game all the time - it's a great release. It's really exciting for me to be designing a new stadium for Deportivo in Spain. However, in the '60s I was very involved with the British architectural scene and for a while I taught in Cambridge. I have had a lot of students come over here from the UK - Richard MacCormac was involved in exporting them.

At the moment I obviously still know Norman [Foster] and Richard [Rogers] and I am very close to Alejandro [Zaera-Polo] from Foreign Office Architects and his intellectual thoughts. But I don't really know what is happening in Britain. The AA always used to be a pillar - but no one knows who is going to take over as its boss - and the Cambridge School of Architecture has been reduced, which is very sad.

On a wider scale, do you think the current European scene as a whole is interesting?

I understand that European architecture is very powerful. But to be honest I'm more interested in the fact that I could name more football clubs and their grounds on the Continent than any other architect in North America. When you are gunning around like I do, you really need something to take the heat off and football does this for me.

You are world renowned as a teacher and academic. What do you make of the state of architectural education?

Architectural education on the East Coast is really exciting at the moment. The Grad Schools are able to offer the masters programme and that means they are more open to speculation, thought and contemplation than in the schools on the Continent and in England. We have very many Brits and Europeans - and now Koreans - coming over to learn. This is because you can get the second degree over here and that makes it a lot easier to teach. It gives you a leg-up.

You must have followed the controversy on the Ground Zero site?

I entered the competition with Richard Meier and we lost when Daniel Libeskind won. What is happening there is very sad for architecture - there is almost nothing of the competition-winning scheme remaining.

You are a teacher, an academic, a theorist and a practising architect.

Which would you like to be remembered as? Or would you prefer to be seen as an all-rounder?

I am blessed. We have more than $800 million worth of work under construction.

I look at myself in the mirror every morning and wonder how this theorist that's looking back at me has won all this work. I do still teach one day a week. It is still one of my great loves. I don't know about being seen as an all-rounder though.

Computers and new technology are becoming increasingly important in architectural work. Do you use them and do you consider them a positive?

Computers can be seen as just a tool. I use them as you can do things with them that would be impossible with traditional methods. We can also use them to look at alternative architectural designs. However, I still draw and make models as well. Computers are mainly being used to draw at the moment but I suspect there is a lot more to come from them that we haven't seen. But I think it's probably a bit late for Peter Eisenman and Frank Gehry.

You spend a lot of time travelling. Do you have a favourite city?

I live in New York and I absolutely love it. Other than New York, I guess it has to be either London or Paris and I would probably come down on the side of London.

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