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Alejandro Zaera

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Alejandro Zaera

Alejandro Zaera Polo
Born 17 October 1963
Madrid, Spain
Nationality Spanish
Practice AZPA
Foreign Office Architects
Buildings Osanbashi Yokohama International Passenger Terminal

Alejandro Zaera Polo is a contemporary architect and founder of London and Barcelona-based Alejandro Zaera-Polo Architecture (AZPA). He is also a Visiting Professor in Princeton and Yale Schools of Architecture, and a prolific theorist, widely published in different professional media.


Alejandro Zaera-Polo was born in Madrid in 1963. He trained at the Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura de Madrid, graduating with Honors, and went on to do a Master in Architecture (MARCH II) at the Graduate School of Design, Harvard University where he graduated with Distinction. He worked at the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) in Rotterdam between 1991 and 1993, prior to establishing Foreign Office Architects in 1993. As a principal of FOA Alejandro Zaera-Polo co-authored the award-winning Yokohama International Port Terminal in Japan, after winning an international design competition in 1995. He also was part of the United Architects team, one of the finalists in the Ground Zero competition. He designed and supervised the completion of a wide range of international projects such as the Barcelona Forum Park and Auditoria, the Torrevieja Theater, the Rioja Technology Transfer Centre in Logrono, Spain, the Carabanchel Housing in Madrid, The Palace Residential Towers in Busan, Leicester High Cross and the recently completed Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication. He also designed and delivered the Spanish Pavilion in the Aichi International Exhibition 2004 and the Madrid Pavilion in Expo Shanghai 2010, and represented Britain in the Venice Architecture Biennale 2002. Alejandro Zaera Polo’s practice has produced critically acclaimed and award winning projects for the public and private sector on an international scale. He favors a pragmatic approach, embracing technical rigor in a search towards a complex and organic architecture which unfolds through a broad variety of locations and typologies. In June 2011, after the dissolution of FOA, his first company, he established Alejandro Zaera-Polo Architecture (AZPA), where he is working on the Redevelopment of the Birmingham New Street Station, the 2014 ISAF Sailing World Championship Facilities in Santander, the Cerezales Foundation in Leon, the Gapyong Community Centre in South Korea, the Hospital Universitari Arnau de Vilanova en Lleida and the BioPol Science Centre in Barcelona. Alejandro Zaera-Polo has maintained in parallel an intense academic career. He is currently a Visiting Professor at Princeton University School of Architecture and the inaugural beneficiary of .the Norman Foster Visiting Professorship at Yale University.

Prior to this, he served as the Dean of the Berlage Institute in Rotterdam for four years, and the holder of the Berlage Chair at Delft University for 6 years. He was a Unit Master at the Architectural Association School of Architecture and has been a Visiting Critic at the University of California in LA, Columbia University in New York, Princeton University, the School of Architecture in Madrid and the Yokohama School of Architecture.

He has also been an advisor to the Quality Commission for Architecture in Barcelona and to the Urban Age Think Tank of the London School of Economics. He has published extensively as a critic in professional magazines worldwide. El Croquis, Quaderns, A+U, Arch+, Harvard Design Magazine feature his work and he has contributed to numerous publications.

Selected projects

Foreign Office Architects (FOA)

  • Osanbashi Yokohama International Passenger Terminal, Japan (1995–2002)
  • Bluemoon Hotel, Groningen, The Netherlands (1999–2000)
  • Police headquarters, La Villajoyosa, Spain (2000-3)
  • Coastal park with outdoor auditoriums, Barcelona, Spain (2000-4)
  • Municipal Theatre, Torrevieja, Spain (2000-6)
  • La Rioja Technology Transfer Centre, Logrono (2003-7)
  • Bamboo Building, a social housing in Madrid (2004-7)
  • Spanish Pavilion at the 2005 International Expo, Aichi (2004-5)
  • Headquarters for Dulnyouk Publishers, Paju, South Korea (2000-5)
  • Meydan Retail Complex and Multiplex, Istanbul, Turkey (2005-7)
  • John Lewis department store and Cineplex and pedestrian bridges, Leicester, UK (2000-8)
  • Villa in Pedralbes, Barcelona, Spain (2004-8)
  • D-38 Office Complex, Barcelona (2004–2009)
  • New Street Station, Birmingham (2008 -)
  • Ravensbourne college on the Greenwich Peninsula, London (2005-)
  • Trinity EC3 office complex, City of London (2003-)
  • Mixed-use extension of West Quay II retail centre, Southampton (2002-)
  • Sevenstone Quarter mixed-use complex, Sheffield, UK (2007-)
  • Hadspen Gardens, Somerset, UK (2005-)
  • The Palace Residential Towers in Busan, South Korea (2006–2011)
  • Euston Station, London, UK (2008-)
  • Museum of Contemporary Art, Cleveland, Ohio, USA (2006-)
  • KL Central Plot D Residential Towers, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (2006-)

Alejandro Zaera-Polo Architecture (AZPA)

  • Birmingham New Street Redevelopment, Birmingham UK (2007-)
  • 2014 ISAF Sailing World Championship Facilities in Santander, Spain (2011-)
  • Gapyong Community Centre in South Korea (2010-)
  • Hospital Universitari Arnau de Vilanova in Lleida, Spain (2011-)
  • BioPol Science Centre in Barcelona, Spain (2011-)

Research and theory

Alejandro Zaera-Polo had an unusually early involvement as a theorist, writing for El Croquis from as early as 1987, where he identified and theorised the work of the current generation of established architects. His early theoretical work inaugurates a materialist critique of architecture departing from deconstruction and critical theory, the predominant theoretical discourses in the 1980s. It is also deeply influenced by the readings of Deleuze and Guattari and complexity theory, connecting him to the discourse practiced in America by authors such as Jeffrey Kipnis, Sanford Kwinter and Greg Lynn, and by the reading of neomarxist authors, such as Manuel Castells, David Harvey and Henri Lefebvre, which left a strong political bias to his approach to architectural theory.

After these early adventures, he succeeded in transferring his early theoretical interests into a viable architectural practice, as a founding partner of Foreign Office Architects (FOA). The experience of architectural practice shifted his critique towards a more pragmatic perspective and addressed to the discussion of the practice of architecture and the analysis of the conditions of production that affect it: the impact of globalisation, information technologies and organisational structures, the discussion of iconography and representation in the cultural and political role of architecture and a political critique of the contemporary building industry are some of the subjects that his most recent theoretical work addresses. With a characteristic sniper-like style, Zaera Polo’s recent theoretical work has been published through articles in different media, constantly changing position and location to address contemporary subjects in a poignant and polemical manner. His own Scientific Autobiography charts, as a transcontinental, psycho-geographical drift, a gravitation through some of the most stimulating architectural milieus over the last quarter of a century. Recounting a varied and vivid sequence of cultural exposures, Zaera Polo applies knowledge and experimentalism as he evolves his personal reading of architectural theory and practice - not as dialectically opposed entities, but as a complex continuum.

Beyond the theoretical work in El Croquis, his texts have been published in many professional publications such as Quaderns, A+U, Arch+, Log, Volume and Harvard Design Magazine, and in books including The Endless City and Living in the Endless City (ed. Richard Burdett and Deyan Sudjic, published by Phaidon, 2008 and 2011). Many of his writings constitute FOA’s published texts.

Academic activities

Zaera-Polo has also had an extensive involvement in education at an international level since 1993. In 2009, he was awarded the Norman R. Foster Visiting Professorship at the Yale University School of Architecture. He is also currently a Visiting Professor at Princeton University School of Architecture, and occupies the Berlage Chair at the Technical University in Delft, the Netherlands. He was Dean of the Berlage Institute in Rotterdam from 2002–2005, resetting the institution’s academic compass through pedagogy and public events towards the creation of new instruments of architecture and urban design conceived through practice in globalised conditions. He has been a Visiting Critic at Columbia GSAPP, Princeton SOA, UCLA School of Architecture, and he led a Diploma Unit for eight years at the Architectural Association in London. He has now become a visiting professor at Ravensbourne London.

He has also been an advisor to several urban design and development committees, such as the Municipal Quality Commission for Architecture of the City of Barcelona. He is also a member of The Urban Age, the worldwide, multidisciplinary investigation into the future of cities via a sequence of international conferences, staged from 2005-10 by the think tank of the same name, which is based at the London School of Economics.

Selected awards

  • Enric Miralles Prize for Architecture (2003)
  • Kanagawa Prize for Architecture in Japan (2003)
  • RIBA International Award (2004)
  • Lion Award for Topography at the 9th Venice Architecture Biennale (2004)
  • Charles Jencks Award for Architecture (2005)
  • RIBA International Award (2005)
  • RIBA International Award (2006)
  • RIBA European Award (2008)
  • European Business Award for the Environment (2008)
  • Urban Land Institute Award for Excellence (2008)
  • RIBA Award (2009)
  • Civic Trust Award (2010)
  • International Council of Shopping Centres Award (2010)
  • International Architecture Award (2010)



  • Foreign Office Architects, 2G # 16: A monograph on the designers of the Yokohama Port Terminal and other interesting projects, (English/Spanish) Gustavo Gili, Barcelona, Spain, 2001
  • The Yokohama Project, Actar, Barcelona, Spain, 2002
  • The Yokohama Project, a monograph, Actar, Barcelona, Spain, 2002
  • Phylogenesis: foa’s ark, Actar, Barcelona, Spain, 2003
  • Foreign Office Architects, Complexity and consistency, A monograph, El Croquis, # 115/116, Madrid, Spain, 2003
  • FOA’s ark evolving container for the proliferating singularities, Korean Architecture and Culture Magazine, December 2004

Other texts

  • Interview with Peter Macapia, Log, #3, Fall 2004
  • ‘A Scientific Autobiography, 1982-2004: Madrid, Harvard, OMA, the AA, Yokohama, the Globe’, in The New Architectural Pragmatism, (ed. William S. Saunders), Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007
  • ‘30 St Mary’s Axe: Form isn’t Facile’, Log, #4, Winter 2005
  • ‘The Hokusai Wave’, Volume, #3, September 2005
  • ‘High-rise Phylum 2007’, Harvard Design Magazine, Spring 2007
  • The Endless City (eds.Richard Burdett and Deyan Sudjic), Phaidon, 2007 [1]
  • 'The Politics of the Envelope', Log #13|14, Fall 2008
  • 'The Politics of the Envelope', Volume #17, Fall 2008

External links

  • AZPA

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