“Dear Reader,

I am writing to tell you that last January I have been appointed as professor at ETH Zurich, to run a studio and develop research. It feels like a major challenge, as I will spend the next 20 years or so, until my retirement, in that capacity. It sounds like an incredible amount of time. Especially when you compare it to the 10 years some people say are left to change our impact on the environment we depend upon. We are forced to redefine how we understand comfort and growth. I find it hard to do: I somehow cannot imagine my life changing so drastically the next 10 years. Can you picture what would need to change?

When starting in Zurich, the first thing I did was to change the name of the professorship. Instead of Architecture & Urban Design, I called it Architecture & Urban Transformation. It is about looking closely at existing urban environments and imagining how they could play a different role, or how we ourselves could start using them differently. In light of the challenges mentioned above, it will be as much about changing spaces as it will be about changing practices and cultures of collaborating and communicating.

Being part of the practice 51N4E I have worked across Europe, from Belgium to Albania, and now I will land in Switzerland. I find it an intriguing place, that quietly and steadily works on changing itself, combining conservation and innovation. It feels appropriate to work here on architecture as a process that connects different points of views and transforms them, ideally to exceed the expectations of everyone involved, including yourself. Starting from this country in the middle of Europe, I want to rediscover this territory as a part of the world with a fertile future, through an open program called NEWROPE.

I will have to confront all of these ambitions with a half-time position, with one foot in the university and another in practice. Just like all other members of the NEWROPE team, who all come from different disciplines and cultures, we are forced to be bridge figures. As such, we are already the embodiment of what we want to teach, research and develop. I look forward to do this within a university that is known to be an ecosystem of both knowledge and action.

Yesterday night, we finished installing the Design in Dialogue Lab, our social studio space in the ONA building in Oerlikon, in the north of Zurich. It felt like a great moment, the energy of so many people coming together and getting things done. You should come and see it, as I think you will like it. We can show you what we will be working on and I am curious to hear and see your reaction. And whenever you visit us, I promise you will be warmly welcomed, with good coffee.

Looking forward to seeing you soon,

Freek Persyn”

– Letter
– Subject: Launching NEWROPE
– Date: 27 September 2019