You studied mathematics in Lebanon. Can you say an architect is a mixture of many talents? Drawing, engineering, a diplomat?
Diplomacy! Not my best talent! I don't play up to people. I remember Rem Koolhaas when they asked me to join OMA, and I said, "Only as a partner." I mean, honestly! I had just finished school. And they said, "As long as you are an obedient partner." I said, "No, I am not going to be an obedient partner." That was the end of my partnership!
For a long time, you were a theoretician architect. Then something changed and you became a very productive architect, working all over the world?
I always wanted to build what I call the theoretical project. Work on paper was never intended just to be drawing, but to have a productive reality. At the Architectural Association in the early mid-70s, when, post-'68, all faith in architecture had collapsed, they were still dominated by the dogma of modernism. Alternatives were historicism, post-modernism and neo-rationalism. I thought there must be another alternative, and so I started to complete the modernist project, not knowing that in this endeavor I would discover other things.
At the end of the day, your shapes are artistic shapes?
Architecture is semi-artistic, but you are inspired by nature, landscape, biology, all living things. You can be far more ambitious now, you can make great spatial experiences, but one thing which hasn't changed is that we have to deal with gravity, to land on the ground. I learned from a great engineer called Peter Rice to understand the logic of structure.
You said it was tough to be an Arab, a woman, also to be a Muslim?
I come from Iraq, and there were many Christians there and lots of Jews and Muslims. I am a Muslim who went to a nun's school, and for six years of my life, I crossed my heart. There was no difference between the Christians and the Muslims.
Sometimes wars are very troublesome for architecture. Have you seen many disasters?
I used to live in Beirut and that was completely destroyed.
What do you feel about Aleppo?
It's very disturbing. It's not just the architecture, it is about the people who are there. It doesn't matter if you are from the region or not. If I see people from Africa, I am not from Africa, but I feel for them. At this day and age, there should be no fighting. It is very sad.
Do you think it's a good historical moment for architecture?
It's been a great moment for the past 10 or 15 years. I am always very wary, because I think the pragmatists, the conservatives, are always lurking around the scenes, happy to leap out any minute and scuttle anything interesting.
I was thinking about Rome in another way: What about Fascist architecture?
It is now in London, it has migrated from Italy to the U.K.! I don't think you can separate architecture from the situation. Some of these buildings are, of course, very monumental and very interesting, but if you look at that period in Germany it's very austere and extremely oppressive.
Are you very comfortable in England?
No, I am not comfortable in England. I like London. I would just say, "I have no work in London!" It's not out of choice.