Ricardo Carvalho + Joana Vilhena

A Room for Mexico City

Exit to the interior

Entering the exterior is a form of abandonment, of renouncement and oblivion. Exit to the interior is an irony; although apparently impossible, nothing is shed or missed when transiting from one place to another. Architecture, since reaching the use of reason, has been rationalized from the inside to the outside. Vitruvio, Alberti, Serlio, Palladio, Laugier, Durand and every evangelic treaty has tried to explain architecture as the relentless effort of man to abandon nature, to exit the outdoors. Histories reach us as the literature they are, half documentary and half fantastic; the house has been invented as a refugee, as a place where nature is provisionally canceled. Floors, walls and ceilings not only cancel trees, pastures with their insects and animals, but also the sun, wind, temperature and the rain. That is why the roofs of houses have their highest point precisely on the middle point, or that is what official history tells us, their myths confirm it. Because it is a way to drain water effortlessly, of letting it naturally drip back to the outside, away from architecture. Water falls vertically and follows its gravitational and uninterrupted path all the way to the natural terrain, which absorbs it and channels it into topography’s natural courses. Human domination logic is quite simple, or at least its illusion of replacing natural laws with made up laws is simple; the architectural contraption is that which resolves a non-existing problem. Thus, the pitched roof occupies a limit position between ingenuity and reason. On one side because it is the logical expression of a movement, almost a literal description of its vectors. On the other because it is a reactive resource in the face of the pragmatic yet primordial need to reduce in half the width of a floor plan. The mechanism is an alleged resistance model. Hence, the interior of a typical house, even when habit almost dilutes the simulacrum, is nothing but the reverse of said contraption; a more or less efficient scaffolding that supports the weight of the water that suspends it in the air. Triangular beaming can do nothing more than make this legislative contradiction visible, maybe out of shame they are hidden above ceilings that are planked, papered and painted weightless. On the inside these wooden frames hold the suspended ceilings with their horizontal braces and on the outside the diagonal planes render the silhouettes of their two frontal façades. This tradition is unquestionable because it is wedged into memory. The Portuguese house has a functional silhouette that –as any other house– is afterwards built with wood, bricks and stones. Assuming that Portuguese architecture has not been able (or willing) to escape this tradition, at least according to what international critics want to see in it, its radical condition is the confirmation of the archetypical model, of this basic figure, so immemorial and archaic, that always ends up overcoming the specifics of the context. This seems to be the paradox of the renowned Portuguese Contextualism: the architectural forms are modest out of need. In their serene, discrete and anti-monumental character lies its familiar and at the same time generic sensation, universal yet specific. The great heroes of Portuguese architecture have managed to observe this skill, half ignorant and half scholar, of popular constructions. That is why it is not so useful to see what these masters have done but what they saw themselves, as another Mexican master puts it. It is in this knot of the discipline that the work of Ricardo and Joana seems to sit; in a production that seeks that things remain the way they always have but that doubts whether or not to do it, that makes the prejudices of the tradition fall apart. Even though the conflict is summed up on each case, the hotel reconversion of certain ancient agricultural warehouses in Provesende –east of Porto– makes the problem literal. The central piece is a reversible space; it’s the exterior of an interior. An archetypical room that has not only been emptied of its contention capability but that has also been filled with water, grass and a tree. The function of the roof is an invisible presence. The ruin contradicts itself with a pond that cuts through it transversally. The transit from the street to the room holds a door almost without thickness and barely displaced of the central axis of this imaginary cover. Architecture’s scaffolding is not enough to hold the dropped ceiling. Even less to justify the passing of a bottomless mirror. Walls are heavy because they support their own weight, because memory is fragile and illusions sink in their turquoise reflections. To enter this exterior one must climb five steps, stop and open a gate. To exit the interior it seems best to keep quiet, the body is still wet, a little drunk and still tired.