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LIGA, Space for Architecture is an independent platform founded in Mexico City in 2011 that promotes Latin American contemporary architecture through exhibitions, conferences and workshops.
Calle Doctor Erazo 176,
Col. Doctores, Del. Cuauhtémoc
CP 06720 Ciudad de México
M-F: de 10:00 a 14:00 hrs.
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The museum has been the mausoleum of the objects of the past, reinserted in the present under the auspices of the building that houses them, and intersected by di erent methods in which objects are incorporated, cataloged, analyzed and then displayed. The museographic forms and, speci cally, the diorama, perhaps one of its maximum expressions, are a consequence of the impossibility of representing the object of desire.
This reinterpretation of the doll set lends itself to an additional interpretation. In exchanging the dolls, traditionally identical, for the different authorities occupying different posts to govern a changing region—in terms of both its boundaries and its political definition—the souvenir suggests that after all, all these politicians might be similar versions of the same story, reminding us of the recurring character of some narratives. The rulers’ Matryoshka then points to two concepts: an idea of the origin (in this case, Lenin) and the eternal return, a conception of history developed by Nietzsche as the idea of a recurring and infinite narrative.Origin, repetition, and difference are all circumscribed in these small wooden objects.
In presenting to us the different iterations of the panel system used in France, the Soviet Union, Cuba, and Chile as a large Matryoshka, Pedro Ignacio Alonso and Hugo Palmarola open the door for a similar interpretation of architecture, the repetition of architectural systems, and the political systems that produce these repetitions. Ideas of the copy, copyrights, reinterpretation, and transference have received much attention in recent architectural discussions, in which authors seek to complicate modernity’s anxiety over originality.Alonso y Palmarola approach this discussion from the opposite point of view. Produced in order to be reproduced, the panel system has no aura to begin with, as Walter Benjamin would remind us—or at least it aspires to this lack!And yet, in this architectural Matryoshka, the panels Camus, I-464, Great Soviet Panel, the Socialist KPD and the Neoliberal VEP contain each other in a narrative that has, as conceptual or primary end, the pressure different governments from diverging political orientations have had to house the populations which they, at least in theory, are supposed to serve. The different mutations and alterations realized in each change in the system, that is, the alterations within this cyclical repetition, point not only to the changes in weather and culture, but also to the priorities and political orientations of these governments.
This interpretation between political orientation and formal solution would seem to give an abrupt end to this story. Thinking about the meanderings of the Camus panel, Alonso and Palmarola argue that the panel has the characteristics of the doppelgänger, a figure that according to some myths would prefigure the death of its original. In the same way as this character, Alonso and Palmarola conclude, the multiple iterations of the panel eventually lead us to the death of the socialist dream. Accordingly, the last iteration of the panel, the VEP, was repurposed by the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet to be used in resort housing in the Chilean coast. The path of the panel leads from the solution of housing precarity to the idea of the holiday house as an object to be sold or rented: in other words, we go from housing as right to housing as commodity.
Here the history of the panels comes to a halt and we find ourselves back in the present. The different iterations of the panels had different degrees of benefit for different groups. Towards the end of the twentieth century, the dream of collective housing was gradually lost in favor of credit systems in which planning was relegated to private interests. It is in this way that we see single family housing solutions spread across the continent, increasing distances, sprawl, and shifting the responsibility of the state on the housing question. But if we think of this present as one of the voids between the dolls, we can make a few additional reflections. Thinking about the history of the panels as a series of recurring iterations suggests that perhaps we are only in a pause within a larger system. Perhaps there are more iterations to come, new versions of the system that continue the search for housing solutions. Perhaps these new versions might go back to thinking of housing as a right, not as commodity. Perhaps the promise of the system is not that of a closed and repetitive system, but of an open system—a system that can retract and collapse, but can also be retaken, reopened, and reinterpreted in a new series of solutions, responding to new political projects that understand that the right to the city, to housing, and to space is a right for all.
I am deliberately avoiding extending myself too much on Nietzsche because I am more interested in thinking about the idea of recurrence and want to avoid getting lost in his labyrinths. Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, with a Prelude in Rhymes and an Appendix of Songs(New York: Vintage Books, 1974), 273.
For instance in the recent anthology edited by Amanda Reeser Lawrence y Ana Miljački, see Reeser Lawrence, Miljački, eds., Terms of Appropriation: Modern Architecture and Global Exchange(New York: Routledge, 2018).
Walter Benjamin, The work of art in the age of its technological reproducibility, and other writings on media(Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2008).
La deriva acontece cuando dado un determinado rumbo, éste se altera descubriendo un destino final distinto, diferentes mecanismos accionan el derivar como acción perteneciente a una trayectoria en el ámbito de la geografía y orientación. Este suceder en la acción, se proyecta sobre el pensar, el pensar se constituye desde las palabras. El conocimiento se forja en el pensar, y este se acrecienta desde la ampliación del vocabulario, en el derivar de las palabras a través de mecanismos de adición como la prefijación o sufijación, se crean ampliantes elementos léxicos nuevos.
Ejemplificando. Si las mores son las costumbres, las costumbres hacen al acostumbramiento, y éste al acostumbrado que ejerce en el hábito, habitualmente, en el habitar en un hábitat, que lo define como habitante, que habilita un espacio en habitación donde mora, en el espacio de las mores, en las que se habitúa como morador, para haber con habilidad morada, la morada es la casa, la casa es la construcción cubierta destinada a ser habitada, construcción en el juntos disponer la protección de los hábitos; construir en el fuero interno del morador hará al instruir, y la instrucción en su repetición industria y como herramienta se convertirá en instrumento, este promoverá el orden jerárquico que mantiene unidos en relación las partes y al todo hasta átomos y moléculas en una estructura, en la materia que estructura y nos instruye en su construcción habitual, en su propósito que nos es revelado, en lo que acostumbra, en sus mores.
En el derivar no sólo se representa la estructuración de nuestro lenguajeo, nos enseña la lógica con la que pensamos y la necesidad que tenemos de ir aumentando el palabreo en la medida en que vamos conociendo y haciendo de la adquisición del conocimiento la herramienta causal para construir propósito y con ello mundo.
Como seres lenguajeantes, con el pensar damos aliento, con el aliento animamos, con el animar otorgamos ánima, el ánima es el alma. Somos esta deriva que hace sentido y esencia, estructura y espíritu que se construye en el hablar, en el conversar juntos en la coordinación de acciones que necesitamos producir juntos para el hacer o el pensar.
Con la palabra, desde la matriz, se llama a la materia en la voz mater, invocando al material como materia con un propósito, la evocaremos en madre, y con ella describiremos la madera. Así la materia será la madre del material, su matriz se corresponde con la causalidad que le resulta, la materia madre dará propósito, construirá el sentido de su estructura al darle aliento, le animará a lo que desde ahí será su alma, su costumbre, será su moral y le dará morada, habitará en su sentido haciéndola habitante, construirá la extensión en lo que habita, la materia madre del material, tendrá el hábito de ser habitualmente aquello que deriva como su esencia, como su alma, tendrá su morada en su estructura.
Esta deriva esencial acompaña nuestro existir, en lo cotidiano de nuestros haceres y pensares, así la tierra materia mater de la que somos, animada será material para construir, para juntos disponerla en morada, morada como casa que protege nuestros hábitos, que nos permiten el habitar habitual. Pero también nos permite nuevas aproximaciones, expandiendo su estructura y su sentido de instrucción e instrumento.
Joseto es un gran animador, su hacer otorga sentido a la materia, con ella construye, construye en el juntos disponer de la materia haciendo casas, moradas que van más allá de su extensión en el espacio, como buen animador y con espíritu animista, otorga alma y causalidad a las cosas, las cosas se descubren en su esencia habituando nuevas razones, así construye la costumbre de la tierra en una viga, al hacerlo ésta se vuelve su morada, la tierra tendrá su casa cuando logre ser en esencia y se disponga por ello a serlo, construyéndola como instrumento para instituir, y habiéndola en su hábito habitual, habitará en su casa, en la morada de las cosas.
For his 1982 film Fitzcarraldo, Werner Herzog based the story on the life of an opera lover who is obsessed with the idea of building a theater in the middle of the Amazon jungle. Alejandro Paz’s proposal for LIGA has a certain similarity with the action of this character. Alejandro is not an orchestra conductor, but in a way being an architect is a way of conducting space. For this work, the chamber orchestra is hidden beneath the gallery space and plays a live performance for an audience who can’t see them. Like in Fitzcarraldo, the orchestra performs to be heard in a jungle that acts as the audience.
We could imagine that music, presented in a single dimension, doesn’t fill space, but it is because of space that it reaches our ears. The gallery is empty of objects, but full of music.
I have often thought about proximity and distance as relative concepts. A crime could be taking place in the building where I live and I’d have no idea about it. This can also happen at an ideological level. We can witness an injustice, but if we lack the right sensibility, we don’t actually see it.
Tectonic plates are in constant movement but we don’t feel them. The Earth revolves around the sun and on its own axis, and we don’t perceive it. Sometimes imperceptible things are the ones that have the most effect on our own body. Architecture is one such form of silent influence.
Working on this sensibility allows us to better appreciate reality. Architecture can function as a frame for the landscape. What would happen if we turned music into a frame for architectural space? Alejandro Paz’s experiment is an approach to this strategy. Music fills the space we believe to be empty. Pieces of music function as spaces, with notes as the bricks, melody as the structure. To articulate music as architecture, it needs composition. In his 1961 book Silence, John Cage wrote that a musician is more someone who puts sounds in order, rather than someone who composes melodies. In similar fashion, an architect can become a composer of spaces.
In 2007, Werner Herzog directed a documentary entitled Encounters at the End of the World. Among the various characters who appear is a group of biologists researching the behavior of seals. They like to hear the sounds emitted by the seals beneath the ice. The ice functions as a great natural slab that separates the biologists from the water. Something similar happens with the way Mexico City is built over a great lake. The section of the building that is home to the LIGA gallery, where the musicians perform, is what separates us from the subsoil.
Alejandro Paz’s piece converts us all into biologists listening for the sounds rising from beneath the surface of the earth. Herzog is moved by the way the seal specialists record the sounds, pointing out that they seem to be produced by a synthesizer. Nature can become a spectacle when it meets the artificial. Architecture as an island built over the water is a striking feat. Paz adds a soundtrack to this spectacle.
Since architecture is continuously contaminated by other disciplines and external influences, collage have been a preferred medium to infuse the dry architectural drafting with colorful cut-out figures, landscapes and skies from magazines, postcards and books. From the sparing compositions by Mies van der Rohe, the dada-ist mash-ups by Hans Hollein and the pop-collages by Archigram to the early digital collages by OMA, graphical assemblages constitute a substantial part of the history of architectural representation. Now, since the beginning of current century there is notably a renewed interest in ‘collage’ as a modus operandi to visualize architectural ideas. Contemporary online platforms, such as Koozarch, demonstrate the excitement around the technique, now heavily supported by digital tools such as Photoshop and Illustrator. Many of the images we see online have a poster-like quality; an aura that is more related to the two-dimensional world of graphic illustration and painting, then the spatial compositions of architecture. Indeed, instead of pursuing depths and spatial effects in their drawing, this younger generation of architects has chosen to look at Gauguin, Cezanne, Hopper and Hockney: painterly techniques in which mass and volume is reduced to abstract flat surfaces.
Just in the same way as the hard black on white outlines in Oswald Mathias Ungers ’60s axonometric drawings, superseded the tonally amplified and illusionistic embellished style of the mid century architecture, the digital collage allowed a new generation to distance themselves form the slickness and commercial character of digital rendering. This technique gave their work more of bold, edgy, rough and imprecise character. The use of found fragments, textures and images, allows designers as well to place their work within a historical continuum, establishing bridges and references to pre-existing work and predecessors. Instead of working within an abstract paper space employing anonymous building blocks from rendering libraries and CAD Catalogues, collages are constructed out of meaningful fragments and references, each one with its own memoir and narrative. The pragmatic build-up of these collages have furthermore completely changed the angles and viewpoints through which architecture is observed. Their main compositional elements are often two-dimensional elevations, pulled straight from the architect’s drawing board: a superposition of perspective-less graphics. The result is a controlled image, precisely framed and with a fixed relation between observer and object, an architectural imaginary that is more visual composition then spatial creation. Image rather than space.
A similar thing happens in contemporary architecture photography. Instead of the dramatic angles displayed by modernist Julius Shulman in the past or Iwan Baan nowadays, many contemporary photographers now show an interest in a sparse orthogonal registration. Influenced by artists like Thomas Struth, Thomas Ruff, Andreas Gursky and other disciples of the Becher Schule, they depict buildings frontally, placing the camera –when possible- orthogonal to the façade and centered to the central composition axis of the building: the result is an image which almost reduces the building to a precise elevation, an architectural drawing. The intriguing part is however not how projects and buildings are portrayed, but rather - the other way around- how this representational technique provokes a specific type of architectural composition. In the same way the walls and diamond shapes of Hejduk were inextricably related to the world of oblique drawing, collage has come hand in hand with its own serie of spatial typologies and solutions that operate comfortably within the boundaries of its graphic methodology. Box-like buildings, rooms in enfilade, modular plan layouts, grid compositions, specific surface treatments and specific axial arrangements can therefore be seen as direct by-products of those representational techniques. Creating architecture by means precisely framed compositions in which two dimensional surfaces are glued on top of the other, delivers buildings with a highly graphical and sequential quality. The Landmark Nieuw Bergen by Dutch office Monadnock is a good example of a building that is at least is much an image as much as it is a building. Its decorative façade treatment, the 45 degree rotating volumes and its central position on the urban plaza, are there to create a precise urban scenography: a blown-up stage prop designed to attribute a picturesque quality to the otherwise dull environment. The Weekend House in Merchtem by Office Kersten Geers David Van Severen, or the interior living space of the Cien House by the Chilean-Argentinian duo Pezo von Ellrichshaussen, show a continuity of spaces neatly separated by sets of parallel walls, establish a precisely orchestrated visual experience.
The use of these of repetitive parallel surfaces to control and direct the view of the spectator within an architectural interior, brings in mind the spatial layout of classical proscenium theaters where continuous sets of legs (side curtains) and backdrops prevent the public to see into the backstage area. A combination of drapes and painted sceneries would be lifted up or down from complex rigging systems in the fly tower, to evoke different atmospheres and locations on stage. The 19th Century English Toy Theater or Paper Theater reflects this technical stage construction in a comprehensive miniature version. These wondrous mini stages were often sold as kits at the concession stand of an opera house, playhouse, or vaudeville theater and consisted of a set of graphic plates that had to be cut-out, painted and assembled into a wooden miniature theatre box. By means of cutout figures the play could then be performed for family members and guests, sometimes even with live musical accompaniment. The complex history and evolution of this particular form of miniature theater is absolutely intriguing and remnants of its history can still be seen at Pollock’s Toy Museum in London. Just as in the world of the graphical collage, the small viewing boxes staged tridimensional environments by superposing different layers of flat figurative images. Although modern stage design, impelled by the revolutionary compositions of Adolph Appia and Craig Gordon, abandoned the idea of the pictorial flats in favor of a more spatial and volumetric stage composition, the traditional painted scenery always kept appealing to stage designers as a sort of uhr-form of their discipline. Davick Hockney’s mise-en-scene for the Magic Flute performed at the Glyndebourne Festival Opera in 1978, is a good example of how these flat surfaces allowed to establish connections between the world of the stage and his work as a painter. “Hockney, for all the inventiveness of his design, is essentially a traditionalist when it comes to setting the stage. He prefers the simple box set with wide wings to say, to an artfully angles interior. To that end he has made fresh use of the conventional stage flat. He delights in the obvious artificiality of this ancient stage device, placing one painted flat behind the other to suggest vast distance within Glyndebourne’s small viewing box.”
In the same year that Hockney presented his stage set for the Magic Flute, the Italian architect Aldo Rossi also combined graphical imagery and spatial composition in a very particular theatrical device. He inserted painted backgrounds, very similar in perspectival composition and color intensity as the theatrical flats made by Hockney for his opera, into a small wooden and steel box, about the size of a those 19th Toy theaters we mentioned before. Somewhere between machine, theater and toy, his ‘Little Scientific Theater’ had a particular typological shape, based on the theaters one can find in the small villages of northern Italy. Rossi referred to it ‘as a machine for architectural experimentation’, and called it scientific in reference to the scientific theater in Manta, the anatomical theater of Padova and similar Italian theaters from the eighteenth Century. These specific theaters must have been a recurrent reference for a group of Italian architects, seen that Franco Purini had build a Scientific Theater as part of the ROMA ESTATE festival in the summer of 1976 in the outskirts of Rome. This temporary construction consisted of a 7.2 by 7.2 meter stage surrounded by an interior façade of white-washed wooden boards and scaffolding for the public to stand on. Rossi must absolutely have seen the powerful images those experimental performances generated.
It is unclear what Rossi’s actual reason was to build this ambiguous object: it does not seems to be commissioned by anyone or realized to take part in any particular exhibition or publication. Frank Godlewski, a young stagiair who worked at Rossi’s studio at the Via Maddalena in Milan during those years narrates how the object would just stand on his desk, or on a small table covered with a piece of textile and that Rossi would play around with it frequently: oil paintings and pencil drawing would be used as backdrops, compositional elements of different projects would be presented in it and even coffee pots and toy cars became part of the arranged scene. “Rossi’s daughter Vera loved it … and in order for her to like it, Rossi always asked us to use lots of bright and strong colors when we drew or modeled something for it.” When he was satisfied with a certain composition, he would then ask one of his collaborators to take pictures of it.
Apart from some texts by Rossi himself, there is hardly any writing on the Little Scientific Theatre, which is surprising for an enigmatic production by such a well-known and published architect. For many years, a short article written by Rafael Moneo in 1979 was the only really engaging text on the subject. It is not until 2014, when Jorge Palinhos and Maria Helena Maia organize a congress enquiring the reciprocal relations between theater and architecture in Porto, that a new essay on the subject was added by Portuguese scholar Daniela Sa. In her essay she reviews meticulously the different factors that might have provoked the birth of the particular device. Among many facts, she recalls that Rossi was married to the Swiss actress, Sonia Gessner, and that he might have attended frequently to rehearsals of her plays, explaining the many references to empty theatres and stages in his oeuvre. Rossi writes: “I particularly love empty theatres with few lights lit and, most of all, those partial rehearsals where the voices repeat the same bar, interrupt it, resume it, remaining in the potentiality of the action.” The stage and scale model are similar in the way they are open ended and anticipate the narrative. The continuous rehearsals and tryouts on the theater stage and within the architectural scale model, procure that the personal drama of speculating and creating fictions takes place. As Moneo suggests in relation to Rossi ‘s puppet-sized playhouse, it is ‘only the fiction of theatre that allows us to understand reality’.
In this exhibition called “Spaces Without Drama, or Surface is Illusion but so is Depth”, we have asked architects, artists and a dramaturge to work around this fascinating relation between architecture and theatrical scenery. Triggered by Rossi’s Little Scientific Theater and the 19th Century toy theaters, participants were asked to use and theatrical scenery. Triggered by Rossi’s Little Scientific Theater and the 19th Century toy theaters, participants were asked to use the lens of traditional theatrical techniques to explore the complex interaction between pictorial representation and 3-dimensional space. Intertwining their own personal fascinations and obsessions with the curatorial enquery, some have presented their proposal in the form of miniature stage sets, while others play with specific context of the Madlener House or elaborated on time-based pieces. The 16 pieces that were produced ex-profeso for this exhibition, are placed within the exhibition next to contemporary and historical references that have guided this project. The space of the Graham Foundation is hereby used as a double stage: a staging of mise-en-scénes.
The double title of the exhibition refers to the lengthy title of a movie made David Hockney and Philip Haas in 1988: “Day on the Grand Canal with the Emperor of China or surface is illusion, but so is depth”. In the movie Hockney unveils the differences between two ancient Chinese scrolls and explains us how Western society has always been fixated on the idea of perspective and the position of the camera. As soon as the camera is locked into position, Hockney seems to suggest, the narrative ends. And that is maybe the genius of Rossi’s Little Scientific Theater. Although the perspective was always precisely framed, the stage set itself was in a continuous transformation and change, undergoing incessant additions and subtractions. As Rossi stated about the theatre: “Inside it, nothing can be accidental, yet nothing can be permanently resolved either.”
After decades of discussions centered firmly on design as a self-referential process—focusing on its outcomes—design has renewed its engagement with other areas of scholarship inserting, for instance, questions of geographical, ecological and territorial concern into contemporary design and urban debates. Triggered by the relentless expansion of urban agglomerations and the threads of environmental change the idea of disciplinary and scalar expansion has taken a leading presence across referential design discourses. In this context, the emergence of geography or ecology, and their impact on the renewal of design theory and practice are essential, both in terms of portraying the underlying multi-scalar dynamics of contemporary urban processes, and of engaging in renewed and meaningful ways with models of progressive urbanism that could present an alternative to today’s neoliberal urbanism. The flip side of this disciplinary expansion, however, has marked a displacement of the “object” of design—the building or the city—in favor of the fluidity and open-endedness of ecologically- and geographically-informed “processes.”
As an attempt to reunite and transcend disciplinary opposites such as object/process, society/nature, internalities/externalities or inside/outside, the work of Camilo Restrepo at AGENdA provides a framework through which these opposites are dialectically analyzed and theorized as co-produced. For him, “objects” cannot be understood without their constitutive territorial “processes.” His work relentlessly operates within a key principle: there is no society outside nature. Moving beyond meta-geographical opposites and understanding the co-production of architecture in the territory is the starting point for understanding Camilo Restrepo’s work. These core principles render architecture as produced, and constantly reshaped, by a continuous circulation of material and energy driven by both socio-political and biophysical forces. In this view, his work emerges as a process that can no longer be conceived as a bounded, closed and fixed entity, but rather as an extended fabric composed by “socio-ecological processes that are simultaneously local and global, human and physical, symbolic and structural, cultural and organic,” as the urban geographer Erik Swyngedouw would state. Using Canonical Tropics as a vehicle to navigate through his theoretical positioning, Restrepo proposes an installation consisting of carefully crafted and arranged screens as “extended fabrics” capable of blurring long-entrenched binary opposites.
By bringing in Van Eyck’s Sonsbeek Pavillion in Arnhem, Netherlands, as the constitutive precedent for the installation’s floor plan, Restrepo engages with Eyck’s ideas about “opposites” in multiple yet fascinating ways including Eyck’s concern with “reconciling opposites,” and the relationships between polarities such as archaic and avant-garde, the organic and the geometric, simplicity and complexity, constancy and change. While acknowledging the differences between extremes, Eyck’s tension between “opposites” were always rendered visible: the parallels and circles; the representation of lines as streets and circles as plazas; the solidity of walls in contrast with the emptiness of alleys; or the tension between constriction and expansion. However, Restrepo goes beyond Eyck’s emphasis on maintaining the dialectics of opposing factions under the idea of “reconciliation” and moves toward an integrative totality by “blurring” these oppositions into a singular metabolism.
By operating in a geographical context without climatic extremes such as Colombia, what was solid and impervious in the Netherlands, here becomes porous. What was enclosed and compartmentalized, here is open-ended and simultaneous. The solid walls in the North, here become screens that, rather than operating as boundaries or enclosures, are filtering membranes that control the entry of light without encapsulating air. The inside/outside opposition blurs in favor of an open-ended “in-between” space without fixed limits. This blurring is further expressed through the careful materialization of the installation: on the one hand, it is accentuated by the natural patterns imprinted on the screens that were carefully brought from the Colombian hinterland, the canonical mass/void opposition dematerializes creating a hybrid space that immerses the visitor in a trans-scalar phenomenological experience simultaneously “situated” in multiple spaces; on the other, it is further advanced by the physical, formal and material orchestration of the installation. The malleability of the screens responding to air flow, their translucency as a light filtering device, and their imprinted patterns as a performative display of shadows enable Restrepo to create an architecture in constant engagement with thermal, climatic and energy forces that also blur the polarization of internalities/externalities, moving into an architecture shaped only by air.
All this can only be understood out of a mode of practice that, by nature, is also blurred. AGENdA engages with other disciplinary formations, crisscrosses scales of inquiry and intervention and brings together a multitude of agents, human and non-human, to create architecture that transcends disciplinary concerns and becomes a powerful crystallization of variegated and complex socio-ecological processes that make up our built environment today. Paolo Soleri used to say that an architect should decide to be either “historically correct or evolutionarily meaningful.” As a modest contribution to Restrepo’s oeuvre, I believe his work, and in particular Canonical Tropics, transcends this distinction to become both historically correct and evolutionarily meaningful.
Perhaps Corb was misunderstood or poorly translated from the French and never thought about architecture as a machine for living. Perhaps he meant to say the very opposite, that architecture should provide a house for machines, as UMWELT does in its transmission stations on the San Cristóbal hill in Santiago. If this were the case, the “exterminating angel” (as Léon Krier called him) would have predated by several decades contemporary discussions about the end of any distinction between the human and the non-human—in social sciences, philosophy, anthropology and in architecture.
Above all, he would have anticipated the final extermination of the old distinction between nature and culture. But we know, unfortunately, that this is not what he was referring to. The translation appears to be correct. His own ideas only multiply ad nauseam the persistent dualist opposition that insists upon seeing the supposed original conditions of the planet as something wholly distinct to the technological and cultural progress of humankind. In this way he could set up the purity and abstraction of his work on top of an uncontestable and glorious nature that his own culture had produced.
This modern and modernizing tradition, arising from the notion of a “blissful state of nature,” was formulated by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the eighteenth century, instigating the Romantic ideal of a sublime nature. Marshall Berman reminds us that Rousseau was the first to employ the word modernity in the way it would be used in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, also visible in Claude Lévi-Strauss’s definition of anthropology as a discipline that investigates the relationship between nature and culture, or transferred to David Harvey or Erik Swyngedouw in their effort to understand society and nature as a continuous element. Yet it is evident that it would not be necessary to relate or connect these notions if they were not formulated as distinct and opposed from the start. Dismantling this dichotomy of exclusion is a more radical operation: the elimination of this opposition through the dissolution of the very concept of nature, the one that defines a separate space for the objects that it supposedly brings together. We know, however, that this idea of nature is not going to dissipate by itself. There is a need of projects to destroy it. This task—the destruction of the concept and its images—must be undertaken by architecture.
Therein lies the interest (and also the risk) of UMWELT’s work, because they require both the objects and their conceptual territory to be designed. Their projects, in this sense, appear to decisively take on the perhaps shocking idea that “nature does not exist,” and they understand that the idea of nature inherited from heroic modernity is an obstacle for contemporary architectural thought. However, this elimination gives rise to a problem as interesting as it is difficult: How to reorganize and redistribute—in terms of design—all those things previously categorized as natural? What does it mean, in the end, to reclassify objects that have lost the concept that united them? In different ways, UMWELT’s strategies seek to address these kinds of questions.
Examining this redistribution from the perspective of the project may be seen as the final goal of their explorations: the mass transfer of objects from a concept in crisis to another one yet to be defined and, above all, to be designed within a process of internalization, from the segregation of an outside, towards the interior of architecture. This is what is involved in the project of introducing their work into the cracks in concepts that no longer stand up by themselves, not only in the nature/culture duality, but also in other kinds of dichotomies that are too schematic to be confronted in the contemporary world, such as the public and the private, the urban and the rural, or the intellectual and the popular. Hence too the insistence of UMWELT on the notion of infrastructure as a programmatic tool for avoiding forced explanations of the different scales of the work and for being able to discuss all the objects without exception, beyond futile deliberations on what is small or what is big. Through infrastructure—by definition without scale—architecture could finally invert the paradigm and transform the whole planet into the house of machines.
We rarely stop to think about the basic utensils we use, the essential tools that fulfill a single function and are almost mechanical extensions of everyday actions and habits. These basic things go unperceived while we are bound up in the larger problems of our tiny lives.Nowadays, we live in a throwaway culture where objects lose their function or their purpose within a couple of years, seasons, months, weeks, or seconds of use. Is this why basic utensils have a timeless, almost mystical quality?
The sieve is a crude tool that was originally used to clean wheat and other grains or seeds, separating out the soil, dust, straw and husks, waste from the fields, residues and excess.
In the mining and construction industries the sieve has been refined with woven wire meshes of different thicknesses or bends, different openings and tensions, which allow the accurate sorting and classification of different materials.
In the daily building practice of S-AR stación arquitectura, the sieve mesh is a basic utensil, a filter for separating the gravel and sand to be incorporated into concrete mixes, the most common material used in their work, and together with steel and glass, the stamp of what is produced or built in Monterrey.
Removed from its context and original function for the intervention by S-AR at LIGA, this simple mesh is transformed into an element of construction, a load-bearing structure that instead of separating materials functions as a filter for the immaterial: variations in distances and densities, in openness and closure; light, air, space. Distributed in semi-circles defined by the corners of the gallery’s triangular layout, like the transversal waves that appear when we drop a stone into water, the mesh expands and distorts the boundaries of the room through the repetition and variation of frequencies. With this nascent gesture, S-AR also expands and distorts its own architectural grammar. Employing this type of resources is a recurrent feature of the firm’s built and theoretical work: “taking things out of a given context and switching them to a different one.” Playing with the same basic elements, twisting functions, shaking up and clearing out architecture in order to let through new forms, effects, and experiences. A practical nucleus altered by amplified frequencies of its basic elements, which unfold and illuminate the fundamentals of architecture. S-AR’s projects do not just occupy spaces, they cause spaces to resonate.
In paying attention to what seems insignificant, we encounter fundamental answers to key questions about material, function, habitability and perception.
In this work created by S-AR for a specific space and for a specific moment, a sense of being-there emerges through architecture: “We are questioning, here and now, for ourselves.” 
 Martin Heidegger, “What is Metaphysics?” in Basic Writings, trans. David Farrell Krell, London, Harper Collins, 1993 (originally published 1929).
Across the American continent, that stretches from Patagonia to the Aleutian Islands and which includes the United States of Mexico as well as the United States of America, at least three large urbanization strategies can be observed: the indigenous process of settling (from ancient times to the contemporary so-called informal process), the Spanish imposition of the Latin cardo/decumanus and the Anglo-Saxon picturesque suburban garden city. All three strategies are clearly recognizable from South to North of the double continent.
While the first settlement strategy is scaled to pedestrian/equestrian mobility, the second strategy is relatively independent from forms of mobility, the last can only exist on motorized, individualized forms of transport. Despite widespread preconceptions and prejudices, the character of settlements across the Americas varies only in small degrees from one another. To be sure, if the sprawling megalopolis of Los Angeles with its false promise of freedom in suburbia and its concomitantly, constantly blocked urban highways is the paradigm case for an inefficient transport system, then neither Lima nor Buenos Aires fare significantly better in terms of efficacy and smooth connectivity. Privileged bus routes as those adopted in cities like Curitiba have tilted the scales somewhat in favor of the common person; but a city like São Paulo in the same Brazil luxuriates in private helicopter flights.
These larger contexts of the constructed settlement types with their aortas of transport systems are the background to the understanding of the significance of the work of the small Monterrey practice with the name S-AR (César Guerrero, Ana Cecilia Garza, Carlos Raúl Flores and María Sevilla). It is a common background shared with the neighboring regions and states, whether they be in Mexico or the USA. Monterrey is located in the Mexican state of Nueva León, a few hours’ car journey to the Gulf of Mexico and to the Mexican-USA border. And because of their commonality, the attitude expressed in S-AR’s work is so much more revealing when it is compared with contemporary production, for example, across the northern border. Given the prevalence of the two-dimensional media (including popular professional journals, exhibition and web site formats), and combined with the long wake of the reinvigorated importance of the motif and the gesture ever since postmodernism as well as the excess of cheap money, the architectural discourse in the USA has been dominated by an overproduction of autonomous shapes, devoid of social, cultural or constructional meaning. Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of The Vanities is the socio-cultural mirror to the architectural production of the last three decades in the USA.
Having provided this large backdrop, the work of S-AR can and must be realistically seen as a built criticism of the excesses emerging from north of the border. It is as if the rational construction, the palpable physicality of the materials and their tectonic directness, the contextual reticence, and their minimal poetry are altogether a stoic accusation against the vanities from the rest of the northern hemisphere and a constructed statement of an almost Jesuit/Franciscan alternative. The architects’ education at the Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey, their Hispanic-Catholic culture, and their awareness of the socio-political vicissitudes of Mexico have informed S-AR’s attitude. Conciseness, matter-of-factness, directness, real minimal details (not the northern hemispherical minimalist details that only look simple, but which are only realized at great effort and expense given the onerous insulation and fire protection building codes), yes, and indeed orthogonal geometry, all these facets of an architecture, that long seem to have been left behind by the self-perceived US-American and European avant-garde, can be seen in the work of S-AR to lead a convincing answer to the wide range of tasks that require architecture in Monterrey.
To be sure, free-standing private houses, not an ideal typology for the provision of accommodation in the context of the much needed sustainable policies, are amongst S-AR’s range of work, but so are a children’s daycare as well as model social houses. It is a debatable point whether one should reject commissions for free-standing single family houses just because they are not in the long term sustainable. Clearly, a larger body of research is urgently needed to document the need for alternative settlement typologies. However, while the world awaits a more decisive and collective attitude towards sustainability and the profession at large in turn adopts radical best-practice guidelines resulting from these sustainability policies, individual architectural practices need to survive. From their own statements and writings S-AR have shown that they are aware of these broader issues, and thus they are laying the course for their future work. It will be revealing to see how these standards will indeed be embodied in their forthcoming projects.
Plummeting plumb. By Axel Arañó and César Martínez
Ephemeral and ethereal intervention that takes place in the air, consisting of defining two perpendicular planes using plumb line and spirit level, using light and smoke in movement.
The smoke occupies the totality of the space-volume of the room and the planes divide it like two Cartesian axes into an up and a down, and a right side and a left side. The gunpowder in the rockets contributes to the smoke machine to fill the space, leaving slight traces of flame on the windowsills, a minimal testimony to action.
Any material can be used to make a plumb line, indicating a direct line to the center of the earth with any kind of object hung from a string, though the heavy metal lead (plomo) shares its etymology with this action.
From the outset the vertical and the horizontal have been decisive in the development of architecture, and the intervention alludes to these two concepts through the use of two laser beams and smoke. The smoke makes visible the planes of light, and these in turn make the smoke visible.
Atmosphere and light, two natures in conjunction that architecture orders and defines, make themselves tangible without solid material.
Weather Vane. Marta Bogéa
“Diadorim lifted his arm and waved. I wanted to catch up quickly, and tried to spur my horse into a half-gallop, but just then he got other ideas: he jumped and shied to the left side of the road, and I came near falling off. What had startled him was a dry flying leaf carried by the wind that was whirling around us that had lodged against his eye and ear. Swirling eddies—you know, winds fighting. When one meets another and they whirl together, it is a crazy sight. The dust rises high, in a dark cloud full of flying leaves and broken twigs, with whistling sounds, spinning and jumping like a top. Diadorim and Caçanje had stopped, waiting for me to catch up. “The dust devil!” said Caçanje, cursing. “There is a cross wind blowing from the direction of the ocean,” said Diadorím. But Caçanje would not have it that way: the whirlwind was his, the devil’s. The devil was there, he travelled inside it. I started laughing. What I thought was: “The devil in the street, in the middle of the whirlwind.” I think the most terrible time in my life is summed up in those words, which you must never repeat. But, bear with me. We’ll get to it. Even Caçanje and Diadorim laughed, too. Then we got going.”
JOÃO GUIMARÃES ROSA, The Devil to Pay in the Backlands, 1956
This intervention at LIGA puts into practice a series of actions to transform the site, with the aim of causing a delay in the time and space of the perception of the event. The existing line of sight between the two windows is intercepted by a mechanism that imperfectly reproduces the urban landscape at the same time as it multiplies space and creates new places . The work starts out from the existing windows and connects them with the floor and ceiling. The steel volume presents the ambiguity between the physical condition of the material and the metaphysical one of the reflections it produces. Just as in a literary essay the author explores a theme without the pressures or demands of other literary structures, in the same way the intervention at LIGA proposes alternatives for transformation that have been forced to coexist at the same time. Various possibilities of appropriating the space, in a key of simultaneity, involve visitors with the object and the space.
Critical text for the exhibition Simultaneous Alternatives by Nicolás Campodonico, 2015 - 2016
I set out to write about the intervention in a space with windows, and I end up surrendering myself to an elegy on the multiple and the simultaneous. A window is always an occasion for imagining a place of observation, a privileged point of view to see things outside of ourselves as a spectacle. It is an architectural element that enables us to grasp, from the position we are in, everything around us. Experienced in this way, the recognition of what is surprising about reality becomes the principal theme of the profession of architecture.
Carlos Emilio Gadda knew that in literature “to know is to insert something into reality, and thereby deforms reality.” Hence his typical mode of representation and the tension that he creates between himself and the things represented, so that the more the world is deformed beneath his gaze, the more he is committed to it.
Introducing into this space a mysterious object, a metal sheet that is folded, multiplied, and deformed, carrying back and forth the occasional images that are produced beyond is a simple—and thus an exciting—intuition. An ephemeral and singular mechanism for registering the fleetingness of life and experimenting with the stupor of elemental things.
The steel sheet alters existing relationships and presents itself spatially like an open encyclopedia—an adjective that without doubt contradicts the noun “encyclopedia,” whose etymological roots indicate its pretension to encompass the world’s knowledge, enclosing it in a circle—as a paradigm of a totality that can only be comprehended from a multiple perspective. Understanding the project of contemporary architecture as an encyclopedia means adopting it as a method of knowledge and exploration, but above all, as a network of connections between facts, between people, and between the things of the world.
Nicolás Campodónico appears to have understood that in our epoch more than in any other, for architecture the time has come to take charge of this ancient ambition to represent the multiplicity of relations, in action and in potential.
He thus chooses to express the tension between mathematical exactness and the approximation of human events by way of a type of controlled fluidity. He dreams the mathematics of a singular solution.
With this performance, in this act he presents us with a way of understanding the contemporary world as a system of systems in which each individual system conditions the others, and is conditioned by them.
In his works, the smallest part is conceived as the center of a network of relationships that the eye cannot help but follow, multiplying the details in such a way that they suggest infinite associations.
Unwittingly, it represents the world as a tangle, a thicket, or a ball of yarn. I know, by his own admission, that he does not follow the seduction of a form. As a result, this always arrives as the inevitable heart of the matter. It is the reason of a world that participates with elegance and discrete commitment, without attenuating in the least its inextricable complexity, or the simultaneous presence of the most diverse elements that come together to define this specific challenge.
“I think about an art of the future as a fleeting artistic manifestation of improvisation, as a product of and for the moment, with no pull of immortality, like something that recalls interpretative art, the spectacle, the radio program, rather than a museum piece.”
Lucio Fontana, 1943.
For me, this proposal for LIGA 20 resonates with the work and thought of Lucio Fontana, in particular the spatiality created by those neon works shaped like signs in the air, at once perishable and indelible. This proposal is also, in its own way, both spontaneous and fleeting, which through the reduplication of images presents a multiplied and expanded situation. A static piece that nevertheless produces a dynamic of constant movement through (intentionally) imperfect reflections, manifested as the unfoldings of a reality that the spectator perceives in a light and playful manner.
At the same time, the intervention is imbued with echoes of the work of Max Ernst. The framework appears that gives meaning to the scene, as in the photograph of the game of chess, but above all it generates an excerpt of reality. In his collage The Master’s Bedroom, Ernst using the overpainting technique to transform a page from an encyclopedia, painting over objects and causing them to disappear. The result is an explosion of proportions and perspectives that not by chance was included in Rosalind Krauss’s book The Optical Unconscious.
What is achieved in Ernst’s work by covering objects and bringing the background in front of the figures is produced at LIGA by connecting objects (the windows) and reproducing what remains of the context without the truthfulness of the mirror. These small operations displace the present reality to a parallel one: pre-established values are blurred, the context is reconfigured, and a new situation is established. As well as extended and multiplied, the space is subverted.
In my view, Nicolás Campodónico’s proposal for LIGA oscillates between these artistic reference points. They serve to delimit the boundaries of a piece that takes on the ephemeral, dynamic, and ethereal aspects of Fontana’s neon works, together with the manipulation and framing of Ernst.
Simply Simple. By Francisco Díaz
Contemporary architecture seems to have reached a point of critical tension. On the one hand, real estate speculation threatens its autonomy and, on the other, “pure” art forces it to abandon its social aspirations. This dilemma has given rise to a certain fear among the profession, especially in a globalized world that destabilizes the position that architecture once held in the social sphere. In this scenario, the response has consisted of reinforcing the role played by the figure of the architect as a guarantor of the significance of their discipline, trusting that charismatic figures will restore architecture’s place as the ‘first art’. Thus, in a world where dialogue with other spheres is a must, the architect seems obliged to exaggerate the importance of his work with complex discourses, or to impose his aura as an auteur to materialize his vision of the world.
In this context, it is counter-intuitive to resist the temptation to overestimate authorial talent, opting instead to make things seem simpler than they are. As architecture itself is already complicated enough to pull off, making it seem simple too is no easy task. In fact, this implies distinguishing between simplification (the artificial reduction of the variables involved), synthesis (the forced conclusion of the problem through a project), and articulation (the subjective ordering of the variables in terms of an argument).
If there is something surprising about Llonazamora it is precisely their ability to make the difficult appear simple. Without overestimating their abilities—nor oversimplifying or summarizing—this Peru-based practice has managed to develop a career based on a series of principles capable of defining a field of play in which they move with consummate ease.
For example: how many have failed in their intent to replicate in their own city the model of Learning from Las Vegas? The exercise is not as simple as heading out to record architectural or urban phenomena, since it demands a broad cultural background (in order to be able to distinguish and isolate what is really unique about a place), together with a new perspective generally reserved to a foreigner (such as the South African Denise Scott-Brown, the true discoverer of Las Vegas), or to someone who has lived abroad (like Tzukamoto and Kaijima from Atelier Bow-Wow, who only rediscovered Tokyo after living in Paris)1.
When Michelle Llona and Rafael Zamora moved to Lima in 2009—having met in Santiago, Chile—they were ready to observe the Peruvian capital from a fresh perspective. We are talking about a city that is no longer the impoverished, underdeveloped Lima to which John Turner moved in the 1960s 2, or which received Van Eyck, Stirling, and others to design the PREVI Lima housing projext3. The city rediscovered by Llona and Zamora is a contemporary metropolis, where corporate postmodern architecture share space with Colonial and Republican architecture. This is the city they are able to read with a fresh gaze, extracting from it a series of elements that, like an alphabet, are combined through a set of rules—a grammar—to form a new language.
The danger of naivety entailed by these kinds of exercises (translating the observation directly to the project, as if improving the flavor of the dish only required the addition of extra ingredients) is successfully evaded because the set of rules nullifies the individual value of the elements: language is more important than the alphabet. With Lima as an endless source of resources for articulating a vocabulary, and the rigorous mode of research they learned in the course of their studies in Chile4, Llonazamora has managed to develop a contemporary language grounded in existing elements. For example the teatinas—a sort of skylight window typical of Peruvian Republican architecture—become part of the contemporary lexicon when they are transformed into bow windows or hanging staircases.
These are exercises that, when presented as a kind of model kit, seem so simple that they make us forget how hard it is to understand architecture as a game in the Southern Cone countries. For a practice that does not make its living from commissions by wealthy clients, the risks are obvious: either they fall into the cliché of emphasizing how unglamorous it is to work in Latin America, or they overload their projects with artisanal “tics” to fetishize poverty. Llona and Zamora, on the contrary, create an unpretentious architecture, which takes reality as it is without exaggerating the context or the operations undertaken by the project.
In the Barranco Ceramics Workshop, for example—a double-height interior space between partition walls—they succeed in giving an impression of simplicity to both the space and the commission, allowing only the well-trained eye to discover the complexity and skill of the architectural ‘moves’ needed to make this central void seem obvious. Its insertion in the site also shows that the hours spent wandering around Lima have allowed them to understand the city inside out, something that in the age of global architecture and international architects has been lost.
In an age accustomed to eagerly consuming the slogans waved by new gurus who promise to save architecture from shipwreck on the sea of uncertainty, the challenge of the moment is to neither get seasick with complexity, nor surf the wave of fashion. Here are two architects who not only hold a steady course, but also do so in such a way that seems simply simple.
How to exhibit an architecture or urban project? How to break down the barrier between reality and representation that normally imprisons architecture exhibitions in an overwhelmingly contemplative mode? These are some of the questions that seem to guide the Sao Paolo-based firm TACOA for their installation project at the LIGA gallery in Mexico City.
Straight away, I find it refreshing that their project is based on questions, rather than seeking to provide answers to a set problem. It is self-evident that today, when images of architecture projects can be transmitted instantly in abundance via the Internet, exhibitions about architecture are having to reinvent themselves. In addition, they have to deal with a fundamental challenge: unlike art exhibitions, where the audience comes face-to-face with the physical works themselves, in architecture exhibitions we invariably encounter representations of the works (photographs, plans, models, videos, and so on). As a result, these exhibitions frequently resemble enormous books.
Well aware of this problem, the TACOA architects prefer to avail of the opportunity to carry out a concrete action in the world: one that resignifies the city’s outdoor space. This is the eloquence of their action: the exhibition space appears empty, turning it into a privileged window for looking out onto the world. As a result, city and gallery are inverted, and the architecture exhibition can no longer be distinguished from a real work of architecture. Or to put it another way: it is subtly distinguished insofar as it creates a site for observation of the work. The exhibition consists of the creation of favorable conditions for a gaze that looks from the inside out. Outside, without being aware of it, passersby might happen to sit down for a smoke on the long bench and planter the architects have placed there, a simple yet unsettling addition to the urban furniture.
Unstable by nature, the concrete bench-planter slopes like an immobile seesaw, rising from just above the ground at one end to a height of 80 cm at the other, in a striking balancing act. Thus, although on the one hand the work abandons the notion of an ideas-based exhibition in order to make a pragmatic intervention in the ordinary world of the city, replacing the broken planters in the area, on the other hand this action involves a perturbation of the urban space with a bench and vegetation that seem ready to take flight. Geometric rigor and instability are the qualities of this piece, which at the same time makes a discrete reference to the somewhat precarious urban situation of Mexico City: the lack of stability of the soil, due both to seismic activity and to its origin as a former lakebed. Hence the rather wild appearance of the plants occupying the planter, which rather than the usual clipped forms of ornamental species are wild grasses that grow in ponds and lake edges, like the former lake of Texcoco.
Matisse said that he wanted his art to be the mental equivalent of a good armchair on which people can rest themselves after an exhausting day at work. Here, TACOA offers us the support of a suspended, playfully imaginative concrete bench, like an immobile seesaw. On the other side, within the glass aquarium, the museum is empty.
Each building, each room tells a story. This story is tied to a specific landscape, a specific soil and, hence, a specific materiality. Those who weave the story work in unison, harmoniously, to bring into existence the shelter of man.Dweller, architect, and craftsman meet on the site. The house is the fruit of their friendship. To bring it into the world, the craftsman makes use of his body. Years of work and thought are embedded in the musculature, a tradition of construction that enables the very body of the architecture.
We learn from our body and we apprehend the space. It is by being and being thrown into the world that we succeed in summoning our bones and muscles to work together, seeking to inhabit as Heidegger exhorted us: poetically. Craftsmen, builders of the world, keep what is apprehended alive. The tradition replenishes and maintains itself for them. The architect thus bears the responsibility for bringing it up to date, keeping it relevant.
To act ethically and poetically, we architects acknowledge our inability to act alone. The friendship with the craftsmen keeps us facing in the right direction, acting in concordance with the world. Beyond technological sustainability, it is in the otherthat we discover how to transform the material, the soil, and the landscape. How to raise the house, and tell new stories.
The work of Estudio Macías Peredo – Magui Peredo and Salvador Macías reminds me of a photograph by the great artist Manuel Álvarez Bravo. Titled “the Toltec” and taken in 1931, it depicts a huge concrete monolith sitting in a steeply sloping and very rocky terrain. I was lucky enough to see it in a gallery in New York. Upon closer inspection, I could discern a metal roof hovering above the “landscape.” And suddenly I realized that what I was “seeing” was a stone yard. The steeply sloping landscape was the gravel used to make concrete and the monolith was simply the wall that separated one kind of gravel from another. But the sense of mass and texture was acutely powerful.
The work of these two architects has both mass and texture that is palpable. There architecture feels deeply rooted in the place where it is made. The buildings feel weighty in the land. They are solid and simple and they stand – silent – waiting. The texture is supplied by the methods of construction, by the heartbreakingly perfect/imperfect hand of the maker.
Strong shadows are cast in the Mexican light. When one looks at their buildings there is a dance between the relative simplicity of the form of the building which creates stillness and the details which create the movement of the shadows. Each amplifies the other.
At a time when the meaning, the light, the smells, the very air – the character of a place is becoming ever fainter, Estudio Macias Peredo holds firm. Like the Bravo photograph, their work is both a truth and a fiction that illuminate a place.
The architect Alejandro Haiek and the designer and artist Eleanna Cadalso head up the LAB.PRO.FAB (Project and Production Laboratory), based in Caracas but working internationally. Founded in 1996, their work experiments with reassembling components and the use of transformable containers, with a view to blurring the boundaries between art, design, technology and architecture. LAB.PRO.FAB creates systems for combining existing elements and artifacts according to a rationale whereby artificial territory, objects and human beings can all contribute synergies. The results of the projects, experiments and workshops of LAB.PRO.FAB are always surprising and bring new life to recycled items and fragments.
All of this is developed by means of a kind of intermediate technology of recycling, which enables the intervention of technicians, students and users, and takes advantage of the traditional knowledge and skills of craftspeople, which it refers to as local intelligence.
Its most emblematic works include the creation of the Tiuna Cultural Park in El Fuerte, where it has installed recycled containers, remade with components reused from industrial design, as great circular windows, making use of packaging materials to make sound-proofing panels and advertising banners to mount screens. The containers have been converted into multipurpose rooms for art, music and communication.
The working methods of Haiek and LAB.PRO.FAB are connected to two phenomena of contemporary architecture: on the one hand, the avant-gardes of the 1960’s and 1970’s, and on the other, present-day multi-disciplinary architects’ collectives.
Haiek’s work harks back to the performative architecture of Cedric Price, intended for the creative action of people, including emblematic, mythical projects such as the Fun Palace (1961), as well as the logic of Jean Prouvé’s prefabricated components. It is also reminiscent of the experiments of the avant-garde in the world of design, such as Superstudio in Florence or Transatlàntic in Barcelona. These proposals are intended for Latin American cities, suited to their technology and to their urban structures, and may be replicated in the contemporary context of social and environmental crisis. It is an architecture that fights to place people at the center of things.
This effort to bring together investigation and action situates LAB.PRO.FAB in the context of the collectives that have proliferated across the planet: in Europe, especially in Spain and France; and in the Americas, especially in Brazil. In Paris, of note are the actions of the atelier d’architecture autogérée (aaa), created by architects Constantin Petcou and Doina Petrescu; and in Barcelona, the social interventions of the La Col collective. In Latin America there is the a77 group in Buenos Aires founded by Gustavo Diéguez and Lucas Gilardi, which among other proposals for didactic social art has designed the Nómade Cultural Center, and whose works are based on incorporating and recycling found objects; and the international collective Supersudaka, focused on research into architecture and urbanism, with actions and installations in many different parts of the planet: Rotterdam, Caracas, Buenos Aires, Santiago de Chile and Tokyo.
The change in the working coordinates of the architect brought about by these collectives is highly significant. Two of the basic, traditional elements of the profession are transformed: authorship is dissolved into the process and the collective, renouncing the individualistic emphasis on the creator’s ego; and the work, which was previously identified with the completed building, with the object, becomes a process that can take the form of programming, consulting, mediation, assertive action, organization of itineraries, workshops, refurbishments, recycling, curating, publishing, films, expression in new media such as websites and blogs, and many other activities. These collectives assert the social need for architecture and demonstrate that it is something that can be undertaken by exploring many different paths.
The experiments of Haiek and LAB.PRO.FAB bring together these two aspects, the avant-garde and the collectivist. In his case, what is new is the way he opens up an unprecedented path in the recycling of components, with resonances of Rural Studio, but with much more technological implementation and with a view to creating systems of recycled, intelligent, self-evolving and liberating artifacts. We have moved beyond the era of industrially-designed artifacts like those of the 70s, about which Giulio Carlo Argan and Carlos Raúl Villanueva wrote with such insight, and currently find ourselves in an epoch defined by the excess of gadgets and a vital need to recycle them, and by the search for sustainable domesticity promoted by Ezio Manzini. This determination to refurbish recontextualized objects, this architecture of the reuse of objects that combines both ethics and aesthetics is full of promise for the future. In this new field, LAB.PRO.FAB is one of the leading representatives.
To picture a sequence of spaces in the mind’s eye is to build, perhaps even to compose. Marín + López propose a space and lay out other spaces within it, an ordered arrangement. A cabinet of prisms, miniature reserves of memory. In a trope not unlike the ideas put forward by Georges Perec in Species of Spaces (1974)—or even taking their cue from Perec—Marín + López project a theater of objects. At the same time, each one of these volumes originates in a different space, the designed space. A painstaking taxonomy of apparently basic forms; each of which is a physical projection of an architectural projection. A still life of a city, like a painting by Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964), is the imaginary classification of modeled ideas displayed in multiple, regular layers. Diminutive machines of meaning ordered with the precision of a careful giant, in the child’s science of the distance between objects.
Thus, like so many other volumes of domestic life, this ordering brings together objects in order to convert them into something else. A factory of representation that Marín + López set to work in each project. Families of objects, the memory of completed projects. Establishing a dialogue with these individual elements displayed on the shelves, a diorama recalls the series of paintings produced by Marianne North (1830-1890) during her visit to Chile in 1884.1 They are likewise a scale solution, but of the landscape, the territory. Of the almost 900 native species the English traveler painted during her journey around the world, this diorama presents the plant known as the Puya (puya chilensis) found in central Chile (Hoffman, 254). This species had long fascinated travelers and today its flowering spikes are to be seen rising on the coastal mountains and the Andes. The flower is usually yellow, resembling a flaming torch. Rarely, it is blue, a different kind of fire. The landscape is located within a vault, intentionally finite. Once again the exercise requires miniaturization in order to imagine. The diorama builds the natural space within the designed space.
The relationship within the exhibition space—like that between all the architecture projects of Marín + López with regard to the landscape—is the result of the dialogue with the scale forms. What is small is inverted monumentality, what is enormous is but a detail in the immensity of the natural world, while the medium-sized crosses the axes to reverse the infinite and make it habitable. Solid and void combined.
In Chile Marín + López’s projects establish this dialogue of sizes. Another version of the hidden geometry of geographical masses. The mountains of the Andes range are large in comparison to the valley, but are nothing when compared to the immensity of the Pacific Ocean. Meanwhile, buildings are little more than microscopic advances made by diminutive prisms on the vastness of the Earth, rain-washed crystals.
Architecture should contain—paradoxically—the energy of the land in movement. We know that the planet moves, but in places like Chile or Mexico, the earth moves too. What is supposed to be fixed, the primary element, trembles like water. Earthquakes turn buildings into ships. To construct amidst this geography means designing every object to withstand such a voyage. Each one seeks to safeguard the little thing it carries with it. Thus, such objects—these comments on memory—are sometimes the hyperbole of meaning. Simple remnants may be all that remain on dry land of a shipwreck. These shelves gather the flotsam of the positive and continual shipwreck of ideas, a crystallized form of survival, extolled in the order and narrative they nourish.
Dimensions and functions, objects and uses, design and context: these are the coordinates that determine the projection of this journey, as well as the voyage on dry land of these strange ships, architectural concretions on the plane of the real. A challenge to the double enigma of the order of the magnitudes, from the infinitesimal to the immense.
Perec, Georges. Species of Spaces and other Pieces. London: Penguin, 1999.
Hoffmann, Adriana. Flora Silvestre De Chile, Zona Central. Santiago: Fundación Claudio Gay, 1998.
1Painting 026: The Blue Puya and Cactus at home in the Cordilleras, near Apoquindo, Chili (1884-1885). The botanical painting collection of Marianne North is located in Kew Gardens, London.
MAPA at LIGA. By Angelo Bucci
The Maturity of Young People and the Striking Change in Format and Approach
What young architects do nowadays when they graduate? They stick together in groups and they set up a studio. This action, or rather reaction to circumstances, is increasingly common in South America. That is, new architecture studios arise as a positive response to a context which reduces their possibilities. Their organization generally precedes any demand for work. It is a longer and more difficult path, without question, but it is the one taken by countless young people on this side of the world. It has become so widespread that we might say they have created a new format of professional organization to enable their entry into the discipline.
MAPA studio belongs to this new format.
The origin of this format, now systematically adopted by new studios, dates back to the early 1990s. Beyond the lack of work due to the prevailing economic conditions, two circumstances pushed young people towards this alternative over two decades ago. The first was the restoration of democracy, which enabled a restructuring of institutions that are fundamental to the practice of architecture in dialogue with criticism: schools, competitions, exhibitions, debates and publications. This restructuring was not the result of a consistent cultural policy, but it is clear that democracy provides greater space for cultural dialogue between institutions and allows these to becoming consolidated, though in an improvised or precarious manner. The second circumstance was the multiplication of the number of architecture schools and the resulting explosion in the number of architecture graduates.
This new format implies commitment and, without doubt, an openness to dialogue. Openness is not enough, however: training is needed in order for dialogue to be effective in architectural projects that make sense, that are appropriate to the context and are well prepared. This training has been privileged in the university context. I am not referring to any particular school or university, but to the whole unparalleled institution that is spread worldwide and now, more than at any other time, is closely interrelated thanks to academic exchange programs and to the enthusiasm of the students who are committed to these programs. In other words, the dialogue between different schools is only possible due to the activity of students open to dialogue between different institutions and diverse cultural contexts. Each individual school creates a singular space that brings together (let us suppose) some one hundred new students each year and places them in daily contact for around five years—and thus for the rest of their lives. These universities bring together a new group of young people who share interests and combine enthusiasms and who wish to develop an activity together.
This capacity for dialogue characterizes the production of MAPA studio, and defines the productive disposition that nourishes its work.
We may suppose that, partly as a consequence of the context in which these architects were trained, and above all due to the values cultivated in this process, they view architecture above all as a collective activity, as a commitment and a manifesto, without renouncing invention or authorship. They were trained in groups, and tend to steer clear of individual whims. This means that to a large extent the young architects of today are more mature than preceding generations. On the cultural plane, they will go further.
There are clear signs of evolution, and the MAPA grouping is a standard bearer in this regard.
I mean, there is a cultural trait that was imprinted in all South American countries since the beginning. A terrible legacy from the colonial past, absurdly extend into the cultural sphere. This trait left these countries with a distorted approach characterized by a vertically-aligned gaze: people look upwards with envy, and downwards with disdain, and never, ever look sideways. So for over 500 years we have cultivated a cultural pattern based on the European model. At the same time, we have fed a systematic disdain for both our own and neighboring cultural values. This trait remained insurmountable for over 500 years. This makes it all the more surprising that today signs proliferate that a change is underway that aims at overcoming this legacy. It is evident in the breadth of dialogue and growing levels of exchange, above all among students and young architects in the countries of South America.
Such is the banner under which MAPA work: a studio with hybrid cultural roots, formed by young Uruguayan and Brazilian architects. They acknowledge their shared interests and bring together the experience gained from both countries in their proposals. They have proven their ability to engage in dialogue that emphasizes their strengths, even in a context that was doubly disdained. They bear witness to the fact they are pursuing a path to overcome that legacy of a vertical cultural outlook. The group is numerous, with six partners: Luciano Andrades, Matías Carballal, Rochelle Castro, Andrés Gobba, Mauricio López, and Silvio Machado, together with other collaborators. This shows that they place their commitment and the manifesto above individual whims. On the contrary, with their broad background, they enthusiastically declare that architecture is a collective activity, and raise this idea as their standard.
This is no small step. It is much more than a good start. These young architects are more mature. Moreover, the output of MAPA in at least three other completed projects on different scales (Administrative Headquarters of CREA Paraíba, 2010; MINIMOD, Rio Grande do Sul, 2013; House in Xangrilá, Rio Grande do Sul, 2010-2013) is already proof enough that it is an established practice.
MAPA at LIGA
The MAPA exhibition at the LIGA gallery in Mexico is cause for a double celebration.
Although LIGA was only founded three years ago, an initiative of the architects Abel Perles, Carlos Bedoya, Víctor Jaime and Wonne Ickx (PRODUCTORA) together with the curator and art critic Ruth Estévez, it has already had a significant impact, and its quarterly exhibitions, interludes, lectures and workshops have assembled many new voices, with a particular focus on young architects. LIGA has created a significant space matched by bold curating, and it defines its role as the exploration of new names in contemporary architectural output. As a result it exhibits striking work by young studios, expanding the space for reflection and placing surprising and innovative production at the center of the debate.
This trend gives the impression that with each new exhibition LIGA adds a new name to its cause, a cause which is that of so many others, one that encourages young contemporary architects, especially from South America, to produce new work: the openness to dialogue, architecture as collective activity and a wide-ranging, participatory outlook.
In this way the MAPA exhibit is a way of exploring a way forward, marking as it does an encounter between young architects from Brazil and Uruguay who come to Mexico to relate through their work what they envision as an unfolding of their professional practice.
Remarks on the MAPA Exhibition Spaces within spaces
Planning a work of architecture is not the same as planning a work of art for an exhibition. In this sense an architect is not an artist. Therefore, the invitation to take part in an exhibition in which the work is displayed in a similar manner to a work of art represents a challenge for an architect, or at the very least a warning: not to get confused about the purpose of the profession. In other words, it is necessary to find the right approach, and to make the work into a declaration of motives and values, a form of commentary on the architect’s own processes in thinking about their profession. This approach hits the target in MAPA’s proposed show for LIGA. It is guided by four clearly-described operations:  repetition in series, Spaces Within Spaces;  serial arrangement, vertical variable;  the basic operation of the exposed interior; and  the relational spatiality, blurred space. It may thus be inferred that it is a question of an operational reasoning that guides them in the process of drawing up an architectural project. An operation opposed to a composition, it is more played by forces, than by forms. Naturally, it is a mode of thought, informed by the metropolitan condition, that is characterized by the dissolving of the object within a complex that is made banal by the scale. Two contradictory findings are experienced in this process: first, the sense that the work loses value as a result of the dissolving; but immediately it may be observed that its power is amplified to an extreme, vibrating in the universe as if everything that was there before were connected to the new.
Within this panorama, the work presented by MAPA can be understood.
It is a work that opens a dialogue between this metropolitan condition and the action that this demands in order to imprint a human dimension on the world. In regard to this purpose, the work undertakes something extraordinary: it brings about a flattening of time so that the contemporary condition—inhabiting the metropolis—rediscovers its most ancient roots in the idea of living in the tropics.
How do they do this?
The “building block” is a vertical prism of wood carved in a rustic style that is repeated as many times as the exhibition space allows, with minimal separations between each, just enough to allow people to pass at certain points. The repetition of this building block represents two things: the context and the time that precedes the action. Indeed, it is of the greatest importance that the element is repeated as often as possible, since the context it represents should be depersonalized, and multiplication is the operation used to pulverize the individual element in the group. Pulverization is the first and dominant aspect of the experience of the metropolitan condition. It is also very important that the gaps between the pieces be as small as possible, as the usual sensation we experience in this metropolitan context is one of anxiety, and this is well-represented in the mode of moving around these narrow spaces. What emerges against this backdrop created by the work—just as it does in the metropolitan context—is a lack that demands action to relieve it.
Thus, in MAPA’s work, the reaction to the context is emphatic and constitutes the operation, properly speaking: a clearly-defined shape is carved out of an indistinct prism, a section of an enclosed cube. The name they give it, “the exposed interior,” may lead us to imagine the building blocks represent vertical buildings in a large city. In this way, the sharp excision exposes what was enclosed there, like a revelation, as if the external walls of the boxed-in apartments were opened up, as if those silenced by isolation were granted a voice. It is a kind of paradox in which the interior, like a closed room, is transformed into the exterior, like a terrace. A dark tower converted into a lighthouse; a mute tower into a minaret. The isolated cells are inverted to become platforms for dialogue.
If we link MAPA’s exhibition to a theater of the metropolitan condition, like an ideal stage for dialogue between architects in this encounter, then the creators would also become the actors, alongside others. On one of the clearly detailed platforms we would find Luciano Andrades, Matías Carballal, Rochelle Castro, Andrés Gobba, Mauricio López, and Silvio Machado; on another we would find Abel Perles, Carlos Bedoya, Víctor Jaime, and Wonne Ickx; and another would be home to Ruth Estévez, and so on until each platform was occupied, in order to present a rich and polyphonic event with all the possible voices, addressing a wide range of issues, dealing with the future paths of architecture.
I believe that the future they dream of will, in fact, be the future. It is worth noting that the dreams of the future suggested in this exhibition also make room for the deeper ancestral vision of the house in the tropics, a form that was never intentionally translated into architecture’s formal repertoire. This is why I think it is important to emphasize the fact that the clear-cut sections carved out of these building blocks are, in schematic fashion, the caves of Serra da Capivara in São Raimundo Nonato, in Piauí, Brazil. Truly ancestral, because they contain the oldest records of human activity in South America. In those caves there was no interior, or rather, their interior—as MAPA propose here—was always exposed. The ancestral house in the tropics was simply a terrace. It may be that the line separating inside from outside never existed until the beginning of the colonization process.
Imagine the nature of the material removed by this cut, the thickness of what was removed. Such is the dimension of the overcoming I believe is sketched out in this encounter with MAPA’s proposal for LIGA.
Diego Capandeguy. The MAPA SOLUTION
Creators in the Labyrinths of the Contemporary
South America is experiencing a very exciting time with regards to its new architecture. Several different generations coexist, while new creators emerge with fertile practices and baptize their studios and buildings with their “brand,” in the fluid manner typical of this digital age. MAPA is one such example.
MAPA is an emerging architecture studio formed by young Brazilian and Uruguayan architects. In fact, MAPA was born from the merger of Studio Paralelo in Brazil and MAAM in Uruguay. It is directed by Luciano Andrades, Rochelle Castro, Silvio Machado, Matías Carballal, Andrés Gobba and Mauricio López, who are supported by many other enthusiastic young assistants.
This alliance is significant. Some are from the state of Rio Grande do Sul, in the south of Brazil, the mythical “best country in the world”; others are from diminutive neighboring Uruguay, a tiny country like a mythical southern Costa Rica. The two are separated by a dry, permeable, almost blurred frontier. There are shared stories and particularities like the temperate Pampas, the origin in the province of Cisplatina, the mythical rural gaucho, the similar layout of their capital cities, past history and a stronger European influence than elsewhere. These singularities helped to define their identity and their opportunities.
These local identities, however, were both assimilated and limited in the formation of these young architects’ sensibilities. Their sympathies lie more closely with those of other fertile collectives from around the world.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of this alliance is the productive unfolding of the Post-Fordist character of its architecture. They have previously collaborated with architects of other generations and are distinguished by a working pragmatism and by the quality and freshness of their first built works, and the many projects that have won prizes in numerous architecture competitions.
The first three works built by the group in Brazil stand out as signs of their time, with an artisanal appearance despite the use of standardized components. Their CREA building in Campina Grande, near Joao Pessoa, functions as an attractive, self-contained urban attractor, a kind of permeable, perforated bubble with transparencies that do not conceal the interiors. These spaces within spaces, as the group calls them, offer a place of calm in the tropical surroundings. By contrast, the Xan Haus near Porto Alegre is an auteur house in a condominium formed by a stacking of volumes with apertures and filtered fluidity. Its contemporary nature presupposes an openness and refinement that is unusual amongst this sector in the region. Finally, the Minimod surprises with its “postcard-perfect” appearance. This is an experiment with an appealing capsule perched on the region’s ranch land, and intended to be transportable or “reversible,” which is a theme with great potential.
MAPA current exhibition at LIGA in Mexico City is a new exploration with a somewhat curious and enigmatic appearance. It is formed by 40 massive wooden columns set some 60 cm apart, with incisions or notches cut into them. The architects have set themselves rules in playing with the restrictions of the venue. In this relational spatiality the tiny sculpted human figures appear diminutive in relation to this forest or empty Manhattan. In their own text, the young MAPA architects appeal to an explicit architecture of blurred boundaries, which may be linked to other contemporary artists. Is this installation a metaphor for MAPA themselves, digital architects who dream of still working as artisans of construction in the wide spaces of Brazil and in a fluid world, to traverse and to expand? The MAPA architects have been inspired to work beyond the local relics of contemporaneity, linking up in new networks, with their apertures and endogamy, their transparencies and their masks.
In their buildings and projects, just as in this installation, there are formal games, variances of scale and nods to anthropomorphism. Here, though, it is an abstract forest—almost a cold climate forest even in the heat of Mexico City—without mediation, without the subtle filters and colors of their earlier buildings and projects. Yet the spirit of each commission, without fanfare, seems to share a certain creative attitude of adaptation. This is what defines the vital and resourceful approach of the collective. Perhaps, over time, this will become the “MAPA Solution,” a distinguishing mark of their operation that unites them and guides them towards a great potential future. For the members of this group are authentic in their quest for project opportunities with a contained beauty.
Welcome, then, the creations of these young architects, these paradoxical flying penguins.
Welcome to the MAPA Solution!
A hagioscope is an oblique architectural opening through a wall or pier in the chancel of a church which enables the worshippers, or whom the altar was not visible, to see the host during mass. Also known as a squint in England, hagioscopes were sometimes referred to as “leper windows” where an opening was made in an external wall so that lepers and other non-desirables could see the service without coming into contact with the rest of the congregation. More specific than a window, which allows for the passage of light, air, and sound, a hagioscope performs the sole function of looking through and providing visual access where a condition of separation is in place.
Diego Arraigada’s installation titled “Looking in, Looking out” at LIGA follows the lineage of the architectural hagioscope. Primarily consisting of a hollow volume that connects the two existing windows across the interior corner of the gallery, the trapezoidal and faceted form is a resultant of the negotiation between the existing windows.
On the outside, the piece transforms the exterior corner by the removal of the glazing and the creation of a smooth and continuous surface from the exterior wall through the inside of the new window. Standing outside looking through this new window, the gaze is carried through the interior and out again. Like the surface effects of a Klein bottle or a Mobius strip, the act of looking in from the outside only to be looking outside again, produces a short circuit in the logic of the typical aperture in architecture. As a marked contrast to the exterior, the surfaces inside of the gallery appear to be rough and discontinuous. An inside-out version of Brutalist architecture, the construction is left exposed and unfinished like the back of a stage set; the behind-the-scene underpinnings of the abstract exterior effect are left uncelebrated.
Whereas a traditional hagioscope operates under the presumption of an already existing and delineated separation, whether it be for structural or social reasons, “Looking in, Looking out” creates the very separation that it simultaneously tries to subvert. By negating the previous function of the windows as connection between the interior and exterior, a hard boundary is created to separate the two realms. Only with the establishment of this separation could a new form of connection – from the outside to the inside and back to the outside be made. The installation reinvents the hagioscope by achieving both separation and connection with a singular and definitive move.
While much recent research in design has generated inquiries into the dissolution of boundaries, Diego Arraigada’s simple and poignant installation at LIGA serves as a gentle reminder that the most innovative investigations are often discovered within the most traditional of architectural devices.
We need to be outside in order to look inside, just as to look outside we need to be inside. Both of these actions entail a displacement. It may be physical or conceptual, but the movement must take place: as a concrete fact or intellectual factor; a real or imaginary journey in order to perceive the other; a journey in order to see oneself from another place. To look at our own house we need to stand on the opposite sidewalk. In the same way as when we travel somewhere we gain enough distance to see what we have left behind with greater clarity, so too can distant things be observed and understood better from our current position.
Why does someone looking at something for the first time see more than a person who looks at it all the time? In order to understand what surrounds us, to see the context of our exploits, it is essential to preserve the attitude of this original observer, the one who looks without prejudice, an observer whose gaze passes uniformly over each detail of the object without discriminating between what is important and what is banal.
The simultaneous simplicity and complexity of the work of Diego Arraigada seems to find an explanation in this constancy, on the basis of an action that fluctuates between these two positions: between the near and the far, the profound and the anodyne, the local and the foreign, the specific and the universal. It focuses and blurs the gaze and understands what is to hand from far away, and what is foreign from close by. All this occurs intellectually in this intermediate space that, like a real or imaginary tunnel, links both worlds, coming and going, taking and bringing, tirelessly, from here to there, and from there to here.
Readings of the Cartesian labyrinth. By Pablo Landa
LIGA’s exhibition space in Mexico City occupies 16 m2 in a building designed by Augusto Álvarez and Juan Sordo Madaleno, two of the most emblematic architects of Mexico’s modern movement. According to their professional offspring, neither Álvarez nor Sordo cared about theory. Their work consisted on sketching precise drawings –always based on a modular grid– that could be easily translated from paper into steel and concrete. In expressions common among Mexican architects, their buildings “lack nothing and have no superfluous elements.” They are composed of “honest” shapes that “are what they seem”: they express nothing beyond their condition as structural assemblages and containers of program.
As part of their project for the Lisbon Trienniale, LIGA invited the architectural firm MMX to do an installation in a 561m² gallery at MUDE (the Museum of Design and Fashion of Lisbon). The members of MMX were educated in institutions and by architects that keep the modern movement alive. When explaining their work they use similar words to those of their teachers and they share with them certain design strategies. In large measure (the apostolic succession would be easy to establish) MMX is part of a tradition that holds Álvarez and Sordo as prophets.
Hence, the work of MMX follows a process that begins with exercises and conversations among its four members that lead to a concept and ideally end with its construction. The concept is frequently based on a module that, multiplied, integrates spatial and structural systems. In the case of the Lisbon installation, the module is the perimeter of LIGA’s floor plan, which is repeated thirty times and arranged like a pattern of floor tiles. The pieces, with five edges each, fit together perfectly; the proposal calls attention to the geometrical rigor of Álvarez and Sordo’s work.
Nevertheless, the three dimensional arrangement of the work complicates the association of MMX with the modern movement. Seen in elevation, the module is a felt band that changes in thickness and position; it contains spaces, traces paths, and frames or obstructs views. From each point in the room, the installation offers a different spatial experience. Hereby, the gallery is transformed into a labyrinth with multiple trails and destinies. The work –without a program– expresses more than its structure and construction process. Those who course the voids between the red tapes can establish, project, behold and sketch –in the words of Michel de Certeau– poetic geographies “on top of the geography of the literal”.1 Through MMX’s installation, MUDE and LIGA are connected to each other and they open up to other spaces.
One might read the work of MMX as part of a new and more reflexive stage of the modern movement. The members of the studio recognize –and exploit– the metaphorical properties of built space. They also realize that the users of a building redesign it by inscribing new meanings on its shapes. From this perspective, there is no place for “honesty”: every construction is ambiguous, multiple and is in constant transformation. The role of the architects is not limited to drawing for construction any more; it also implies suggesting symbolic relations and establishing contrasts that make room for memories, apprehensions and desires.
Describing the proposal of MMX as more–than-modernist, however, proposes a lineal –and modern– vision of the history of architecture, in which its different stages follow each other like dominos. A more suggestive interpretation of MMX’s installation is as an invitation to reread the architecture of the past. In 20th century works, even the most dogmatic, one finds crossroad histories that unfold behind masks of rationality. Maybe modern shapes “are what they seem” but they are never only that.
LIGA’s space in Mexico is a gallery (which used to be a commerce and also functions as a lobby to the building) as well as the module for an installation in Lisbon. It can be many more things: visitors discover and underline other associations. Perhaps the “puritanically moral language of orthodox modern architecture”2 denounced by Robert Venturi was, from its very start, complex and contradictory. By transforming the space of LIGA into the starting point for new inventions, MMX reminds us that Cartesian plans can also be labyrinths.
A Way of Asking. By Manuel Aires Mateus
With the passing of time I have come to defend that architecture works primarily on the formulation of a question. In this sense, to work with a degree of freedom without knowing where the finish line is (although freedom at the starting line is guaranteed) can be assumed as profound research over the mastering of space, matter and its limits. The posed question –in the case of architecture– reveals itself in the first instance as generic and later becomes specific.
Within the classic Western culture inherited by us, there is a specific relationship established with knowledge, based precisely on the idea of exploring the question itself. This way, philosophical and scientific research allowed (and still allows) access to knowledge. Here, in the formulation of the question, I find special riches in the work of architects Ricardo Carvalho and Joana Vilhena. Their way of operating consists of developing the question without generating an impasse or a commitment with a determined way of doing architecture, a repeated method of formalization. I find it interesting that the architects can escape the logic of a specific way of doing, present from the beginning, expected from the very start. I find such a possibility in the work of these architects.
When I look at the projects of Ricardo Carvalho and Joana Vilhena I have the impression that in each case, each opportunity, each place, program and in each theme of architecture, exists the attempt of individualizing it. I like to think that architectural projects are born out of needs and that they find their substance and possibility for improvement in the generality of its limitations. I also like to think that physical limits and the limits of a situation – that is to say the limits of a determined reality – are defined as the proper generic question of architecture.
The situations we act upon, can be standardized, but the conditions are always unique. This allows for some architects to customize their discourse, making it singular. Shortly after comes the transformation in which the architecture inevitably develops.
The body of work of Ricardo Carvalho and Joana Vilhena is diversified in its answers and is particularly efficient when tackling limitations. These architects have the capacity of understanding the idea of presence in each project –which is in turn on the very edge of their capacity to generate a particular research. At the MUDE, (Museum of Design and Fashion of Lisbon), the architects not only engaged with the project through the physical possibility of building in attendance, but even with the ambition of whatever lies beyond this reality. In this case there was the architectural legacy of an old bank in the center of the city and the passing of time and entropy over this heritage. The ruins of the building and the aging were registered by the architectural project as a broader and more ambitious possibility. This seems to be precisely the starting point of this project: turning the actual limitation into a possibility of beauty.
Projects are important as their architects transform them in important moments, to the same extent as they help substantiate the question. This is the case of the MUDE, that became important through the work of Ricardo Carvalho and Joana Vilhena, not only for them but also for the city and more clearly for the Lisbon downtown. At first this did not seem like an option. It is interesting to think about this project a couple of years later, to think of its success in spite of the risks that it posed at the beginning.
When Ricardo Carvalho and Joana Vilhena do a project with a certain level of impact, as in the case of MUDE, we perceive how its value resides in the wish to individualize the answer and of working towards construction. In spite of the importance this project has for the architects, its specific approach never became a fixed working method of the architects. It did not become a recurring aesthetic performance or a repeated process of action, a possibility that can be detected often on the contemporary debates of the discipline. One of the risks of making architecture nowadays is aestheticizing the gaze. Transforming the engagement with a project into a merely aesthetic style, seems a means of wasting architecture’s full possibilities.
But if we look back on the career of Ricardo Carvalho and Joana Vilhena we find different positions and researches to address different themes. We can see what it entails to do a bar that opens to the street such as the Left in Lisbon, with its white color as material for spatial depth. Or what it means to recover an apartment dating from the XVIII century without denying its historical meaning. Or furthermore, what it means to do public works such as the two public schools they built in the city of Setúbal. Or even in transforming the old country ruins in the Douro vineyards into a little hotel. A place that was developed around the idea of flooding the ruins to create a pool which in turn organizes other little spaces and lets them find their own meaning. Each of these projects has a way of addressing issues that does not deny the possibility of displaying beauty. Curiously these statements are never repeated in any place as they always seek new questions.
Architecture is present in all manifestations of mankind and is assumed as an intrinsic condition. It is hard to picture music without architecture, it is not possible to hang a painting on a wall without architecture, or placing a sculpture on the pavement without architecture. Today, the natural environment is artificially maintained in many places of Europe. Architecture is traditionally perceived as a reality, as a series of facts. The perception that we architects have of this reality includes the poetical work implicit in the act of making of architecture. But there are other realities and other perceptions of the people who will inhabit and use said spaces. What architects plan and build is not only reality but a way of perceiving that reality.
Sometimes we do not stop to think of the building –we don’t think of it as architecture– because it is assumed almost as Natural. Time, tradition, the collective action of mankind, habits, they all trace architectures of large scope. That is why we have the impression that design was not involved. The strength of the idea of a collective action resides in the fact of being collective in its perception too. And when a perception about architecture is collective the notion of heritage and culture is generated. This will be then be the highest goal architecture can achieve.
The true quality of architectural authorship seems to be the capacity to draw conditions for the perception of those who will live in it. Each work of architecture seems to have two authors. The one who manipulates the condition of the project and the author that manipulates its perception. In other words, the one who makes it and the one who inhabits it. The hotel in the vineyards of Douro is particularly clear to illustrating these ideas. It seems that it wanted to affirm that time designed it, when it is actually the architecture that formed this perception. The ruins flooded with water, transformed into a pool, alter the perception of all the other spaces, it changes their condition. The rooms will not be the same due to the presence of water and stone. I believe this complex designs the negative –an absence- as the main asset of the project.
Even though I defend that architects can work simultaneously with different types of projects with those aimed at paving a way and with those dedicated to continuity (where ideas are tuned and solutions verified), I prefer to think that all projects are somewhat creational; they are built up from doubt, disarray and a quest. Generally, architects reach the apex of their quest with a way of doing, later on, they will work within that realm for years. But there are others who maintain a form of intellectual youth precisely because they question that apparent apex of self-discovery. They are the architects that chose to remain on the side of doubt, of the permanent question. Most of the work of the architects that we know and admire, forces us to take a leap, a turn on the road, when we come upon a change of scale, of program, when we encounter an unexpected situation. Life sometimes forces architects to work unto such a change, to go back and re-do everything, leaving aside small victories and the safety of the past.
Thinking about the maturity of the architect, the most interesting strategy should be to look for an individualized road on each project. There are many young architects that manage to embrace this attitude at the beginning of their career, but as time goes by it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain.
The challenge for finding the roots on each of their projects seems to be present in the work of Ricardo Carvalho and Joana Vilhena. In the work of these architects there is not a struggle against reality. Their value lies on underlining the potential of a determined reality. The work is done based on an existing situation.
There is a sensibility within this body of work that is anchored in a Portuguese tradition of architecture, where conceptual notions are taken into construction and are accompanied by an interest for detail and for the quality of materials. There is not a direct affiliation with the context of Portuguese architecture, but on the other hand the work does not break off from its origin. The notion of the local is confirmed (it has a history, a past, a home to live in) but only insofar it can state a position to counter the global.
When we stop to reflect on our work, and have to possibility to define how it is displayed, an active opportunity for reflection is generated. This is particularly important when the speed of architecture’s global dissemination, implies a renewed relation with the rule of no-repetition. In the case of Ricardo Carvalho and Joana Vilhena, these moments also seem to be of importance.
Before the current exhibition “Room for Mexico City”, the architects were featured in the show “Overlappings. Six Portuguese Architectural Studios” in the Royal Institute of British Architects in London, where they decided to exhibit their work on the antipode of the instant flash. When a large photography book is presented, as was the case, and a bench is offered for the public to sit down and observe it calmly, an immersion in the body of work is proposed.
With “Room for Mexico City” I recognize a similar position. It is a space within a space that orchestrates the moment where one will encounter the body of work. It is almost like a chest (made out of light materials but with rigorous limits) with a jewel inside. The most valuable thing inside will be the attention that we can spend on the encountered content. Here, we are alone with the projects of Ricardo Carvalho and Joana Vilhena.
A certain dubious idea of originality has ruled out the commonplace. As if anything within common reach were —at the very least— useless, if not flat out harmful. “You keep repeating commonplaces” is something usually said to someone who employs a well-known argument, as if this alone rendered it invalid. But for classical rhetoric the commonplace was the structural basis of any argumentation. A speech is literally the course the orator guides us through from one place to the next, between several commonplaces that we can recognize because of their familiarity.
Images that will help the orator follow the thread of his discourse and not lose the idea are placed there. Finally, if they favor invention and memory, it is logical that commonplaces will also be a learning aid. In his introduction to the book by John Lock A New Method of Making Common-Place-Books —commonplace books were collections of phrases and ideas that were generally agreed upon— Monsieur Le Cler writes that “in every kind of learning, specially when studying languages, memory is the treasury or storage, but it is judgment that disposes of it: it orders what it extracts from the memory. If the memory is oppressed or is overloaded with too many things, we exercise order and method.” When memory fails and to prevent this from happening, we need to put things in their place, their common place.
Therefore, we could assume that for architecture, the commonplace has at least two courses. The first collects all the variations of the rhetorical figure of the topoi mentioned above. Thus, proportion, utility and beauty, meaning, function and form subdued to it, detail and the attention it deserves are all commonplaces of architecture. They are figures within architectural discourse that we can all make reference to, even —or specially— to deny their importance. The other sense would be the physical and material one: the place in space or that which lies in contrast or in front of space— to reach another commonplace, in the first sense. In the second sense it would be a space open for communication and community, one that we recognize and in which we recognize ourselves, with all the burden of its sense and identity —two more commonplaces, undoubtedly.
The intervention of Luis Alderete in LIGA works around both senses of commonplace. In that small corner of the building by Augusto Álvarez and Juan Sordo Madaleno in Insurgentes, there is a tiny garden —ancestral figure of the commonplace— fenced on two sides: by the existing building and by a wooden fence used for formwork. Condemned to shadows, the garden reflects itself on a couple of mirrors and becomes infinite. It is a place for contemplation —another commonplace— built without any attention to detail and embracing the circumstances dictated by chance —again, more commonplaces to be accepted or denied. Hence, in the end some of these commonplaces —in the first sense— can cancel each other out, producing another common place —in the second sense— one that supports on another form of community: common sense. A sensus communis, an aesthetic community, a shared and communicable sensation and sensibility that open themselves there, which I would like to name a zero degree of architecture. But that is surely another common place.
In common language, “good” architecture in Chile implies heavy construction. It is supposed to be “solid”, or better yet, “material.”
Such appraisal of solidity is the outcome of the precarious agricultural economies on which the nation was built in the 19th century—the kind that saved sticks and timber to make stables, henhouses and farms—and is undoubtedly also linked to the constant threat of earthquakes. This deeply rooted respect for the solid made for a consistent development of construction models where weight communicates the idea of both permanence and endurance. Over time, stone façades and adobe walls gave way to brick and reinforced concrete.
Similar to the stone façades of the modest manors of the Chilean colonial period (masks hiding a system of adobe walls because it was impossible to afford a full stone structure), the walls and concrete slabs displayed today on the Internet also mask a reality supported by sticks, pieces of wire and planks of wood. This heavy appearance of concrete is possible thanks to the thick structural molds, which, in modern times, have almost always been built from planks of wood.
Wooden formworks, known in Chile as moldajes (referring to the fact that they are made to mold something that has not yet been shaped) have two things in common with industrial reticulated structures: precision and low cost. Like them, the moldajes are also subject to great forces that its apparent fragility succeds in resisting. Unlike them, their existence is, by definition, brief and determined by the tension between the solid material that is setting and the wood that supports it until the process is finished.
The moldaje resembles a doodle or a quickly drawn sketch. Even during the construction, its disassembly is already being taken into account. It is just the prelude to a different solidness, another materiality. It is not pristine, but appropriate; it can endure rough treatment during construction and execution and its patches, wedges, posts and imperfections also speak to this. It isn’t necessarily systematic either, like scaffolding, for instance; nor does it aspire to be professional. The moldaje belongs to a field of traditional trades and knows how to adapt to any given circumstances.
Behind the curtain, this backstage concrete world of nourishes seems to inform Eduardo Castillo’s work, using the same resources as the moldajes of skilled craftsmen. It is reminiscent of the austere corrals, sheds and henhouses of South America, and, at the same time, of bridges or silos with their exact and tight structure that is both light and prepared to face the weight of life and the adjustments that may come over the years. A weight perhaps more demanding than that of the stones of the “material architecture,” so longed for in many corners of Chile.
The Art of Permeability. By Uriel Fogué
Some say that Joseph Priestley “invented” air during the spring and summer of 17711. It’s difficult to know to what extent the clergyman and amateur scientist was aware of the consequences of placing a mint plant in an inverted bell jar, an experiment he carried out in the Wunderkammer in his house on Basinghall Street. The result of this experiment is well known: the plant, confined in an airless environment inside a pneumatic cask 2 was able to survive and continue to grow. Priestley confirmed that the vegetable fragment neutralized something that, in similar experiences, had caused mice to die from asphyxia or had extinguished the flame of a candle. In the autumn of 1771, he was confident enough to share the results of his investigations related to the “restitution of air that had been poisoned or corrupted by animals or breathing” 3 with The Club of Honest Whigs4. He caused astonishment upon announcing that air had ceased to be invisible, since it could no longer be thought of as the empty space between objects.
The scientific finding that Priestley shared with this community was even greater than the discovery of a molecule (dioxide or O2) or of an immutable and stable law (similar to the law of gravity). Actually, these few cubic inches of air generated by a mint stem contained the principles of a metabolic strategy that would change the understanding of life on our planet. It unveiled a vast, intertwined system connecting animals, plants and invisible gases in a political ecology articulated through energy flow and molecular exchange. Whether he knew it or not, Priestley set in motion an ecosystemic conception of the environment, suggesting that the historical and political subject is no longer activated by an individual (human–anthropocentric–or biological–biocentric), but by an ecosystem5, or exchange network.
And what about architecture?
From an ecosystemic perspective, architecture cannot be anything other than a junction within this entanglement, a filter through which interactions are arranged. This is why permeability is one of its fundamental characteristics. Arquitectura permeable (Permeable Architecture), an exhibition conceived by the architectural team plan:b, opens in LIGA 08 in Mexico City in February 2013. According to the organizers, this exhibition will be one that “allows interchanges, the transference of any kind of fluid from one place to another, as well as its gradation.” Both the exhibition and the book that complement the show propose an almanac of permeable architectures featuring key concepts related to permeability (such as “absorbency,” “penetrability,” “flexibility,” “availability,” “interchange,” “circularity” and “convergence”) known as Permeability Angles. At the same time, it is also a catalogue of Permeability Phenomena, a group of small case studies to understand the phenomenon in different formats. Finally, it comprises a set of Permeable Projects designed by plan:b, which exemplify an architecture that acknowledges its ecosystemic condition. Permeability, that elemental characteristic Priestley described more than two centuries ago, and which makes biotic communities and social groups function, guarantees the continuity of scales (in a spatial as well as temporal scale, ranging from the micro to the macro level) of a porous system that can be affected, but can simultaneously cause affects and effects, through a relational architecture.
The methodology of plan:b resembles Joseph Priestley’s, not only in the laboratorial, experimental and interdisciplinary condition of production, but also in their immense intellectual generosity. Like the British scientist, this national team has tried to make its discoveries available to the general public using all available means of communication (books6, conferences, prestigious associations, sketchbooks, social networks, etc.), in order to permeate communities. plan:b is aware that architecture is inscribed within a political ecology and that it cannot be isolated. For them, architecture needs to make agreements with the other interested parties that participate in the ecosystem. Architecture is a permeable object and, as such, is permeable to controversy, which implies discussion. Architecture is, undoubtedly, the “art of permeability.”
The notion that architecture is the container for human activity and the structure in which it develops definitely sounds good. It may even seem interesting and sophisticated that we identify architecture exclusively with containment, enclosure or structure; that we attribute almost supernatural responsibilities to these containers; that we think that their purpose is to resist, endure and stand the passing of time to protect us from nature and urban life. This generic but widespread definition of architecture is commonly accepted in many professional milieus for various reasons that I won’t explore here, but that have to do with the traditions of the discipline and some avant-garde theories of the 20th Century. However, capitalism and the belief that architecture should be just another market-driven product, a thing to sell and buy, like a can of sardines, have primarily caused this interpretation.
According to this definition, we, architects, are reduced to simple designers of boxes or cans, to artists of a dead load. According to this mindset, our most important goal would be to belabor material to the minimum to create high-quality empty spaces—in other words, neutral, cold, passionless, white, bright, translucent and isolated spaces—designed to house and protect any human activity (predominantly resting and relaxing) from phenomena or circumstances that we could then easily forget.
But let’s try another definition. What if, instead of considering architecture a mere container, we conceived it as a habit—the habit of taking up space? Architecture is, and has always been, one of the activities that define us as a species. We know the world, and relate to it, through architecture. If we follow this thesis, we must accept, and be in awe of, the fact that we are all architects. Humans, animals and plants each take up space on the planet. An anthill, just like a forest, is a habitat for multiple species. Forests didn’t just appear; they came about little by little, through countless interactions we barely understand today. Seen in this light, architecture is equally generated by nomadic tribes as it is produced by Germans; it can be created by scholars with academic degrees or by a woman who has been decorating her apartment for over 20 years. Architecture is immanent in life. It is not optional.
However, the interesting part of the definition is that architectures are solidified habits, choreographies that are hardened over time, live loads that sometimes stand still in sophisticated agreements. After standing still and lingering in a certain place, architecture appears, not because of magic, but because of the inseparable relationship between human activity and that of nature. Occupying space is the real motor of architecture and of every three-dimensional means of expression. This force or live load is, in fact, the content with which all vital architecture is built.1
Therefore, architecture’s goal should not be the container in itself. The task of the architect isn’t designing dead loads, nor protecting us from nature. Human activities aren’t generic and resting isn’t man’s prime occupation. This preamble is necessary in order to talk about Izaskun Chinchilla’s exhibition. Just as other thorough architects of the present and the past, Chinchilla works mainly with this live load. In her architecture the content is at stake—the program, the activities, the occupation and the role of the subject. Participation, the care for life, and the responsibility of each element in the design of a precise livable environment steer and instigate her work. Thus, we’re dealing with a subtle and enthusiastic way to do politics. Rather than focusing on architecture’s resistance to the environment and time, on its strength and durability, Chinchilla’s work is engaged with architectural performance, with how it can succeed and how it will relate and transform as times goes by.
Chinchilla makes architecture based on daily life experiences, she reflects on the habits and the different events that produce them. She is interested in any artisanal gesture, any element of ethnic decorative arts or traces of a collective intelligence. The materials she takes to her studio, can range from a wayuu textile, a spider web, a nest, to a Pokemon-shaped baking pan. She works with these gestures. Her processes are anything but naïve, because she conceives of a building’s performance, considering relevant circumstances. Her projects incorporate notions such as transparency, representation, performativity or the consequences of the ecological paradigm in architectural production with the same ease as we draw our AutoCAD lines on a computer screen. For Chinchilla, a picnic in the countryside, a birthday party at a Mexican gallery or a dinner on an Asturias beach are all very different. Her projects and drawings are diverse choreographies, architecture in perpetual motion.
Chinchilla’s work proves that the live load is the constant factor increasing the interest of the dead load. The more one reflects about and works with the live load, the more fascinating architecture gets. It becomes useful, functional, suitable and specific because it stimulates us as active subjects. It encourages encounters between different persons and objects, and increases our aesthetic and other faculties, thus sharpening our experience. In order to avoid making a purely theoretical claim here, it’s crucial to mention that those who persistently define their own surroundings possess more intense aesthetic abilities. Think, for example, of those who eat what they cook; those who personalize and modify the clothes they buy and wear; those who do their own and their children’s make-up; those who knit to decorate their houses, do their own carpentry, build and care for the garden on their balcony, make openings in the roof to see the stars, gather rainwater for their plants, define the façade of their apartments, engrave monotypes in their living room, or sublet half of their house.
Although a container may fully meet the ideal of beauty formed by education, we could value the beauty that comes from the content, that is, from our activities and occupations. Before being absorbed by the style or the abstract and impressive forms of an architecture that frames and represents our activities, we should be enthralled by the shapes that support and express the liveliness of the content, of the interior energy.
Can we design the live load? Can we design a relationship, a happening? Chinchilla we can’t. That’s why her projects are protocols and choreographies—a set of drawn and written agreements that presuppose, invent and negotiate a complex web of desires, occupations and activities, including the social and natural relations they will instigate, the uses and new users that they will generate. She makes agreements instead of defined forms. Her projects resemble choreographies precisely because they try to illustrate and present scenarios of what could happen if these agreements were fulfilled. They don’t come to a close but convincingly suggest the action they sketch out the possible decisions for the users. The housing project in Vallecas (2006) clearly illustrates this mode of operation, where the users have to activate and finish the building. The project’s sophisticated and eloquent sketches, still allow for the final decisions to be postponed and made by a group of people instead of an individual.
Izaskun Chinchilla knows that interesting architecture allows for extra weights to be carried, ready for new, different loads and for hidden partners. This architecture generates a force of attraction. The implicit message in Chinchilla’s work is relevant for all architects—“Let’s combine our interest in abstract spaces with a desire to reach living spaces. Let’s build architectures contaminated by, and caring for, life.”
Can there be a monument to the content and not to the container? The 2007 proposal of a monolith or World Race trophy seems to suggest this much, and the exhibition House: Tree, Chocolate, Chimney, is, equally, a small celebration of the content of the house.
Split Subject. By Annie Ochmanek
This rendering of language as a site of cultural sedimentation came to mind when thinking about Frida Escobedo’s Split Subject project, along with Smithson’s conception of modernist Park Avenue high-rises as monuments to “evolution in reverse.” In the façade of an office building in Colonia Juarez (Mexico City), Frida Escobedo discovered a strain of this narrative—one very particular to Mexican national identity. Pressed between the building’s glass shell and the interior it encloses is a record of an unregulated development and accumulation at odds with the façade’s projected emptiness. Here, one can perceive the true face of Mexican Modernism, or what grew in the empty recess left by its failure to deliver what it promised. The logic of this structure has become inhabited by the disorder of reality—clarity meets the scraps of necessity. Looming over the street like a hulking ship of Theseus, this building clearly has a story to unravel. It’s fitting, then, that Frida Escobedo has treated this surface as a text to be closely read, or as a stanza to be deconstructed.
Frida Escobedo has used the written word as an architectural directive before. For the Pavilion in El Eco Museum, she approached the space like the spread of a blank page, using cinder blocks as her structural alphabet: literally concrete poetry. Whether it is in creating an office space on the roof of a suburban home, erecting an elevated house over an ordinary hillside, or revitalizing a rundown tourist site on Caletilla Beach, Escobedo makes use of disuse and finds significance in the interstices of our lived environment. This seems to come from an equal attention to craft and to practicality, and from an ability to compartmentalize needs and desires, all of which she builds into her designs. Escobedo’s winning model for an affordable housing competition was a unit that could be extended to create a porch-like area, or contracted to form an indoor living room. Using the most basic of means, this design gave the residents the luxury of modification. With minimal and modular constructions, Escobedo subtly creates room for leisure. The resourcefulness in her designs is essentially like that of a poem—lyrically efficient, elegantly spare, and carefully complex.
The windowpanes of Florencia 72, as shown in her photographs—some opened at oblique angles, some locked into the grid—act like two-way mirrors. Making up an exterior that reflects and deflects, they remind us that, as Escobedo observes, the formation of a collective, cultural self involves isolating our conceptions of the other. In order to self-identify, we self-differentiate. In their masked transparency, the building’s windows recall a work to which she has referred in past presentations: Marcel Broodthaers’s blocked-out Un Coup de Dés. With a simple gesture, Broodthaers isolated the graphic aspect of Mallarmé’s poem, literalizing its visual thesis and illustrating the concept therein: “Rien … n’aura eu lieu … que le lieu” (Nothing ... will have taken place ... but the place). Here, in a similarly elucidating act, Escobedo has taken a pre-existing work and broken down its layers of content, physically representing each one, word for word. If Florencia 72 seems to materialize a complex history, Frida Escobedo takes this thingification even further. In so doing, she draws out a social legacy hidden in plain view and takes a detailed look at what has “taken place.”
“Untitled”. By Ciro Najle
Proposing “an environment” for the exhibition of a series of architectural works in a single space—creating an environment within an environment—seems to be a contradiction in terms, if not a redundancy—an environment that is already an environment—or a clearly rhetorical proposition—an environment that is reiterated as “an environment.” It is like painting white on a white canvas. In this case on the spatial canvas of the white cube of an architecture gallery, the exact circumstance in which the architecture of a cultural event transcends because it represents the material architectural act.
At first glance, such a proposal, as well as the larger project that it embodies and reproduces, would seem to be imbued with a paradoxical will: that of producing a “thing” as such while being assumed as such, and that uses the place where it is situated as if it were its material, therefore getting conflated with it. Moreover, this is not just “any” place, but a particularly objectified space, charged with an institutional will, and characterized for its extremely reduced size, to the extent that it is not completely clear whether it is in fact inhabitable or not. The space has a high, yet mediated exposure to the exterior; a corner on a busy avenue where disproportionate, equally objectified windows frame the views as much as they condition them. Located next to the open hall of an architecturally well-known building, to which the space’s third face is visually oriented, even if only to make it appear hermetic.
In this paradoxical, ambivalent context of LIGA, Sebastián Adamo and Marcelo Faiden aim to simultaneously constitute, replace, emphasize, and contain “an environment” as a premise. Their project rehearses a subtle but intensely distorted sense of the classical ideas of unity, identity, irreducibility, and singularity in architecture, all of which manifest themselves here congested in the construction of an “intense interiority,” which reveals itself as the “inscrutable exposure” of a pure exteriority. The pure exteriority is explicitly offered as a built atmosphere, and the intense interiority is tacitly exclusive of any form of atmospheric intrusiveness. It is as if it were a capsule, not in the sense of an object, but referring to its double nature of being perceptible but impenetrable, or, more accurately, of an incubation space. Compare it to a test tube, where any physical access of “real” human beings would be, if not unwanted, certainly unusual, strange, and unthinkable. Or as if that environment had ended up being there after a series of failed tests, surviving humankind, as if it were a post-human record, recalling what used to be known as architecture, now a foolish and blurred idea. This exhibition presents, for those who, decades ago, celebrated the death of architecture (and for those who still do), an architectural celebration of the death of mankind (not without a pinch of melancholy), a sample of an imprudent, improbable, diffuse, and yet still preserved memory of the idea of habitat.
An Environment unifies object and subject(s) into a specifically abstract subject of architecture, one that is inert and post-human. An Environment is whatever environment, in respect to the monumental idea of space as entelechy. Selected from a catalog of one single possibility, it is a whateverness made singularity.1 An Environment builds a form of emptiness and draws from it a sense of the architectural that is both figuratively indefinite and materially precise, a generic embodiment of the incorporeal. An Environment turns everything—space, objects, images, enclosure, ground, light, energy, machines, and technology—into a diffuse and vague medium, even with the conceptual thinking about it. An Environment happens as a mental space characterized by the uncertainty of its own being, an uncertainty that doesn’t contain any doubt. It is a space of indiscernibility, a region of undecidability and banal ubiquity. An Environment is, obviously and quite literally, an atmosphere, a constructed climate, and a climax that comes to the fore figuratively. Allegory of a perpetual but variable state, its variability and its relativity as a presence, make it absolute and extensive. Its formlessness exceeds a mere lack of shape and takes the form of an abstract form of affect. Could it actually be a manifesto of affect as erectible fact? Its architecture dissolves as object and simultaneously manifests itself as a strictly material medium. It embraces vagueness and aims to build it as an object-medium, as an environment with an outline.
Precisely because of its ability to manifest itself hermetically, we find ourselves in front, and virtually inside of, an architecture that assumes itself as the medium of the contemporary void, as the spatiality of the whatever, a restless ecosystem where culture has turned into vapor and wants to become (once again) pure life, experience of pure immediacy. The architectural work, tenuously exhibited inside, is, just like those cryptic construction details, its obverse.
What are these things doing here? They are not projects of other things, but projects in and of themselves. They are not models, but rather what is projected in what is done. These things search, through their contrasts and affinities, a situation in which they can autonomously sustain themselves. From this point of view, magnets are metonymic objects: the part that shows the procedure that organizes everything —the attractions and repulsions, the distances and proximities. In the composition of that rhythm (in the musical sense of the term) each element acquires its particular position in space. To the delight of our eyes, things mix, reach a delicate balance, that allows them to remain as they are.
A minimal slippage can cause everything to come down in art, in architecture, in thought, even in life. It is always about finding that point where diversity holds and produces itself: the golden thread, the magnets, the bar, the marble. The fine, the coarse, the hard, the small. The interactions among the differences, rather than cancelling themselves out, produce a new world about things rather than about signs. Hence, the discrete colors—if they even exist. Hence, the absence of objects with cultural meaning. There are no doors or windows, chairs or tables, floors or pillars. There is barely anything; with an almost crude materiality, in an existence that, if it weren’t for order, could be termed non-human.
Who supports whom in this whirlwind of innocuous materials? It’s not a physical but rather a poetic question. Substance is never simply a matter of science, but of our whole existence, which takes place between earth and sky, searching for a home in the constructions we make and which, at the same time, make us. Poetic constructions. That is why one researches the intrinsic material properties, in order to discover their real potential, indicating what can and should (and what can’t and shouldn’t) be built. What gives, gives. What doesn’t give, doesn’t, and shouldn’t be forced given that it’s better to listen to what the things ask.
At the risk of frustrating positivist thinkers, things have their own will. They are “full of wills,” just like children whose parents complain because they don’t behave well. But every being is what it is, and wants what it wants. Person or thing. The father and poet, instead of imposing what children and things should be, has to discover what they want, so setting free this desire and allowing for expression in the real. The matter has to be addressed with docility, so that it can show us the form it takes. That is, creating is listening and not just talking, it is receiving and not just projecting–or, rather, it is talking after listening, projecting based on receiving and, finally, knowing how to make as the result of understanding.
According to its Greek origin, the word “technique” relates to knowing, to a knowing how to do, rather than to doing. That is why both craftsmen and artists were called “technicians.” Both know how something can pass from nothing into being. This passage is anything but arbitrary; it is not hostage to the human will or planning. When an object of use or a piece of art is produced, something happens from the absence of nothingness to the presence of being. Nevertheless, this man-made operation, takes nature as its guide, since it is doing it constantly, causing the continuous emergence of the world around and in us.
This same world, in its variegated forms mentioned here, with its balance, its voids and its proportions of extreme accuracy that establish a space that is a place, not as an a priori, but built for this presence, known in architectural jargon as “tectonics.” This spatial composition of geometric elegance emphasizes the interplay between weight and lightness, and is still dictated by the acting magnetic and gravitational forces, that explore, in addition to the readily visible relationships between things, the invisible relationships that also determine them.
This is a possible and beautiful world because it attends to the will of things. It is a poetics of the artist-craftsman, or, as mentioned, where the architect also turns into an engineer. One can’t exist without the other; creation is never just the work of humans. It is half human, half nature. It is up to humans, through “technique,” to discover and release what matter has to offer. It is up to humans to dream, and dream a dream conjured by nature in them.
Nothing that is not crearly built should be edified1. By Humberto Ricalde
Mies stated that the idea of an essential building came to him from the work of Hendrik P. Berlage and that anyone exercising the profession of architecture must assume this as a foundational idea. Because, even though talking about construction is easy, it is not so easy to stay true to its principles. As an intellectual construct, the conceptual basis of construction is the primitive expression of all architecture in its materiality and so provides a careful distance from the arbitrary imagination of an architectural form.
Hence, construction, structure, built architecture; the art of constructing and construction as an art. Construction is a primary action, filling the profession of an architect with strength and meaning. The work of Jorge Ambrosi anchors its expressivity in a thoughtful construction, where structure and rigorously selected materials interact by giving a balanced tectonic presence. His habitable environments speak through their explicit construction processes that fill them with resonances by leaving the imprint of a virtual carving (referring to the way in which they were collected) in their solid tectonic container. Concretes with evocative ligneous matrices, visible masonry, white leveled finishes, volcanic stone, marble, strong ly-grained wood in contrast to the transparency of glass or liquid surfaces that join them. They create resonating spaces, inviting us to stay enveloped in their light, darkness, shadows and multiple reflections conjugated jointly in serene and intimate atmospheres.
All of this happens while remembering the impressive force of these buildings in their location. They are essential tectonic bodies: even in this vitreous or ligneous condition, their dense materiality underlines the changing atmosphere in which they, seemingly undisturbed, contemplate the passing of time. Let us challenge the architect and our imagination. Let us consider how time will manifest itself in them, and, how these heavy constructs will age, given the specific weight of their concrete, glass, porphyry, polished metals and hard woods.
In the postmodern era architectural culture came to emulate the culture of fashion. This culture is one predicated on a regularly scheduled production of novelty, carefully timed to the cycles of the attendant media. This culture and its cult of celebrity are now firmly established globally. As a result, the shelf-life of any particular architectural discourse has grown shorter and shorter. In part because of this relentless demand for regularly reproduced newness, actual architectural innovation is harder to come by. It occurs occasionally, in the unlikeliest of places, and of its own organic accord. This work is often difficult to recognize and harder to disseminate.
Among the dangers of the architecture-fashion industry has been its anesthetizing effects on our collective cultural sensitivity to original thought and genuine architectural innovation. When the shock of the new is felt, it is often in obscure and marginalized contexts, and often resists easy categorization. In spite of this cultural condition, and the difficulty that it poses for the dissemination of deserving work from a range of emerging talents, architecture does emerge in new and stimulating varieties. And architecture persists as a vibrant cultural form through which actual innovation is still possible. No contemporary practice represents this perennial potential for the shock of the new through architectural innovation better than the trio of young Colombian architects practicing under the collective description Paisajes Emergentes.
The work of Paisajes Emergentes is embodied through an astonishing array of recent projects exhibiting fluency with a range of scales and subject matter. Their provocative appropriation of the culturally loaded term “paisajes” (which literally translates as “landscapes”) to describe their practice signals their ambivalence regarding traditional professional role of the architect. It also points toward their literacy with international architectural culture and the recent recovery of landscape as a medium of design. Combined with the adjectival modifier “emergentes,” (emerging) their appropriation of landscape as a frame for their diverse body of work illustrates an appetite for addressing the ecological imperatives of contemporary design culture as well as the diverse array of international environments in which they find their work projected. As such, Paisajes Emergentes serves as an apt appellation for both the medium and message of the collective’s architectural aspirations that have as much to do with curating atmospheres as with constructing buildings.
Many of the office’s projects exhibit specifically horticultural or botanical strategies in the service of complex public realms. These projects typically resist easy identification with the traditional typological categories of landscape, urban design, or architecture. Rather, these projects more often conflate various aspects of these diverse disciplinary practices, in favor of a new hybrid form of work. This confluence of disciplinary commitments often reveals itself through robust representational strategies hacked from various architectural and landscape precedents. More often, it is revealed through the very subject matter and operating assumptions driving the particular design response on a given site. At its best this work simultaneously reveals aspects of a particular site and subject, while conjuring remote and fleeting environments and emotions.
While the architectonic language and design sensibility of Paisajes Emergentes reveal a firm understanding of contemporary architectural culture, they are equally informed by the rising importance of the environment as a category of architectural thought. In this sense the recent work of Paisajes Emergentes transcends Latin American architectural precedents from late 90’s and early 00’s by pushing the limits of the architectural object to its extreme end-conditions, into environments, experiences, or even atmospheres. Many of the projects of Paisajes Emergentes accomplish this through a close reading of the particular ecological or phenomenological contexts in which they are sited. While these effects can reveal themselves through architectural artifice, they are best described through the dated term “landscape”. While much of Iberian architectural culture (and its international diaspora) has actively resisted the rise of landscape as a professional and cultural practice in recent years, Paisajes Emergentes have firmly declared their commitments to the messy and productive potentials of landscape in relation to architectural production. In so doing, they have not only offered us an example of genuine innovation and a whiff of the new, they have also made a generational and geographic stake in the ongoing cultural struggle to open architecture to its multiform and various ecological and urban associations.
Many of the projects of Paisajes Emergentes depend upon deep horticultural and botanical knowledge. Yet it would be a misreading of their work to take these projects for traditional landscape architecture with a focus on plant material as a medium of design. Rather, these projects often illustrate an ambidextrous quality, equally fluent with landform and ecological process as with architectonic language and spatial composition. These various methodological approaches often share an interest in the specific media of atmosphere itself: water and air. In a diverse range of projects including the Jardin Botánico and their recently completed Parque Acuático complex both in Medellin, Colombia, Paisajes Emergentes build complex public realms through an obsession with the material and phenomenological properties of water. In this project the hydraulic logics, and experiential potential of liquid water as well as their ephemeral effects on light and air offer the primary operating systems of a complex refined public realm. Further afield, their recent competition entries for the Parque del Lago in Quito, Ecuador and the Venice Lagoon reveal an ongoing commitment to the various potentials of a hydrological urbanism. In Quito their proposal juxtaposes the reflective and endless features of pools stretching to the horizon of an abandoned airfield with the reflective metallic surfaces of the airplanes that once occupied them. In contrast with the bright light, and clear blue of Quito, their Venice Lagoon project plumbs the murky impenetrable depths of a dark, dank, Venice. In both examples, the particular phenomenal and experiential qualities of the site are revealed through the most fundamental of elements: water. Equally, these projects explore the associated experiential conditions of fecund humidity or luminous aridity, while constructing complex public venues through the ambient and atmospheric conditions attendant to water in its various states.
An equally significant line of investigation pursued by Paisajes Emergentes might be described by the term atmospherics. In pushing their architecture to the limits of the object, beyond the question of ground, into the realm of climate and humidity, the collective has developed an approach to pneumatics and aerial suspension. In a range of projects including their proposals for monumental totemic structures in New York or other North American cities, for a guerrilla decommissioning of Heathrow airport using balloons, and for the commemoration of communities impacted by the Ituango hydroelectric plant in their native Colombia, Paisajes Emergentes have proposed a new age of inflatables.
Through their projects, and the pursuit of an architecture beyond weight and mass, Paisajes Emergentes propose an architecture of atmospherics. In this realm, liquid water, water vapor, and ice emerge as primary representational media for a new form of public life. In this work the fleeting experiential qualities of air and water as seen through light are orchestrated much in the way that the sequential experience of space was orchestrated by traditional typologies and subjectivities of landscape architecture. In pursuing the ends of architecture, the work of Paisajes Emergentes simultaneously transcends the limits of the architectural object, while renewing the cultural potential of architecture as a medium of genuine innovation. While this body of work is still emerging, the energy, ambition, and optimism of these projects suggest that an architecture of atmospherics may very well be an important way forward for Paisajes Emergentes and for design culture internationally.
No more no less. Por Ruth Estévez
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
When architects conceptualize the space in which they will show their work, they have to make a base scheme for the reading of this space, where words and things are constructed at the same time—a museum of twelve rooms around an invisible, apparently neutral square. But let’s not kid ourselves;
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll.
When architects conceptualize the space in which they will show their work, they have to make a base scheme for the reading of this space, where words and things are constructed at the same time—a museum of twelve rooms around an invisible, apparently neutral square. But let’s not kid ourselves; this space isn’t innocent or inclusive, or flexible enough to shelter just any work. It subtly functions as a physical self-portrait of the Chilean practice Pezo von Ellrichshausen, who, conscious of the power of such an exercise, can only house representations of their own projects. Whether through models, sketches, or photos, each object is a thought and a fact, standing between reality and what the studio wants to say about it. Similarly, the material doesn’t confirm one side or the other.
Aware of the possibility of narration, Pezo von Ellrichshausen establish a discrete grammar to understand their compositions. Selecting the initial Gestalt, a reflection of all their architecture, they avoid details that may cause confusion, connecting the physical object with its name. It is a structural skeleton that, eventually, will form full sentences, or that will remain in the abstract, at the expense of making sense. Pezo von Ellrichshausen provide a basic language, the exegesis of a vocabulary.
Thanks to the simplicity of forms, viewers walk through the space in a circle, returning to the start as many times as they find the end. Each time, they can come up with a different reading, even though the structures are clear in their meaning. These forms function as the studio’s Chomskyan rules that lay the groundwork for their architecture’s theoretical space through an accessible four-sided structure.
Alice asked Humpty Dumpty again: “Can you make words mean so many different things? Must a name mean something?” Maybe it’s only possible if you are an egg, a literal and somewhat strange metaphor for any primal topic. As many times as one uses this museum, as many things s/he can locate in it. And when all the combinations reach a point of exhaustion, Pezo von Ellrichshausen can always take recourse to different meanings, that is, if you, as Alice inquired, are able to make words mean different things. No more or less.