INÊS LOBO . Current Paths . Part2
Talking about your students and their final paper and then they all leave. Where will they go to?
Nowadays they go abroad! But I think the possibilities to work are still out there. I think it is a big mistake for everyone to emigrate. Despite also knowing that it is now very difficult to find work in Portugal.
I think there is a lot to be done, but things are not immediate. These days, in which little is built, is the perfect time to be thinking a lot. There is a lot to think about, but there is no money to build in the same way as twenty years ago. We were one of the most backward countries in Europe concerning basic needs and, therefore, we got all the construction of what is “Parque Escolar”, first for Higher Education and also for Basic education, for building Museums and Hospitals. All the basic needs that Portugal didn’t have unlike the rest of Europe. This has ended. But in the rest of Europe this ended a long time ago and this doesn’t mean they stopped building. It seems to me, at the moment, that a lot was built, and also a lot of housing, perhaps unnecessarily. We currently have a housing stock much larger than we need if we talk specifically about Lisbon. But Lisbon still does not work well. It is one of the most beautiful cities that we can find around the world – I know many – it is a fabulous city, where people live very well contrary to what one might imagine. It is a city where it is easy to live in, with plenty of positive things, but it is necessary to continue to think about how it can work well. And this has to do with proximity issues, with mobility issues. Issues that have been solved, but not repaired, in a disperse way and, therefore, there are still many problems. They are possible to solve with small interventions, subtracting instead of building. Making a series of operations that do not have only to do with building, but to do, for instance, with the discussion of the problems – how programs are distributed by the city, how the city is organized and structured, etc. And for this the architects, without a doubt, play a key role. So I think we need to find workspaces that are available for architects to use what they know how to do.
And there is one very important thing that has to do with the separation of knowledge. I believe that the profession of architect has to be reinvented because in recent years, when we were busy building, the knowledge was more and more separated … and this makes no sense in our area, we are not specialists of anything, we are exactly the opposite – we are non-specialists. We have a quality that, perhaps, many people no longer have because they became experts! It is the capacity of synthesis and to grab all that knowledge and build something with that. That is our profession! And what is built? They can be an extensive range of things – it can be a building or a space in the city, it can be the definition of a program to use a space, it can be thousands of other things. We have to become aware of this ability we have and be more involved in several areas, particularly in another area that I think is extremely important which is Politics. Architects need to be prepared to be present in political decisions, because these decisions can collide with the space we live in. Architects, in recent years, ran away from these activities, which didn’t happen with Portas. So there was a time when people were dedicated to building, because there was a lot to be built – this wasn’t more or less detrimental for anyone, it was a context. But people dedicated themselves to this and clearly lost space in professional areas where architects are important. This didn’t happen, for instance, with engineers, because they are much more and have more strength as a professional class, they are always trying to find ways to position themselves in society and have an important and active role in all the areas concerning them. Architects lost this ability and lost, perhaps, some importance too. I look at architects such as Nuno Portas, Álvaro Siza, Fernando Távora, Manuel Tainha, who are figures that crowds stop to listen to! They are not only talking about architecture, they are talking about the world! And what is their relationship with the world? Trying to be interventional in a world that is theirs!
Perhaps it makes more sense to find new ideas to fight for?
It does. Architecture is also confronted with a giant problem which is the loss of importance of the human being. And we work for the human being. We build for people. If people cease to matter, architecture ceases to exist. And this is perhaps the biggest crisis we are dealing with. We have to continue to fight for the world to exist for everyone who live in it.
Do you see any changes or hopes in the projects you have at the moment?
I think there are many changes. We have experiences from South America which we look at with great enthusiasm. But we can not say that the great figures of architecture, and important in the world of communications, don’t do their part and don’t help architecture to continue to be discussed and heard. So we can’t radicalize the positions!
There is one thing that people today can do when they finish their degree: they need to find a space to work in. They need to have an open mind because the space they will find is probably quite different from the one they had in mind; but they must be able to use their training to do a job that can go from monitoring a construction sight, working in a city hall and discussing important issues, in politics, in a museum, in their studio, wherever… they must have the ability to use the knowledge they have acquired and may acquire further towards the same goal, which is to continue to reflect, to build and to use the spaces we have in the city in the best way. If this is the approach I think anything is possible. There aren’t any better or worse jobs. Architecture also has this interesting aspect which is to act in thousands of contexts and not in only one. Being an architect is a very complex activity which can be very diverse. Even in areas where we are not the main attraction! It’s another thing that architects have little ability to do. An architect may be working with a team that is developing an airplane, where he is not the key person, or he may be working with a team that is reflecting on a community that moves and starts living in a country in which the main figures are an anthropologist or any other profession… we have little ability to work in this way, which is a pitty. We always have the tendency to lead! This will stop happening…
When opening the subject that has to be done and should have always be done, how do you see the importance of research and the relationship it may have with practice?
I believe architecture is a very new subject in this area. If we go to areas such as Biology, research is the engine of the subject. In architecture, the professional practice of architects was more the engine than the research. Research has always been something parallel and often people who are not in practice are not those investigating. I think this should also change. I try to do what I do also as research. I had the opportunity to do a series of works which were very difficult to do because I was not in the research area – and I had to turn the studio upside down to deal with other types of work. Lately, I have been developing a work for CML (City Hall of Lisbon) on the Santana Hill. Which is a research – it is to look upon that piece of the city, where there are already a number of architects working on, and reflecting on what it can become, with the intervention of all those architects, what the other possibilities are and why it should change. In order to do this I had to go back in time and research that piece of land over time, I had to equate problems and do a work that in the end is a book with four hundred pages of project – which if we want to look at it conservatively, has very little project. But it’s a great project! So this is the research I’m interested in. As you can imagine, I have been thinking a lot – and it is a question that often arises in architects of my generation – if I’m going to do a PhD or not. In fact, I haven’t had much time to do a PhD, and, as the practice in the studio is intense, it puts aside the issue of research. I don’t feel the need of doing a PhD because I spend my days studying!
At a time when research was made, going back to Nuno Portas’ generation, people didn’t have PhDs. People made things and recorded them. It wasn’t a common practice, or the professional life of an architect, or even the life of an architect as a teacher. Nowadays it is proven important or necessary – to continue a teaching career – going through stages not only with a degree and now a Masters. You have to continue that path. If I don’t have to do it…I will run away from it as fast as I can! But I’m risking it, of course. I have no space in a public university, I have no PhD and I’m not in a rush to do it. I also think that, unfortunately, it has to do with an economical phenomena – which is to make money out of this and PhDs have to do with economic issues… there are times when everyone is going after these things but then everything seems to calm down again. I guess time will tell how things will go in reality. I believe research is a crucial activity for the development of subjects, and I think it’s a huge area in which architects should devote themselves more, but dedicated using practice, which is what is done in other areas – at least in areas that fascinate me most, areas like science in which research is applied directly and permanently. Research is at the service of practice. And this is the only way.
You are the only woman in our university with an activity that is still predominantly male. From all the names you referred to, if I’m not mistaken, you only referred to one, didn’t you?Do you think it makes a difference, or work is work…
The problem about women exists and will clearly continue to exist. The other day I received a distinction from the Secretary of State for Culture and the general director of the arts said something that I entirely agree with: “it would be good if we didn’t have to give these distinctions…” Why should people be distinguished by gender? They shouldn’t be distinguished. People should be distinguished by what they do.
Why does this happen and is far from happening? For many reasons. Many have to do with cultural and education issues, which have been rooted in our society for centuries, such as girls being raised differently from boys, we tend to educate our children as we were. This is what we find, which is wrong, but true.
I was lucky not to be brought up this way! I was lucky my parents didn’t raise me as a girl or boy. I owe my parents for having always looked at the world not by my womanhood but as a person. Then there are things that are still evident in our society or female nature: women have children, but men don’t. Despite them being fathers. But this question of motherhood is a big difference at a given time in a woman’s life. And there are things that can not be replaced. Women breastfeed, but men don’t. There is a first moment in children’s lives where women have an important role. Does it affect her professional activity? It does. And is society ready for this? It isn’t. I managed to do both because I have a studio which is mine and it has day care. We took all the children into the studio – me and the women who work there and men, too. But this is something completely unnatural and that implies a huge effort and often may not even be the best situation, I have that possibility, but I’m not an example. It continues to be difficult, but I personally think I wouldn’t like to be replaced; society has to adapt more to this situation. The work environment is made for you to work from 8 am to 8 pm and be permanently available and connected to your mobile and this is not compatible with wanting to be a father or a mother … it is a problem which won’t be solved now, nor is anyone trying to solve it.
How was your journey until you set up your own studio and what new principles/programs did you add to it?
I had never thought of setting up a studio on my own. When I left João Luís, it was for several reasons. These issues had to do with personal issues and forced me to find another way of making money at a particular time. I set up the studio with Pedro Domingos. Afterwards, we separated due to personal reasons and not for reasons of work incompatibility, and then I set up another studio with a partner who isn’t an architect, and who is a crucial piece in my studio. Without him there wouldn’t be a studio because he is a person who enjoys having a company and I’m not cut out for this. This is a wonderful arrangement. But honestly I never had the urge to “now, I’m going to make a studio!”; and indeed when I started the studio there was the issue of the name (and this is for the answer about women) and I said “We can put any name…” and everyone said “No, no! It’s going to be called Inês Lobo Arquitectos because being a woman sells more!”. In a way, it was an opportunistic view of the problem!
If you could choose, without constraint, what to do next year, what would you choose?
There are two things that, for me with the studio that I have and what I have to do at the moment are extremely important: on one hand, still be able to build – which is something an architect is used to doing for I don’t know how many years, it’s hard to imagine not having this possibility. On the other hand, what I would also like was to continue the work I have developed. What is interesting about doing research is that it never ends and so being able to move forward in what I’ve done so far which for me would be the most important.
What I would really love? I would like to keep the studio I have! Which is not only me, it is a structure with several people for some years now. Continue to be able for these people to have work, to have their lives, this is the most important. We have been able to do this so far – even though we are going through a difficult moment …the studio reduced a lot. But despite that I have been doing the most interesting works ever! I have some work that I never thought it would be possible. It doesn’t pay much, we are forced to reduce the studio, but the proposals are perhaps the most exiting I’ve ever had since I started working. I have that work on the Santana Hill, I’m making a mosque in Almirante Reis, which are unique works and very rewarding. If this could continue like this, it wouldn’t be bad!