INÊS LOBO . Learning . Part1
It is with great pleasure that we have as our guest the architect and teacher Inês Lobo. Welcome! We would like to start by asking you about your academic journey, about teachers that had impact on you, about some exercises that were important and that you still remember.
I joined the School of Oporto and this was the most striking of my academic journey. Unfortunately, I had to leave at the end of the first year due to family reasons. However, I was fortunate to have a group of teachers of whom I am friends today, such as Sérgio Fernandez (who was the coordinator of the first year) and Professor Henrique Carvalho (who sadly has passed away). And Professor Fernando Távora lectured History.
The course was similar to the one from Autónoma University. It was a small course. There were about seventy students in the first year and we had classes in the same room, in a very beautiful pavilion. And it was pretty intense, with a very close relationship with the teachers, who were extremely dedicated. It was a very interesting experience. Most of the students were from outside of Oporto and this generated a very large complicity, we had all left home, which greatly increased the intensity that that year was lived in. Another interesting point is that most of my colleagues, nowadays, are people we all recognize: Nuno Grande, João Pedro Serôdio, Cristina Guedes, Francisco Vieira de Campos, Pedro Cortesão…
It was a terrible shock when I came to Lisbon, because when I arrived things were done differently. It was a very different school and it was difficult for me. But I had to continue. And I had teachers who I remember very well… for instance Daciano Costa, from Drawing – with whom I had a difficult relationship with, but very intense. Only with Project with Professor Silva Dias, in fourth year, I was enthusiastic with university again. Afterwards, with a lot of luck, I had Carrilho da Graça in my last year, which was worth the whole school… Architect Carrilho da Graça challenged us, the classes were very difficult, and he was always questioning us. But it went very well, and was extremely interesting. And this was very important because I ended up working with him, it was moving to a professional environment from school.
Choosing Architecture was it well thought out or more intuitive?
I don’t have any architects in the family. My father was always very connected to the arts. He worked in the libraries of Gulbenkian and is a very knowledgeable man, and was perhaps my main teacher throughout my life, both in architecture as well in many others. And he still is! He told me that when I was a child I used to say: “When I grow up I want to build houses!” I don’t remember any of this, nor did I think about this. But I also don’t remember thinking in doing anything else. When it was time to choose, I only chose Architecture in Oporto and in Lisbon. I had never thought of doing anything else. But this doesn’t mean that I don’t see myself doing all sorts of things, with the same enthusiasm and as interesting as Architecture.
Did you bring any ideas and academic experiences to the early start of the course in UAL?
Creating the course in UAL was very interesting. When I finished my degree there were four courses of architecture, in Oporto, in Lisboa, Lusíada was just starting and Árvore, in Oporto. And quickly architecture courses started to appear everywhere. I started teaching at Lusíada as soon as I finished my degree. And when the course was created in Autónoma it was necessary to do something entirely different from all those other private universities that appeared in the meantime. A group of architects from Lisbon gathered, who hadn’t had an academic experience as interesting as those who had studied in Oporto that, like it or not, was a School.
When the course at Autónoma was thought of, we didn’t think of doing what other private universities were doing, which was mainly a course with many people to make money. We tried to make a course from scratch gathering people from everywhere and to make it look like the School of Architecture. There were people with different experiences in this group, but with a very clear idea of what a school should not be. And this was extremely important.
And throughout these 14 years, where do you think the course at UAL is at?
It is a very difficult question… we didn’t know what the world would be like and the world of architecture in the years following the creation of the course and I believe we are not facing an interesting moment, nor in teaching architecture, nor in architecture itself, nor in the life of an architect… and I believe that universities are going through the same problem.
The first problem I think UAL is debating with has to do with the number of students. And not because there are a few students, but because it isn’t possible to choose the students and when I say “choose”, this doesn’t mean there should be a selection. It was important for many people to show up, for the “best” to remain. And when I say the “best” are those who want to stay, are willing to stay and finish the course.
A second problem would be the fact that the courses are disappearing and so are the students. There are fewer students entering in Architecture and there are also more public schools, I think that in the last fourteen years several public schools appeared, that come before the private schools – for many reasons but mainly economic ones. Therefore, a private university of Architecture in Portugal, at the moment, has a difficult path, however good it is, while there are still so many public universities.
With the Bologna agreement, the belief was that the situation would reverse itself a little allowing a free competition between the students who would move around private and public universities, but this is not happening. We haven’t researched this point yet, because public universities are not as expensive as private ones.
It is also clear that Autónoma has changed dramatically! When it started it was very much connected to the core – with the architects Manuel Graça Dias, João Luís Carrilho da Graça and José Manuel Fernandes – who were very important figures in the early years of Autónoma – and then younger people joined, and older people, and from different areas as well. It has always been Autónoma’s major goal to say that an architecture course can not be only done by architects. We always wanted for other subject areas to have a certain weight. Then, over these past fourteen years and with a critical view, we can not be without a course in which Project is the main theme and which occupies, probably, an excessive space in relation to other subjects. Another thing which is important is that Autónoma has always believed that we were there to develop planning architects. As it is a small school, I think this is what we always wanted to do and it works. Anyway, if we look at the amount of architects that we are developing nowadays, I think that teaching architecture can no longer be seen as everyone becoming a planning architect, because this is not possible. To become an architect it is necessary to reinvent a little and go through other experiences. This doesn’t mean that Autónoma should do it, because it has a profile to develop those planning architects, however, we need to think a little about what should the training of these young architects be.
Your first year in Oporto was very significant and you named several people who are well known in architecture in Portugal – do you think it was carried out by chance? Was it the spirit of a generation? Did it have to do with the architecture at that time?
I don’t believe that things happen by chance! They happen because something was built for them to happen. What happened at the School of Oporto, at that time, was that the course was well structured, and well made. I think we were lucky to have been students at that moment. I was just thinking that Ricardo Bak Gordon also attended the following year. What could have happened was a group of people who were more interested in the matter had gathered and now you have the feeling that many people graduated in a time where many of them survived. If I try to remember my classmates from Lisbon at the time those who survived were very few.
Do I think this could happen nowadays? I don’t know if it can and if it happens in the same way. Something I think Autónoma has managed to do: that many students work together, propose to do things… this doesn’t happen every year, because this also has to do with the group of students and how the class works, but it happens many times. Because the course is very intense throughout those five years, people don’t want to lose the good things that this intensity brings, the relationship between people and the desire to work together. They have the tendency of extending it in time and I believe this is extremely important for the professional life that follows.
What principles do you have in the subject you lecture – Project, in the fifth year – and what changes have you made over these fourteen years?
As I said earlier, I gave lessons at Lusíada and started teaching the second year, which is a year I really like, because the students are not yet “deformed” and it’s not their first year, without the initial shock from arriving at university which is more difficult. There, they are more relaxed, the first selection was made and they are still very available for everything that can happen.
I remember that, when I was attending the fifth year, João Luis had been teaching the first year the previous year. So he decided to do something that was highly subversive which was to do the same exercise he had done in the first year, but now to the fifth and he got students from the first year to discuss the work with us. And the first year’s tasks were much more interesting than ours. This was the first clash with João Luis, with him explaining: “You have been here for five years, but what you have learned is of little interest! Lets go back!”. It was to clean all the debris from the previous four years. But it was a very funny experience.
I think the first years are very interesting years. It’s clear the last years allow you to do other things that you can not do in the first year. I’m a little bit restless about what to do during classes, I think that it never works, it’s never good, I think about how I should teach and do the exercises.
Should the exercises done by the students be or not adapted to the reality, or to the potential existing market, or, on the other hand, should they be completely free exercises where the students have the last opportunity to do something they dream of doing?
In relation to the chances an architect has nowadays, twenty years ago no one could have imagined that this is what we would have now. What is even worse, but at the same time fascinating, about what we are going through is to think that we don’t even know what is going on. The architect has to position himself to be a sort of an investigator, at the moment, looking at the world – there are too many issues to think about -, it’s an endless work, to all the possible ranges of an architect’s work. Much more in work groups than as individuals, in focus groups.
What should this be like in the last year of college? I have a selfish attitude towards what university is, because I think I’m always doing what I like. I can not do anything elase. And what I have been trying to do in the last year of university, especially in the last four to five years, is to put the students facing a problem which isn’t clearly stated and I don’t even know how to put it. For example, this year the theme I launched was Monsanto. Monsanto is something that doesn’t work in Lisbon at the moment. It has accessibility problems, because it is cut in all its limits. It is a big structure that was invented by Keil do Amaral to be a Park where you could go by car, in a period where there were very few cars… today this is not the habit of the people who live in this city. It is a space with a great dimension, completely abandoned. And what I try to do with the students is: “There is this problem! Lets see how we can solve this.” Clearly it’s a giant problem that is not solvable, either by me or by them, in six months of classes. So, the idea is not to solve the problem, it is to enunciate possible strategies and experiment on a small scale a possible solution as part of that strategy. What I am interested in is the construction of this thought, which occupies more than 50% of the time, until they finally find a way to act, with which they are very excited, and can also find possibilities to build on that territory. It is a very difficult exercise, which depends on the group you are working with. There are times when it works very well and there are times when it is a disaster!
The strategy of a teacher grows within himself. What you do today is not what you did 15 years ago and today your “I” is more diversified and is transported to what your students do. This diversity and the acquired experience over time help to fill the generation gap?
What connects me to my students is not the subject of Project but the issues we have at hand, which are the same – regardless of being 20, 40, 60 or 80 years old. We are all dealing with the same thing. So, we are connected to what is happening at the moment. We are all here to think simultaneously about the possibilities of work that we have now. I had a recent experience which was to be curator of the Venice Biennale. I had to set up a work in two or three months and, perhaps, without thinking much about it I ended up doing an exercise as I do at university – I only realized this after it was done. It was, once again, choosing a territory, which was the city of Lisbon, and instead of doing it with the students I did it with the architects and I told them: “Lets reflect on a number of topics about this city!”.
The architect Nuno Portas, on a guided tour of your exhibition at CCB, said that in his time there were fewer studies and fewer events, but those that existed were published and everyone knew them, and they had continuity and impact. And nowadays much more is produced and it all disappears. Is it the counterpoint of an overload of information …
Much is produced in little time and then there is no continuity. It doesn’t provide much depth. I would love to have a centre for studies only about Lisbon and I wouldn’t mind doing this all the time, because there is always work to be done. And the most important is when you want to make a work about Lisbon you have to start from scratch. You need to find the blueprints, nothing is ever found… in any period of history, things are not well documented or organized. The information is there, but it takes a lot of work to find it and you lose a lot of time.