MANUEL GRAÇA DIAS professional path - practices (PART II)

JCL: After University, the student finishes the course but is not an architect yet, the internship is year zero and only three or four years later he acquires skills to be in a studio. The question I think many architects continue to ask is: which is the next step?
 
 

Mgd: It’s a classical answer, people will require practice, work in a studio with a certain routine, they are interns, they make inter-teaching with others and, at a certain point, there is a job they feel comfortable of doing on their own. A friend may ask to remodel a house…that will always be an opportunity.
Then it depends on each one. There are people who don’t feel comfortable until they have enough practice; there are others more daring, who think they are capable as soon as they finish their internship. And they manage, until a point where they acquire independence, even if briefly. A job will appear that will last two or three years and will allow a small structure for them, a friend and another employee.

And then one of two things: either all happens at a time when there is work and one thing happens after another – the contractor who will built the house likes the young architect and asks him to design a small building, in the meantime, a cousin sees the project and likes it a lot, and asks him to remodel the attic, at the same time some tenders are made and one or another goes well -, it is a possible way, or it was a possible way, because if there is less to do, as now, this possible “network” is less likely.
But I would say that, more importantly, is really the architect as a person. I think there is a myth that we should try to help dismantle, originating from star architects. The myth that everyone is suited to be a boss; not of himself – it would be interesting if people had this thought -, but someone else’s boss.
This current myth that you will do a course and become a boss when you finish it has to stop. People have to realize that having a university degree (higher education) is actually having a specific preparation. The word higher is a bit annoying because it seems you are higher than others. If we called them specific courses it would probably be more interesting. “I will do a specific course of Architecture and then have more training to start working on things related to Architecture”.

JCL: Are there any young or very young architects that you have as a reference? Are you following the work they are doing?
 
 
Mgd: Yes, I see work of people I know, who were students of mine (some were also collaborators) and today are architects, with interesting works. For example, Ricardo Bak Gordon. In the first or second year I went to Milan, he was there in Erasmus. I met him in Milan and I immediately liked him. The following year, he and Carlos Vilela were my students in the last year at FA/UTL. And there are people I have met more recently here at school, that I have seen, with pride and pleasure, doing interesting things. You [João Pedro Caria Lopes] and Ricardo [Silva Carvalho], for instance, were my students in your first year and are now my assistants.
I’m not saying that I “launched” these people; I lectured the fifth grade at FA/UTL, and I was a little demanding on them. I think I helped stir ideas that some of them already had, but overall, the most interesting ones already arrived with a certain security. And the dialogue was almost from one architect to another. I enjoyed the fifth year for this, because I could take them to a higher platform. It’s different when you talk to kids in the first year, as it has been my experience in the last fourteen years, either in Porto or here at UAL. We have to go down to the base to get a starting point where they can understand, be helped and be encouraged.
My best student ever, and in the very first year I lectured at FA/UTL, was Egas Vieira, who is my business partner. In addition to an enormous talent, he had some training and an ability that surprised me, that’s why we began working together.
Egas’ brother, Nuno Vidigal, as well as Pedro Ravara, with whom he built a partnership, were my students two or three years later. It was a very good year, with Cristina Veríssimo, Mário Martins,  Gonçalo Afonso Dias. Then, I remember João Matos, who now teaches in Évora, Ricardo Vieira de Melo, who returned to  Aveiro where he develops an interesting work, Vasco Delerue, deceased, Luís Torgal, our collaborator in the studio for a long time. Later, when I taught Project in the Interior Architecture course, I was Steven Eavens and Miguel Abecasis’ teacher, who are also doing interesting first works. Pedro Machado Costa was not my student but worked with us a couple of years, Paulo André Rodrigues also... well, so many! I have met so many interesting people, who I have seen with joy becoming architects, who have work they do with honesty, in good taste, with engagement, and with passion! That’s what I like best about these people! If I have also helped, the better! If not, no problem, it won’t be relevant. I like to feel that passion, that involvement! When they don’t look at Architecture as just a thing, made with boredom, commercially and bureaucratically. 
 

FR: You are a person who reads, who writes, who thinks about what you write and what you read. As an architect, in the project component, which is the weight of theory in your professional?

Mgd: Of the programs I made for television, I recorded one with the architect [Manuel] Tainha. We were talking, after it was filmed, and I was very happy because we both agreed that writing would also be a way of projectingArchitecture. When you write the project brief, for instance, in tenders, there is a lot of stress, you are focused on that, there are deadlines to meet; you are under a lot of pressure. It is necessary to write a text, and this text needs to be perceptible by the jury, it can not be too long, or too boring, and needs to be well understood. It is always a lot of drama to put everything in it, so that the jury does not fail to notice the essential things. And I told him that, many times, when I was writing the project brief, I would discover things that were not in the drawings and I would run to say that we needed to include something or other. Because through writing, when justifying a certain project, I understood we hadn’t gone as far [in the project] as we would have liked. “That also happens a lot to me”, he replied. It is incredible! Because we really draw through writing as well; we are thinking in a given situation e we solve things through writing that haven’t been solved in drawing!
Of course, reading the theories helps me put my ideas in order; helps me understand some situations I suspected but could not explain very well, or hadn’t understood why I felt that way, or alerted me to situations I had never thought about before, which is always the weakest point. When we are aware of situations we have never thought about, we never fully understand them. It is easier when we are given an explanation for things we have already reflected, experiences we have already been through. Then we can fully understand, we are more aware of the problem, we can immediately criticize, and say “it is not quite that”, “it is more than that”, or “that is it, because it also happened to me”. I think this is kind of a theoretical reflection that can help us exercise the ability to draw. 

 

JCL: It is always tempting to ask a question about the future of architecture, but even more than that – now that the current situation is more or less catastrophic globally and with a national crisis – I dare ask what ways you think we should follow...
 

Mgd: I feel like giving a relatively easy answer, as the architect [Eduardo] Souto de Moura, when he was interviewed in connection with the Pritzker Prize. He repeated several times that the new generation has to emigrate, that there is no work here for anyone. Apparently, it seems so, for a few years there will be no work for anyone. Not because there is a lack of things to build, but because there is no money to make them. Fortunately, the housing problem has been solved for some years now; the most urgent is done, there is no money for other investments.
If the State has no money for large orders – and imagining there will be a huge retraction in economy in general – there will be no money in the private sector either; and so most of the young architects will have to emigrate. Some are already doing so: many of our students here from University Autónoma went to work in Brazil, in Switzerland, others went to Spain, and some went to do a two or three year internship and ended up staying. There are those who came back to see if they could work here, and then returned again. This is already itself an interesting experience for those who like Architecture. There is no problem in emigrating; I think it is fun for people this age, without any responsibilities, going to a foreign city and getting started in Architecture; later they will decide if they want to stay and make it permanent, or if they want to return to Portugal. However, and despite knowing some “success stories”, I do not think it can be a generalized solution.
 
Aside from this answer that is more or less “easy”, I can not answer anything else; I do not have great solutions for this problem. Maybe there is a chance of doing another type of work not so orthodox, in a more or less conventional perspective in the profession: I would not mind areas like “Measurements and Budgets”, or “Construction Site Technicians”, being occupied by young architects, as it has been in the last few years for the former “Designers-Planner”. Also Photography, or the Architecture Editions in paper or digital, or Scenography in theatre or television, or Art Direction in cinema – but these fields, though, have already been occupied by architects. 
Of course, for those studios that are established, emigrating doesn’t make sense; I can’t emigrate with my structure! I may try to bring work from the outside. It is a bit different: the younger generation will sell their workforce to foreign studios and the studios in Portugal will try to capture work from outside. But it is not easy, I have done some demarches in this regard, I am in talks with Macau, Mozambique, Bahrain, to see what we can do. Besides liking Architecture a lot and not wanting to stop doing it, even in these adverse conditions, we have responsibilities to the people who are with us, who enjoy being with us, and for whom we have to guarantee work. But this is a personal answer, I do not see many ways out, I do not know how we can get out of this; lets see what happens.

FR: And urban rehabilitation is not a possibility?
 

Mgd: It is, but money is also necessary. What I want to say is: urban rehabilitation, even if promoted by the State, or the City Halls, is much more expensive than new construction. It is made, most of the time, in adverse circumstances, in the middle of the historical city, problems with the construction site, and problems with the work. It would only be possible with economic encouragement, with positive discrimination, and with much lower recovery rates. Without these things, and in the midst of an economic crisis, there will be fewer chances and private rehabilitation will be only for a small niche in the luxury market. This area is also very limited; with all that has been said that the rich people should pay the crisis, there aren’t that many rich people, they all have houses, and they have children who are already married. Developers will spend a lot of money and the houses on the market will be very expensive. Even if they sell them, there is another perversity:  the gentrification of the historic centres, i.e., a significant social change that will take from those centres their popular features, the joy they still have.

When the working class stops living in “Escadinhas da Bica” – with their “Santo António” parties, where they put up paper decorations, eat sardines and drink in the streets, where they yell at each other -, and will be occupied by “mommy’s boys” whose parents buy them a house there, recovered, with many bathrooms and bedrooms, it will be a sad, boring, horrible place! There won’t be anymore small groceries, or taverns (“tascas”), and it becomes a deserted street with closed shutters, where people leave in the morning and get back at the end of the day, and they see no one. I hate this idea of gentrification, as a result of that expensive recovery. If there were truly mechanisms to expedite that recovery, make it cheaper, and more stimulating for contractors and developers, so that they could charge less…the social mix would still continue to be made, with some vivacity.