RICARDO CARVALHO . PART 2
You said earlier that there was no debate about contemporary architecture nor about thinking about architecture. Right now, are there a lot of ideas about architecture, new authors, new references? Or do students continue to revisit what already existed in the 1990s and 2000s?
I would say that there is no debate. What existed in the 1970s has not been repeated. But interestingly, today this urgency is evident. And I would venture to say that it will return. Because the 1970s produced a way of being in the world that was absolutely clear. Either one was in a position of resistance against something, or was in an empathy and cynical relationship with the so-called world's global market. And either position produced thinking about architecture that I consider equally valid and fascinating. This idea of bipolarity between positions, wealth of debate and consequence of the finished work has not happened again.
I think that it can happen again today because it is no longer possible not to feel that pressure. All people, regardless of their professions, know that we are being pushed towards a space of limit. For some people it is a cliff, for others it is a wall against a wall. One thing is certain: it is no space with an idyllic panoramic view. And this compression, this crushing, will obviously produce new stances. Positions of strength, empathy, irony, derision. That's exactly what happened in the 1970s. But I wanted to tell you that all this only makes sense if one does not lose the poetic ability of establishing a relationship with ideas and stances.
I remember reading Aldo Rossi’s "Architecture of the City", which is a very tough book, absolutely disciplinary, and soon after I read the "Scientific Autobiography" (ibid). Between the publication of the two books, little less than 20 years have passed and a lot has happened. But I remember perfectly that when I read the “Scientific Autobiography” for the first time, I thought, "but this is much more interesting! Because it is much more personal." It was Aldo Rossi sharing his contradictions with us, even saying that the oneiric and intuitive side of architecture has as much weight as the so-called permanencies or primary elements he had described in the "Architecture of the City." And he wrote a very beautiful thing about the fog entering Sant'Andrea church in Mantua, designed by Alberti, and that image stuck with me. And there was a day I was with two friends in Italy, and said: "Let's see the fog entering into Sant'Andrea". And there we were. I could not see it at first, it was winter. I could not see it the second time. I could not see it, in fact, the times I was there. But what is really important? Maybe the fog never went inside the church. What is really important is that this architect launched a hypothesis about a building that is so poetic and rich from the point of view of perception, that we wonder how many architects he has influenced with the descriptions he makes in the "Scientific Autobiography", from an absolute subjectivity in the way he relates to architecture. And to me that is equally important. From the moment we barricade ourselves only in in ideological issues, or in issues of morphology, or type, or something else, I confess that is when I start losing interest. For me, there must always be a poetic connection with the topics. Because that's what makes architecture remain and people recognize it as a collective memory.
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What about research? What is your opinion about the research that is done these days?
For me they are two different things. Theory is a consequent expression, with a practice and, accordingly, the theory of architecture, if any, will always have to refer to an act of making. Research is distinct because it always unfolds on two things: what you do in the studios is research and what is done in the academies is also research. So we have to clarify what sort of research we are talking about.
Any architect that makes things, an architect who uses the thinking-construction binomial, will know that having a discourse, fixing a concept, developing an idea until reaching a material effect, is a research process. There is no escape! We (architects) are not used to calling it research. We did not know how to take advantage of this vein of architecture’s reason to exist.
Another thing is what goes on inside academia, equally respectable and fascinating, in some cases, which is the decision on a subject or theme that we need to dissect. But it means we abdicate from making things. In this sense, I feel more distant. I have a huge interest in it as a reader and as a professor of architecture but I do not feel the umbilical cord I was talking about earlier. For me, research implies thinking and construction.
José Adrião and I, as we taught together and co-authored an editorial project, were often asked to define architecture. But what is architecture? It is very difficult to define. We have worked out a hypothesis that we still use today: architecture can be thinking and construction. And the research incorporates this.
When someone is dedicating several months of his/her life to design a house, then this is a profound research process on ancient notions of celebrating many things: celebrating the movement within the spaces, their relationship with the bath water, celebrating the light that comes in while taking breakfast, celebrating family life, loneliness in a space that only serves to work. These are deeply serious things, where only a research project in architecture can produce something capable of generating meaning. Then there is the construction. There is so much going on in construction which is not quite architecture.
You are taking the poetical notion away from research, but research can be poetry too …
I did not mean to! But it may look that way. I was giving a scientific view. I think the scientific approach runs the risk of losing poetry due to the loss of subjectivity and fear. Subjectivity, in the academic world, is seen as a weakness while, in architecture, it is the existential reason for formulating a thought.
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Nowadays, what theory, practice or research authors would you say are determinant, or essential, and must be followed up?
We live in a completely dispersive panorama. It is a sign of the times we live in but it makes it very difficult to do what you ask, which is to establish a narrative. I believe it is no longer possible. There are equally interesting people defending opposing views.
From the legacy world of the so-called philosophy of perception, or of phenomenology, there is an architect who has written widely on these issues, Juhani Pallasmaa, who clearly supports the idea of a relationship with the built world, or the world of artefacts, which has to do with what Pallasmaa calls haptic perception. That is, all senses are part of our relationship with architecture, touch, smell, sight and so on. This is a position obviously inherited from phenomenology and that feeds the route of architects like Peter Zumthor or the Aires Mateus brothers, in short, the entire Mediterranean group fits well in this position.
Another completely different stance defends theories of philosophical pragmatism. It is a completely different relationship in terms of origin of thought. I'm talking about Richard Rorty, a philosopher who has addressed this topic, and feeds an incredible range of approaches, for example, Iñaki Abalos and Juan Herreros speak a lot bout this as pragmatism. Then there is another approach, like the one defended by Rem Koolhaas, which is a kind of denial of the philosophical derivation and support for an analytic relationship with seismographs in the world: the global market, stock markets, migration, the role of infrastructure, and so on. That is, it is another stance that examines the contemporary world, uses its tools and, apparently, combines architecture with these forces, but then takes a critical position about them.
One could go on. Today it is so hard to say “this is the path I choose to take”! It is as if the Labyrinth had several Minotaurs inside but also several lines and therefore the route has to be made. In the words of Ignasi Solà-Morales in a book I like immensely called Topographies of Contemporary Architecture - "today it is necessary to continuously propose the rationale and the proposal." In other words, today we can no longer do this for the long-term. It must be step by step. And the theory of architecture and thought in general are at this point. Let's say there are ideas that propose only a step and not a walk. That's what I feel.
And for students, do you think this will mean that the Schools will disappear? That they will no longer be able to belong to a particular school? Or is it the opposite?
I think it's the opposite. In fact, this is already taking place. I think today it is possible to say so. Not a few years ago, but today yes. What will happen given the general mobility, which is another amazing aspect of our world, is that people will be able to choose the niches with which they identify themselves. And more, they can make a part of their journey in a niche and then another part in other niche. And clearly, this is the position of DA/UAL. Admittedly, it is a school that advocates a certain way of doing things. And this has nothing to do with style, not with the aesthetic form. It has to do with a method that in many aspects is the same over the five years. And it obviously produces architecture with large contact points among themselves.
You're being very optimistic about the future of young architects by saying that they can choose the path they want. Somehow, it is not quite the view that some renowned architects have announced publicly. These have said that architecture is in great crisis and that it is not worth becoming an architect. What do you say to our students and future architects?
With regard to the major architects, I propose a kind of generational conflict. Listening about these views does not make me happy, and we are talking about people I admire deeply. I think those views underestimate the possibility of creating architecture from new conditions.
Some of the architecture that happens today in the world, which has received more coverage in the media, is clearly an architecture operating with constraints. It is being done in developing countries such as Brazil and India, which have come up with incredible answers, as well as in the eye of the storm of civilized Europe, where small practices, small studios, have been completely reinventing the way architecture is being made. So, architecture will always exist, always! We have to accept that each time implies a distinct reflection.
What can I say to those who are now studying architecture? They have to understand the territory where they move very well because it will always be possible to make architecture.
I would also like to raise an issue here: the teaching of architecture and the path of the masters who influenced our work has been anchored in the idea that architecture is forever and that architecture is the discipline of compression, which lives of an idea of physical and intellectual permanence.
What is happening today is that many people are able to generate meaning through their work, denying the permanence, the compression (by compression I mean the idea of gravity and of architecture based on the idea of weight). Therefore, the denial of this is also possible and there is already amazing work being done in Portugal and out of Portugal, whose authors have had the ability to look at constraints as the starting point and completely reinvent this heritage. I believe that the future will be no different. It is impossible for architecture to disappear.
Now, there is a point I'm not so optimistic about, which has to do with numbers. When there are so many architects working, and probably so many good architects working, I would say it is virtually impossible to geographically concentrate them here. What I think is that the Portuguese architects will have to accept that the practice of architecture will have to transcend this country and become architecture of the world. As it has been the case for decades in Italy, France, and the UK. I agree with some things that have been said in the media, that geography will not be just the national one.
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In recent years there have been a number of young architects doing a type of architecture that has had many labels, such as social architecture or disaster context architecture. Some of these projects have even had more media attention than other works by more renowned architects. How do you see this kind of intervention?
I find it interesting when I see architecture, and less interesting when the celebration of an architectural possibility is missing. I risk being misunderstood, but these works that have had great visibility in recent years, often abdicate from taking any position about architecture. It's something else. It is a necessary job, respectable, but, as with everything, it takes hard work, a lot of intuitive ability to generate architecture from such constraints. We have a little bit of everything.
We have situations of the so-called emergency architecture, in a situation of disaster or social support, where the fundamentals are there and so it is possible to generate meaning of what is built. Then we have other situations, which I summarize by calling these works construction. They are construction. I do not think that everything is fantastic. I think it's like everything else. There are houses made by architects who are charged with meaning, others are not. And this world is exactly the same.
But traditionally, they were areas where there were no architects. They were areas where there was self-building, with the occasional intervention by the state but without much intervention from architects. Having architects in these contexts can make a difference?
Having architects involved will always make a difference. Architects are absolutely prepared for synthesis and the overlay. These are two things that very few disciplines can give people. Architects are trained, from the first to the last day, to look at a problem and synthesize it, and to be able to overlay various contributions into a single entity. And this relates to infrastructure but also to the contributions of the social sciences or any other. In this sense, the presence of an architect in any process will always be welcome. This is because the contribution of the architect may be always, and now I will quote Álvaro Siza, "making clear what it is not obvious to others." I believe that we are training people who will contribute to solving difficult problems in unexpected ways.
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You are an editor, curator and been on the board of JA - Journal of Architects. How do you see publications, their importance in the media coverage of certain topics and what topics are urgent?
It's a great question because, whereas on the one hand the so-called Portuguese Architecture has gained a new lease of life - and in that sense I am not pessimistic, there are so many great architects from so many different generations - on the other hand, what I see is that the world of publications, which has always been at the centre of my concerns, is at a loss. I see it as a world that has failed to catch up with the level of care and intensity that practice has attained. The world of publishing has always been an extension of architecture because, traditionally, the works that got published were those considered to be exemplary on several fronts, such as in terms of solving a specific problem, or denoting typological or conceptual radicalism, or due to the fact they were accomplished on very limited budgets. The effect of the architecture-event, the consequence of the absolute aestheticization of architecture as a phenomenon, was lethal - and I'm talking about the international context, what is commonly called the star system. It was deadly.
Suddenly, all the publications believed that by going after the effect of the architecture-event they could somehow succeed. And of course this was not possible, because we cannot have all publications doing the same. When I was a student, the journals fought against each other. Domus wanted one thing, Casabella wanted another, and then El Croquis would come up with a monographic issue about architects who were very little known. I was at university when the first El Croquis issue dedicated to the Herzog & de Meuron studio was published, whose work we knew about because they had published a couple of projects in Casabella. Suddenly, a monographic edition is issued about this pair of architects, publishing a work which, at least for me, did change everything.
Currently, all those magazines are facing a crisis and, moreover, all the others looking for or after a very similar pattern became absolutely homogeneous, and, accordingly, faded away. Today we return to what we already talked about here: it is urgent to have the notion that publishing is to have a stance. It is stating: "I believe in this". This come back has not yet been fully accomplished, after the disaster. And this is not something strictly Portuguese, in Europe, unfortunately, there are very few architecture journals worth buying. And I say this with some sadness.
And does it make sense for a future publication to be a national project? Wouldn’t it make much more sense if it was global? Because, deep down, these more classic publications had a very definite origin and will this come back be successful if based on a similar model?
It's another great question and whoever can answer it, will have some success! But I think it's inevitable, anything today must be international. I think we face the inevitability of being from here and from everywhere simultaneously.
When José Adrião and I made the JA, it was easy because we knew each other very well, and we were clear about what we wanted to bring into it: Latin America, the European context - in its diversity - and, occasionally, architectures from other places. This type of architecture was very difficult to find, but in relation to Latin America and Europe, I think we were able to publish authors, whether in relation to their work or their thinking, who were not trend setters, that is, we published very different views. We had to give voice to other locations, other stances. And in the interviews that was also clear. Listening to Paulo Mendes da Rocha has nothing to do with listening to Lacaton & Vassal, for example. And I must say that for us, as individuals and as architects, it was probably a kind of second school, it was a personal academy.
A feature that has become clearly perceptible in UAL’s degree is internationalization, in terms of lecturers and students, who increasingly have the most diverse origins. How can a degree have an ongoing identity with such a diverse provenance? And what is gained or lost with this diversity?
A few days ago I was interviewed for an exhibition architect Nuno Grande is organizing in Paris, and suddenly I was asked a question about globalization. There is a text on globalization by a philosopher called Homi Bhabha where he expresses a very beautiful idea that goes as follows: "today we live in a global metaphor". The global metaphor has a very simple idea, which is to be open to dialogue. Being open to dialogue means that people with completely different backgrounds can dialogue without losing the enigma of the places they come from. What is fascinating in these students who come to the school - and they do not have that many provenances - is that this provenance will not be lost, that is, with our teaching method they will be able to imprint a bit of that enigma called identity into everything they do. This is clearly seen in the Italian students who come to DA/UAL to study the master degree. It is very clear how they instil their identity on their work.
I believe in this idea of dialogue, I strongly believe in a global metaphor that preserves the enigmas of each individual, and I think this is a job that is not only to be done at school, it is an individual work. Each of us must also want to preserve our individual enigma. We must want to be unrepeatable!