RICARDO CARVALHO . PART 1
It is with great pleasure that we have as our guest the architect and professor Ricardo Carvalho. Welcome! We wanted to start by asking you to tell us a bit about your academic path as a student, who were the most striking teachers or exercises?
Good afternoon. Thanks for the invitation. It is an honour to be here in this succession of guests who, deep down, are the result of the DA/UAL.
To speak of an academic path, in the case of an architect, is always a good way to explain his own work. In my case, we have to go back to the 1990s. I studied at the Faculty of Architecture of the Technical University of Lisbon, between 1990 and 1995. And part of my path is explained by perplexity. I entered a school that was completely adrift, dominated by total absence of debate about architectural topics (or about any other). This led me and my colleagues to look outside the school what learning to think and making architecture meant.
Accordingly, this was when my interest in travelling started. Travelling was a way to become familiar with architectural works that could give me what I could not find at the university. I tried to turn travelling into a practice that belonged to the school, and I did it with some friends. At the time it was most common to travel by train, and we took advantage of the Interrail to go searching for jobs that we found interesting. We also tried to bring the things we liked into architecture, such as music, art, literature, everything happened on the patio and at the cistern of S. Francisco Monastery. All this has produced a way of being at the university that completely transcended what was going on in class.
Of course there are always striking teachers. In my academic path, I would say that Carlos Lameiro and Jorge Spencer, in year two, were absolutely outstanding. It was very difficult to complete year 2 because it was a year of plunging into conceptual issues and into a very particular poetic that was proposed to us, and this meant that we had to work hard. It was very good and interesting. Then the drift continued until I met Manuel Aires Mateus. His radical approach and capacity to deconstruct teaching stereotypes fascinated any architecture student.
Despite the drift I was speaking about, there were great lecturers of Theory and History of Architecture. And it motivated and influenced me to this day. I had great lecturers, such as João Belo Rodeia and Michel Toussaint, who were striking, and also some lecturers of History of Antiquity. Therefore, my degree was done around this puzzle: few people, but very radical people (each in his own way, with great intensity in the way they approached their subjects), travelling and what I call the Parallel Worlds that inform architecture.
I must say that my passage through the Faculty of Architecture was also a challenge in the sense that it was really necessary to be certain that we wanted to be architects before moving on.
Did you give to your choice of architecture very much thought or was it otherwise?
My parents tell that I drew compulsively, using everything at hand. Every day. Every day I offered a drawing to my parents. And these drawings were always two things: portraits of people and invented architectures, castles at sea, palaces that eventually I saw on television and also Russian Orthodox cathedrals, due to their domes and very exotic shape.
My choice of architecture somehow was always present, but not due to family pressure. I do not have architects in the family. My parents found this decision so exotic and yet so real that were really the persons responsible for it. They supported me a lot, bought books on architecture, sought to stimulate conversation around architecture - although not mastering the topic - and in that sense my path was made easier for me. My road was wide open and I went along.
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And in those days the amount of information available about architecture and architects was not as vast as today. Were there any architects who fascinated you already before you went to college?
My relationship with contemporary architecture came very late. It was a relationship that was always established with the architecture of the past, a link to the so called Classical Architecture. The great buildings of the Western world were the buildings that I could discover with my family and discuss them. Interestingly, architecture was not discussed at all at the university, all the great protagonists of the international debate did not teach at the faculty, so my relationship continued to be with the architectures of the past. And while traveling at the age of 18/19, the architecture that I saw - because I was unaware of the rest - continued to be that of Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, Bramante, and Giulio Romano. I can say that the architect I became was an architect deeply influenced by the past, not because of any conceptual programme or built stance, but because it was what I knew. Contemporary architecture came much later.
There was an architect who forever changed my way of looking at architecture. Around the middle of the degree, I read the "Architecture of the City" by Aldo Rossi, and there began an absolute intense relationship. I read everything Aldo Rossi wrote, I went to see his works and at the same time I began to see the works of Álvaro Siza - it is important to say that Siza was not discussed at the Lisbon Faculty of Architecture, we had to figure it out for ourselves and that was what we did. I went to see the pools and the Tea House (Leçada Palmeira) and many other works. Suddenly, these two persons became my guardians. They still are, and it's interesting because they are also the model architects of those who did the degree in the 1980s and eventually the people who did the degree in the 1970s - it seems nothing has changed...
This is to let you know that the stances about the city and the contemporary world of architects such as Rem Koolhaas, for example, were not addressed at the faculty. They were very interesting and contaminated the entire debate since the 1990s, but the school did not have the ability to call onto itself this uneasiness that was happening in Europe, led by the Dutch panorama.
Later, when you were teaching at the Architecture Department of Universidade Moderna, you organised some trips on architecture. Tell us how it went.
Yes. It started with a group of friends from before the university and incorporated people we knew from FAUL, who remained friends. The motive for the trips was architecture but, as we know, architecture is in life. Architecture is there but there are many things happening simultaneously. It began, as I said earlier, with a fascination with Renaissance architecture, so we went to see all those works that we think are foundational.
Then this continued with trips with students, but especially when traveling with the group that was in the Architects Association in the early 2000s, who asked me to extend the group. And so we went to various places in the world to view specific works of architecture. I'm talking about Berlin, Chicago, Mexico City, Los Angeles, Zurich and São Paulo. The trip has become a way of being involved in the subject.
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And when did you become a lecturer?
It was very shortly after finishing the degree. It ended in 1995 and when a degree is over, it opens up a void. In my case it was never a void made of indecision. It was a void made of completely different interests. I wanted to work in architecture but also thought I could experience being a university professor, and also believed that the world of publications and magazines was absolutely compelling. Things turned out to happen at the same time, like many things that happen to us in life, they do not come in chapters! They come in a kind of perfect storm.
Practically at the same time, Joana Vilhena and I ended up receiving requests for architectural work that gravitated in family contacts and managed to set up a tiny studio. At the same time, Michel Toussaint called me to say that the publisher of JA - Journal of Architects, had decided to leave for personal reasons, and that a person was needed to take the magazine forward and the challenge was to take on this position. The answer was obviously yes and I joined Michel. At the same time, with a difference of a few months, the architecture degree of Universidade Moderna, which no longer exists, was going through a crisis in the Project educational programme, and it was necessary to renew the faculty. Accordingly, several new lecturers were appointed to teach various subjects, including Project. And these new people touched closely the panorama of contemporary Portuguese architecture and they touched closely even the DA/UAL. Besides me, there were José Adrião, Ricardo Bak Gordon, Fernando Martins, Pedro Reis, João Santa-Rita, Diogo Burnay, Victor Mestre (I hope I have not forgotten anyone). And suddenly, I was involved in an educational project I knew nothing about and surrounded by amazing people and it was an interesting time. Another interesting moment was when we all went away and that's when Nuno Mateus, who was director of DA/ UAL, realized this movement and asked me if I wanted to join the group. And I immediately said yes!
Does it mean that your first studio work took place at an independent studio? Didn’t you do a traineeship at other architecture studios? In which studios have you been?
I finished the degree in 1995 and immediately afterwards I thought about doing a master degree in London and I applied. But at the same time that this happened, we entered a competition. Joana Vilhena, Gonzalo Castro, Rute Figueiredo and me. This international competition was the Thyssen Award, a very important competition for the new Coach Museum and the Portuguese Equestrian School (exactly on the site where the Coach Museum is now built). It had a panel of excellence, ÁlvaroSiza was a member, and so was Santiago Calatrava. We entered the competition at that moment of hesitation that I spoke about a moment ago, while managing the void. We rented a small flat in Graçato turn into a studio and the first job was that competition. We did it with total dedication, there was also another small project underway but that was "THE" project, and after doing it we thought we had to go with our lives because that was not the way (we had left the faculty only weeks earlier). And suddenly, I was in the studio at night, the phone rang and someone told me: "It is the organization of the competition and you won one of the three first prizes." I remained silent thinking they were joking. The competition had received 250 proposals and we thought it unthinkable that we would have a chance!
This award had three positive points: first, it had enormous media exposure; second, it came with a nice cash prize; and third, it made us believe that it was possible to continue to do something from there. So my work as an architect has always been a shared work between my personal project as an architect with my studio, and working with others. This happened with Fernando Salvador and Margarida Grácio Nunes, who asked me to work with them. it was very easy because their studio was just down the street and it took me five minutes between the two and so I could combine jobs - and it was a great work experience. I think those two architects have a capacity to generate happiness in the studio, and I know that is not a very common thing. And so it was a job that I remember with great happiness. The work I did, which lasted about a year, was the plan for Bica do Sapato - which included two projects, Lux and Bica do Sapato restaurant. After that, with the classes, with the JA - Journal of Architects, and the few jobs Joana and I had in the studio, it became impossible to commit myself to another project Fernando and Margarida tried several times to have me back but it was not possible. I think my life project was the combination of these three things and that is what I have believed in to this day. I still believe in all three. And therefore I have always been a divided architect.
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At some point, you were already teaching at UAL and the opportunity (or logical sequence) of becoming the director of the department...
It was a sequence of many years! Between entering as a lecturer and this happening it took nearly ten years. When I entered, the degree director was Nuno Mateus, who was also the lecturer with whom I taught. So the year 2 team was composed by Nuno Mateus, Fernando Salvador and me. The experience was very interesting because I was progressing in the sense that I was having the experience of several years. First I was in year 2, afterwards in year 3 with Nuno Mateus, and then with José Adrião. I ended up having a very varied experience in terms of partnerships within the DA/UAL.
My progression towards becoming head of the department was different. Nuno left and the school decided that architect João Luís Carrilho da Graça (JLCG) would be the next Director. The condition JLCG imposed was that Flavio Barbini and I would support the board of the department. Flavio ended up being appointed Deputy Director and I became Academic Secretary. JLCG, after a while, maybe a year and a half later, took on other commitments and left and the school had to decide what to do and Flavio Barbini was appointed as Director. I was the best placed person to take on the position as Deputy Director and so it continued for some time. When Flavio Barbini also decided to leave, a new situation came up, this time with a novelty: the new director should be someone with an academic profile that previously had not been necessary. Therefore, I was the person who, on the one hand, had years of experience at the board of the department and, on the other hand, met those other conditions, which was having a PhD and thus meet the requirements imposed by the educational authorities. I was the appropriate person for the job. And here I am.
In your teaching experience, you have always taught Project and also some theoretical subjects. Is your ultimate goal to give your students what you did not have?
I had never thought of that! In fact, I never had what goes on at DA/UAL. I never had, as a student, the feeling of being part of an institution that has a pedagogical project. I think that's what the DA/UAL tries to ensure. And yes, it is! This idea, which is so important to me both in the studio and in the theoretical subjects, may be an answer to the void I felt. No doubt. I would even say that I try that the school establishes an umbilical cord between these students, who, as we know, are quite young, and contemporary culture, precisely because I felt this was not the case when I studied architecture. I think that's important! It is obvious that the history of architecture always acts as architectural culture, but overshadowing what is happening today in a kind of isolation from the world, is missing out. And what I try to do, as an architect and as a lecturer, is to combine the richness that comes from the past with the enormous wealth of the present.
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What is the relationship between your professional practice and what you do in your classes? This is because you give lessons to year 3, the end of the 1st cycle of studies and a very important moment for students. Do you want to tells us a little of your experience?
I have never given classes alone and therefore the construction of the argument has always been made in partnership. In the case of year 3, this construction was deeply shared with José Adrião and Rui Mendes because we built what we wished took place there and that is very simple to explain. What we want happening within the project studio is experimenting with a method.
First, we start with the celebration of architecture. Each student chooses a project from a set of 20/30 works and has to tell us about that work as his own. This architecture work generates a starting point and a celebration of quality. With heterogeneous quality, we get things from Paraguay, which can be works by Solano Benitez, Paulo Mendes da Rocha, Álvaro Siza, Peter Zumthor, whoever. Purposely, the range of choices is very heterogeneous to foster conflict between different positions, approaches, ways to build, the perception of the place, work on the programme, and research of the materiality. Then comes an exercise that is divided into three points: location, programme, material. And so it ends. And what do we want?
We want our students to defend, individually, a position about a place, a point of view that is personal and that is an architectural contribution to the debate; with the programme we want an investigation that will vary from year to year but we never end up having the same programme in class, because we want every student to incorporate, in the proposed topic, another personal space. For example, this semester we are making a seeds’ shelter in a former military settlement in Arrábida, and the idea is that this shelter protects a number of species for the future. There are already some examples built in the world and we ask each student, in parallel to the seeds’ shelter, to propose a programmatic component that he/she thinks makes sense for that place. And lastly, there is the research of the material, which must make the conceptual synthesis of all that has been done before. That is, the construction is obviously the result of a path.
This method requires one thing that some students find difficult to fulfil, and this is why we speak of it being demanding and a banner year: it requires absolute dedication. For each step, students need to contribute with something that nobody else has: our individual world view and our position before a problem. That, for some, is a matter of absolute fascination, for others it is a matter of some anguish.
The relationship between the studio I have with Joana Vilhena and the school studio is umbilical. I do nothing, in one place or another, I do not believe in. I ask nothing, from a student or employee, that I do not believe in myself. The commitment and the demand are exactly the same, that is, they must be total. There is no possibility of separating architecture from life.