MANUEL VICENTE . teaching and practice . part 2

 

About that deep cultural capital, do you think it is still a true capital nowadays? Is it an asset for our new graduate architects? Many of them will work in other countries...

 

I think that cosmopolitanism is a very important thing, and I think I am very cosmopolitan.

I think the Brazilian people are extremely cultured, they arrive here and no one takes away their samba or their Brazilian “feijoada”. Brazilians are very sure of themselves in many ways: they may not have money, but they are not poor souls. They have strong cultural roots, the food, music, rhythm, presence, fascination, being able to look around, of being fascinated by the noises, sounds, flavors… But I think who goes with a void not only has very little to offer, but is also placed in a fragile position regarding others, leaving without any richness, destined to be servants. Who doesn’t say what they want, do what they don’t want, and do what others want. In this sense, I think people shouldn’t be sent into the world unprepared, with very little capital. But on the other hand, I think of some of your colleagues who went abroad, and things that apparently seemed forgotten here are then remembered, and they have in themselves more information than they thought they had.

 

And what is the teacher’s role?

 

As a teacher, I am much more interested that students discover what they didn’t know they knew. The examples we normally give are for them to reach for those memories that they didn’t know they had, intuitions, reasons for which they feel good and don’t know why. When they enter in a coffee shop, why do they choose that corner and not the other one? Why is it a foregone conclusion? And capitalizing that experience, highlighting it, as done in therapy, speak about things, name what we know, establish connections between what we sense but are afraid to mention.

I think it is important that people leave university feeling safe, not so much about their technical ability, but about their humanity, their capacity, to make windows regardless of the casement. Any student, when handing in their final project, shows the story from the inside: “…I go up the stairs, and I have this window in front of me…” – understands how to create a living space, that is not to create an object, it is not an example of design, it is an example of how to create spaces with shapes, inviting to a comfortable living, but with the comfort of body and mind. A person has pleasure, sometimes can even be sitting in an uncomfortable chair, but it is very warm, the sun is coming through the window, and we start talking… Kahn said… It is more important to know what it “is”, than the “how”, because the “how” is discovered in the “doing”.

It may not be handy for business that people don’t know exactly how things are done, but it is much more important in life to know what we want to do, because the “how” is everywhere! You turn on your computer, go to the internet, go to Google, and you find how to do this and that.  I believe things are for people, and not people for things, and even when something seems really complex, building any kind of architecture is not even as half as complex as building a shuttle to go to the moon, or an atomic submarine.

We know exactly how life appears, little by little, then there are some molecules that multiply, some are attracted by the negative charge, others by the positive one, then start to create more complex things, and end up reaching thought and human intelligence…And we have to understand that nothing is created, nothing is lost, everything is transformed, and can’t throw in the towel and quit.

I mean, although at this moment the priorities to invest in intelligence and resources are diverted towards profitable capital gains and revenue – finances have taken over the economy, there is no longer an economic thinking, there is a financial one – and so a big part of humanity’s resources is invested in things that have nothing to do with life, that are no good for progress. For example, there is medicine that isn’t made for Africa because it’s not worth it, the market is not worth producing medicine, and so we live in a world with perverted priorities, by the ruthless logic of capital gains…

I remember very well, when I was younger, people used to say: “How did Alfredo da Silva get rich?”. Well, it was by lending money to widows with a very high interest rate, so, in those days, in my parent’s days, the loan shark, the person from pawn shops, was socially inadequate and no one respected those who got rich through shady businesses, and loaned money with interests, receiving income and rents. These things were not appreciated. “So he would buy that for a penny and sold it for 25 thousand? But isn’t that strange?”. Therefore, this legitimacy, arrogance and superiority of capital gains are something new, recent. I know I am 76 years old, but I perfectly remember that capital wasn’t seen as it is today, people suspected the rich, not only those who explored others, but also suspected those who had new money and even those who lived from their work or business. There was also a lot of corruption in the dictatorship, but now we have “democratized” the corruption when before it was more selective…

 

 

 

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Considering this current global issue – with capital gains ahead of everything else – what is your view about the potential of architecture, what assets of today and tomorrow’s architecture can help develop the world and look at the past?

 

I am an optimist by nature and I am an optimist by principle, by ideology.

 Almada Negreiros, the painter, was once asked if he was a pessimist or an optimist, and he said he was neither, because between him and life there were no misunderstandings. I think the answer is quite nice, I have never forgotten it. I have hope that at the end everything is solved. In the short run, maybe it will be difficult, even tragic, but this is much more relevant for you than for someone my age…

In relation to architecture, what you said about goodwill, about earth bag building, of returning to the past, I believe a production and an industrial machine exist, important and powerful enough in its dimensions, capacities and competencies, and it is not likely to return to adobe and straw. It would be true in a catastrophe if the systems all failed, with no electricity and completely in the dark without information, light, food...We would need to rediscover many things that we don’t even remember. But in a less catastrophic scenario, I believe architecture is necessary for people and we need a space to feel well, comfortable, to be with others and with ourselves.

Here we are living in this studio, office, factory, hospital, man’s dwelling place, where we are supposed to be protected from the inclement weather, this protection is also necessary, places must be sheltered, where it is possible to relax, sleep. Having places connected to the outside, connected to oneself, and it is not just construction, as I say, there is no architecture without construction, but there is a lot of construction without architecture. On the other hand, when construction is mistaken by real estate that turns to an interior decorator to cover up the emptiness and senselessness in which people live in, maybe we are in a vicious cycle, where we can only end up in destruction. What I mean is, I wanted to take from architecture the idea that “…If I have money I will call an architect!”, I wanted  architecture to have a more vital role, I wanted people to be aware that it is necessary to have quality in dwelling, as there is quality in eating.

 

 

 

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I think human beings don’t worry about producing pleasure, about producing comfort. I usually say that those who like what they do are happy, because they don’t have to spend money on whiskey! As João Santa Rita’s mother used to say “Don’t you know that an architect’s beach is his studio?”.  That was really true; working on what you like is truly a pleasure. When work takes over the pleasure of working, when the need (also from Kahn) erases the desire, when a person only produces to receive a salary and needs that salary for car payments, and when his wife tells him that the neighbour has got a better car than theirs, and you don’t have the best scotch whiskey…Your priorities are upside down. Slavery, nowadays, although less complicated and less spectacular, is much more severe and harder than it has ever been before, we are forced to consume. Even pleasure is produced without us and is sold to us, and we all live in obsolescence. Things that were great two years ago no longer are, and I think this is very serious, much more than CO2, or oil, or unsustainable development, a disqualified life is much worse. We have lost touch with what was human, with humanity, that is why I prefer to talk about pleasure, the well being and well living, of a person feeling fulfilled and happy.

Someone whose office is a mess says: “Well, today I cleaned everything, placed things in drawers, books on shelves…I feel great!”. But it is difficult for a factory worker to leave an assembly line feeling great, he has to go for a drink, has to do foolish things, go to the gym… We spend our time doing things to forget what we have done, instead of spending our time finding pleasure, happiness, well being, well living, be in peace.

You don’t need to go out every night, to go dancing, you just need to be good, to be in peace, to be free of problems: “...It is going to be awful tomorrow, there will be traffic, the subway will break down, and I have to leave half an hour earlier or else I will lose the bus…”. We should not live under all this stress. Or even live on one side of the city and work on the opposite end.  We should be able to work close to home. This perfect city without cars, which I don’t agree with, could be true if people made short commutes. However, if a person lives in Oeiras and works in Setúbal, it is very difficult, it doesn’t make sense. And with the crisis, they increase the price of public transportation, now it doesn’t make sense, and if a person loses their job, it makes even less sense.

 

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A person can’t live this way, it’s horrible, and I hope that at some point people may say: “ I can’t take it any longer! Not like this! I can’t!”. I think people have to say this is enough, like the verses of José Régio: “…I don’t know where I am going, but I know I’m not going that way…”. And i think this is a citizen’s right, people’s rights, when people are finally able to say: -“But I don’t want to go that way!”, -“Then you will starve to death!”, -“So I will starve, so what!”. It’s better to die of hunger then to die of indignity. This is way I think architecture is a vital parte of people’s needs, architecture has always been done, and dwelling has always been celebrated. They would even paint in caves and would keep record … That’s what gave them pleasure in cave painting, which shows your soul, of man’s joy at work! As Ruskin said, a person must have joy at work, many times we are in our studios working on a project, and there is a point when a person does something they really like – at least in the studios I used to go to - “Come here, everybody come here and see this, isn’t this great?!”, we have to tell, to show, we need to have these explosions of joy.  

Each person is an individual and should create his own opportunities. I used to say that if I hadn’t had a university degree something I wouldn’t have minded was to be a chauffeur or a mason. I think it must be interesting to be in a construction site, placing the bricks and watching the wall raise. And a chauffeur because I like cars, I like riding in a car, I’m a traveller, I have a lot of fun riding in a car, even when I’m not the driver, because I like to see the world go by and choose what I what to see. An architect can be a chauffeur, or a mason, he can be whatever he wants, as long as he’s happy. I hope I can be an architect, but the profession can be done in an alienating and alienated way. Sometimes I think I should have been a mason.

 

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Although I am an optimist, I think there isn’t an answer at the moment, only if you could work in developing countries, I think it can be very gratifying there. There is no bigger pleasure than watching something grow, being built and becoming something. That is happiness!

 

for more photographs see in: http://bit.ly/Kq3LsG and http://bit.ly/J99JOq - by João Carmo Simões