Transcripción de la conversación mantenida en Julio de 2010 entre ARQUITECTURA-G, Enric Ruiz Geli y Ekhi Lopetegi, en la coctelería Belvedere de Barcelona. El texto se ha publicado en la revista Apartamento Magazine #6.
A veces las cosas se complican y no transcurren tal y como uno había planeado. Esto, claro está, depende de las variables con las que interactuas. En este caso mantener una conversación con Enric Ruiz Geli ha sido mas confuso de lo previsto, hasta el punto de que cuando consigues charlar con él no estas seguro de estar hablando con él o su holograma. Sus constantes idas y venidas por todo el mundo complican la coincidencia y la convierten casi más en un accidente.
En este número hablamos sobre su inconclusa y constante Villa Nurbs una vez mas en la estimada compañía de Ekhi Lopetegi.
La casa está literalmente insertada a base de cimentación profunda en pleno Empuriabrava a modo de irreverente catalizador, con la voluntad de generar consciencia. Es el resultado inacabado de un intenso proceso de 9 años que aún continua y que la convierte en una casa cargada de acontecimientos que la van conformando. En este largo periodo al margen de todo proceso y plazo habitual en el mundo de la construcción de una vivienda unifamiliar, la interacción entre el futuro habitante, el arquitecto y la casa se ha convertido en “uno”, y en nuestra opinión ahí radica el éxito de la villa nurbs. Esta atmósfera de positivismo, de hipertecnología, de accidente como acontecimiento generador y de lo virtual como real son Enric Ruiz Geli, Cloud 9 y Villa Nurbs… ¿Juegas?
Para introducir la conversación, publicamos algunos extractos del texto ‘Form and Function Follow Climate':
Form and Function Follow Climate (Philippe Rahm, 2007)
Sustainable development policies are a major factor driving the formal upheaval we are witnessing in architecture today. This upheaval may be less “visible” than the arrival of reinforced concrete at the beginning of the 20th century, or the transformation of design by digital technologies at the end of the 20th century, mainly because it affects not the physical structure or appearance of the building, but rather what we don’t see, what is typically designated “space and energy management” – ventilation, heating, and lighting.
The term “sustainability” was defined in 1987 by the World Commission on the Environment and Development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” For architecture, this translates into a goal of substantial reduction of a building’s energy consumption. The means for achieving this have been understood for some years now. Some recent proposals point to the profound modification of architectural form and function, which is where we are most engaged. This means pinning down architecture’s plastic, critical, and future-friendly potential.
the most ecological type of building is one that is totally isolated from, and autonomous within, its context and regulates all exchanges with the natural environment. This paradox indicates the need to break with habits and preconceptions about dwelling if we are to create new and sustainable approaches to the architectural form of the house.
Up to the present time, two major (if conflicting) theories regarding the relationship between programme and architectural form have been advanced. The notion of heroic modernity, founded on Louis Sullivan’s late 19th-century dictum, “form follows function,” challenged the purely symbolic and decorative status of architecture. Rationalist, functionalist, and universalist, the new architecture existed to give “appropriate form” to functions predetermined at the social, technical, and ergonomic levels. Architecture was simply the spatial expression of programme, with no allowance for subsidiary semantic or affective input. In the 1960s, that credo was challenged by Louis Kahn and others, who asserted that “function follows form.” The notion of the brief was criticised as too univocal an approach to needs and activities and it was argued that needs can change. The history of architecture bears witness to the fact that architectural form persists, unlike programme and function, which are continually in flux.
The aim of our work is to consider the form/function relationship from the point of view of architecture’s contingent relationship with climate. The goal is to come up with an architecture free of formal and functional predeterminations, a de-programmed architecture that is open to variations of season and weather conditions, day/night transitions, the passage of time, and the appearance of novel functions and unexpected forms. What we are working toward is a reversal of the traditional approach to design in order to achieve a new spatial organisation in which function and form can emerge spontaneously in response to climate. We propose to work with the very matter of space, the density of air, and the intensity of light, and to offer architecture as a geography, an open-ended, shifting weather system embracing different climates and atmospheric qualities to be occupied and used according to our needs and desires, the time of day, and the season. We would like to replace functional and symbolic constraints with a freedom of use and interpretation opening onto unexplored dimensions in which architecture generates an emergence of times, spaces, and practices within the very matter of which it is made.
The history of architecture and the city is rich in examples of how an initially physical cause has been the trigger for social, cultural, and political forms and interpretations. Venice owes its urban shape and the charm of its little squares or campi solely to the lack of a potable water source. When we enjoy the pleasures of these spaces and admire the way they function as focal points for social interaction, it is important to remember that the campo was conceived as an ingenious catchment system for rainwater, which was then channelled to a central well. Its shape and size was determined by the amount of water to be collected and the number of people living in the surrounding houses. From the architectural point of view, the form of dwellings typically responds to climatic conditions. The courtyard that is central to the layout of houses in desert regions, for example, merely expresses the need for an outdoor space protected from sandstorms, and its relatively small size stems from the need to avoid low-pressure areas. It had no fixed use at the beginning, which is why its function varies from one culture and period to another. Whether it became a water collection point, service area, garden, or foyer, its use might also change over the course of the day with temperature variations. The vertical stratification of dwellings was another widely used gambit, producing interior spaces that varied in temperature, humidity, and luminosity.
These disparate examples illustrate how, in effect, form and function follow climate.
There exists an entire archaeology of building typologies. It consists of a field littered with old programmes, rooms whose functions are obsolete, the ruins of activities that have ceased, vanished lifestyles, antiquated arrangements, and decadent habits.
What interests us is how an architectural problem or solution has the potential to give rise to new and unforeseeable ways of living, in the way, say, that the Islamic moucharabieh, a latticed balcony whose origin is traceable to the practical need to filter the harsh sunlight of the region and to cool interiors by air filtration, inspired an ambiguous rapport between interior and exterior spaces that conditioned the rise of an elaborate social interplay. (…) What interests us is the capacity of architecture not to be tied to function, but to be open to interpretation, free, that is, not necessarily responding to a preconceived function, but suggesting or facilitating through its response to climatic problems or new technologies the rise of a new function. What interests us here is to liberate built space from exclusively functional determinations in order to render it interpretable.
“La forma sigue a la función”, “la función sigue a la forma” o “la forma y la función siguen al clima” son tres postulados que por separado, entendidos en su tiempo y contexto sociocultural, pueden resultar certeros. Sin embargo, vivimos un tiempo en el que las tres afirmaciones coexisten, siendo a la vez ciertas aunque haya una paradoja en ello. No se trata ya de buscar maneras de hacer desde la ruptura con los dogmas del pasado, sino de comprender que la arquitectura contemporánea debe tener en cuenta que el punto de partida ya es complejo per se al partir de verdades contradictorias.
No es una situación nueva, pero sí puede serlo el considerarla punto de partida siendo una de sus variables más importantes la gestión energética. En nuestra opinión, a diferencia de lo que dice Philippe Rahm, el “moucharabieh” de la arquitectura islámica ejemplifica lo antiguo de esta coexistencia; el clima propicia su aparición, ya que define una necesidad que requiere una solución. La función es, en principio, de control climático, pero su forma hace que surjan nuevas funciones (filtro social).
Cuando un cliente nos traslada un encargo, deberíamos ser conscientes de que nuestra responsabilidad es la de ser gestores del flujo de un conocimiento que no es axiomático, sino multicapa y difuso. En este sentido, Alan Moore dice que “A medida que nuestra cultura progresa, vemos que reunimos más y más información y que lentamente nos empezamos a mover casi desde una forma fluida a un estado vaporoso, a medida que nos acercamos a la complejidad definitiva del punto de ebullición social.”
¿En este contexto, debe ser nuestra respuesta algo que vaya más allá del objeto, del resultado demandado por el cliente? ¿Cual es la respuesta de la villa nurbs a esta realidad cada vez más entrópica?
ENRIC RUIZ GELI
Me interesa mucho eso de la realidad líquida como estadio previo a lo vaporoso, que creo que es el tiempo donde estamos ahora. Es un líquido continuo donde yo, que soy de Figueres, estoy, y en serio, estoy. Haces una cosa en Empuriabrava, de máximo nivel, fuerte, y estás en el MoMA. Antes del “líquido”, en la jerarquía de nodos, tenías que triunfar en Figueres, luego en Barcelona, luego en Madrid, y en Londres y en Nueva York. Ahora estamos en esa especie de todo relacionado, estadio previo a lo gaseoso.
Los de mi generación somos arquitectos que venimos de la “Escuela Barcelona”, arquitectos de las olimpiadas del 92, del “todo emerge del contexto”. Y eso puede ser posible, pero cuando tienes un contexto. El contexto ha estado muy sobrevalorado estos años, porque cuando el contexto -como en Empuriabrava, ubicación de Villa Nurbs- es tonto, es estúpido, es “Disney”, es comercial, no sé si nos va a decir algo de cara al proyecto. Entonces es cuando la arquitectura es añadir, inyectar optimismo, innovación a un contexto tonto. Nuestra actitud siempre ha sido “ser Tim Burton en Disney”.
En esta ciudad, en España, en Europa hay un establishment, una mesa política o de negociación. Nosotros no queremos estar en la calle gritando, sino como greenpeace, entre la ballena entre y el arpón. Queremos estar en la mesa de negociación, delante de ellos, con el político, queremos ser “terroristas positivos” en Disney. Porque para ser hacker se necesita un sistema que hackear.
Somos innovadores porque hay un sistema, no hay establishment y off-establishment, no se está on u off, sino que para nosotros ahora todo es un liquido, y ahí estamos totalmente de acuerdo con vosotros.
Teniendo esto en cuenta, me gustaría contar de dónde sale este proyecto del que queréis hablar. Mi madre me llama diciendo que unos amigos quieren encargarme una reforma. Amigos, reforma… son dos palabras que resultan peligrosas, además, en esa época yo estaba centrado en concursos internacionales. En fin, quedé con los clientes y el proyecto nació en un café. Ellos me dijeron “Enric, nosotros cuidamos a las personas con comida”. Yo pensaba ¿Y el programa? ¿Y el presupuesto? Silencio. Entonces entré en el juego y les dije “yo cuido de las personas con el espacio”. Fin de la reunión.
Al volver al estudio, la lectura que hice es que la relación que teníamos con el cliente era abstracta, no paramétrica o de datos, y que eso podía ser una oportunidad. Lo que hicimos fue, en un mes, construir 25 maquetas de hielo del volumen posible desde las restricciones de la normativa urbanística: 6m de altura, 15m por los lindes… Lo hicimos con agua porque Villa Nurbs es Empuriabrava, y Empuriabrava es un marketing de canales, de agua etc.
En esa época estábamos muy relacionados con la teoría del accidente, de “A landscape of events” de Paul Virilio, de ver la realidad como un paisaje de hitos, picos, y sobre todo de tiempo que moldea. Debido a esto, en las 25 maquetas de hielo, provocamos 25 accidentes de deshielo diferentes; con un golpe, gota a gota, insertando una barra caliente, con un cubo de agua etc. Se iban fotografiando para documentar el deshielo en el tiempo, y con eso se generó un mapa que llevamos a la segunda reunión.
La volumetría previa la daba la normativa urbanística; lo tienes todo, la altura, el volumen, distancia al canal. A la vez no tienes nada. A ese volumen, que en ese contexto todo el mundo ha traducido en masía neofolkórika con torre, se le añaden accidentes, entropía, e indeterminación. Nuestro objetivo era demostrarles a todos que la normativa podía permitir una abstracción, que si un arquitecto toma una actitud este proyecto puede derivar en un accidente colectivo de ésta familia.
Entonces, al enseñarles a los clientes el mapa con los 25 accidentes posibles, él cedió elegantemente el testigo a su mujer. Ella tras hacer un rápido escáner de las posibilidades, eligió cual era su casa. Era un accidente bastante orgánico, con una especie de río en medio con pequeñas colinas al lado. De vuelta al despacho ya sabíamos cual era el accidente de los posibles. La acción con ellos siempre ha sido esta, producir accidentes y que ellos elijan. Así se han decidido las pautas y qué picos les interesaban. Las decisiones importantes del proyecto las han tomado ellos, nosotros hemos excitado unas lineas de acción, pero nada más. Más adelante, Terence Riley del MoMA traduce esto como “arquitectura performativa”, pero esto pasa 10 años después.
Se piensa en la idea de Nurbs como Villa, no hay villas y casas sino que todo el mundo se merece una villa, una idea muy democrática, de arquitectura socialista. Otra cosa es Nurbs. El nombre de una complejidad, de una geometría, un nombre de software, o un apellido. Es una cosa muy estrategica, hacia dónde vamos? Hacia una linea de soft, y empieza a ser un proyecto blando.
Hay 2 cuestiones que me preocupan y que me gustaría tratar de forma preliminar, para luego entrar a analizar en detalle la villa Nurbs.
La proposición de que los tres postulados mencionados coexisten es interesante. Es como si uno no pudiera hoy elegir entre uno u otro. Sin embargo, parece que la cuestión del clima se impone cuanto menos por el peso y el volumen que adquiere en los debates de hoy.
En la cuestión del clima se oculta un movimiento que reduce la arquitectura a gestión energética, y esto significa que la reduce al trabajo de reducir el gasto energético al máximo, la convierte en un trabajo de eficiencia energética (funcionalismo energético). Y aquí hay toda una concepción del espacio que cambia y que Philippe Rahm ejemplifica en uno de sus proyectos:
“Public space becomes the place where the quality of the air is defined” (Public Air)
El gasto inútil, el excedente no productivo de energía es reconocido como un principio de desorden a evitar y es el principio contra el cual la arquitectura se define. Ese gasto es lo que a largo plazo no es sostenible, lo que volviéndose contra la arquitectura la amenaza.
Esta mutación de la arquitectura va de la mano de la historia del capitalismo. En realidad no es sino la respuesta arquitectónica al desarrollo del capitalismo. En ese sentido su carácter novedoso es relativo. Digamos que simplemente le va a la zaga. La sostenibilidad significa “explotación sostenible” de recursos energéticos (naturales, humanos) en un contexto en el que el capitalismo ha convertido el planeta en un vertedero (humano, natural) insostenible que amenaza su propia reproducción. Se entiende que el gasto que amenaza lo arquitectónico es lo mismo que hace que el desarrollo del capitalismo pueda ser insostenible.
Lo sostenible es como hacer ejercicio para evitar la ansiedad en una situación de stress (situación amenazante). Lo que revela que antes de nada está la situación de stress (insostenible) después de lo cual se pretende a medida de corrección adquirir un nuevo hábito (sostenible). Lo sostenible se enmarca así en el contexto de una terapeútica global de lo natural y lo humano (poder terapeútico).Y si el discurso de la sostenibilidad no señala la fuente de stress simplemente no da en el clavo.
En este contexto una pregunta que enlaza con el problema planteado por ARQUITECTURA-G: ¿Puede la arquitectura contentarse con ser “sostenible”?
Ahora me gustaría tratar un problema espacial a la luz de la villa Nurbs. Para Rahm el espacio está lleno de corrientes de aire, de calor, flujos electromagnéticos de información… No trabaja el vacío sino que pretende modular lo lleno. De ahí que el diagrama pase a ser la herramienta de modulación central. Y la arquitectura se convierte así en una arquitectura compleja y de lo complejo. En este ejercicio el espacio se concibe como pura materialidad, parece que Rahm quisiera descubrirnos que la realidad última y esencial del espacio es su materialidad energética.
Es llamativo en ese sentido el ejercicio de Pulmonary Space en el que se nos quiere dar a entender que la música tiene una corporalidad y ocupa un espacio (me cuesta creer que Hegel no supiera que la voz mueve cantidades de aire), igual que en la cita anterior de Public Air se nos recuerda que el espacio público es el lugar donde se define cierta calidad del aire.
Lo que yo creo que olvida esta concepción del espacio es que el hecho de que el espacio sea materia y que la música también lo sea no reduce ni uno ni otro a las variables materiales que lo componen. Poniendo otro ejemplo: los componentes químicos de la pintura no reducen el fenómeno de lo pictórico a lo químico. Del mismo modo, los componentes energéticos de la arquitectura no reducen la realidad de lo arquitectónico a simple energía. Lo pictórico como lo arquitectural hallan sus rasgos distintivos en otro orden que precisamente los distingue.
El ejemplo del “moucharabieh”: es solución climática y filtro social. Bien, pero entonces hemos de cuestionar también cuál es su consistencia estética, por ejemplo. Y por otro lado, ¿no funda también una realidad espacial, arquitectónica, formal, estrechamente vinculada con una instauración de lugares? ¿No es el Moucharabieh parte de la actividad (arquitectónica) de fundar espacios y determinar la realidad espacial circundante, de una manera de habitar un espacio? ¿No hay aquí algo más propio a la arquitectura que la función climática o social?
Entonces, ¿cómo compagina la villa nurbs su consistencia climática y la realidad espacial arquitectónica? ¿Qué nos dice acerca de lo que significa habitar una casa?
ENRIC RUIZ GELI
Hay una decisión muy radical; separar el hard del soft. La casa es sólo soft, es interfaz, tiene sensores, vigila, tiene inteligencia distribuida, pero toda máquina está fuera. Es una “mochila de astronauta” que hemos creado, un mueble longitudinal, donde está de manera más obvia la maquinaria de la piscina, pero también todo lo demás, como el extractor de la cocina etc. El extractor está a 25 metros de la presencia humana. Si abres la nevera no te encuentras una nevera, sino una interfaz de frío, la máquina que lo produce está a 25 metros. Para aspirar la suciedad hay únicamente interfaz; el tubo y el agujero donde se conecta, pero no hay una aspiradora. El motor está a 35 metros. La casa es puro soft, es un objeto con el que tienes interacción .Dentro de Villa Nurbs escuchas la música de Berenguer, pero el lector no está ahí. Sólo hay interfaz. Hay gente? Hay luz. No hay gente? No hay luz. Cuando estás en un punto el sonido está en ese punto. Es un sistema de seguimiento de habitantes. Es “from geopolitics to biosphere politics”.
La geopolítica habla de estado, ciudad, nación, pueblo, parque energético, parque tecnológico, esto es, tú estás consumiendo en un yate pero no sabes de dónde viene ese petroleo. La biosfera política es sé lo que produzco, sé mi huella ecológica hoy. La política de biosfera es que si ese yate necesita petroleo, tienes un desembarcadero que lo produce. Llegas a ese desembarcadero y está pinchando en petroleo. Es una consciencia muy conectada al planeta, esa necesidad.
Todo esto hace que las máquinas sean casi industriales, metamáquinas, no pequeños utensilios optimizados, sino grandes trastos. Lo que produce, es -dentro de esta linea de apartamento- un espacio ubicuo, y aquí es donde empezamos a ser gaseosos, en esa idea donde me alineo mucho con vosotros. ¿Qué es la ubicuidad? Es esa idea de buscar la abstracción. Si escuchamos a Virilio, que habla mucho de accidentes, de eventos, habla de lo que hoy llamaríamos diseño paramétrico, con una barra de códigos/acciones. Hoy, traducido a lenguaje de arquitectos, es diseño paramétrico, pero en realidad lo que nos interesa son los objetivos. ¿Hacia dónde vamos? A un mundo abstracto, y esta abstracción tiene que ver con el mundo natural. La naturaleza tiene apariencia de orden, de equilibrio, pero el 99,7% de sucesos es accidente, azar, indeterminación…que hace que suceda, y esto conecta con john cage, con esta linea, y con lo que dice Ekhi.
También tiene que ver con Cloud 9. Cloud es gaseoso, es nube, algo abstracto. En una nube los niños ven figuras, nosotros vemos clima, otros ven edificios… Por ejemplo Diller-Scofidio vieron un pabellón. Cloud también es open, como dice Manuel Gausa en su libro. Nine; el número 9 es la nube perfecta en la cultura americana, la alemana le asigna un 7, wolke 7. En españa también se le asigna un 7, pero cielo 7. Ahí entra en juego el colectivo. Ese viaje diario de interrelación entre la ciencia -números- y ficción -nube- nos hace ser arquitectos. No puedo estar más de acuerdo con que Villa Nurbs es una nube desde la visión, poesía, paisaje, territorio, ambición, música… pero Villa Nurbs, como una nube, contiene 6 u 8 patentes de innovacion, que es algo muy concreto.
Además de eso, habéis hablado de sostenibilidad y también me querría posicionar en ese sentido. Se está hablando todo el día de ello, pero como sustantivo, y en arquitectura ya saltamos de sustantivo a proceso, hay que dejar atrás el sustantivo y su peso. Hace unos 5 ó 7 años la sostenibilidad giraba alrededor de ese grupo americano de gurús. Al Gore; una película, William McDonough;un libro. Una cultura muy americana en definitiva.
Ahora estamos viviendo un tiempo, como el del feminismo alemán de los 90, de “fase talibán” de la sostenibilidad. Recordaréis aquellos anuncios de “el padre no limpia los platos en casa”. Es ese periodo poco inteligente pero que hay que pasar, que es el periodo de las listas. ¿Tú recoges agua de la lluvia? No. Pues tachado. Estamos en esa fase tan poco creativa de cumplir con los requisitos de las listas, certificados etc. Además de eso están los lobbys como Shell, Exxon…Exxon ha sido la empresa más importante del petroleo en los EEUU, y ahora lanzan unas salvajes campañas de marketing talibán de “estamos investigando con algas, no os precupéis, hay muchas, nuestro negocio seguirá”… Y no, oigan, son ustedes unos ladrones. Qué disfráz…
Eso en el líquido no pasa, en el líquido del que estamos hablando. En el líquido Villa Nurbs no hay listas. Pero este es el momento y creo vamos a ser de las últimas arquitecturas de la edad del petróleo. Espero que el mediatic (reciente proyecto de Cloud 9) sea más un edificio post-oil, que sea de los primeros. Dejemos de hablar de energía, hablemos de civilización. Dejemos de hablar de ciencia, hablemos de humanismo. Dejemos de hablar de certificados y listas, hablemos de consciencia. La consciencia es muy importante.
La idea de “soft” como espacio abstracto habitable nos parece muy atractiva. En esta casa hay por lo tanto un ente auxiliar que no es habitable, sino pura maquinaria (que transforma electricidad en acción) que es el fuera, y después el espacio abstracto y habitable que configura el dentro. Sin embargo la distancia hacia la maquinaria no hace que esta desaparezca, sino que crezca. Este tamaño le otorga presencia y por lo tanto el habitante tiene inevitablemente consciencia de su existencia, pero creemos que también puede tenerla el que arrastra su aspirador tradicional.
Villa Nurbs puede interpretarse como un escenario. Cuando asistes a una obra de teatro, hay un escenario con el que interaccionas, y múltiples elementos ocultos en la tramoya de los que no participas pero que hacen que la obra suceda. De hecho, cuanto más oculto esté lo que no sea el escenario más mágico parece todo. Al salir, lo real es lo que has vivido, lo sucedido en el escenario. Villa nurbs puede que sea un escenario en el que puedes habitar, pero a diferencia del teatro y su tramoya -la “mochila de astronauta”- también es real. Por mucho que haya un espacio que sea pura interfaz, algo limpio, existe la realidad constante de lo sucio. Está a 25 metros pero exige limpiar los filtros de la piscina, su mantenimiento y vivirlo en el día a día.
Entendemos que esto entronca con lo que comentabas al principio (Enric) de estar on u off, dentro o fuera, y de la necesidad del sistema para estar fuera de él y parece un posicionamiento ideológico, casi de manifiesto, el disponer la vivienda así. El espacio habitable de Villa Nurbs es soft porque tiene un hard que le da soporte, es un ente solo relativamente autónomo. ¿En el estado vaporoso hacia el que vamos sería necesario ese hard o se nutriría de la “nube”? ¿Es honesta o es una declaración de intenciones que no llega a lo que quiere ser? ¿Qué tiene ahora la villa de producción de energía y recursos?
Por otro lado, has hablado de consciencia de la huella ecológica. En este sentido creemos que Villa Nurbs, por los materiales que la construyen podría estar sujeta a cierta crítica, por la energía necesaria tanto para su construcción como para su derribo y la compleja reciclabilidad de algunos de estos materiales, como por ejemplo el hormigon armado. En este sentido entendemos que Villa Nurbs esta sujeta a unos ideales politicos muy fuertes pero que a su vez tambien atiende al “deseo” propiamente arquitectónico. Los accidentes responden a un orden caprichoso y su formalización a ese deseo.
ENRIC RUIZ GELI
Seguro que puede haber cierta crítica sobre la huella ecológica. Pero aún no sabemos realmente de esto, sabemos lo que dice el libro “cradle to cradle” de McDonough, hay mapas de transporte de materialidad, pero muy escasos. Hemos llegado a materiales certificados, sí, pero no tenemos el mapa de ese material. Hay estos restaurantes kilometro 0, con 80% de productos de a menos de 100km de distancia del establecimiento. Aún estamos en estrategias, mapas, pero aún no hay un “know how”, nosotros al menos no lo tenemos.
Aparte de eso, creo que Villa Nurbs es honesta, no creo que se quede a medio camino. He hablado de esa relación mochila-astronauta, no cuerpo-maquina. En el estudio estamos actualmente muy relacionados con Jeremy Rifkin, y en este momento la producción de energía, la maquinaria, los molinos, fotovoltaica…es algo que no vemos como sociedad. Nosotros no queremos estar en una red sólo gaseosa dependiendo de una red central, queremos ser independientes. En villa nurbs cultivaríamos algas para producir biodiesel, pero no en una central. Situar la maquinaria ahí es para lograr una relación de consciencia con el habitante. Si estás únicamente en ese estado gaseoso pierdes esa sensación de dónde están las máquinas.
Sobre la otra cuestión, tiene toda esta cosa de las placas solares, un molino de eje vertical de microgeneración eólica, tiene varias cosas pero es que todavía está en construcción. Lo que tiene es un “mueble energético”. En palabras de Iñaki Ábalos, “una infraestructura”, en palabras de Philippe Rahm, el “hard energético necesario para la creación de atmósferas”, para nosotros es esa relacion de consciencia. Tú tienes que ser consciente deadónde estás enchufado. Igual que la casa no tiene una losa de cimentación sino unos micropilotis para estar enchufada al lugar, aunque la veas “muy ovni” tiene raíces, y eso ellos lo saben, saben que tiene 18m de profundidad, y eso nos lleva según palabras de Jeremy Rifkin “hacia una civilicación empatica” que eso es, no puede decir que sea donde ahora estamos, porque es una obra, un escenario en construcción, no está habitado aún, pero vamos a una civilización empática.
Ahora la arquitectura -los edificios- es el principal consumidor,el principal productor de cambio climático. Según la ONU somos el 35% de esa causa, la movilidad está en el 32% aunque se hable mucho de los coches, y no hay conciencia de eso.
Una civilización empática produce energía limpia, los edificios son productores de energía, no en un modelo centralizado sino distribuido, con la idea de “smart grid”. Esa “mochila de astronauta” es un nodo de una “smart grid”, y sabes exactamente lo que estás produciendo y consumiendo. Es una relación tan clara como la del que tiene un huerto y consume de él. Algo muy empatico.
Ahora, España tiene el 80% de la producción energética en argelia, gas. Estamos como rusia y alemania, pendientes de un tubo, como EEUU con Irak, pendientes de un tubo. La biosfera política es sé lo que produzco, sé mi huella ecológica hoy. Por eso no es un problema tener máquinas aquí al lado, te dan consciencia, que es lo que buscamos junto a Jeremy.
Si veis, esto es matemática, una lista, y luego está lo gaseoso, y yo estoy ahí, alineado con vosotros. En este territorio de biosfera no hablaremos de listas, hablaremos de alineación, que es la palabra clave en este mundo gaseoso, que las particulas gaseosas se alineen.
Recapitulando ideas parece que una importante es la de ‘soft’, la de ‘interfaz’, superficie. Qué es esta superficie? Es una superficie de interacción que es a su vez ‘medio’. La casa es sólo medio, aquello con y en lo que se ‘media’. Supongo que de ahí el concepto de ‘performativo’. Una arquitectura performativa aspira a ser una arquitectura que se juega, no en el sentido lúdico del término ‘juego’ sino en el técnico. Cuando se juega se procede, se siguen reglas de procedimiento técnicas y se llevan a cabo operaciones válidas o inválidas. Es una noción procedimental y relacional del espacio, pragmática como se podría entender en filosofía del lenguaje, muy ligada a la acción, a la performance. Todo esto se comprende en las nociones de ‘soft’ e ‘interfaz’.
Sin embargo, esto que es muy contemporáneo se deja de lado aquello que en mi opinión caracteriza a la arquitectura de una forma más importante. Me gustaría pensar que la arquitectura es también la actividad de construir y darnos a nosotros mismos una casa, de ofrecernos un cobijo. No nos invita a jugar y efectuar ‘performances’ confundiéndonos con la liquidez o vaporosidad del medio, sino que quiere delimitar el espacio de una estancia. No es blanda, es dura como una piedra que marca un lugar y permanece. Y esto es performativo en otro sentido, pues la marca produce un lugar que no precede a la operación de marcaje.
Pero sobretodo en la arquitectura nos damos cobijo. Aparece aquí una dimensión ética y política. Ética porque entendida así la arquitectura apunta al otro, el cobijo te lo doy a ti, y así nos lo damos a nosotros mismos.Y política, porque esta fuerza de encuentro con el otro que posee la actividad de producir lugares y darnos cobijo tiene una consistencia que ninguna política de la biosfera debería olvidar. Las políticas de la biosfera podrán ser más actuales que la geopolítica, pero no por ello se garantizan peso político alguno. Se trata de la redefinición de las reglas de juego y del diseño de una interfaz acorde a esas reglas, pero debería ir más allá. El ‘soft’ no requiere de lugares, ni siquiera requiere de un tú ni de un yo, solo procura que se ‘proceda’ en general.
No se trata de menospreciar lo blando, de olvidar todo ese aspecto técnico contemporáneo que define la forma en que producimos el espacio y lo habitamos hoy. Se trata de no olvidar que ese no es el rasgo más esencial de la arquitectura, aquello que le da concreción. La arquitectura se ocupa de algo más. Lo propio de una casa no es ser software, interfaz, aunque esa pueda ser una característica. La arquitectura de la superficie no puede caer en lo superficial. Me gustaría pensar que el trabajo del arquitecto fuera otro, menos blando, más duro, no tan jovial quizá pero más determinante.
Published at Apartamento Magazine #5
Photography: Iwan Baan and Pablo Zuloaga
Apartamento Magazine shows peoples’ houses in a hyper-realistic manner, dealing in a raw way with all that a house and living in it supposes; how do we approach and adapt to a space until we make it ours. This process is a mixture of eventful and strategic decisions, of layers piling up along the way. It builds a place we feel is our own, where we find shelter, the answer to the instinctual need of having somewhere to feel safe.
This accumulation of decisions, full of unforeseen events and surprises, increases several times over when you build your own house. It’s a process of intellectualization of the burrow instinct where you don’t only choose where to build, but also how.
This is the case of the Madrilenian architectural practice Selgascano, lead by Lucía Cano and José Selgas. They’ve built their own house –the conversation’s protagonist- alongside their own studio in a wooded plot in La Florida, Madrid.
The house has been adapted to its environment, filling up the blank space left by existing trees and vegetation. In this way it is adapted but not hidden, we could say it cohabits alongside nature; conscious of the implications of building a place, it settles into the plot making it habitable. We think that this way of settling down, of understanding the environment in terms of coexistence, being in it more than starting a dialogue with it, is the great value of this house, and it tells us something of the way of life of its inhabitants.
This time, we want to open the conversation with a self-portrait of the photographer Jürgen Teller. One more time, we share the discussion with Ekhi Lopetegi, PhD and musician, along with José Selgas from SelgasCano.
The ideal commission for an architect could be to build his own home, giving shape to his own desires without any client obstacles, working for somebody with his own interests and objectives at heart. However, is this truly an advantage?
Building your own home is kind of an intense exercise in psychoanalysis; you will ultimately give expression to all your particular needs and desires of that specific period of time (or perhaps in the immediate future). You know that all the decisions will be your own, and as such they will be laden with all your insecurities. Experimenting with yourself and all that you are is relatively easy, the tough thing is knowing that your decisions and conclusions will crystallize in a definite period of time. You can decide to plan for an open and alterable system that responds to your changes in your life, and you can regret it later.
Jürgen Teller (Germany, 1964) has photographed himself throughout his career as a photographer, exposing himself to the camera in a sincere way-often nude-even photographing his own child as an image of himself. His photos are an accurate vision of a person in the living moment. When we have a look at our own pictures in old photo albums we can see and feel a lot of things, sometimes we cannot even recognize the person we are looking at. We can experience nostalgia, anger, embarrassment and tenderness or perhaps even all of them simultaneously.
The difference between a house and a recorded diary is that you cannot hide the building, you live in it. You constantly live in the person you were when project decisions were made. The photographer, by contrast, can constantly update his image and his world, creating a new facsimile of himself with the click of a button. This is why in self-referencing “auto-architecture” you will either assume your past condition or you will have the insatiable necessity to renew and modify the place in which you are living; the “The Quince Tree Sun” syndrome. In the film by Víctor Erice, protagonist Antonio López finds himself faced with the impossibility of capturing a quince continuously changing with the weather and season, where natural evolution is faster than technique, ultimately abandoning his painting.
Could the same thing happen when building one’s own home?
This statement “building your own home” refers to several problems, it may be said to embody the problem that defined the period of Modernity that has now ceased to exist. Perhaps the “building your own home” problem has been redefined. It may be right to question ourselves about what it has meant, to illuminate what that ideal could mean nowadays. I will set it out firstly as a generic problem and then stick to more detailed, specific matters.
If we locate this within Modernity, the ideal of building one’s own home responds to the idea of self-determination- in terms of a free individual capable of deciding about himself, the reality that surrounds him, and about his destiny. It refers to the centrality of a subject that constitutes and determines himself, and that in the same movement, determines reality or the world that will be his reality from now on. From Descartes to Kant we have attended to the philosophical constitution of this character category on the knowledge level. Subsequently, this knowledge subject will settle on a practical-historic character that will see the possibility of constituting himself as an individual by the realization of a historical project. Thus, the appearance of the different historical projects, the articulation of what is known as the different meta-narratives of Modernity, the Enlightenment project, Marxism, the artistic Avant-garde project (historical-political art articulation), and even projects of Nazism. The Second World War was the event that marked the collision of all these projects, its dramatic end, and the beginning of their decline,completed from the 70-80s onwards. In all of them the same ideal: “building one’s own home”, the proletariat individual’s “home”, the bourgeois citizen’s “home”, the German people’s “home”.
How has architecture been articulated during this period? It has answered this historical movement by building from an empty orthogonal plane, from the “tabula rasa” that will serve as the support of a reality that will be the reality of the individual who is building it, the one that has acted out this erasure and the operation of building “himself” from the initial and empty plane. As it is explained in the description for the Silicon House, “Le Corbusier said he wanted the empty La Tourette courtyard to be populated naturally with vegetation, by birds and the wind”. Our “home” will be able to accommodate the whole of nature, birds, wind or vegetation, but only inasmuch as our nature can be within the emptiness that we have opened when building; in the space we have given to nature. Suddenly, there has been a brutal inversion of the terms because we have become the support and possibility of nature, whereas until now, nature was the plane that held us, the plane that we inhabit in all its gaps, in the irregular hollows that she has granted to us. The City is the reality that exemplifies this inversion.
But the Silicon House seems to set out the problem of building a home from a kind of a retreat, from the humility of the one that builds in the spaces that have been awarded to us. If we take a look to the plan, the house dwells in the pre-existing space and builds up in relation to it, through the protection of the existing vegetation, “the wind and the birds”, to be left buried, discreet in its visibility. However the care for details, the furniture, the window wall, the separation between the interior and the exterior, simultaneously reminds us of what we understand as a ‘modern’ house. There is both rupture and continuity.
On the other side, we have the portrait of Jürgen Teller who looks impassively toward the camera, with an air of indifference. In this look something like a “who” appears, a question about who is the person we are looking at, who are we that are actually looking. In the meticulous attention to detail in the Silicon House, in that house built to the architect’s own tastes, there does not appear to be something like a question about the “who” behind the construction of the house, someone who has decided about each aspect of his house and leaves something like a trace or a footprint. And yet this trace, as in the photograph, doesn’t refer to an autonomous individual that determines his world, but to a more humble one that, just as the house appears between the gaps of its construction, like retreating when it appears. What does it mean to be an architect and what does it mean to build? Does it mean to be an author and so have authority over a work that houses nature itself? How have the architect’s aspirations changed? And how does it redefine, in light of everything that has been discussed, the problem of “building somebody’s own home”?
…well, this is kind of curious. We raised the idea of “building something for yourself” as a positive matter and we have always seen it as a neutral and totally inert matter among the work presented. In the object-scene, object-program, object-economy relation circle, we have tried to leave the “creator”, as we could call it, on the sidelines. It’s not the artist that is interesting, but the work he creates and the art this work involves. We always set this house out to be impersonal and that is why it obeys to certain factors where individual subjectivity is not involved. Because we have always thought that this kind of subjectivity is harmful. We are not interested in works clearly linked to the individual, but rather works that stand on their own – the more anonymous the better. This house came up quickly, forced by elements never linked to a particular personality, but to general needs; in the same way we conceive other projects. There is no client, but instead a program, an economy and a scene defined by that particular client.
It is because of all this that Jurgen Teller interests us more as a fashion photographer, who manipulates his images the way he wants, rather than in the lazy freedom of his self portraits. The work of Cindy Sherman, as an extreme example, in her conceptual decision to always take photographs of herself, seems to us an irreparable hindrance and thus, so limited that her job becomes only one: Cindy Sherman. We think that Jurgen Teller reaches a richness and spontaneity in his fashion photographs, despite all the preparation of the execution, that the fixed pictures of himself do not have. And that is something that scares us in any matter: the fixed decisions, the lack of spontaneity, the immobility of thoughts. We define ourselves in undefinition. That is why what we like the most among Jurgen Teller’s work are the pictures of the young models who knock on his studio door, inbetween the street and his studio, between pose and spontaneity, at any time of day.
We absolutely agree with what you say about the “work by” and also with the notion that the final result is what matters above all. Be it in architecture, art, or any discipline, you will be judged by what you produce. If Teller’s self portraits don’t emanate spontaneity, is simply because he knows exactly when he is going to shoot, as does everyone who takes a picture of themselves. There’s something about this also when you build your own house, where one chooses a strategy, a series of rules to hold on, imposed by something alien could be a way. Can we state then, that the produced object is better if you work from a distance? However, whoever the house is for, the subjectivity is unavoidable.
For us is difficult to believe that this project only obeys factors which are foreign to subjectivity, due to the fact that the one who expresses the needs and the program, and the one who filters these to create an architectural object is the same person. That distance you talked about is possible, but subjectivity is inherent to any architecture, and in this case the architect is the client with needs and a budget as well.
Let’s focus on the Silicon House. You talk about generic needs, about approaching the project from the distance, more like the manner of a surgeon who arrives, operates and then leaves as opposed to the doctor who is emotionally implicated. You also talk about the almost spontaneous sprouting of the project too. Even when some distance from a subjective engagement is possible when approaching the project, the house looks meticulous, with a lot of attention to detail, and is relatively complex when considered formally. To us this doesn’t suggest a short process.
That quick sprouting can be partially understood because the building’s placement within the site is determined by the decision to submit to nature. This decision could be attributed to humility as Ekhi mentions, but it is a strategic gesture which lets us glimpse who is behind and this in turn makes that neutrality disappear. On the other hand, you say that fixed decisions and the lack of spontaneity frightens you, but in the project process some spontaneous decisions may arise that will end up as fixed ones. How then, is spontaneity defined in architecture?
There are some interesting things here. On one hand, to build your own house can lead you to fall into the trap self-referentiality, as in the case of Cindy Sherman. That claustrophobic self-referentiality can threaten the architect who builds his own house too, and in fact is in some sense a paradigmatic feature of modern architecture. To me the question is not so much to do with the objectivity/subjectivity opposition, but with spontaneity, understood as the possibility of the unprecedented or the randomly fortuitous.
I’m not sure about if it’s possible to de-subjectivize the architecture by the simple removal of the client or user factor, replacing it with an X and developing a program from a generic-objective point of view. For example, modern architecture comes from supposedly objective assumptions: the design for an X user/client and the abandonment of the decorative whim, the expendable ornament, to dive into a construction that responds to the irrefutable functionality-universality axiom. For doing that, “the tabula rasa” is essential, to start from zero over a blank slate. Accordingly, responsibility and total control of construction falls on the architect, and the surprise factor gets dissolved within that movement. Only time with its irreversible dimension is able to bring back the singularity conferred by ageing, deterioration and its random future. It is when the house escapes from the jaws of program and of that kind of demiurge-architect. However, the modern architect who designs upon that blank page with the distance of his supposedly objective knowledge bumps into himself again and again, and this is remarkable as well. There’s not any spatial confusion for him, he controls everything and establishes the bases or framework in which house is going to be (objectively) built. In short, as if he was Cindy Sherman, he can’t come away from himself and persists claustrophobically in that “sameness”, objective and subjective at the same time.
The claim of confusion and spatial tension by postmodern architecture (Venturi) is nothing but a report of that self-referential aspect of architecture. The Situationists (and in a more banal and foolish way, Archigram) tried to push architecture against itself from inside modernism, to add chance, spontaneity and functional variability making an attempt against self-referentiality. Recently, Sou Fujimoto with his idea of “cave”, both familiar and hostile ambience, wants to introduce the “otherness” in architecture escaping from self-referential “sameness” characteristic of modern architecture. So, what is spontaneity in architecture? Presumably it has to do with the degree of uncertainty a house can contain. “We define ourselves in undefinition” is a statement that can be understood in this last context. But isn’t Silicon House seemingly an example of the opposite? What idea of objectivity and spontaneity does it reflect? What degree of uncertainty does it contain?
It would be important to define if when we talk about spontaneity we are talking about the process prior to the object, that is, decision making, or if we are talking about spontaneity in terms of judging the built object and/or the way in which it is lived. Also, to know if this dissociation is possible or not.
All right, let’s collect and sort things: on one hand: spontaneity, otherness, surprise, randomness, singularity, the unprecedented, confusion, situationism, uncertainty, doctors. On the other: the blank page, surgeons, distance, the generic, self-referencing, functionality, claustrophobia, demiurgy, tabula rasa. In principle it seems easy to choose between the two packs. And we are easy. But if we try to distribute into each pack the two terms of the duality subjectivity/objectivity, it doesn’t appear to be so clear. This means then that the subjective and objective is in fact not so important, that it is potentially something avoidable.
Let’s move on. Among all those words we picked we set aside one word that interests and takes up us a lot: irreversibility- with its two connotations: static irreversibility and dynamic irreversibility. The first one belonging to matter and the second to time, we are interested in the former due to the need to quantify, control and to reduce the irreversibility of the built matter. This seems to be obvious and more and more unavoidable. The second obeys time, specifically the part of time Ekhi mentions: the wearing and addition of layers over the work, and this fascinates and excites us. As instigators of this, and spectators of its variables. But it also obeys to the part of time that belongs to the construction phase. And this is our favourite track, it’s there where we play intensely and also where another word that still hasn’t appeared and relates with the previous one comes out: empiricism. When we complained to the contractor due to some issue related to the construction of the house he always dodged it with the same response “this is not a house, it’s an experiment!” And he was right. Copying Saul Bellow we would say that our specialty is the common details of everyday life. It is in this reality where spontaneity is born again and again, where each mistake can become the greatest success, where if inhabit it would exist. And this lack of control, that always has worried us, is something we learnt to use, to work alongside and to not to be afraid. However, we don’t know in which of these two packs this so called objective spontaneity fits, so dependednt on proximity to the construction site as it is to distance from a project.
In a few existing videos of Oteiza, you can see the sculptor constructing a volume with chalk, accumulating the pieces, dividing them, and sanding them. When it seems that he has finished, he moves away, observes the piece and blows on it to remove the remaining powder. In this moment a piece crumbles from the work and, after an initial fit of anger, he observes it again and exclaims, “this way … this way it´s much better!” His conclusion shows the experimental character of the sculptor and his work, in which the random, the dynamic and the static, are each an indispensable and necessary part.
It is a good idea to establish this separation. On the one hand are the quantifiable and the necessary which are both increasingly imposed upon architecture. On the other hand is the oxygen that supposes being spectator of the infinite variables to use it and to manipulate it in favor of the project and it´s development over time.
It is a discourse connected to the workings of Olafur Eliasson who, when speaking about the manners of representing reality, proposes that the barrier between the model and the finished object has disappeared, giving rise to the understanding that they are in fact co-producers of reality. He says specifically: “It seems necessary to insist on an alternative that recognises the fundamental connection and the interaction among space and time and we ourselves; since the models consist of two fundamental qualities, structure and time …The conception of static and clearly definable space happens to be so, untenable and undesirable”. Moreover, spontaneity is not plannable nor calculable, and this in itself is a failure. When Ekhi speaks about Sou Fujimoto’s work, and his conception of spaces of uncertainty, we might understand them in the sense that they are “planned”. Wouldn´t this predetermine something that in itself is not determinable? Wouldn´t this be the demiurge architect’s position?
The Silicon House, is actually constructed from a classic form, with a clear differentiation between day and night time spaces, separated by a transparent entry hall that acts like an indefinite transition. A distribution corridor leads to all the rooms. It is functional housing above all but we agree with you in that experimentation is given not only in terms of new typologies, but also in the investigation of new possibilities. This experimentation can be come about in the understanding and manipulation of the standard details of everyday life.
Cassavetes constructed his films based on these details of daily life. Every shot was studied and planned, but at the same moment the random and the spontaneous were essential. A laugh gave way to a frantic scene. We would never speak about a controlled lack of control, but rather about the conscience of a control and a tension that can break in any moment and become disordered. To use this lack of control in order for the result to be real, everyday life. This is the quality that still makes the cinema of Cassavetes experimental.
Here are several notions of “spontaneity” and “random” in play. On one hand there is time and structure, or time as it undermines the structure and modifies it, breaking the spatial consistency of the building. Time is understood here as “the arrow of the time” the thermodynamic that breaks the functional order of the machine, makes it tend toward disorder because absolute efficiency is impossible- there is always a loss of energy that just vanishes- that doesn´t manage to turn into “work” (in “function”), an unproductive “expense” that coincides with the disorder of the system.
In architecture, the house-machine works but only under the condition of its tendency to stop working, its functional efficiency is not absolute or it is only an ideal, and therefore with time this model becomes worn out and breaks down. Although now the idea of the house as machine tends to give a sense of disorder, it does not mean that it stops being a house. It does not make it useless, nor is it something that one should be sorry about, because this process puts the house in the position to incorporate in its interior the unheard of, the unexpected, the unconceived, that “other” thing that couldn´t be designed, that had nothing to do with the project. And that “other” thing comes to meet the house is simultaneously a loss and the possibility to reconfigure the house, the possibility that the house finds a line of variation or evolution.
That which seems to be abstract is experienced on a mundane and daily level, it is experienced every day and certainly not only from the point of view of the architect, but from the point of view of the one who inhabits the house, who is ‘there’ in a house or an apartment. Therefore, it may be worthwhile as a note to characterise the architecture itself, the house as well as the inhabiting itself. Deleuze in his reflections on writing noted that:
“Writing undoubtedly is not to impose a form (of expression) to a lived matter. The literature is praised rather towards the formless, or the unfinished, as Gombrowicz said and did. Writing is a matter of developing, always unfinished, always in process, and that exceeds any matter livable or lived. ” (G. Deleuze, Critique et Clinique, capitulo “la literature et la vie” 1993)
To impose a form upon matter is in a sense to project, to establish the form of a project, but in light of everything said in our conversation we can probably agree that architecture does not consist solely of that, but that it is also a “matter of becoming” that “tends towards the formless”.And so with inhabiting, which is not to remain in the “habitual”, but to be at the crossover with the inedit. Inhabiting is a matter of developing. How is it possible to explain if not for the vivacious and problematic character of any already inhabited house, with its disorder as well as its order, its variations and the constant misappropriation of the proper program that gave place to the project in the first place?
Time, the inhabiting as to evolve, returns to the space its problematic and vivacious character (a “step of Life” says Deleuze), it poses the space as a problem rather than a result (in the project), because it is linked to an existence (the inhabitant). The space happens to be the mark or rather the set of marks (details) of the one who inhabits it. This connects with another idea of spontaneity and random that has been considered- the question of the ‘details’.
‘Imposing a form’ is always to project ‘ roughly’, broadly speaking, it is to fix a clear idea (a ‘type’, a ‘typology’) of the proper housing by means of the combination of well defined segments. The house appears in this way as a complete thing, a totality. The question now is where does the minute attention to detail lead us to? The detail is given in another absolutely different region, it´s not a question of big blocks but of features and how many features form a face? Wittgenstein illustrated language and it´s incomplete character with the following metaphor: “how many streets make up a city?” In the same vein, how many details make up a house?
When we work at the level of detail we run the risk of getting lost in an endless and infinite activity of adding or removing details. Why? Because the detail is concerned with the partial look of the thing, it´s a question of perception, of perspective, and the list of possible looks, of sides or perspectives which is in principle infinite. Paradoxically, the quantity of details is not quantificable. And this does not only happen from the point of view of the one who looks at the house or the one who inhabits it, it happens also in the moment itself of the creation of the house. Suddenly, that demiurgo-architect runs the risk that if he gets lost in the details, he will lose also the house and his work. But is it not the danger of getting lost in the detail, losing also the house or the work also the opportunity to open it or for it to be opened to new possibilities? Isn´t this loss an inexhaustible source of innovation?
The detail is a fragment of ill-defined contours that establishes relationships with other details and fragments. Yet nevertheless, all these details together never make “a” thing. Here is again how a house finds again a principle of spontaneity and chance that undoes its own foundations to open it up to development. The structural, the quantifiable, falls apart in one indefinite series of fragments or unquantifiable details. Is the Silicon House example of this?
From everything that has been mentioned, we would like to comment on two words. Firstly, Detail: We do not understand the detail as the sum of something but instead as the concealment of something (to hide can also be synonymous of remain, although this is not so usual). The detail does not give, but also it shouldn´t take. For us the detail is obligatory: It an obligation to place insulation to control the temperature and it is obligatory to hide the insulator in order to protect it from exposure to ultraviolet rays. There is a sum of obligations and the detail is the resolution that is given to the totality of the addition rather than to each of its addends. We like the assumption that in our works, with the time we put in and in the multiple site visits we do, some people who work in them end up perfectly guessing, and before us, how the details are supposed to be realised. This means that the details could not be drawn but read in a manual: when you try to solve the stairs that are in front of the views you try to do them with the least matter as is structurally possible, so that one does not obscure the views, etc. With previous training any person would solve these details in the same way that any of us would do so. Before taking this position we confused solving a detail with something that had more to do with make-up, but it was a very impoverished option, that was rejected as it merged in addition with something unnecessary. Now we have also eliminated from the detail the concept of perfection; there is only one reason to reject a detail, that would be because it did not work, but never because it is shoddy. The variable of sloppiness is now one of the few local identifiers that are left.
Secondly, Inhabit: If to be a man means to inhabit, as Heidegger clarified for us, to be a man today must be to inhabit with the least transformation of the taken space. We insist: taken space, conquered, occupied, invaded. This house which is the focus of this chatter is no more than a roof (by orography two roofs) without major pretensions. But it is a roof that allows the full awareness of the terrain that surrounds us. Honestly this is the only thing that distinguishes it, though with its semiburied image we understand that it can be associated with a certain asceticism. To do this we build cornered in a static, minimal production, the minimum required. Passing inhabiting to be a mere contemplating. Not to be contemplated. And this cannot be confused with humility but with the search, with a discovery, with the recognition that our enjoyment was already there before our arrival, having only to apply our sense simply in taking care, guarding it. Because the “it” doesn´t belong to us.
Coincidentally when the Heidegger clarifies that ” the aptitude to allow that land and sky, divine and mortal, enter simply in the things, has been what has raised the house”, he doesn´t talk about his house, but about any house and clearly of this house, which is one that centres these opinions.
It seems like this time the conversation has not presented one particularly strong thread, but rather several different aspects have been brought up and illuminated, characteristics that are interesting. I have gotten the impression that at the end you seem to confirm a very pragmatic understanding of your house. You began explaining how you had a very objective vision of your own house, and ended talking about the functional character of the detail beyond its aesthetic value. I find it particularly interesting that in the latest comment you speak about the idea of doing without even the necessity of drawing a detail, since the detail is only what allows us to break the impasse at a certain point in time, to solve a purely circumstantial difficulty according to a procedural rule (the manual). Pragmatic and procedural idea of the detail, therefore. Finally, you understand the discretion of the house as a practical appropriation of the land, and not just simple asceticism.
Undoubtably answers pertaining to the other questions that have also been mentioned are present in the house, its autobiographical character, the question of one’s own house, the idea of spontaneity, the detail, but you do make emphasis on certain distance with which you would like to understand the house. Because in the end it is said well, that as the “it” belongs to no one, it is necessary to take care or guard over it. We could play with the words and reformulate the guiding question: it is not so much like ” constructing one’s own house by himself” like “construct himself one his own house”, being that “himself” impersonal priority in relation to personal his (or the “one” understood with his anonymous character). But this shouldn´t mean asceticism, because taking a space for living is to take, to invade, to delimit, to appropriate and at the same time it is a search, a finding. It´s about how to understand the appropriation, or rather, the relation that the appropriation maintains with the “it”, referring ultimately to the problem of the being. And this house, that roof which throws light over the ground that surrounds it is this one and no other, its essential, common characteristic to any house or to all houses that are properly a house. Because a house makes the world and surroundings appear like that where the house was already included in a certain way, and the land here is “world” and not “nature”.
Once again, perhaps through other means, Heidegger appears and establishes the premise or the last axiom of architecture: The “it” is not ours, we only take care of it. It seems that architecture today insistently tries to get rid off that “it”, that it had devoured, as if it was a luck of ethical exigency that determined it since the beginning.
Published at Apartamento Magazine #4
Translation: Débora Antscherl and Miriam Gerace
Photography: Iwan Baan
In a sequence of scenes from the film “F for Fake”, Orson Welles tells a story where Picasso notices a girl named Oja whom he seduces and takes back to his studio. She sits for him as he frantically paints a series of 22 nudes that she gets him to give her before she leaves. A few days later as he reads the paper, stingy Picasso learns of an art opening featuring 22 of his paintings which critics have hailed as a true renaissance for the painter. Picasso hurries to Paris to claim his share, as he had expressly prohibited the sale of the gift. As he enters the gallery he is surprised by the beauty of the paintings, but not as much as by the fact that they were not painted by him but rather were authored by Oja’s grandfather, a master art forger. Irritated, Picasso demands his originals only to find out from Oja that they no longer exist because her grandfather decided to burn them.
Beyond how the story may unfold we are drawn to the uncertainty generated by the act of burning originals: the uncertainty of what was only once an original but no longer as it does not exist and the uncertainty of what to now call something that used to be a copy.
For artist Gabriel Orozco, all of this is somehow embodied by “Casa Obsevatorio”. Built by the young architecture studio of Tatiana Bilbao (Mexico) in collaboration with Orozco, the house sits overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Puerto Escondido, Mexico.
As per the artist’s own wishes, the residence is an exact reproduction of one of the architectural pieces from the Jantar Mantar astronomical observatory in Delhi, India, built by Maharaja Jai Singh II of Jaipur from 1724 onwards. It is a simple cruciform construction made of concrete and wood with a large semispherical concavity in the center dividing the floor into four sections.
We find the house fascinating because it proposes many themes from different vantage points, among which we will mostly focus on the reproduction factor and its architectural consequences. With this in mind, we will use as introduction a text from “the Work of Art in the age of Mechanical Reproduction” (Walter Benjamin, 1936), then we have a conversation with Tatiana herself and once again with Ekhi Lopetegi, Ph.D. in Philosophy and musician.
Plagiarism means copying with the impossibility of reliving the moment of creation. Thus the copy becomes an empty object.
Architecture is intimately rooted to its function, to a time and place. When we copy it and de-contextualize it, we rob all this from it and it is left stripped of meaning.
In this case, one of the many architectural pieces from the Maharaja Jai Singh II observatory in Jaipur is reproduced and transformed into a residence. Replicating this piece in another context liberates it of meaning and renders it blank so it can acquire a different one.
Does this produce a new self-identity or is it just a formal whim? Will the entire intellectual process leading up to this, more befitting of artistic production, all in all yield an architectural piece?
From another perspective, we stand before a good example of a summer house, properly rooted to its place though it has a completely foreign origin. The sections are independent and outward facing, with external areas for daily activities like bathing and eating. The interior-exterior relationship in the house is not intended to blur the architecture or de-materialize the border of what has been built. It is achieved in a more primitive fashion by turning out part of the plan to the outside. It is a matter of climate and the nature of summer or even vacation living.
The pool is of vital importance in the transformation of the nature of the house from its previous conception as an observatory. On the one hand, by filling the hemisphere with water and converting it into a pool, the original meaning is de-naturalized and the structure becomes domestic and summery. On the other hand, it is the central piece around which the residential sections are organized radially, thus forcing the circulation to the outside.
We believe that in this instance we transcend the traditional conception of place as well as the contextualization of the architecture added to it. But was this by accident?
I think that Casa Observatorio’s distinguishing factor is that it is a product of an “aesthetic decision”. This is why the construction of the house produced a discussion about whether or not it is possible to build and occupy a site by following the principles laid out by the concept of copy, or mimesis.
As the house purports to “represent” the original observatory, it is understood that at first glance and as a product of this aestheticization, a displacement occurs that goes from what it is to occupy a space and “use” it or “practice” in it, to what it is to “see” or “contemplate” an object. Now, neither astronomical observatories nor houses are aesthetic objects per se: observatories are scientific research complexes and houses are organized residential and spatial complexes. Setting aside the possibility of the house perhaps also being an observatory in a different sense, we can say that here the “gesture” made manifest is one of an aesthetic materialization of both the scientific and the residential complexes. Postmodern architecture is often illustrated with examples where a similar displacement occurs, as for example a building shaped like a basket or like any figurative motif around which the intention is to organize habitability. Here, the original observatory, the scientific complex, is in fact the figurative motif governing over, at least partially, the construction of the house. I believe we can agree that Casa Observatorio “looks like” the Jaipur Observatory.
Generally speaking, architecture made only to be seen is branded as grandiose. And generally speaking, architecture claims to be engineering purely for the sake of the pragmatic. Such is the quintessential modern architectural ideal. However, it would be a fallacy to believe in an exclusively functional architecture of a sort of functional purity. Any construction functions both as an example of spatial organization and as an aesthetic object to be contemplated that produces an “aesthetic experience”. This is why architecture magazines include more than just scale drawings, floor plans and diagrams to illustrate houses, and usually have a “spectacular” shot of the façade or something along those lines. Any architectural construction is an aesthetic “object” simultaneously experienced as such and as a residential complex. In this sense, architecture often becomes iconic, meaning that it turns into a symbol or it is granted a symbolic meaning. It is debatable whether every house is “a priori” a symbol or if it is only “a posteriori” that the house-machine becomes a “representational object”. Without delving too much into detail, or discussing whether or not “every architectural construction is an aesthetic object” (I believe some examples in history do not square with that definition, at least not immediately), suppose we at least agree that in the era known as Modernity it is not unusual for the reception of an architectural construction to take place in the form of aesthetic contemplation nor is it rare for us to experience this event.
The first distinguishing trait of Casa Observatorio is that it brings to light all these complex relationships between functionality and the aesthetic experience. What experience does the house bring forward? The experience one has of the observatory is not a scientific one but rather an aesthetic experience brought on by observing the sky. According to Gabriel Orozco himself, water, the fundamental protagonist of the house, functions when it is still and does not flow, like a mirror. Therefore, this “observatory” leads to the observation of the sky as it appears symbolically reflected on the watery surface of the pool. Through this game of reflections the water doubles into the sky and the sky into the water. Through this doubling, the concavity of the pool stands before another great concave form: the celestial cavity. Because the roof of the house acts as the horizontal plane, it becomes extended into the very horizon à propos to which it was placed. This horizontality is perhaps the building’s main line of force. Now, the house as a horizon exists in the same fold as the one between sky and water, the same boundary or area at the aperture-fold between the sky and the house. Horizon, house, and sky: together forming a receptive complex. Is such receptivity questionable from a volumetric vantage point? Is the house an open volume, is its geometry dynamic and open? It could be argued that the fact that it has been surrendered as a figurative motif is not necessarily an obstacle for this to be true. Pure geometry could argue that the symmetric and closed “cross floor plan” was in fact conceived as a static and not dynamic form. Suppose we set this discussion aside, as it is separate from the house and its purposes that are more symbolic than they are formal. I think we can agree that the formation or the moment of happening for this receptive complex occurs at a symbolic level.
But not just that. Since its center is taken, the house “expels” residents from a center to which they have no access. The centrifugal nature of the house organizes the possible uses of space. The facilities as well as the circulation routes are established on the margins of the house and in some sense they are in themselves marginal. Why? Because just as the pool establishes a connection with the sky, placing the house outside of itself, so are the inhabitants expelled out and into the margins of the house -the horizontal surface of the observatory- and forced to reside, meaning “make use of”, this symbolic receptive space made up of the observatory-horizon-sky triad. The residents are tossed out, or rather “tucked in”, to this engrossing and receptive place. On the whole, I believe the house speaks of (1) the non-private and therefore public nature of residential spaces, where the possibility of a private life is snatched from under us, forcing us to be exposed to the exterior (the house has no “interior”); and (2) the receptive and hospitable nature of an exterior space comprised by reciprocal sky-observatory reflections that fold out into the horizon like a third dimension and creating a symbolically receptive space where we go through the aesthetic experience of feeling tucked in and in some sense protected (however exposed).
Working through this project as an aesthetic decision led me to imagine the path to its ultimate execution. The decision to “reproduce” a space designed to be an observatory, to de-contextualize it and “use” it with a completely different function in my mind could only be feasible if it was an aesthetic decision to begin with. As this was in fact true and, as he was quick to point out, considering that we felt like we were personally taking on part of Gabriel’s work, it was difficult to question from a perspective of architecture, of the resulting space. Without a doubt, reproduction, de-contextualization and change of function remained our core goals and through them the space would eventually take up an identity of its own. In terms of authenticity, since Gabriel’s practice mostly deals with the use of objects, elements, spaces and sensation- inducing scenarios, the extreme detachment of his work from today’s I.T. era where everything has a “logical reason” of being is also obvious as such. The fact that it is the reproduction of something ceases to be our problem as its “aura” now resides elsewhere. The same thing happens exactly when we go see a movie featuring a reproduced landscape, as we do not expect to see or capture the “aura” generated by the original landscape as experienced live, but rather one based on filmic reproduction, storyline, camera perspective and character direction. Herein resides the “aura” of this house. As much as the actual use of these objects, elements and moments is the validating point in Gabriel’s practice, the established sensations associated to an object, in this case, are the artist’s primary concern. I could have never fathomed the result because through the process for me space had been just that, an aesthetic decision as part of an artistic practice based on the creation of sensations rooted on the everyday, reproduction and the use of something that already exists. Only once the piece stood executed and able to lapse into its everyday did it as an object become an inhabitable space, and only then was I able to understand it as an architectural piece. The transformation in perception took place when it was understood that the space perfectly responded to the family habits and purposes. As soon as I saw the “object” as used and inhabited, the “symbolic” space quickly became the everyday space the family was accustomed to reside. The house that seems to expel its inhabitants from its center manages to produce a familiar experience for every one of its inhabitants. For example, this family is used to going camping together through the different beaches of the Mexican Republic, mostly up and down this particular extension of the Pacific coast. Suddenly, here they have a place where they can emulate their past experience, only in a much more sedentary way. In a campsite, private space becomes remarkably reduced and “expels” you from its interior as it encourages any activity outside of itself. The strictly intimate activities are relegated to this space, but everything else is experienced in reference to its context, the sky, the horizon. In a campsite, the “residents” relate directly with their environment; the social dynamic becomes increasingly collective as many of the activities are shared, both the intimate and more socially interpersonal events. The cohabitation space integrates to the site, something we see in the house. The intimate activities, the bedrooms, are what the tent is to the campsite, articulated by an observation and recreational unit conveying coherence and meaning to both space and activity and therefore defining the everyday. In terms of its function, the house incorporates the iconic facet of architecture, defined as such because it responds to a function.
As we discuss Gabriel Orozco’s relationship to authorship, we remember that the authorship of the house belongs to no one. Although the artist includes the house in his practice, there is no question of there being an original construction, Orozco’s decision to reproduce it and Tatiana’s task of adapting it and building it. Therefore, the final result would not have been possible had it not been for its three “parents”. The relationships in Orozco’s work are established by the choice of an element, an a priori, that is then transformed and presented as something removed from its original condition, retaining its chosen recognizable element and thus producing a particular sensation for the spectator. We do not believe this to lead us to the destruction of the aura that Benjamin speaks of, but to a “superimposition of auras”. When a non-serial piece is reproduced, whatever its condition, and the resulting copy is an element so similar to the original it could potentially replace it, we then convene that the result is an insubstantial object. Now, in this house the purpose is not to create an identical copy, as the new house will have its own “here and now” purpose to it. However, as the result is so geometrically similar to the original, one resists losing the sensations provoked by the same. This culminates in a superimposed aura cohabitation that clearly contributes an added value to the residence. In terms of the permanence of the aura, instead alluding to cinematography as Tatiana did we could allude to contemporary music, mostly electronic: musicians use samples and become part of a song so they can de-contextualize it and construct around it a new theme where we can identify what has been sampled as cohabitating with the artist’s superimposed creation. However, we also want to delve into the symbolic connotations of the house. As compared to the displacement operating in some postmodern pieces mentioned by Ekhi -where an object with a clearly denotative meaning was taken from the collective unconscious and transposed onto a building- this house goes further than that whether or not it intended to do so. The building is based on an original construction devoted to the observation of the sky, the investigation of the unknown in a necessarily nocturnal setting, and was (still is) a machine designed to bring us closer to the stars and the intangible. In this sense, its line of environmental interaction is essentially vertical. On the other hand, its Greek cross floor plan connotes horizontality and an earth-oriented aperture. In any case, it is not a symbol of a religious event but of a search of what transcends us. And speaking of the cruciform floor plan, we would like to ask Tatiana to discuss another element of great symbolism: its orientation, whether it responds to the original, to the place where the house can be found. We have also observed with interest the centrifugal nature of the residence, as it provides for an absence of interior diagonal views that enables an atypical aesthetic experience but mostly because the very residence is forced out to the perimeters. Notwithstanding the upper levels, that is, on the ground floor, a clear hierarchy is established: 1. An unattainable center, 2. The bedrooms, 3. The exterior spaces in between the bedrooms and 4. The region of uncertainty immediately adjacent to the house. One could argue that such a clear hierarchy between the sections is something less befitting of contemporary architecture, but we would not hesitate to qualify the residence as such. I would like to hear your opinions about this.
Although the house has a significant vertical line of interaction I would say that, as opposed to the observatory, it finds its essence interacting with context rather than sky. We oriented the cross by taking the axis of the house and re-placing it on the only two points that define the site: one lone palm tree on a parcel of land (as a curious anecdote, the day we finished our sketch we saw a maguey flower in full bloom and competing with the palm tree) and the centre point of a number of rocks on the more remote parts of the parcel by the sea.
I think that the entrenchment of the house to the site comes from the strategic strokes performed by its compositional elements. As Ekhi said, the house possesses a centrifugal force that expels itself to the outside, however sustaining an important attraction to the center. Because of the great force of the unattainable center, this house gets us closer to the earth than to the heavens. The fact that the bottom areas of the house are destined to be “inhabited” gets us to experience it much like we experience the earth, as it pulls us towards the center and the unknown it represents. This is what it is to be experienced, being marginally surrounded and admired from another place. I would not say that the house is less than residential; as I mentioned before the fact that it allows the family enjoy their routines confers it a residential disposition.
Beyond its intrinsic symbolism, we totally agree and believe the house to be both suitable and enjoyable as a residence. We never doubted its functionality and architectonic potential. This is why we are attracted to the idea of retaking and bringing into crisis the concept of architecture as something singular and unique, because the house proves this fact as much as it does not. An architect colleague of ours owns a parcel of land in La Rioja, a prairie surrounded by trees and a continuous contour line. Just about every day, a number of people confess to him their desire to build an exact replica of Villa Savoye on his land. The conversation always starts on a light note and quickly turns into a jigsaw puzzle, as we never arrive to a convincing line of reasoning against the idea of building it. In fact, we believe it would be interesting. Le Corbusier himself imagined and sketched out a prairie brimming with Villa Savoyes. Such is our friend’s personal desire. He simply likes it, he cannot think of a better residence to build and he knows of no higher aesthetic experience than the one proposed by the Villa. Having processed this, suppose he has his exact replica built. What happens now when the Villa Savoye kitchen is deemed too far out into a marginal corner because it was meant for the help? What if he decides to change it and expose it to the patio? Surely just this would spoil the charm and the idea of living inside an exact replica 70 years and 1,000 km away from its original site. However, what if instead of changing the kitchen he decides to adapt more and more things to the point of re-interpreting it into something closer to Villa Dall’Alva…? At any rate, this can only happen in stand-alone houses that function as living machines and not at the Casa Ugalde by Coderch, as an example, as this would simply make no sense. An exact copy of Villa Savoye could indeed provide a pleasant life and a complete aesthetic experience, just like Mies Van der Rohe’s Barcelona pavilion does. However, what part of it would be considered architecture?
I think it’s a great idea. I also think that building a copy of Villa Savoye would be an incredible experiment. I sincerely believe that in the past 70 years life has changed almost as radically as I felt the passage of time at the Observatory in India when I was there. We are discussing the aura again, but I believe that here Walter Benjamin’s reference is particularly fitting. Will the uses and customs of the house perhaps change as things change through the centuries? I also consider the amount of architecture in something a subject worthy of discussion. As a matter of fact, one of the constants of my every day entails wondering how much architecture there is in what I do. Sometimes, case in point Casa Observatorio, we believe there is none and then suddenly one day everything about it becomes architecture to us. At this juncture we would need to start defining architecture, a scarcely productive turn for us to take at the moment. We might as well discuss Villa Malaparte, in Capri, which I start to use as an “original” object and end up replicating sensations and transporting them to the site. How much architecture would there be in this, I wonder?
Many questions have been raised. They are difficult to resolve but rich in content. First, we have the question of the “aura” and how it is juggled within Casa Observatorio. Now, I will get a bit theoretical as I focus on the interplay between repetition and difference.
I believe that the issue of the replaceability of something lies at the gleaming core of the aura conundrum. We say that something has an aura when it is irreplaceable, that is, when it cannot be substituted by its analog version and it is not equal to something else. And so, as Benjamin says, an aura will always surround itself by ritual and thus it will dissolve when the totality of things occur in the form of their general equivalency. Within the Marxist theory that Benjamin uses as springboard, money is the commodity that renders the rest of the commodities more or less equivalent to each other. When the totality of things composing reality (whether people or houses or resources) appears to us in the shape of commodity, this general equivalence principle could be extended to said totality. To be singular and irreplaceable, that is, to be endowed with this aura in principle comes into direct conflict with the capitalist mode of interchange. Within the work and production fronts, the serial production of an object is the translation of this equivalence principle that snubs a priori the irreplaceable nature of things.
What happens in Casa Observatorio? I believe we sensed it when someone mentioned the “superimposition of auras”. No repetition generated anything analogous or equivalent to an original observatory. Some people say that repeating a stroke is pretty much unproductive because it does not engage novelty. In this sense, the repetition of the original observatory is productive in that it conveys novelty. It is not an analogous or equivalent repetition nor is it the repetition of a gesture or replaceable object, but rather stands a unique production and reproduction. Why? Because under no circumstances is Casa Observatorio a mere equivalent of the Jaipur observatory. In this sense, the original/copy duality bursts into new and inconspicuous meanings within Benjamin’s text. For Benjamin, such a burst brings us closer to a world where reproductions are would-be copies that do not recognize the originals whence they came. However, the resulting Casa Observatorio is not the repetition of two originals, that is, of two singular and irreplaceable objects. For Nietzsche, repetition is active rather than reactive and it implies a future (here, a re-signifying process) that newness produces in a radical sense. In short, it is a repetition that creates new conditions. Herein resides the entirety of its richness.
But not just any reproduction anywhere can do this. Architecture as a discipline is closely connected to technical reproduction. A modern building will not reveal the characteristic unique stroke of an artist’s painted picture. The decision made by Nouvel to preserve some of the remaining debris and the notes of the workers on the concrete is based on wanting to provide some trace of singularity (lacking, a priori, in the building’s actual production). Also through sheer use an ordinary apartment becomes stained by its residents’ tracks and traces and acquires a singularity that renders it unique. However, I believe that a series of semi-detached villas will repeat and not create novelty. Although in Manhattan there are different buildings, they remain analogous or equivalent to each other. Would the reproduction of Villa Savoye yield a new and singular object or no more than a futile cardboard reproduction? Only if said reproduction implies a re-signification (sampling) process yielding a new and singular object. I believe Casa Observatorio to fulfill this condition. We can add to the list of traits of the house that it brings to light the complex relationships between repetition and differentiation, the reproduction and production of novelty and the creation of an “added value” that renders the house a rich and unique object.
We do appreciate the Malaparte house reference here at the very end, considering it was probably in the back of our minds through the length of the conversation, not to mention the first image we associated to Casa Observatorio the first time we saw it. We believe they share many things. Both of their architectures are remarkably visible, hiding nothing and plotting out landscape a bit arrogantly. As they both adequately follow procedure, aka common sense, they are both equally rooted to their land and they both enrich and give meaning to nature, not unlike a lighthouse or a beachside bar. They are both reference points and provide their site with a reading based on their placement somewhere between the known and infinity. The abstract planarity of all the decks also plays an important role, as this order of things cannot be found elsewhere on the natural landscapes of their surroundings. You climb some steps suddenly you feel in charge of your residence. Both of them are residences that somehow encourage tucked and protected living and exterior life. Also, climbing to the very top of either one of them entails complete exposure to the immensity of the horizon.
Perhaps Koolhaas has essentially already proved with “Casa da Música” that architecture is an intellectual exercise where what counts is the result and the processes are interchangeable. We can endow things with new meanings divorced from anything as originally conceived, as long as somehow this stands addressed, to paraphrase Ekhi’s re-signification or sampling process. See the music of artists like John Talabot. Maybe everything will start to become much clearer to us once our friend gets around constructing the new Villa Savoye…
Published at Apartamento Magazine #3
Our studio has recently been commissioned to transform a 16th-century traditional Basque house into two dwellings. When you face a project of this kind, more factors than usual come into play. You rarely deal with a tabula rasa, and sometimes the context is the background; however, in cases like this, its presence is so powerful it becomes the co-star.
When approaching an existent being which has worked in a certain way, you have the mission of making it yours without making it disappear. You get into the game of appropriation of the space by removing, adding or plainly transforming. This game requires sometimes subtle acts, but occasionally the action can be drastic.
This is what Apartamento is about; no matter if it’s a flat, a penthouse or a garage. You paint a wall or you demolish it, transforming a space with a previous identity into something new, completely yours.
The Spiral House project by Powerhouse Company fits really well in this subject. It sets out a complex matter in a simple and clear way: a typical burgundy farmhouse, for example, set on a large terrain needs extension that will just about double the house.
We invited them to have a conversation alongside Ekhi Lopetegi, philosopher and musician, and Charles Bessard (office partner, along with Nanne de Ru) who joins us in this discussion.
This time we have decided to tackle our discussion with the film ‘Groundhog Day’. We see a relation between the movie and the space Spiral House creates. We could state that Bill Murray drives a loop, which takes place in the town and modifies the space by manipulating elements in a repeating time…
We agreed in the previous conversations that architecture is something that mostly belongs to “time”. Not only in its generative process but in the time for being understood, modified, assimilated, lived and demolished. In that way, Bill Murray prompts situations that change the space in a way that suits his tastes once he understands his new world, and, as a last resort, changes himself by self-improving.
Being the Spiral House a suggestive act, neither a parasitic nor futile extension, it provokes a new understanding of the existing fabric; we don’t have only a house or a spiral, nor strictly the addition of the two, but something new, different.
We would like you to explain the physical and functional connection between the two bodies, as your website drafts don’t show it at all. Furthermore, we would like to know if, in your opinion, an extension can provoke in an immediate and aggressive form, a new way of understanding the space, or if it’s something gradual, with two bodies converging over the time.
The Spiral House is a house extension that creates a link between the ground floor and the loft floor of an existing farmhouse. The existing building was organised according to a traditional 19th-century lifestyle with a strong spatial segregation between the two levels: the dining and hosting parts on the ground floor and the more intimate family area including the bedrooms and a study on the upper level, with a tight separation between the two. This reflects the rising bourgeoisie lifestyle of the 19th-century where the representational rooms like the living room and the dining room were completely separated from the daily rooms like the bedrooms and the kitchen. This polarisation of the domestic functions resulted in the familial life never meeting the social and representational life of the family.
By restricting the guest area to only a small part of the house it gave the guests the vague impression remaining in the antechamber of the house without really entering the family’s life. For this young family of winemakers who decided to live in a small typical burgundy village, inviting guests implied in most of cases an overnight stay and required more area.
The Spiral House extends the program of the existing house with a large living room joined with a study and a cigar/home-cinema corner, two guest rooms, a children guest room / play zone and an additional kid room. While the existing house dedicated 80% of the area to the daily familial life and only 20% to the social life, the extension was to be the opposite with 80% for the guests and 20% for the family.
From an architectural point of view, it meant that we had to understand the extension as complementary yet opposite element to the existing house. While the architecture of the original house was “closed” and exhibited discrete banality, the architecture of the extension had to be more open and extraverted.
But opposition doesn’t necessarily mean segregation, and we designed the extension as a continuous space spiraling from the ground floor to the roof level. It departs from the existing dining room and has been extended with the new living room /study/ cigar corner, and it ends in the roof connecting the new kid’s room and play room with the old common children room. In the ascending part one finds two guest rooms connecting visually with the ground floor with the upper level, and becoming the link between the social and the intimate sides of the house. The existing house is incorporated as a part of a continuous circulation from old to new, from ground to roof and from intimacy to openness. The Spiral House embraces a part of the garden to form a patio between the extension and the existing house creating a visual link between all the rooms and the two levels while maintaining a nuanced level of intimacy.
The extension and then existing house have an ambivalent relationship. They have more or less the same area and therefore cohabit without any clear hierarchy. Sometimes the extension steps back and leave the foreground to the existing house and sometimes it decisively takes over the old structure depending from where it is observed. Together they form a “Siamese” body made of two opposite yet complementary parts. They form a diptych. They are two chapters of a story about the sudden change of destination of use the old farmhouse and its land into an urbanite’s mansion. The brutal appearance of the extension precipitates the whole on a new and unexpected course, like the storm in the plot of the Groundhog’s Day. In this case the extension is not conceived as a continuation of the existing one, but as an unexpected and external event changing the course of the “plot”. In that sense the two bodies are not converging in time, but are precipitated together in a new situation like Phil and Rita in the initial script; where instead of being back to normal, they were kept irreversibly captive of the time loop and are forced to explore together the possibilities of this new situation.
I wouldn’t like to reduce the complexities of the Spiral House to its most obvious and eye catching feature, but the encounter between the extension and the farmhouse at the roof level deserves some remarks. As Charles (POWERHOUSE) wrote, the extension’s appearance is ‘brutal’ and in my opinion the more brutal it appears the more interesting it gets. Instead of a Siamese body, I would say it’s more like a prosthesis, for every prosthesis entails a formal and functional aggression and strongly makes reference to the difference between the bodies connected. The visual relationship between the two bodies as volumes is not transitional or continuous, even though there is a functional transition and continuity in pragmatic terms that makes the two bodies work efficiently. Above all, the strangeness of the new body is highlighted and so it is the violence the prosthesis does to the old ‘maison’.
Two subjects come to mind at this point. In terms of memory, by explicitly showing the present burst into the past, the Spiral House implies a discontinuous or non-linear historical approach. And this is achieved not by some fancy futuristic trick (that would probably entail a rather linear approach), but by the sober but radical presence of the new body. What we see is not the 19th-century lifestyle friendly meet the 21st-century forms of life. What we see is two historical situations collide.
So, the way I see it, the historical encounter is understood as a confrontation. The whole historical timeline is broken and the gap in between is uncovered violently.
Related to this temporal feature, in terms of space, the confrontation is even more dramatic. The whole idealistic idea of the ‘maison’ as a whole, complete and finished object is destroyed. The visual image of this farmhouse, this childish ‘triangle + cube’ image of a house, is perverted by a simple gesture of coupling two bodies in a visually arbitrary point. In my opinion there’s an underlying principle concerning any architectural interventions that could be expressed as follows: any object or volume can be cut off in any of its points. Which doesn’t mean the cut off is arbitrary, for the functional coherence and efficiency will always be a measure and a value. But it clearly shows the house is partially taken in consideration, not as a whole ideal unit.
Gordon Matta Clark showed us this in other terms by cutting off building size volumes as if they were hand size sculptures, and this way he broke the idea of how those objects should look in our mind’s eye, opening a new field for volumetric experimentation. As far as the Spiral House is a dwelling unit and not a plain body, we should maybe quote Deleuze and Guattari’s first principle for a definition of a rhizome, which encloses this pragmatic feature:
“1 and 2. Principles of connection and heterogeneity: any point of a rhizome can be connected to anything other, and must be… semiotic chains of every nature are connected to very diverse modes of coding (biological, political, economic, etc.) that bring into play not only different regimes of signs but also states of things of differing status. “
Obviously, architecture can also be understood as a bunch of ‘modes of coding’ space, with their particular set of rules and syntax. The Spiral House connects two heterogeneous architectural regimes (the 19th century farm house and its extension); the connection is understood as fragmentary (both units connect in a partial and arbitrary point, the roof level), and not as the complete harmonisation of different dwelling units or codes; therefore, the Spiral House provokes the rupture of the farm house coherence in favour of a new functional and spacial relationship that opens the house to knew dwelling possibilities.
We find interesting to invert the proportion 80% public / 20% private, because it complements the house in a yin-yang-like way, with the background idea of making the house more open. Thinking about the Spiral House as an opening to itself though, it looks even more interesting to us; to understand the farm like a closed and finished being that generates something open to new possibilities when breaking (like Ekhi pointed mentioning Matta-Clark). “Two bodies kept irreversibly captive of the time loop and forced to explore together the possibilities of this new situation”, but Matta-Clark showed us the entrails and then his action was over. His aim wasn’t to create a place to live in, although it could be a space to live.
The farm is broken and it loses its closed unity, its iconic identity fades out, it’s opened up. Then, in contraposition program is added and related with the existing one and what we get is the Spiral House. Is this opening something for closing it back? Could a house be an open box, or is the program too rigid (due to its finite possibilities) and therefore requires us to a closed outcome?
We prefer the definition of “two Siamese bodies” for the whole rather than the Ballardian prosthesis one for the new piece. Prostheses are artifices subordinated to a body that brings them life, and in this case the dialogue is from equal to equal. One could usually live without prosthesis, but in this case, and for this program, they are two bodies that die when separated.
It’s evident but important to see that we have two bodies, the 19th-century one and the 21st-century one. It is this last one, the spiral, which achieves that, although they are two bodies that work continuously as a single one. The new body is a programmatic gradient that gives continuity to the two existing trays that had premeditated and polarized functions. Thus, the Spiral House considers a contemporary way of living more than giving a formal answer to what a XXI century house should be. It looks for a new way of dwelling.
Brutality is often referred as a negative word, because it is most often associated with the idea of the “brute”, a being with a cruel or aggressive behavior. But brutality can also mean something “brut”, raw and un-mitigated like in the case of Jean Dubuffet’s “art brut”. In that sense the brutality of the Spiral House is in our eyes directed at the site and not directed at the old house. The two volumes share the same an unmitigated relationship to the site. This is the only thing they have in common and that is also what unites them.
When looking at the site plan, the old house appears as if it was “dropped” randomly on the site – it makes no attempt to insert itself in the context.
When we visited the first time we immediately noticed it, the old house was sitting on the site in the same way as a forgotten and isolated object would, as something left behind. But somehow its isolation and its brutal juxtaposition on the site had a positive aspect: it almost gave to the old house the status of a sculpture displayed in a park. On the other hand the banality of the volume prevented the house to really achieve its potential sculptural presence and inhabit the site as such.
Though the extension was to double the size of the house it was clear that it would not be insufficient to occupy or inhabit the park. At the very beginning we tried to design it as a landscape architecture where the extension would become a “hill” attached to the old house attempting to anchor it on the site. But it never worked, the sculptural potential of the old house was getting weaker and the new landscape element was simply too small and too anecdotal compared to the overwhelming size of the site.
It became clear that we had to find a third approach.
To reinforce the sculptural aspect of the old house and to reinforce the presence of both inhabitations in the site, we designed the extension as a new sculptural volume dropped next to the old one. In this way the contrast between the two strengthened their identity, as well as helped each other to claim their sculptural presence in the park.
We do not think the relationship between the buildings as brutal since there is no cruelty in it. We see it more as an abrupt but playful encounter where the two volumes engage vigorously with each other. Let’s say it’s like is an intercourse without foreplay… not necessarily unpleasant if there is no victim.
Arquitectura-G mentioned that the Spiral House “considers a contemporary way of living more than a formal answer to what a XXI-st century house should be”. We agree very much with this statement and that is the way we’ve approach the design of this house. In this regard, it is interesting to compare the two volumes because they testify the changes in the understanding of a house. The 19th-century houses are organized with a very clear separation between “leisure rooms” like the salon, and “utilitarian rooms” like the kitchen, bedrooms etc. In the case of a farm the exterior is also the result of utilitarian approach to materials and structure. At the opposite, the Spiral House is fully designed as a pleasurable experience that offers a diversity of an internal as well as external situation. The old house becomes a part of this diversity of spaces and is not perceived anymore as a conventional straightjacket.
By understanding the two houses as an array of spatial experiences, it opens unlimited possibilities to extend it beyond its pure functional program.
In that respect the Spiral House did open up the old house to a new understanding shifting from a utilitarian to a qualitative interpretation.
We had the opportunity recently, with a project in Russia, to experiment with a similar situation but with more radicalism. We had to design a 2500m2 penthouse 300m above ground, and that was also for a single family with young kids. Designing for example a 500m2 living room is very unusual, and certainly cannot be approached from a functional and programmatic point of view – imagine how many sofas one would need to furnish it. This radical situation allowed us to illustrate clearly what the focus of our architecture is about.
I should maybe clarify what I meant by ‘brutal’. I maybe put a special emphasis on its aggressiveness, but I don’t really think of it in a negative way, no victims or unpleasant feelings are presupposed here. What I actually meant is what Arquitectura-G explained in a more concise way as the losing of the iconic identity of the house. This, too, can seem ambiguous though, for the iconic identity of the house is also highlighted with the intervention, as far as it shows the bodies as clearly limited individual units. So, the gesture of coupling the volumes somehow reinforces both the identity and the losing of it. The conceptual play of the difference and the identity is shown in its fullest here by bringing it up as an unsolved subject that architecture faces as such.
Of course, the coming together of the dwelling units has to be seen as a ‘playful encounter’ rather than as a ‘problematic crash’. It is playful because we gain new dwelling possibilities, and not only in terms of program. As explained in the Russian project, the design of a 500m2 living room cannot be achieved in utilitarian terms so the aproach must include some other experiential criteria. It can be guessed that this shift is entailed in the Spiral House too, as far as it’s “fully designed as a pleasurable experience”, exceeding thus the utilitarian point of view. This is maybe how the ‘qualitative interpretation’ mentioned can be understood. The inclusion of such a wide concept as experience reframes the whole architecture perspective and uncovers a series of new problems, both theoretical and practical. We could ask how ‘experience’ is understood in the Spiral House, even though I know the answer to such a concept can be hard to figure out. At least, we could state that the farm house as an utilitarian complex wasn’t meant to be experienced but to be used, while the Spiral House seems to seek being a place for ‘having experiences’ of any type. We should never misunderstand this though, because being designed for having some sort of ‘experience’ won’t ever erase the functional needs, but it will necessarily include ‘experience’ as a variable to be taken as part of the program itself.
Therefore (apart from the gap separating the building and the site) because it’s linked to ‘experience’, it makes sense considering the farmhouse and the extension in its ‘sculptural potential’. Sculpturally taken, the Spiral House falls under some sort of aesthetical treatment or point of view. I don’t mean that the house is now treated more artistically; I simply mean that it’s supposed to be a source of certain ‘sensations’ (the ‘pleasurable experience’), and not only supposed to be a functional facility. In the end the word ‘aesthetic’ etymologically means nothing but ‘perceiving’ or ‘having sensations’. Now I should ask Charles, is this conceptual link between experience and architecture also considered while facing a project?
About the conceptual link between experience and architecture:
I understand your question from two points of views.
Does it mean that we design spaces independently of the functionality of spaces?
No, in the sense that we take the functions of the house as a departure point and make sure that the spaces we design do not become unpractical.
But yes indeed, in the sense that we do not limit the experience of living in the house (because that’s what it is all about) to pure questions of efficiency and spatial economy and therefore have to seek qualities such as: intimacy, openness, exposure, mirroring. For example the Spiral House is both intimate and both exposed; intimate because it is rolling around itself and exposed in the sense that it is possible to the house from the house at any point of the Spiral House.
The Spiral House is very abstract for a house, it doesn’t look like a house, and it is a bit of an alien in the landscape of the village. It has no formal reference and its form results of its sequence of experiences, like going under the house to enter it, entering it from its heart, looking at the house from the house, the traveling on the landscape, the progressive decrease in ceiling height, etc. Those experiences were much more important for this project than the final form of the house. The abruptness and abstraction of the form prompts the visitor to experience it, otherwise it is difficult to understand it. It is sculptural but it is not Gehry-like and it is abstract but it is not a functionalist house. It is also not photogenic but it is very nice space to inhabit. The owners are planning to use it as the main house and use the old house as the extension; we can’t really resist bragging about it.
The second way we understand your question regards the way we produce a project and eventually a building. Architecture in this respect is always very frustrating because we can’t fully experience a project until it is finished and occupied. In this regard we are very envious of graphic designers or artists who work at a 1:1 scale. It is not really feasible with architecture so we try to compensate that with a lot of physical models at very different scale. This still remains for us the best way to design a house. Strangely enough, a cardboard model still looks and feels more “real” than any super-realistic rendering.
We don’t avoid talking about the “sculptural object”, but we plainly believe that it doesn’t describe this house, and probably neither the architecture. At the same time, we don’t think it’s an abstract house. It’s a construction that responds directly to a problem or will. It’s a house that can be experienced and lived without requiring any intellectual effort or architectural knowledge, and that’s a victory.
In this case we can’t state if the shape is nice or not, photogenic or not, in fact it doesn’t matter. It (the shape) tells us how the house is lived and how this addition lets someone experience the whole in a new way; we could say that the Spiral House is functionally transparent.
The addition responds to the request in a physical way, that’s why the aggression over the original, pure and canonical object is rude, vigorous, and even sexual. This relation seems very attractive to us and provides the strength of the project.
Talking about the subject of anchoring to the place in such vast plot with a house “dropped” on, we don’t think the Spiral House is a landscape architecture solution as an object in a scenic context and linked to it, we think it’s a project that is understood from its core to outside.
The house is somehow something not related to the surroundings, and the appropriation of the plot is seen from the inner living experience. For instance, the patio or the spiral sets out when touching the farm in the ground floor, where a small piece of plot defines a summer dining room.
Those generative gestures are which make these constructions not sculptural, are new realities of architectural experience.
The gradual ascent surrounding the patio lets us experience the original body like something new viewing it from a historically unusual point of view. In the same way we understand the program itself like something new; a smoking room is quite different from a bedroom, but it’s not so far from a children playing room or a study. Like we said in previous conversations, approaching subjects as the flexibility in this way is very contemporary and sets out where are the nowadays inhabitant’s limits.
Besides this, we are talking in terms of two houses; while we would like to see it as a whole, a single one, where some time ago there was one and the time and requirements brought us another different one. That’s why we can’t help having a little disappointment when you say that the owners are thinking of using the new part as first home. In the same way that the Russian penthouse of 500m2 living room requires a different dwelling experience from having 50 sofas in it, the Spiral House should be inhabited like a new experience of the whole, without the barrier of time or material difference.
We would like to know your opinion on it (Ekhi and Charles) and also (Charles) if this distinction is a program input.
So far it seems like the discussion has opened many fields concerning different features of the Spiral House. I’d like to make one last and brief remark on the issue of the connection between the two bodies and the experience of the Spiral House as a whole.
Arquitectura-G seems to be focused on the fact that the experience of the Spiral House is the experience of a complete and unified dwelling unit. We should make some distinctions here. It happens to be true that in terms of inhabiting the house, living everyday live, the extension shouldn’t really have to be taken as a separate body. That is why the two bodies work together. As far as they do work together they generate a new field for the functional experience of the house. Sculpturally taken, though it doesn’t really seem that the two bodies can form a unique one, they don’t and can’t come together as one.
We should therefore separate the inner and outer experiences of the house. One is pragmatic and the other is visual and voluminous. The border between both can be blurry sometimes, but it seems like the functional use of the inner space and the outer impression of the bodies connecting are somehow heterogeneous; it also seems like the outside/inside opposition shows up clearly in the Spiral House as an essential feature of it. There is an sculptural experience of the house based on the relationship between the bodies and the relationship between the bodies and the surrounding landscape, as well as there’s a pragmatic one based on its inner functional use. Iconically taken, there is no communion between the bodies; functionally taken there’s a “pretend” one based on programmatic efficiency and harmony.
I’ll end with a couple of questions that don’t really seek to underestimate the building, for the Spiral House gets more interesting with the more the questions it generates.
Could it be true that the utilitarian efficiency of the Spiral House is at stake with the fact that the owners plan to move to the extension of the old house? Is it possible that, despite the beauty and power of the Spiral House, the gap between the two buildings could be impossible to overcome?
It is not a programmatic input and they always conceived the Spiral House as only an extension until it was finished. When they mentioned switching houses they, in fact, only mentioned shifting their own bedroom.
Though I totally agree with Arquitectura-G that the house should be experienced as one house and not as two, to a large extend I hope they will turn their bedroom towards the new one and turn their actual understanding upside down.
The Spiral House and the old farm are proposing two opposite architectural regimes, one that was designed from a utilitarian point of view and the other from a hedonist and sensuous viewpoint. I think it is very amusing and intriguing to see how they are going to use it. They commissioned us to design the extension because they wanted to change their lifestyle, so I am curious to hear from them what will become their dearest room, the old or the new regime? Utilitarian or hedonist?
Because the Spiral House and the farm do not seek any compromise in their relationship and there is no indoor space in-between at any moment, one has to choose where to be: where to sit or sleep or sip a glass of wine? Practicality verses hedonism. It is a luxurious dilemma, but I am interested in the output.
If they move their bedroom it would really be a statement for them of a clear shift in their approach to life. The clients are a very busy people, their professional mobiles are always on and in every holiday travel hides a business appointment here or there. They live in the countryside but they have a hectic life with long working hours and a lot of travelling, obviously much more than what they wish. When they decided about the extension we strongly sensed that it was out of a desire to change their life and formalize it and we took this seriously. In the old house, even if they could still live there comfortably, its utilitarian architecture seemed to recall the burden of daily contingencies, whether it was theirs or those of the former farmer. The spaces of the Spiral House suggest a totally different attitude to the user; more distant and deliberate, where one can walk around with no purpose, sip a glass of wine, crash in the sofa and stare at the ceiling and feel good about it.
Architecture is an instrument that makes those fundamental changes possible and tangible. That is what fascinates us in architecture, especially when it is about housing. Cheap or expensive, it doesn’t matter.
We will have to wait to see the finished product, because at the moment there are some functional obstructions due to the young age of the children and the necessity of proximity between their bedrooms.
Let’s make an appointment in ten years and see what has happened.
Published at Apartamento Magazine #2
Apartamento Magazine speaks about the appropriation of the space by the inhabitant, about the reflection of his/her personality at home. In short, about dwelling and its consequences. In this issue we deal with the fact of dwelling from the whole architectural process; From the project at its drawing board stages, until it is inhabited, passing through it’s construction. The Wall House by FAR Frohn & Rojas is really suitable to discuss this topic. It is a magnificient suburban residence in Santiago de Chile. As they say in their website, “opposed to the general notion that our living environments can be properly described and designed “on plan”, this project is a design investigation into how the qualitative aspects of the wall, as a complex membrane, structure our social interactions and climatic relationships to enable specific ecologies to develop. The project breaks down the “traditional” walls of a house into a series of four delaminated layers in between which the different spaces of the house slip.
FAR (Marc Frohn & Mario Rojas Toledo) are a Cologne, Los Angeles and Santiago de Chile based networked architectural practice. This time is Marc Frohn who joins our via mail discussion along with Ekhi Lopetegi, philosopher and musician.
We present the topic of debate with an extract from a Martin Heiddeger text, “Building, Dwelling, Thinking”.
We have considered wall house to be very appropriate to talk about the ethics of dwelling, because as far as we are concerned this house speaks clearly of it and it is open to be analyzed over and above its formal or merely tendentious aspects. So, the way we see this house is as an example of unity in architecture practice, resolving structure, shape and habitable areas in its construction. That is, we are not talking about a house made by the addition of independent units which are assembled together to give shape to the dwelling, but a habitable framework, and it shows it with no shame at all. There’s no limit in-between but every piece can be understood at once. The architectural elements are corrupted turning the structure into a divider filter or shelves, and at the same time every component is bare with its raw materials talking about this ethics. If people have to learn how to dwell (speaking in a Heideggeresque sense), constructing is in itself dwelling, therefore the way we build is the way we dwell, is the way we are men. Can a house have a didactic function? Can a house help mankind to be men? Can it link us to the earth?
I have a rather hard time imagining architecture as a didactic device. If – for example – the Wall House was such, it would – according to Merriam Webster – be “intended and designed to teach”. Thus the prime objective of the house would be to convey ONE agenda of inhabitation that could more or less unmistakably be read by the occupant. Instead I personally find your short description of the Wall House as a “habitable framework” very productive to touch upon some of the key aspects of the project beyond the obvious formal aspects. By definition a framework leaves room to be filled out and I think that exactly this is one of the challenging aspects of the project as to me it marks – both in the process of designing and building as well as in its occupation – an exploration into the environments of living: It allows to renegotiate boundaries both amongst the occupants and in relationship to the surrounding. It is in this sense unconventional in the truest sense of the word: By unconventional I don’t mean “having a surprising form”, but instead excluding some of our dearest assumptions of suburban living (that’s what the house is) of privacy, personal space and relationship to the environment.
My approach to the problem may seem theoretical but I don’t intend to displace the conversation to non-architectural grounds. The way I see it, the core problem here is the relationship between the ‘habitable framework’ and the ‘surrounding’ or ‘enviroment’. The concept of ‘relationship’ itself (between framework and enviroment) seems to be the main issue in a way I shall explain. Let me explain this.
When Heidegger reminds us that we have to learn how to dwell , he’s never inviting us to search for a certain content we should assimilate the same way we comprehend a mathematical theorem. On the contrary, he’s inviting us to deal with things in a proper way. Basically, dealing with things is being related to things in such and such a way; so we can either relate to things properly or unproperly. Being related to things in a proper way already means dealing with things according with the essence of dwelling. What kind of dealing with things is that of dwelling?
Far from the activity of occupying a certain space dwelling unfolds as cultivating and erecting buildings. Cultivating is taking care of things the way they essentially are, letting them be what they truly are; that is to say, we don’t ask or pretend things to be the way we want them to be, rather we only take care of their growing keeping it save from any danger so that the growing can take place according with its true essence.
On the other hand, building is arranging spaces in the way of producing locations for men and women, and all this according with the essence of dwelling. Those locations make the proper relationship to The Fourfold take place: we take earth as earth; we take sky as sky; we take death as death; we take divinities as divinities. That is, we take them the way they already are, we take them in a way we let them be what they are.
Heidegger’s exotic argot should not hide the main problem concerning dwelling. For the problem is ecopolitcal. From Heidegger’s perspective, we could state that a culture anxiously searching for a way to avoid maturity through multiple make up strategies is not taking death as death. Builiding up a ‘beach’ where no beach has ever been naturally produced could easily be taken as forcing earth to be a certain way rather than taking earth as it actually is. And still, dwelling is not be taken as being according with ‘nature’ in a superficial way. MF wrote that the Wall-house “allows to renegotiate boundaries both amongst the occupants and in relationship to the surrounding”. We could therefore ask wether there’s a concious ethico-political approach to architecture in the Wall-house; and if yes, what’s the role of the ‘bioclimatical’ or the ‘ecopolitical’ in the architectural practices today.
Talking about “renegotiation of boundaries” you both mentioned we might say that any house, as dwelling unit, has at least two general levels of limit:
1 The boundary among inner house and the outside
2 The inner boundaries between spaces
In the wall house, and in any suburban/garden house the outer limit gives more chance to think about than in an urban house. We consider that your choice, when approaching the matter, it’s been to blur the edge. The same reading is valid for the (almost non-existent) limits between interior spaces.
When crossing the house from its rigid core up to the surrounding area, we observe that as the spaces have a minor requirement of intimacy the house becomes more permeable up to getting blurred to open to the garden. In order to do it, aside from the materials hardness gradient, the geometry of the layers becomes more complex in a scheme that we could qualify as radial; ((((concrete cave) stacked shelving) milky shell) soft skin). The resulting interstices are themselves a classic in-and-out space of modern architecture. However, the interstices speak to us of an ethics in the place positioning, as much from the functional point of view as from the formal one, and from the ecopolitical approach that Ekhi mentioned.
We notice that the aim or will of the wall house is not to indoctrinate –in the sense of dictate- how to live, but it is unavoidably a device that moderately determinates how to dwell as it configures a scenario. It is the soft thing, the smoothness of the boundaries which speaks to us of a new ethics of how to dwell, in which the negotiation between individuals or inhabitants supposes a greater shock of the one that exists in traditional houses made by cell addition.
Absolutely (Ekhi), there is an ethico political approach in architecture of the Wall House as it integrates the environment to become an inseparable part of its inhabitation. Obviously certain aspects of that approach are neither new nor unique to that project.
An important shift in the understanding of buildings in relationship to the environment has taken place over the last 20 or so years: Up until then architectural technology was used to achieve a complete separation of inside and outside. The air conditioning unit (actually called “weather maker” by its inventor Carrier) brought with it an isolationist and homogenizing attitude within architecture that lost any regional specificity and orientation as climate became a technically generated commodity. Since the early 80s this machine-like understanding of architecture has bit by bit been replaced by an understanding of architecture as an organism that mediates between the interior condition and the outside environment. Through that a certain understanding of “climate concept” developed for buildings. But what is important to me in the context of the Wall House is that this project relates to the environment in a way that goes beyond what is generally considered a “climate concept”. It formulates a multitude of possible connections that can be drawn between climate, environment, technology/material and inhabitation: Climate or Energy becomes a resource in the architectural vocabulary, a building material of sorts as spatial differentiation is achieved through the careful play with it. What that implies as a result is that the architect gives up his or her position of full control in the process of establishing architectural space as the elements that define it on a daily basis are out of his or her reach: In the Wall House one inhabits climate zones more than spaces in the traditional sense. What the different material layers of the house do then is what I described before as a process of negotiation: the amount of light, heat, the depth of the view inside or out as well as the use of these spaces by the clients, all of those are within the range of this negotiation.
I find it important, that the eco political dimension of architecture does not just lead to an “accelerating arms race” in the material and technological battle for rising energy efficiency. As important as this is, it is too one dimensional. Sometimes it seems as if little thought is put into the question of how a new awareness of climate shapes our ways of relating to or inhabiting environment. To me the Wall House seeks to exactly do that: find possible relationships that go beyond a technological “solution” to the “problem” with our climate.
We do believe that the abuse of air conditioning which Marc was speaking about is already overcome. It exemplifies the context of a badly understood bioclimatic policy or energy efficiency. It is clear that we are at a point where it is possible to obtain a totally efficient architecture without being subordinated to ultracomplex technological systems, popular psychosis or business of the climate change. We can face a project attending to all inputs obtaining an efficient final score, that’s why it seems more interesting to emphasize the limits. Some time ago Ekhi told us he considered that nowadays architecture is the architecture of limits.
This is exactly what we are interested in when we focus on the Wall House project. On the one hand, one of the principles of the house is considering the hedges that surround to the plot as the first layer (limit) of the project. In this case, in spite of the covers of the house are getting blurred and becoming lighter radially from interior to exterior, the diamond-like formal aspect of the housing is so powerful and fits so well to what it is (to its construction), we understand that ultimately it turns out to be an object that is closed on itself, without taking in consideration the immediate surrounding. On the other hand, once first membrane is crossed we enter the game of the habitable framework we were speaking about.
At the Perception Restrained MOMA exhibition by Herzog and DeMeuron, Herzog said that the imaginaryof what a house is has an incorruptible strength for them, where a room is a room, a kitchen a kitchen, and a sitting room a sitting room. Just like that, what could be different between the nowadays images and the ones from a Hammershoi picture would be limits. The bridge wich Heidegger talks about is not a static element as far as we are concern, but an element of connection. It actually works as an opening, as a flow. The Wall House works just the same way in its interior. The other day a friend asked for our opinion about how to reform his flat in the city centre, in Barcelona. We opened up his mind about what a partition means, and that it doesn’t have to be a boundary by itself. It is not about emptying or using transparent materials, but it is about configuring autonomous not clearly-defined spaces yet still a sitting room, a bedroom or a kitchen, as Herzog referred to them.
That’ s why we are interested in knowing what were you Ekhi saying in that conversation where you talked about today’s architecture as the architecture of boundaries and how you see the Wall House in that context. Also we would like to know your opinion, Marc.
So far, two discussion topics can be distinguished from our mailing: one concerning architectural or aesthetical problems inner to the discipline itself (the in/out problem); another one linked to the problem we called eco-political that frames the architecture in a wider context. Obviously, both cross over and we can only make such a distinction as far as it is useful to our discussion purposes.
Let’s face the first topic. It can be stated that the in/out problem has crossed architectural practices all the way from modernism to contemporary architecture. Although limiting is never to be taken as its only feature, architecture is necessarily based on establishing certain limits out of which ‘places’ emerge. Taken this way architecture could be understood as the art of shaping places through coordinating certain limits and working on their co-relationships. Nevertheless the practice of co-relating limits seems to be over-determined by a binary relationship between the inside and the outside, dwelling unit and environment, in and out. Although this is not always to be taken as ‘a problem to be solved’, it seems like architecture has always been concerned with the purpose of overcoming this dialectical opposition. So, it can be said that the Wall house seems to follow the path modernists walked. Some remarks can be done on this, though. The way modernists dealt with the in/out problem can be exemplified with early works such as the Bauhaus building in Dessau (of course, I’m aware of the simplification here): the reconciliation between the inside and the outside is mainly achieved with the curtain wall. A visual relationship between the inside and the outside is established. However, a transparent wall is still a wall containing certain isolated indoor environmental conditions. I therefore agree with MF when he suggests that there’s an isolationist attitude in the machine-image based architecture. No categories as permeability or softness can be applied to the traditional curtain walled architecture. Climate or Energy based architecture’s starting point is completely different. It’s not about transparency but energetical permeability between layers. The radial geometry of the Wall house is based on degree differences between a ‘hard’ core and a ‘soft’ surface. Obviously these categories are relative for ‘soft’ always stands for ‘softer than’ the way ‘hard’ does, and this conceptual remark is not a simple trick. Actually, it’s an essential feature of the rather energetical than visual reconciliation of the inside and the outside searched or negotiated in the Wall house.
One last remark concerning the second topic. I find absolutely necessary being aware “that the ecopolitical dimension of architecture does not just lead to an ‘accelerating arms race’ in the material and technological battle for rising energy efficiency” as MF writes. For if we meditate enough on the main issue concerning the ecopolitical approach to architecture we’ll notice that it’s not about solving bioclimatical problems within a bioclimaticaly blind framework, but about founding the architectural practice itself on a bioclimatically aware framework. That is, changing the whole paradigm depending on wich our approach to architecture is defined. Indeed, this is what Heidegger’s text is about: the proper way of dwelling is that in wich our approach to things is proper too. As I already wrote, that would mean dealing with things according with their essence.
I think that it is quite productive to bring the discussion back to the issue of boundary as it will actually help us to tie the two strains of the discussion that E characterized together once more: I want to step back for a moment to see how we characterize boundary as I think it will help us relating the two trajectories. To some degree it builds on an issue that A-G brought up, when referring to the “flow” and “opening” of the Wall House. I think that in the context of both describing this house, but also in seeing architecture in general in relationship to a larger eco-political context it becomes crucial to overcome the notion of boundary as object, as fixt element of separation. Instead I would follow Michelle Addington in her argument that “perceptual environments – those that determine what we feel, hear and see – are all thermodynamic in that they are fundamentally about the motion of energy”. Thus their boundaries, too, should be thought of in that vain, as they don’t interest me as static elements of separation, but more as behaviours and interaction. Thus the boundary becomes a zone of exchange between two environments. From here I think it is a small step only to get to A-G’s point of the “element of connection”. At the same time it constitutes for me one of the aspects of a “bioclimatically aware framework” (EL).
When we first started the discussion I wasn’t really aware of how the boundary concept has changed once the bioclimatical issues interfere the formal and geometrical problems. When we talk about the bioclimatical we already talk about the energetical and therefore about the thesmodynamical. The sentence quoted by Marc explains it clearly. The environment is not only a geometrical complex of formal volumes; it deals now with formally ambiguous substances such as heat, noise, light and on. Is not that we found new substances to care about determining architectural results; it’s more than even old and classical variables such as light or heat will be treaten in a different way once we adopt a ‘bioclimatically aware’ perspective. This perspective is one in which architectural substances or matters affect each other; they’re not contained in formal geometries but rather they already correlate in a diffuse way. Thus, from an energetical framework the ‘boundary’ is just the zone in which the substances meet, interact and affect each other (“zone of exchange”); the ‘boundary’ between a built unit and its environment will thus be a co-affective one too. The difference between the inside and the outside will therefore be a degree difference. The new space is built upon a general principle of affection derived from the energetical or thermodynamical viewpoint.
We like the idea of house’s fragility, the sensuality of the boundaries that goes beyond the material. A house that on the one hand exposes itself unsteadily, but on the other hand combines welcoming, warm and human inner spaces. As we said before, the house works radially, and it is true that it radiates in a temperature slope. This approach to understanding the boundary is nice and contemporary, owing to the fact that the temperature is (as in Joseph Beuys’ work) in a certain way what makes you feel you are at home, and the temperature is as a result of the geometry, construction and architecture. This way to understanding the limit, is the way the house is.
Interior design magazines tend to be the perfect setting for degrading architecture into something mediocre. In the name of decorators and interior designers, architecture is painted up and disguised to become just another piece in a vulgar game. Architecture is everything. In other words, it is understood as a whole, as a process involving many factors, one of which is time. Time in which the architect gives way to habitation, time in which the house ages, deteriorates, and lends itself to future changes. With that, contemporary architecture has by no means found a problem but rather one of its greatest virtues. When Arquitectura-G was asked to contribute to the magazine (which we offer a warm welcome to), we were pleased to see the point of view it expressed, where the paramount element was the way the people appropriate spaces, while staying away from the ridiculous focusing on mountains as seen in cheap design magazines and vases framed in uninspired, substandard photos. To discuss these topics, we begin a conversation with the budding Madrid-based studio Nolaster Architects, with the centerpiece being Casa OS, a creation of theirs in Loredo, Cantabria (Spain). A single-family dwelling built in a privileged location on the edge of a cliff overlooking the Bay of Biscay. A house of undeniable quality that brings new approaches and with them, spaces for disagreement and discussion. A house that allows us to talk about architecture, time and habitation. We know that words are not the stuff of architects; we use images and communicate through those. That is why we felt it was necessary to bring in someone from outside the world of architecture, who could keep it from being a conversation for architects only and fuse all the pieces together. This is where I come in: Ekhi Lopetegui, a young man member of the rock band Delorean and PhD student at the University of Barcelona. We present the topic of debate for this issue by way of an Adolf Loos text “The Poor Rich Man” , along with the complete series of correspondence that we have exchanged.
Lifestyles today are such that flexibility—defined as functionality that is not subject to strict rules, dogmas or hindrances— is an essential condition when reflecting on the contemporary home. Adolf Loos was already onto this back in 1900. People must be free to appropriate their living space in a way that is pleasing to them. That said, the hierarchical distribution of uses enslaves the user inasmuch as it proffers but one way of inhabiting that space. Thus, a flexible space is one that accommodates any form of habitation. The order, or lack thereof, ought to come from the inhabitant (the Nemausus housing project by Jean Nouvel), and not the architecture itself (renovation of an apartment on Barcelona’s Carrer dels Mercaders by Enric Miralles). Actually, it should be the architecture that allows for disorder and not vice versa. The requirements for a variation of 2 to 30 inhabitants, as well as the uncertainty of the program for Casa OS, opened the door to reflection on flexibility. Reflecting on something and arriving at an outcome, turning thought into something material, is a way of determining that idea, and something that is determined is the opposite of flexible. That way, we could run into the setback of total, perfect flexibility, where the architect’s work is essentially nullified. Can flexibility be planned?
Casa OS immediately lends itself to be compared, contrasted with the house of “The Poor Rich Man” described by Loos. Why? Because it is the opposite of Casa OS, which was made by taking uncertainty (the indeterminacy of space) as the backbone. This is due to the complexity of a program that requires maximum organization and exploitation of the variability factor. The zero degree of that project, then, is variability, with the “constants” (spaces whose uncertainty equals zero) being an adjacent effect, but never the underpinnings for the project. Quite the opposite of the house of the “rich man,” which exemplifies ultracodification, ultradetermination and the saturation of space. I’m saying “ultra” not to use a buzz prefix, but because in the Loos text we’re presented with the exact same limit for the determined, and the codification of a space. We could call it the Planning limit. In an exaggerated, caricaturesque manner, it exemplifies what the architect has been: meaning, the one who has predetermined the uses of a space, the one who—as if it were about some ferocious Grammar— has prescribed the possibilities for inhabiting a space, and using it freely. But this architect-Despot figure comes crumbling down: first, because his failure is inscribed in the very logic of habitation, given that upon inhabiting it is inherent to him to exceed the limits and conditions on using habitable space; and second, because in postmodern societies flexibility (uncertainty) is not the exception but in fact the rule, and it agrees with the way that precarious lifestyles are composed. “Casa OS has ended up being defined as a field of multiple- choice encounters.” My guess is that this is so because there was an understanding of what the variability of uses is all about. The rich man’s architect would have upped the level of determination in response to the complexity of the program, adding details and, if possible, further determining the space. Casa OS responds in an opposite manner: the architect withdraws in order to concede a free space. How? By contemplating the task as one of infrastructural articulation of the house, or in other words, smoothing down the space for it to be simply (within the realm of possibilities) a surface that supports the complexity of uses. In comparison with the silly postmodernism that adds complexity by creating taut spaces and glorifying spatial confusion (Loos’ architect, or Venturi), the response to complexity is understood as the conferral of a space that is indeterminate, uncertain, plain and, ultimately, free. It comes as no surprise that the organizational logic of the house be the “simple addition of basic spaces.” There is this whole consideration of emptiness here. It’s not only the space that gets emptied (of determinations), but the user profile as well: Who inhabits this space? Who has it been conferred to? To anyone, obviously. The user profile is as obsolete as the profile for spaces in a home. In a sense, the kitchen has ceased to be a space with distinguishing features and is now a space of “zero uncertainty” (this does not eliminate the need for a kitchen sink). As relates to the uncertainty (determinability of space) a relational space is organized where what is important are the differences in degree and intensity of use, not the differences in fixed ‘identities’ (determinations or fixations of the use of a space, or of its possibilities). In that sense, the empty, plain or free space supports gradual differences and variable relationships according to intensity-of-use criteria. To answer the question: flexibility is not planned; it is reducing the plan to the minimum, that is, understanding that the response to uncertainty involved amounts to the infrastructural planning of the home, which is now to be understood as a free surface that supports, meaning it should support the disorder inherent to all forms of habitation. One final note: in my opinion, architects must know that this kind of reflection is nothing more than adapting to a context that transcends them, and this idea was already looked at by Constant and Archigram from a critical perspective, and while this may be the only decent position existing today, it is a “reactive” perspective. Another final note: With respect to the withdrawal of the architect, another thing in play here is an ethical relationship with the medium of the home, and as a paradigmatic example of that, in Casa OS “no element built on the roof (chimneys, railings, etc.) goes beyond the horizon seen by a person positioned at street level.”
What’s irritating about the architect of the poor rich man is not so much his desire to determine certain aspects of how the client’s house is lived. What’s irritating is that this desire is extended to the entirety of all future possibilities.
Our job is full of decisions that determine in one way or another the way the inhabitants of our buildings will experience them. And that should not make our hands tremble. At the same time, we are not interested in total flexibility. We haven’t carried out our work in pursuit of a reflection on flexibility. We were aiming for a reflection on architecture. Can we plan an architecture that does not determine the entire realm of future possibilities? But we don’t want this issue to eclipse our interest in determining, in specifying the present possibilities. In the house of the poor rich man, all of the possibilities are exhausted—all of them. But aren’t many of the possibilities also exhausted in Casa OS? We have discovered the importance of having a certain humility in our work: the user might discover richness that you are unaware of. Their form of habitation could continue the process of architectural creation that was frozen the day that construction was completed. We would like to think that Casa OS is alive.
An architect has to make determinations and decisions… but can these be made with resignation? The humility you were talking about could be the consequence—just like flexibility is—of a game that transcends us. So, as Ekhi paraphrased it, you are leaving Casa OS in a moment in which it is defined as a field of multiple-choice possibilities.
However, for architecture to be alive, it has to be inhabited, threshed, exploited in all of its variants, finite or infinite, and that habitation should behave like a gas, which occupies the total space and adapts to its changes. How would Casa OS be inhabited by 2 people? How can one get it to be unfinished, alive? The succession of rooms to end up in the longitudinal living room overlooking the sea, laid out linearly…are these not conducive to inhabiting only the contiguous spaces? We do believe it is possible to make architecture without determining all of the future possibilities, being aware of the architect’s “failure” in terms of the richness discovered by the inhabitant. When Nouvel kept the workers’ wall drawings in Nemausus, that was nothing more than determining, crystallizing a decision and a moment in which the architect withdraws and gives way to habitation. Failure understood as a nondefeat. At the same time, failure takes on a tragic beauty, one of material contrast with that which transcends us, just as Fitzcarraldo serenely smokes a cigar while listening to Caruso following his failure on the Pachitea. This is the grandeur associated with the contemporary architect. You say that their form of habitation could continue the process of architectural creation that was frozen the day that construction was completed. The house’s ownership could change hands and accommodate the new way of living it via mechanisms that were determined by the architect. Could these mechanisms be an aspiration toward ownership (by the architect)? Would this be fragmenting the house with one of these mechanisms?
Hi, everyone. Well, here are my reflections: I think the best thing is for the response to come from architecture; I’m not questioning that those were your intentions, but sometimes the philosophical mumbo jumbo causes the rest to stumble on its own underpinnings. First of all, I think that in order to clarify things, we should establish degree differences between certain concepts. Architecture’s ceasing to be Determinative does not mean that architecture enters the realm of the Indeterminate. That’s why you (Nolaster) write that, “we are not interested in total flexibility.” In actuality, the idea of Total Flexibility is still fanciful, suspectible solely from a new age perspective like a “mystical bond with Nature” or something. That’s why you both (AG and Nolaster) highlight that your job is full of decisions and determinations; in the end, making architecture is “making”—intervening on a material. Intervening, which is to say determining, shaping, delimiting the material in a sense. Thus, there are decisions and there is determination because there is architecture. Nonetheless, we can consider the problem not to be one of Determination vs. Total Flexibility. In other words, we are not looking at the dilemma of being either “the rich man’s architect” or “the shapeless flow one does with the material.” What we can discuss is how is that which has been determined in each case, to what extent have the possibilities been exhausted, if the work is open and unfinished or not, what relationships are established with other non-architectural domains, etc. I think there are a number of interrelated questions here. First, I think that as far as I see Casa OS, the work you all have done could be called “infrastructural.” I don’t know if that makes sense, or if you agree. In order to get the house to be unfinished, you’ve tried to have your intervention, your decisions (which there are), delimit a space that will work more like a support for the possible forms of habitation that may or may not populate the house someday. That is why it’s unfinished, it’s incomplete; it’s a support. That work can be considered one of infrastructure (although not all infrastructure work must immediately be incomplete or open, perhaps it must with yours). And it is true that this entails also a reflection on architecture, or a reflection that covers both flexibility and architecture, what that should or should not be, etc. That Decision affects you all as architects and it also affects you from an ethical-political perspective (in the lighter sense of these terms, if you like). The question—and here is where AG’s comments intersect—is not this relative withdrawal of the architect, this position of humility, the effect of a “game that transcends the architect,” the effect of a loss of centrality with the architecture and the architect? What unfettered Economy needs is a plain surface, unfinished works that can support, be a support for its vicissitudes—today it’s storage, tomorrow a workshop or garden; likewise it needs living spaces with variable partition walls to accommodate a workforce (the inhabitants) exposed to its infinite variations, migrant workers today, families tomorrow and divorcees the day after that. In that sense, the architect—while we may not like this—is still a subordinate, a human resources manager in the era of diabolical capitalism. And this, by no means, is to say that Casa OS is solely that; “the house still to be done” will always be preferable to that of the “rich finished” one. I simply want to point out that if we are going to think or do some reflection on architecture, whether that be from the perspective of architecture itself or any other discipline, the question of the unfinished or incomplete, the open empty bucket that remains to be filled, is a bit more complex or ambivalent. In that sense, the question would be: what are the limitations of this kind of approaches, and what else could architecture be today than that mere act of conferring open spaces (which is no small contribution)? What the heck does making architecture mean (what’s the point) when both New Babylon or the Situationists and their Unitary Urbanism (coincidentally in vogue), Archigram’s engineering, and Oteiza’s empty boxes are the ideal model of that monstrous delirium that is postmodern society? What I mean to say is that there is a sort of zero degree of architecture, as its primary condition, the acceptance that something transcends the architect and that architects have to confer space to that which transcends them (habitation, Economy); but that today this may not be enough, that perhaps it only serves to corroborate, repeat, redound in a unique reality or form of having things happen, as its perfect complement. And this problem is not one that can be resolved under the cover of any tragic image.
Ekhi, you are absolutely right with respect the mumbo jumbo; in fact, it’s something we’ve discussed quite often, that we architects don’t know how to write and rarely seem to express ourselves without sounding either lyrical or lacking in words. Our medium is IMAGE and architecture is precisely that. Years ago we attended a conference where an architect was whining about how he’d returned to see this housing project a year after it was built and the inhabitants had destroyed his designs. His dismay seemed pathetic to us. When we were talking about tragic, far from an attempt at relying on lyricism, what we wanted was to express the idea of fleeing from that stance. The floor plan for Casa OS suggests a number of things to us, though not so much an open support as Ekhi mentions. For that reason, and because we understand and explain things from an architectural perspective, we would like to know what relationships you’ve looked for among the rooms.
Let’s start, as you suggested, from an architectural perspective, which is what we are trying to learn.
The Casa OS floor plan was supposed to respond to some very specific needs. The rooms soon took on some very specific dimensions [herein lies the determination]. Some of the rooms responded very specifically to some of the very specific needs. Others did not. In any case, all of them were conceived within a system. In that, the very specific dimensions of the rooms and the relationship between one another were perhaps more of a determining factor than the very specific needs of some. The system was looking for the relationships between rooms to be about “use” and not “perception,” such that the very specific needs of each piece could be “contaminated” with needs that had yet to be specified [herein lies the indeterminacy]. A relationship of “use” between two rooms is established with a door. The type of door defines the nuance of that relationship. All the rooms are similar; there is a certain sensation of isotropy. The result is simple and complex all at once. Let’s conclude from a non-architectural perspective. This is something we don’t know much about, though we feel we could try to say something. We feel comfortable within that “game that transcends the architect.” We are in a peripheral discipline. Aren’t they all? This condition seems positive to us and its acceptance is part of a realism (not a cynical one) that allows us to contribute what we have, and receive what they give us. Isn’t that “enough”? “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” (Hamlet, W. Shakespeare).
I think that technical questions can be clarified “from an architectural perspective” where with other peripheral perspectives they cannot, perhaps because they are explained differently, or perhaps a different set of nuances surrounding the same question are explained. The relationships between the rooms are about “use”; the specification of a room depends on the level of specification of needs (for use) in the context of a system of relationships. The spaces are used more or less, and establish relationships between one another depending on a question of degree and relationship: the inherent uncertainty of each room and relationship to other degrees of uncertainty of other rooms. Between rooms, the type of each transition, the doors. Personally, I would like to cover two categories of particular interest to me (which is no longer architecture, or not entirely anyway): that of degree and relationship. The house is coordinated (determined) from a non-essentialist perspective: it is not types of rooms that are drawn up (only in a secondary manner) but rather relative intensities of use (degree of uncertainty relative to the other degrees of uncertainty). You are not heard citing the kitchen, the living room, the bedroom, the bathroom, although those rooms exist as such. Does that mean you are not taking them into account? Obviously not, and besides that would be to ridicule what’s in play here. But from a theoretical standpoint, that brings another question to the fore: that the kitchen be such is contingent as it depends on the intensities of use (I’m not particularly referring to the Casa OS kitchen). Let me explain: a house’s essential (in the most literal, strongest sense of the word) attribute is not its having a kitchen. In fact we can imagine lifestyles in which the kitchen disappears from the household (this is happening). In that case, the kitchen would end up having a different degree of uncertainty and another level of specification and the entire system of relationships would be reconsidered. That could not happen if one were to believe that it is impossible to design a house without a kitchen; they would believe that the kitchen is an essential attribute of anything that is a house. The kitchen would still occupy a place without being “used” (this is also happening). If we put the focus on the question of use—and that can only be measured in intensities or degrees—we can imagine a house without a kitchen because first and foremost the kitchen space is “a degree of uncertainty relative to a system of relationships” and not an essential characteristic of all houses (an exclusively typological treatment of the house). Herein lies where I see the open part, in the balance between specification and indeterminacy. Or better yet, to avoid reduction: it is about organizing (determining) that game of specification/nonspecification, all of those relationships. As Oteiza said: coincidence, chance or risk are organized, calculated; lated; they are never shapeless. I think this is how that awkward dialogue can be clarified: Casa OS could be understood from that calculation, that form of calculating. At the very least it could be understood as the aspiration to tread upon that region where the architect withdraws (without withdrawing). Sociological questions aside: “aren’t all disciplines peripheral”? Yes. It’s always been that way. What happened is nothing more than the illusion of a nonexistent centrality of the Architect, and that myth of Centrality has passed through not only architecture but an entire era that is ending now. Is it enough? At the very least, it’s realistic without being cynical. What’s worrying is that this “give and take” ends up as simply everything being “enough,” and there the richness of that first humble withdrawal will inevitably be mistaken for a kind of poverty.
Our intention was to end this conversation with a series of conclusions. However, realizing that the topic lends itself to an open conversation without conclusions defined as such, and that we agree about the essentials, we have decided to skip that part. We would like to steer the conversation toward the magazine topic to wrap things up. The indeterminate part of what we’ve been discussing, the appropriation of space by the inhabitant: is this related to interior design? What is interior design to you?
I think that throughout these emails we’ve outlined what can initially be considered this “interior design” concept, or what’s usually called the “interior,” which is ultimately this question about what is inherent to the discipline. At the very least, we have outlined what idea of space is problematic or contemplated here. From the periphery of my discipline, which is even further from interior design than architecture, I will try to speak to this issue. Perhaps it is superfluous to point out that interior design can never be a “specialty of taste,” because starting with the first text the debate itself has been approached in contrast with that idea. If it is not a “specialty of taste” (for as subtle as that may be), what is? Although architecture determines a “surface,” that “surface” must in turn be determined by the inhabitant. And at that point “interior design” should provide assistance by developing the right instruments. But then, should it go for just gadgets or furniture? Obviously not solely. But that’s where it becomes problematic, this task of understanding “interior design” and the relationships established with architecture. Perhaps it’s that this idea of “interior design”—whether that be as a discipline or the mere act of utilizing a space or working on it for it to be inhabited—is an attempt to organize the architectural surface that has been offered, without determining once and for all every one of its possibilities for “use.” If Casa OS is organized in relation to “degrees of uncertainty” relative to the “use” of the rooms, and the intensity and variety of that “use,” will it not be the activity of working with the “interior,” the rooms, the ratio of those uses, of those certainties and uncertainties?
Construction and architecture may in fact have the same relationship that decoration and interior design have. Architecture should offer the users a space that exceeds their expectations. It must handle with precision the available resources, as well as the needs and the social and physical environment being developed—that much is clear. But the product created is a result of other factors that do not impose conditions, but are in essence intentions being materialized. When intentions are brought to fruition in a satisfactory and coherent manner, a piece of architecture appears, or a redistribution is done and textures are arranged in an interior in such a way that might prove exciting to us. This provides us with situations in which a contemporary inhabitant can get situated and develop, all the while doing so inside a setting that is their own. Therefore, interior design seems something not created by the user. They can dress it up, decorate it or put different touches on it, but we’d like to think that requires more intentions than the immediate comfort that the inhabitant can self-provide. It is not an issue of one’s discipline or trade, but rather projection and engagement. Actually, there doesn’t seem to be all that much distance between what one must think about in order to do a 12-story building for a Korean systems-integration company on the outskirts of Bologna, and the adaptation of a 400-meter space so as to turn it into a restaurant that will offer meals costing 77 euros, or even designing a street bench that will be mass produced for installation throughout half of Europe.
“Thus, it is untrue that when I paint a street or a wall that they become unreal. They are still real despite being painted differently for my scene. I’m required to modify or remove the colors that I run across, in order to produce an acceptable composition. Let’s say we have a blue sky: Who knows if it’s going to work? And if I can’t use it, what am I to do with it? Then I take a grey day as a neutral backdrop where I can put in all the color elements that work for me: a tree, a house, a ship, an automobile, a telephone pole. It’s like having a blank sheet for laying out the colors.” (Michelangelo Antonioni)
Durante el 2009, la Comisión de Prospectiva del Plan Estratégico Metropolitano de Barcelona – liderada por Maria Reig, presidenta de Reig Capital Group – creó diecisiete grupos de trabajo con el objetivo de analizar y elaborar propuestas de actuación en ámbitos de relevancia para la ciudad de Barcelona y su área metropolitana. En estas comisiones han participado más de 200 expertos de diferentes sectores: arquitectos, empresarios, directivos, académicos, científicos, consultores, periodistas y agentes sociales.
Jordi Ayala-Bril y Jonathan Arnabat, miembros de ARQUITECTURA-G, han formado parte de la Subcomisión de Arquitectura de la confrontación, junto a los arquitectos Borja Ferrater, Jorge Vidal, Samuel Arriola, Guillen Augé, Pere Buil, Jose Ángel Cicero, Josep Ferrando, Guillermo López, Estel Ortega, Ariadna Perich, Marta Peris, Anna Puigjaner, Esther Rovira, Sergi Serrat, Maria Sisternas, Clara Solà-Morales, Roger Such, José Manuel Toral, Anna Vergés, Joan Vitòria y José Zabala.
El 26 de mayo de 2010, se presentó al alcalde de Barcelona y presidente del Plan Estratégico Metropolitano de Barcelona, Jordi Hereu, las conclusiones del trabajo que durante quince meses ha realizado la comisión de Prospectiva del PEMB. Podéis descargar el documento: Conclusiones de la Comisión de Prospectiva del PEMB
Os ofrecemos el texto que realizó Jordi Ayala-Bril en representación de ARQUITECTURA-G como aportación a la Subcomisión de Arquitectura de la confrontación (en catalán):
Mobilitat Metropolitana a Barcelona. Nou Pla estratègic metropolità
“La infraestructura ya no es una respuesta más o menos retardada a una necesidad más o menos urgente, sino un arma estratégica”
Rem Koolhaas (premi Pritzker any 2000), “La ciudad Generica”. Editorial Gustavo Gili, publicació original “The generic city” Domus 791, març de 1997.
1-Plantejament de la problemàtica
Com utilitza Barcelona el seu subsòl? És eficaç la mobilitat a Barcelona?
El transport subterrani ha estat organitzat a partir de línies, originariament ideades per acostar a la població de la perifèria al centre de la ciutat.
La geometria radial, o concèntrica, provoca una dependència nodal. Al reconèixer la seva importància, es genera la diferència i la congestió central.
El tren metropolità, evolució dels ferrocarrils del segle XIX, hereda la linealitat del sistema. Una seqüencia de vagons estirats per una locomotora, els radis de gir amplis i la dificultat dels canvis de direcció.
Aquesta linealitat provinent de la incorporació del ferrocarril a l’interior de les ciutats, imposa una geometria pròpia dels creixements suburbans (lineals) a l’estructura subterrània actual, quan els creixements urbans han deixat de ser lineals fa moltes decades.
No hi ha una xarxa de metro que sigui un reflex de l’eixample. I pensar que ho serà de la ciutat que avui es projecta és impensable.
La forma de la ciutat no està relacionada amb el traçat de les linees de transport subterrani, i això és una problemàtica de totes les grans metròpolis. Lluny del que intenten molts plans, accentuen les diferències.
Hi ha una falta d’integració real de les diferents infraestructures viaries de l’àrea: ferrocarrils de la Generalitat, rodalies i metro.
L’àrea metropolitana de Barcelona té un dèficit de transport públic subterrani i el transport per superfície està molt congestionat. Aquest endarreriment és una oportunitat única per resoldre el problema d’una manera molt eficaç i diferenciadora.
Hi ha grans àrees de ciutat inclús en zones molt poblades on no hi ha accés al metro.
La xarxa de metro és poc densa. No és tant un problema del número de parades, sinó de com estan organitzades. En un àrea cèntrica delimitada de 200 Km2 a Barcelona hi ha una xarxa de 5×4 línies (incloent la nova L9). A la mateixa àrea a Nova York hi ha una xarxa de 10×5 línies i a Londres 6×4 línies, amb un número similar de parades.
Barcelona és una ciutat compacta. Després d’uns anys de creixement dispers, de baixa densitat, arreu del país, es posa en crisis aquest model per la seva poca eficiència i consum de sòl. Barcelona es reafirma en aquest sentit i es planteja un creixement de l’àrea metropolitana amb densitat. Una ciutat compacta requereix estar dotada d’unes bones infraestructures pel seu correcte funcionament. El transport per superficie es lent, hi ha creuaments, semàfors i es reconeguda la falta d’espai per als vianants. Així el metro es la millor opció per garantir un transport eficaç, net i que allibera espai per a fer ciutat.
Com hauria de ser el metro de la Barcelona metropolitana?
Per donar solució a aquests problemes podem treballar sobre el sistema actual per tenir efectes a curt plaç, amb solucions parcials, o fer un canvi més profund que implica repensar un nou sistema.
Adaptació de les línies actuals a un ús metropolità.
Transformar les estacions a varies vies per permetre un transport parada a parada o un transport més directe amb parada a les estacions principals. Aquesta configuració funciona amb èxit a ciutats com Nova York i permet moure’s amb més velocitat si les distàncies són llargues.
La problemàtica de les línies sense continuïtat.
Les línies que acaben al centre de la ciutat, no completen la xarxa, són una oportunitat desaprofitada de connectar directament dos extrems de la ciutat. Donant continuïtat a aquestes línies, es multipliquen les possibilitats de connexió i es dóna un tractament igualitari a totes les zones.
Característiques per a un nou transport metropolità.
La xarxa de metro no hauria d’estar formada per uns tentacles com a extensió de les línies actuals cap a la resta de municipis de l’àrea.
La xarxa hauria de ser una malla subterrània, que no marqués diferències entre districtes/ciutats. Ser realment una xarxa.
El transport subterrani hauria d’anar de la mà dels nous projectes urbans, permetre donar accés a tots els punts on la ciutat ho requereixi, d’una manera homogènia.
El transport subterrani hauria de tenir més semblances als centres d’emmagetzemament logístics automatitzats que no als trens que avui utilitzem.
S’obriría la possibilitat de formar xarxes integrades de diferents densitats i per a diferents usos: el transport de mercaderies, i la recollida de residus producte del reciclat.
Hauría de ser un sistema més lleuger, distribuït i distribuïble.
Una manera per iniciar un procés reflexiu a diferents escales temporals, seria realitzar concursos d’idees sobre mobilitat a Barcelona.
Realitzar estudis multidisciplinars per a les diferents propostes. Barcelona té bons mitjans per portar a terme un nou projecte de mobilitat dels 36 municipis i el seu entorn, a propòsit de la pròxima aparició de la nova administració metropolitana. Però sense visions parcials, es el moment de fer una lectura amplia i una proposta ambiciosa.
Hi ha algunes ciutats que ja han afrontat grans reptes sobre mobilitat com ara els plans de transport per la ciutat de Bangkok, on tres sistemes de trens són rivals entre ells, una espècie de selecció natural fa que cada usuari esculli l’òptim. A Masdar, Abu Dhabi, ciutat projectada per a ser eficient energèticament, ja s’estan fent les ultimes proves per al transport personal amb “Pod cars” vehicles sense conductor per a quatre persones també coneguts com PRT, funcionen de manera autònoma, com a particules organitzades. Aquest sistema també està funcionant a la nova terminal 5 de l’aeroport de Heathrow, per a la connexió entre terminals i aparcaments. Canvis com aquests tindran un efecte molt important sobre la geometria de les infrastructures de transport. La reducció dels radis de gir i la nova organització en particules amplien els horitzons en la configuració dels sistemes metropolitans. Aquests canvis s’haurien de tenir molt presents en la planificació del pròxim transport urbà. Més enllá del debat espectacle sobre la secció de l’avinguda Diagonal, el discurs teòric i tècnic hauria d’estar orientat a resoldre els problemes de les principals infraestructures de l’àrea.
Algun dia Barcelona serà una ciutat sense automòbils?
En Febrero de 2005 tuvo lugar en Barcelona la primera edición del Met-Festival con carácter internacional cuyos objetivos eran generar un foro de discusión y debate entorno a la arquitectura, el cine y la moda entre estudiantes de estas disciplinas. Uno de los apartados con que contaba dicho encuentro pluridisciplinar fue un concurso de arquitectura en el cual se proponía la construcción de un pabellón virtual de exposiciones para Barcelona ubicado en la red. 18000 euros en premios estaban en juego. ARQUITECTURA-G se puso a discutir cómo había que afrontar el concurso. Inmediatamente surgió la necesidad de definir espacio virtual, pues era necesario acotar con exactitud cual era el tablero de juego. Coincidimos en que estábamos en el terreno de las percepciones y, por lo tanto, contar con la gravedad, con un suelo, un techo, o con elementos constructivos “reales” quedaba descartado. A partir de aquí se desarrolló la invención del proyecto y se presentó. Los tres equipos ganadores, de los cinco que estábamos en la final, plantearon edificios materiales, con estructura, cerramientos y anclados al suelo barcelonés. ¿Quién estaba en lo cierto?
TEXTO SOBRE EL PABELLÓN PRESENTADO A CONCURSO:
“Se pide un Pabellón Virtual de Barcelona en tres dimensiones que represente a la ciudad y esté ubicado en la red. El espacio virtual no es un espacio ficticio que se opone al real, es fruto del derrumbamiento de esas separaciones opositivas. Teniendo esto en cuenta el concepto de espacio simulado sería más apropiado. Este espacio se rige por normas distintas a las del espacio euclideo; no hay gravedad, escala, límites, ni restricciones. El espacio euclideo funciona por ordenamiento, centramiento y reducción o reconducción de las líneas-fuerza que abren los cuerpos a una liquidez geométrica no exacta. Funciona fundamentalmente a base de fijaciones. El espacio virtual ya no se deja fijar, y en ese sentido, se puede afirmar que libera todo un nuevo universo de movilidad. Por ello no nos parece apropiado proponer un pabellón que siga las reglas de la geometría clásica. Proponemos, por el contrario, un Pabellón infinito en un estado potencial de constante variación. El pabellón alemán supuso una nueva forma de entender el espacio acorde al movimiento moderno, sin embargo se encuentra limitado por las normas de la realidad física. Nuestro pabellón debe responder espacialmente a nuestro tiempo, teniendo en cuenta que en el espacio simulado los límites de la tecnología han sido superados. Siendo esto así, las plantas, alzados, perspectivas y secciones al uso no es que carezcan de sentido, sino que no existen. Al no haber suelo, concepto de arriba o abajo, y estar dentro de una geometría topológica, no procede seccionar el edificio por un punto concreto, tomar una vista u otra, ya que todo es igual de válido. Es por ello que omitimos estos documentos en nuestro trabajo. Los pabellones de exposiciones universales han servido a lo largo de la historia para mostrar lo representativo de un país o empresa y sus adelantos. Actualmente , los límites de los países y culturas se están desdibujando en todos los sentidos. La proximidad contemporánea no es tanto una reducción de las distancias entre puntos, sino la disolución de lo distante; de la posibilidad misma de darse la distancia que funda lo distinto. En este sentido, la homogeneización geográfica del espacio global no puede sino provocar la indistinción generalizada de todo. Esa tendencia hacia la ciudad genérica que pierde su identidad es un proceso irrefrenable. Muestra de ello es que nos es posible encontrar la misma comida, las mismas tiendas, la misma gente y las mismas estructuras urbanas en la mayoría del globo. Descartamos por tanto esas – a priori – señas de identidad de Barcelona como motivo a destacar en el Pabellón, sencillamente porque ya no lo son. La especialización es lo único que queda para ser competitivo en la economía globalizada. A Barcelona, por tradición y medios, le queda el diseño en todas sus acepciones como símbolo de identidad. Este es nuestro valor a destacar. Pero no sólo se trata de una urgencia económica. La realidad contemporánea se desarrolla como una realidad estetizada, proliferan infinitas copias que no refieren a un original y que compone un contexto en el que el diseño se descubre crucial como herramienta de modelización. La propuesta es una estructura espacial en la que diseños barceloneses se maclan interconectándose entre sí pudiendo ser recorridos; Una Biblioteca de Babel del diseño Barcelona. Nos centramos en una parte en concreto por ser representativa y sintética, tomando como herramienta de trabajo un icono del diseño, la Aceitera Marquina. El pabellón propuesto es una concatenación de Aceiteras Marquina sin escala y transitables virtualmente. El medio en el que se encuentran es vinagre. En una realidad en la que todo es posible, invertimos la naturaleza del objeto al pasar el contenido a ser el continente. En este universo creado tendrían cabida los nuevos diseños, que se irían agregando a la estructura haciéndola infinita y mutable.”