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"Right now, innovation can only be political"

27 July 2017

Andrés Jaque Interview with Andrés Jaque.

Andrés Jaque

Andrés Jaque. Architect.

In your installation/performance piece Ikea Disobedients (2012-2013), you revealed the shortcomings of a commercial system with an apparently universal vocation which actually only addresses that part of society that has been ‘chosen' to represent society as a whole, overlooking the fact that our society is formed quantitatively by the majority of people and communities.

This attitude seems to me to be indicative of the way you approach your work, which appears to showcase the underlying structure of the world that surrounds us while at the same time criticising its representation. Could you tell us if you see yourself represented in this way of approaching projects, and explain a little more about your attitude towards them?

I think there is a revolution in the way we understand innovation. These days, no industry is interested in making generic products to unify their markets. We're not even any longer in the times of customized mass production (a very limited number of components that could be combined to offer certain differences that gave the impression that the product had been adapted to the particular taste of each customer). We're living in a time when any product is actually the access to a platform that celebrates persity and really serves as a product adaptable to the circumstances of each customer at any given time. This is a paradigm shift that calls for a whole culture of difference, a celebration of the minority. Some companies have understood this and have managed to capture the spirit of our times; others are finding it more challenging.

What's interesting to me is that this brings culture and politics (two fields in which persity has been celebrated and championed for a long time, which is found in transition, in the abandonment of the concept of normality against the recognition of the great wealth of everyday life) closer to industry and innovation.

Right now, innovation can only be political.

Your housing projects seem to work on the idea of developing a place: the house with respect to its plot, the different pieces that make up its composition, the horizontal and vertical planes creating different heights and levels between them, the furniture… What can you tell us about the relationship between this agenda of finding a place and the environment in which the project is based?

I'm interested in how the domestic realm is now a field for considering the way in which humans relate to the territorial scale and the minute microscopic scale. I believe the house is the place where major decisions are made about climate change, and at the same time the place where the smallest mass-produced particles are used, the molecules that are contained in cosmetics, which travel from the skin to the water treatment plants and the rivers. Domesticity has taken on the political role that the street used to have. But they are different types of politics: politics of the body, of the environment, of gender, of consumption; not so much those of political parties or political demonstrations.  Our projects such as the House in Never Never Land, the TUPPER HOME and the Casa Sacerdotal Diocesana in Plasencia were based on exploring the potential of the political role of the home. 

Tupper Home

Tupper Home House, by Andrés Jaque Architects. Picture of Jaque/Offpolin

What is the relationship between the project, understood as an apparatus for weaving human relations, and the inpidual who inhabits it?

That's a very good question. At the moment there is no way to be an inpidual without being part of a network of extended relationships. There are few cases where you can be in society without connecting to a mobile phone network. Or without depending at some point in our lives on treatments, substances or medical equipment. Or without a credit profile, or a CV, or a support network. Being human is being a node in a material and relational network. Architecture cannot fail to be sensitive to this contemporary condition. Architects produce relational devices. The idea of the building as an autonomous object has been conceptually naïve since the late 19th century.

But the important thing is to think about what potential this has right now for architecture. We are very committed to exploring architecture as part of cross-material and cross-media systems. Over the last three years we have been working with Grindr, for example, developing urban potentials associated with its locative media. Projects such as the Rolling House for the Rolling Society (which we developed in collaboration with Construmat in 2009) was the first architectural project that proposed a collaboration between the built environment and the social networks. Just as the media unleashed modern architecture, new forms of interaction are transforming the space in which architecture operates. The interesting thing, for me, is that the locative media challenged many of the predictions made in the 60s and 70s about the implications of digital interaction. While at that time it was thought that location would lose its importance (in that we would be able to work anywhere, or engage in remote sexual relations), the locative media like Tinder and Grindr have given a new relevance to proximity. The most deep-rooted notions of architecture are gaining a new prominence, but in a format that questions the way we did things in the past.

In addition, you described the House in Never Never Land as a hedonistic landscape represented by ‘extreme bliss' (or the illusion of it through designer drugs, sex, music, etc.) that coexists with aspirations of speculation and retirement. Could you tell us about your approach when facing such apparently changeable and variable project parameters?

The House at Never Never Land was designed to make the hedonistic desires of its owners, a family of highly educated art collectors, compatible with the environment of the Cala Vadella communities where the house is located. It also mediates between the present of its owners and their future. It is an interface between different realities.

Your projects are conceived as organisms endowed with a life of their own, often literally by incorporating within them biology, a lot of moving parts, complex operating mechanisms that completely transcend the intentions of their uses to establish a dialogue with the environment or even recreate it to improve living conditions. Could you tell us about the relationship between the developer of the project as an inpidual, company or institution who demands certain specific requirements, and the creation of this organism that transcends them (though fulfilling them) to focus on ore infrastructural elements?

Architecture is always performative. It can only be understood when it comes into use through usage, when it is traversed by life. I believe that a house only comes to life when it connects with the landscape, when it hosts a party, when it serves as a support for nesting birds, when the thermostat detects a change of temperature and turns on the central heating. It is only through the interlinking of events that the social relations of architecture are activated. The architecture that we create in my practice is informed by this sensibility, and this is why we are interested in the elements that facilitate and contribute to an aesthetic language for this way of seeing the world.

Your practice is made up of a multidisciplinary team in which architects coexist with sociologists, political scientists and anthropologists and a technical team of environmental experts. How do you manage this team and what results does it produce compared to the more traditional and widespread way of understanding an architectural project as an exercise in synthesis?

We don't wait for commissions to arrive, we manufacture them ourselves. In the same way, we manufacture our customers and we manufacture ourselves. For me, architecture has huge potential to mediate issues that are currently in dispute, such as inequality, climate change, the way the personal connects with the collective. But this is a very difficult thing. That's why in our practice we are forced to devote 60% of our time and resources to research. Because we need to produce the knowledge necessary to access these realities. Right now, we're working on a big project on sex and urbanism. But we've already been developing it for three years. However, it's allowing us to understand processes that would otherwise be indecipherable.

Could you tell us about your references outside the world of architecture, primarily from the world of art?

I have found a huge range of affinities in art. At the moment we are working in an intermediate plane between art and architecture, and I think it is very fruitful. It was a huge thrill to be awarded the Frederick Kiesler Prize last year, which recognises people whose work intersects art and architecture. In previous prize-winners such as Frank Gehry, Olafur Eliasson, Andrea Zittel and Cedric Price you can see how enriching it has been to their careers being able to work in this mixed field. 

It's also something that has enabled us to understand more precisely the implications for architecture of the stresses that the contemporary art world is experiencing. This has allowed us to work at a deeper level on projects such as those of the Dos de Mayo Art Centre and Museum, the new use of the Galleries Lafayette headquarters in the Marais district in Paris, the ARCO Fair… and also to be able to work as curators, connecting art and urbanism in projects such as Manifesta 12 in Palermo.

Your project for the 2010 Venice Biennale created a cloud from the relations generated in a flat occupied by four people on Calle del Pez in Madrid. This evanescent, foamy, diffuse and almost ephemeral aspect is something that has subsequently been transferred to more permanent and social interventions. Could you tell us about this diffuse materiality?

It is a political use of the tradition of interior decoration. It was really great to be able to develop it under the curatorship of Kazuyo Sejima, with whom we are still very close. She had designed the City of Girls ten years earlier, and I believe she saw our work as something that shared that same sensibility. It was a very enriching relationship for us.

Could you tell us about the relationship between technology and the current political situation of our world?

Bruno Latour has been an important reference in my work. Last year we developed part of his exhibition, Reset Modernity, with him at the ZKM. Latour wrote some time ago that "technology is society made durable." I share with him the idea that architecture or any other form of technology is not meant to contain or serve the social; rather, it is social in itself. There's no way of understanding what we are if we are stripped of our multiverse materials.

Could you tell us about the relationship of technology with your works?

Everything I design is technology. I think a brick or the rules of a game are just as technological as an iPad.

And finally, could you give us an outline of the materialisation of all these factors in your recent Wikihouse project?

The weakness of many digital proposals in the last few decades is that they only thought on two scales of social aggregation: that of the inpidual and that of society as a whole. This is taken to extremes in the case of the Wikihouse. It aims to be innovative, but it takes us back to the world of post-war suburban inpiduality. The MAK in Vienna asked us for a work that was based on the use of the Wikihouse tradition, and we decided to provide a neighbourhood version of this inpidual innovation. Our project is basically a formal and social exploration of neighbourhood aggregation patterns. Right now it's on display in Vienna and we are very happy about the debate it has unleashed.