Investigating the nature of materials is essential for you when it comes to your projects. How do you choose the most suitable materials for each project?
When I choose the materials there are three key elements that need to be taken into account: Firstly, define what does the tectonics of the space want to transmit. To give you an example without revealing too much: in the project for BBConstrumat the materials are intended to be instructive with respect to the way of understanding construction. Construction take shape by means of two types of materials: stereotomic materials, which refer to the minerals, the weight, compression, stacking, etc., and the materials that work with lightness, traction, textile and so on. In consequence, the materials chosen for the fair answer to this duality: one works on the stereotomic and the other on the tectonic, and they seek to explain themselves phenomenologically and also didactically.
The second factor is proximity, availability, almost like an animal construction, i.e. an animal that builds its habitat has uses whatever is available in its environment. In our case, to achieve a self-sufficient space, we will source materials that are easy to find and close by. These are elements that are not skeleton nor flesh nor skin but rather all of them at the same time. They are space.
And the last but not least of the three elements is how will we execute it, which procedures and actions will be taken to build? It is completely diferent to build with a construction company than building with students, with a community or with a family. We need to understand which machine is building to define the material.
Is there any material that has given you an unexpected result, for whatever reason?
All of them. Precisely what I look for is the unexpected; I seek to work with materials that I don’t know in order to learn from them, and so I try to make each project an excuse to learn something. My intention is never to project results but to project processes; I submit these materials to a certain degree of research and, based on the unexpected, I begin to build rules. What I’m looking for is to begin to “tame” the material in order to “converse” with it. It’s not a matter of taming the material so I can do what I want with it but rather understanding what the material wants and thus starting to establish project rules or laws related to the characteristics and character of the material.
You work on very different projects, from pieces of furniture such as the Biennale chair to large public buildings like the one at the University in Buenos Aires, currently under construction; are there any common elements in the way of conducting projects on such different scales?
Yes, there are common elements in the way of working on different scales. One of them, for example, is the trust in tectonics for the definition of the form. That’s almost the most important thing. Therefore, we can envision the chair as a construction and the building is a piece of furniture. The chair is seen as the construction of an element that not only generates comfort but which is a flat area 45 cm above the floor. It is seen as a construction that defines this level, and achieves comfortability. Ultimately, it is a construction, a structure you can sit on.
The building in Buenos Aires, is at the same time a piece of furniture; the thickness of its façade contains the structure and installations to free up the 20mx60m site, which means that it all together becomes a skin 1.80 metres deep. Actually, it’s a piece of smart furniture that contains everything: structure, skin, facilities, etc.
It’s reliance on the tectonics for the definition of the form, not the form imposing itself on the construction.
This applies at all scales. It’s important to contain different scales in different scales at the same time. For example, it’s important for the chair not only to have a human scale but also a larger scale as well, just as the University should not only adapt to an urban scale but also to the human scale of the person who inhabits it.
The model is a work tool but, at the same time, a project in itself for you. How do the representation and the final object converse?
That’s a good question, because precisely I always distinguish between “making models” and “building models”.
When you do “making models” with the plans already on the table you can make the model.
On the other hand, the process of “building models” requires plans for construction of the model. So what’s the difference?
Building a model involves understanding the characteristics of the material, the weight, the way of cutting it, the way of assembling it. When you make a model things are held together simply by an accumulation of glue, adhesive. On the other hand, the built model does not rely on adhesive for its construction and sustainability, it relies on fully understanding the construction, how the things are being assembled, how they are being stacked, how they hang. It requires the precision of construction.
For models such as those of the exhibitions at the Aedes Gallery and the MAM Museum in Rio de Janeiro, the search involved just that. The challenge was to build 12 models with 6 different materials (2 models for each material): steel, glass, wood, ceramics, stone and concrete. Being obliged to build 12 projects at 1:100 involves establishing the limits of the materials at that scale and, therefore, researching the material. Research through building models and not making models makes it an instrument of learning, not restricted to being the depiction of a project.
Talking of the issue of innovation and technology in architecture, can you see any significant new developments on the horizon?
In technology, I think it’s very important to take into account the industrialization of things and what that means. Industrialization is synonymous with perfectibility. Building something in the workshop that you can test for water or temperature permeability enables you to make things as perfectible and serialized as possible.
There’s a field of technology that promotes perfectibility and, at the same time, makes spaces much more versatile, flexible, changeable and interchangeable over time. Therefore, in my view, innovation is related to how we can work on this without losing tradition, craftsmanship, etc.
It’s the same as what occurred with energy issues until recently: sustainability had to be demonstrated in an almost insulting and pornographic way; there was an ordinary building, but suddenly it was covered with solar panels everywhere. In my opinion it was like sustainability pornography. I think that there are now excellent architects that are working very intelligently, like Lacaton & Vassal, among others. They are showing us that sustainability has nothing to do with the demonstration of the gadgets and artefacts that accompany a building but instead seeing the building as the construction of a sustainable space with some common sense.
In my view, the technology and innovation of the future are associated with energy, energy savings and making buildings more and more efficient from every standpoint. It’s the idea of perfectibility I mentioned before.
Now you’re working on the integral design of the common areas of the next BBConstrumat. It seems like a very interesting challenge. What opportunities do these types of commissions offer for an architect?
The project brings together two things that are usually contradictory: on the one hand, ephemeral spaces are often small-scale projects, while this is a large-scale object. We’re talking about 3,000m2 of common spaces, dimensions commonly associated with a public facility. On the other hand i find very interesting the challenge of thinking of how to make a volume of space related to the perennial by means of an outdated thought. So, how can I work? It’s at this point when we can begin to publicize something about the project we’re doing for BBConstrumat: we’re working with materials that will have a life cycle greater than the 10 days of the fair.
Therefore, what’s going to happen is that these materials will allow us to build on the scale required (3,000m2) in a trade fair but, at the same time, it will be understood in terms of its ephemeral use in time. It’s an important challenge and an opportunity to make the studio’s way of thinking more visible.