Shadows and Alphabets
Date: Tuesday 19 May 1998
Venue: Lecture Hall
Begun over twelve years ago the Igualada Park-Cemetery in Catalonia is a founding project for Enric Miralles. For Miralles, a cemetery is not a tomb but a relationship with the landscape and forgetting . . . memories are deposited in the fissures of the tombs, the vegetation fills the empty spaces of the embankment, and the shadows begin to act as a clock. In this lecture he talks about Igualada and reviews work relating to recent projects. NB: Occasional audio crackle.
Mohsen Mostafavi introduces Enric Miralles.
ENRIC MIRALLES: Thank you for having the patience for inviting me again. My lecture was named Alphabets and Shadows or something like that, in a way, it is because I am preparing a kind of publication, but in a way when you review your work… I like to present the work not as a kind of hypothesis and then you give the building as the answer; I prefer to work in a kind of continuous work and the best way to express new work is by expressing the freedom you have at the moment you make decisions in between doubts. I’m going to talk about this, sorry, but I think it makes sense in a school, because you are fundamentally safe, because one day the academic term finished: whatever you have is the result. This is the slight difference: not having any final result, even knowing that the building process is just one step in time, one day it will have its own life, etc. I was quite impress when I decided to take this kind of shadows, maybe you’ve seen some of the photos: photographing your buildings as anything you want to see in them instead of the building itself. I’m going to show you two projects on which we are working now, in the intermediate moment we are in the office, developed as a necessity, when I was talking about site. This is impressive, because now most of the work we are doing has to do with restoration, with urban sites that are being demolished, a lot of European cities are being like that: reusing, doing it again, taking any little detail as a starting point. Gideon's ‘Space, Time and Architecture’… this famous word time, that I really never understood, what does it really mean, I think he has not understood much either, because it sounds nice, but you don’t really know. Doing this projects you find how much time exceeds something material, I think, time is the place of some architecture, when you have no land. When you are in a urban context, all of the buildings exist, there is expectations about construction, about new forms, and then you have the feeling that time is what is more important. I have two slides missing that are quite important, but I will draw them. What is impressive of a Miró painting, or some of them… probably for me he is one of the painters who have been more material, when you read Miró’s notes, they are impressive, because they say: “I’m going to do something in which I’m going to use a lot of white, maybe some piece of wood and then I will do three tries.” And this is the program of his painting, and then, of course, he starts doing some other things and talking about something else. If you look carefully at a Miró painting, there are two things, how he prepares the canvas for that to exist, and the second thing [takes a piece of chalk and he is about to draw] is this… sorry for copying a Miró, but there is… [audience laughter]. There is a fear, I would say I start most of my projects with this painting, which I never did. There is something which is amazing, which is—I think this is one of the best forms, I mean, with this you could pass most of the exams, I’m sure, really, it’s useful for almost anything—I’m really impressed because it’s so precise, what I like about this is—I was talking about things like this thinking more in Giacometti. My trace is the one of the architect, very bad, but if you see how many tries exist behind that, until this form is fixed and how he connected it with some other one and then how he calibrated the distance to a third piece, this for instance is impressive, how the triangle finished into something, and then how he defines a distance, as if saying, “here, nothing else will happen,” and then he goes back, and almost like a joke tells you that he is very conscious of the humoristic quality of this, and makes it as some kind of burnt sun, or whatever, and then in an amazing way he starts a much more subtle way. I’m impressed of how he establishes the relationship between the things and how everything is meaningful and how he creates the sort of relations that in the final result exist, let’s say, all the thousands of tries, where the forms become something, I would say, as precise as my other illustration [shows from his notebook] this is more difficult to draw, i hope you see it from here. It’s a double portrait, this was a tradition in Venice by Paolo Lombardi, when you have the limitations to express yourself about the human figure, even the archetypal figure of male and female, just distinguished by the volume of the hair and things like that, you realize how sure is the end result, but also how it’s just one of the thousand possible tries. This is what really interest me, and this has a lot to do with time, in a way, this kind of instant quality of this things, allows them to be on time. What is important is that you create enough intensity. When you work in a site, at the end, the only thing you want to have, is a similar density, a similar quality of the things that surround it. I’m not interested in A versus B or black versus white, I prefer this equilibrium system much more. Most of the slides are, a bit rhetorically creating relations upon variations, until you create enough density for one of this things to exist. Let’s go to the slides. When the building is finished, maybe, in a way or another, maybe, if I was photographing through the shadows, as an automatic X-ray that sun and rain and weather gives into the buildings. This kind of variations probably allow the building to be on time, along time.
I’m going to show two ongoing projects, that I hope will be built. These are projects we have been doing through discussion committees and really following the process. [Slide: aerial photograph of the historic centre of Barcelona]. We are working on that project [points out area of Santa Caterina market in Barcelona], which is meant to be the demolition of that, again this has to do with time. Barcelona has amazing things for the Olympics and so on, but then a very difficult and bureaucratic problem has happened, that from European Community funds—because all this idea about regeneration, cleaning, whatever, all was coming from let’s say Corbu ‘29, this idea of thinking about the city as a sick organism that you should clean by extracting pieces, it is amazing how 60 or 70 years later, it comes back because there is money to do it. So the city start doing demolitions, which of course, maybe are necessary to create open spaces or whatever, but at the same time we are producing much more harm. Also because it is not ready the idea of what is it going to be there. They were very blind, and the material for it, started almost like an action, this kind of process of what you should do and you see most of the material we have produced is not about form itself, is about showing the problem what is going to happen. Most of the material we have produced is not about form itself, is about showing the problem, showing what is going to happen. Instead of showing the solutions, we start by showing most clearly the problems, and then offering almost without thought a kind of first proposals that, if any reconstruction needs to go there should be a kind of building that physically should engage touching and having similar heights and reproducing, maybe in a bigger scale what happens in the first phases of that construction. At the same time we start producing some photographs, beside the classical, critical attitude, you start even being helped by classical roman spaces of early baroque period, how the city needs to be rebuilt, or has been rebuilt in the past, let’s say trying to be very precise and conscious with the coherence in between the urban space, and the urban form and the building itself, so, when you see some of the best planning of the city before industrialization, I would say the street doesn’t exist. Probably, when you have gone through demolition, you have gone to an earlier period, which even should start doubting about if a city should only be defined by streets and the streets as the support of the facades and buildings. In London there are many examples of that, i mean the city as such doesn’t exist, is just a connection between this kind of squares. I think is quite important to see that sketches are probably less rich than, again, the photos and the materials, where you really collect the problem and the complexity of the situation. That leads us to this proposal, besides demolishing that, the city has already approved the project to open that street, completely, as if it were a kind of idea coming from Cerda’s plan of the middle of last century. Again, just being careful and realizing that the existing geometry of the place could help, here it would be the Miró thing: if you accept that the place is not as ideal as you think, and you realize that the market of Santa Caterina even is not on the axis of that, that it was built in a different way, etc. etc. we got the idea of the city: we will keep the opening as a visual thing going through the avenue, and then we started almost producing an end, taking forms and this project has now gone through and has gone until classical rules, but we took fragments of it and tried to develop the freedom inside, something with the kind of forms that existed. Then, this is the final result: every piece is more complex, it has to do about restoration, new constructions, but everything keeps bits of a much more complex reality. Most of all, I think that the bit of the public space will be almost a kind of equivalent. The classical definition of the street is upon doubts, in brackets, and then you start giving a much more complex figure for planning and the way of doing again was really inventing and reproducing variations. Showing that in this kind of precise and defined forms, coming from the pieces of land that have been inhabited, so in a way, dimensions of inhabitations are there. Then, we were using the office as a kind of place where this reality could be mimicked, producing a lot of variations, and really, letting the people and committees not discuss about yes or no, discuss about 20, 30, 50 possibilities, in which then, this game of the doubt, again, is there. I’m always saying that we wanted ‘more or less’ something like that, quite openly. Growing the density or the intensity of the forms, thoughts, we made our first proposal of reusing the market as a kind of foundation for the new housing. At that moment, the criticism of the model of the street comes, let’s say, out of the result, comes as a previous agenda, is something much more intuitive. Just by compromising with reality, dimensions, architecture, at the end we managed to change the planning figures. It’s a double project, the transformation of the urban and a real project. This is an statement to which the market should react. The market is an amazing structure that now is quite forgotten. Even from the logical point of view, here is an underneath parking which has never really helped the commercial activity, just because also they do this kind of garbage on the floor, so it doesn’t have this kind of quality. Before we were relating to the classical sense of a piazza, the market is much more about materiality, how the wood gets mixed with the foods and the foods have eaten the market. Everybody forgets that here there is a quite interesting place, but it has been hidden inside food. There are remembrances of a campo, or many of this classical spaces. The we produced this document, that probably it was the most convincing one. In the scenario that you would demolish the market, it is clear that the amount of free space you will get here will not give any benefit to those narrow streets. I think it’s clear that even a kind of neoclassical intervention of reshaping the void—in Barcelona we have the Plaza Real or the Parisian Place Vendome, many of these examples, I think they would never be able to reconcile with that. then you go to reality and you start looking with different eyes. It was two different clients, so we need to do it again, otherwise they become jealous, but you see how we start by leaving fragments and, again, using the production as a mimic, letting form decisions postpone as much as possible. Here we were thinking of some of the houses, the interior of the market, pushing the commercial areas much more into the elongated piazza. Reusing the good quality of the existing market into a new structure that is able to jump over the market and start building the street. Again, probably, the most convincing document of the proposal is the document that deals with the urban strategy. If you’ve been to Barcelona, I’m sure you’ve been in Sta. María del Mar, and in Museo Picasso and Calle Moncada, it’s impressive that when you cross this street, Calle Princesa, you are completely absorbed by that street and if you follow Moncada you will find a fantastic Romanesque church and you are just a block away from what could be a promising public place. Then you would move from this more secret Barcelona that, as many classical, roman towns are built along paths, almost like a centre that irradiates things—I think it’s very important nowadays if we are thinking about the real regeneration of the place, that people moves just in the opposite directions, not along historical paths, which are clearly established—you need to move through these small streets and this, as a process, should have a lot to do with lettering, information, and really preparing this kind of movements. The hypothesis was a lot about that: thinking and explaining how much this place is a big parking on the avenue, and a completely blind spot; the place [interior of existing market shown] has in itself an enormous richness, covered with a quite decent metal structure at the beginning of the century. Even the wood trustees are still there, but these kind of things at that moment they were streets, with carriages… you should remember that this was 1850, so really that scale was probably one of the biggest ones, the cathedral and that were probably the two biggest spaces in the city at that moment. It’s quite marvelous, just because everything is very dirty has survived, it’s hidden between walls and selling posts and all these things are still there. In a way, it was very beautiful to see that the Neoclassical intervention was not done through the demolition of a quite important gothic church, and cloister, almost equivalent to the cathedral. When you discover these things again, it is more than a revival or historicism, it’s a compromise on your project: what I was telling you before about density, about what you do with all these doubts. Of course, at the beginning you start working with something that you already know, and this could be part of the idea of the lecture: the shadows and the material quality that is coming from examples that people already know in Barcelona. In a way, this is used as a try, and here again comes Miró, it´s not yet a form, it's starting a conversation. Of course, you want to start the conversation not talking about football, but about something quite more interesting. Then, this thing starts to move [shows structure above existing market] and again is about the variations, they become part of the market and at the same time tries to build the commercial activity outside.
Now is the moment in which you could in a way start discussing both actions. This was a much more complex project, because was dealing with much richer material, most of which existed. These kind of first attempt almost to rebuild the voids and increase the density again was probably much more direct. Again, the process is about how to connect and how to work with the existing material. Again, time and this ways of looking at things help you, because what comes back all the time is the richness of the existing. Some elemental wood trustees. At the same time, everything you do should engage them, that was the first proposal as housing, using the staircases to go through the place and really enjoy it, even if in a schematic way. The curious things is that when you do that [architectural model shown], then everybody thinks you will not put pillars, which is something that in a way I like: the faith people have in architecture sometimes. Of course, there will be a pillar. We were really repeating, almost, the destruction of the market into the houses. Again, there were a lot of variations and tries until we got into this [final model], fixed. In the moment of doing the project the city proposed to do a big garage underneath for goods and also for touristic buses, so we built an outside ramp which is going to be covered. In a way I like it, is better than the housing it gives a much more abstract quality to that space. The roof has been modified by this elemental double layer parallel to the road, into something that has some of the qualities of the existing metal structure that was there. It’s almost a compromise and now I’m reworking that. You should imagine all this slides overlapped, all this drawings one on the top of the other, all of them being the first step, the last step, having the same reality, the same possibility, the same faith. We did something similar with the roof, we reconfigurated the roof, the market should be ready used almost more that the half. In these small variations is where you find a lot of the freedom. We were choosing about revealing what was inside and into the facade by this three bays that jump through the existing building. It has to do with creating that density, for instance, something which I first hated, probably yesterday I thought it could be the best solution. Keeping all of that all the time, but at the same time producing it. If I am interested in these kind of geometries is because it’s a moment that has this doubt in its construction that sometimes they get not the same position, almost to let them out. It’s not just a form or thing that has to do with the eye, or with perceptions, is more kind of a feeling about it, that you should establish a system that allows this variation and changes. At the same time, some of the forms get connected with what is going to be the roofs. Again, this should be imagined as a kind of wire or model, which the successive transformations will allow them to be there on time. It’s trying to do an elemental dialogue in terms of height and dimensions, and so on. This is the final model we are working on. For me, the interest of the way of working is about keeping in the final result all these doubts, the same kind of thing I’m able to see in the Miró drawing. The final result is fixing some points, is arriving somewhere, is touching somewhere, having a certain height, is choosing about the structural materials, but at the same time will be something, let’s say, unfinished, or something that will let them to be on time. It’s like this people that run one after the other in the Olympics, that they pass a kind of stick, I think is kind of beautiful the moment in which they run together: one is completely exhausted and—I’m sure that moment, technically, is very complicated—the other one is wanting to run, and this kind of equilibrium that I hope at the end the old structures will be enough revitalized for not making this silly debate between old and new, and what is there and what I’m putting there and this kind of things. Much more interesting is the moment in which they both run together again. I’m really worried about that, and I was thinking that time probably is what you should think about. Time as something material, that has to do with the materials that are there, the materials you propose, the forms, the dimensions, but really, trying to deal with time categories, almost like you do with situation plans of land. At the end, the thing you are going to do is build something that will bring this quality that doesn’t exist in that space. Any result will be quite surprising.
This was helped a bit by an almost automatic work we had done: this is our house in the neighbourhood, and in a way, the surprise here was that the project was only about discovering things, it was about cleaning, and then when you clean you think, let’s keep that, and again and again. It was changing things, changing the floors and replacing the tiles close to the windows or reorganizing the program, there was almost no construction, the most impressive was to find there, everywhere when you want to do something, somebody has been thinking before. It was very beautiful that all the house was covered by this kind of graffiti, of some pictorial program that either was never painted or later has been sold. This position of things, in a momentary equilibrium implies the possible variations, that issue of being in time, it seems difficult to say. You never know if this is a mistake or not, which in a way is what I like, you never know if it needs to be closer or more distant, you never know if that makes sense or not, and sometimes it’s about making decisions which are not fully calibrated, which are just a guess: let’s frame things, paint them or not. You collect things more than anything else, and arrange and rearrange them.
In a way, this was my presentation card when we were asked to do the Utrecht City Hall, which is a town that has grown out of eating the neighbours. Like the classical situation that a kind of representative building keeps eating the complete block. It’s a very impressive place. When you look at it carefully, this process of being a vampire (eating all the neighbours) everybody knows, and says that behind this houses existed wonderful Medieval structures. In reality, nothing exists there, everything is being transformed, demolished, rebuilt, but just because of these facades, that were again rebuilt in the 1930s, the illusion is being kept. This Neoclassical facade, inside, is a corridor, not a neo-Palladian building in which you have a coherence between form and structure. The, you find that the whole block is very heterogeneous, this is going into the back, the scale is very interesting and when you turn, you see that the big office buildings were rebuilt in the thirties in a kind of context which is almost the symmetrical element in relation to the back part of the Neoclassical building. They ask you to reshape that, and to make a new whole with all the limitations of working in a historical centre with all the committees. We found a freedom at the same time accepting this building, and using it. That was our competition proposal that is quite simple, saying, let’s start using voids inside the Neoclassical hall, and then let’s move that program into a kind of barbs that could have a similar past to that of the houses. This should open the townhall and build the piazza in the back. We reused most of the existing pieces, again, to put this in context. The view of the wonderful gothic tower that they have from that plaza is amazing, this void is almost in the shadow, and you see the scale, that is completely overwhelmed by the tower. We prepared this model to show how this small scale of things will be in conflict with that.
Most of the time is preparing the thoughts. The main communications and staircases were outside of the building; offices are really working with a similar kind of topography and layers, these are the first sketches to see how we could manipulate the building. From the first moment we did, more than schematic models, really prototypes, even about making mistakes and approaching the building with its formal complexity. This model was very useful to understand the game, making voids into the Neoclassical building, pushing offices, civil servants into the other part to create this density. The richness of the building will come about its materiality and not about its style: hidden in this kind of vulgar Neoclassical box, you have the quality of construction itself. To catch the complexity of the thing, not to be schematic, but to work on the details from the beginning. Thinking about building the roofs and the light and the acoustics from the beginning. How to rearrange the offices into a new conglomerate. The system of variations was probably the strategy. The moment you accept that you need to twist the project is very important for the architect to realize what he is doing, at the end, there will be a piece that it’s attached to a hidden Medieval room which is there, and we built a void around. This has been kept through the process. I think this almost tokens help you to be sure, to fix some of the doubts and the importance of the steps and the public space. Of course, it was too sketchy and they thought that it was too Mediterranean. If I do roofs I’m more Mediterranea, so I don’t do roofs. In Holland, people are very worried about light, usually I do black and white photos and they say: mm… it’s very dark. By letting them choose, which I know, is very demagogical, we are letting the game go through. Letting the conversation not stop. Now this is what the office is about: letting the conversation happen. The final result was much more equilibrated, the building gets one of this forms that is probably the result of all these doubts. This is the public space between the buildings and there is the parking used by the city. Of course, it is a compromise, that you should give solutions that are probably not matured enough. I knew that the staircase was an attempt, but I needed to finish the attempt, not to leave it as a guess. The abstract role of the kind of weak back facade will take just because of the high volume of air that will be inside, leading you into the assembly room, where you arrive directly from outside, crossing the space. Also, letting the building to have this kind of literal transparency, that the rooms should light down the street and show what happens. Let the building be clean to those views. Then you see, the final decision is like every intermediate moment could be the final one, and the final one needs to be an intermediate moment, because later on, time will follow. When you move to windows is about letting them be there. The surroundings are a bit like that, a kind of overlapping of decisions, the scale is a lot on that. Going back to Miró, there are conversation pieces. I like this kind of psychological quality. Actually, they don’t believe that I’m not going to change the project again, but now is the final design; the staircase followed a desire to make more an horizontal movement, which is better: one of the best qualities of the Neoclassical building is this kind of gravity, massive essence defined by mouldings. This horizontal ramp is much much better. That allowed me to do the contrary: to modify the existing facade and led light in a much more dramatic way. Again, what my feeling is that any final drawing that starts appearing, the only rule you could ask is that some of this trembling quality, or condition should exist. A building like this is nothing else than a series of rooms and it’s been built like that. At the end, my aim is to reveal this time game that has existed in the place and also doing it again. I think this is a necessary process, to go through this constant variation of small differences, again and again, and produce this kind of time game, like a children’s game, where, almost without noticing, you will find your project inside time. We could go back to Miró, who does it much more better. Thank you.
MOHSEN MOSTAFAVI: I wish there was a seminar after the lecture, because I have so many questions. This issue of expression, in a way, is a question for me: you want all of us to remember all the slides, everything at the same time, and in terms of the project, you also want this situation to be present, this idea of the doubt as something that is represented on the outside of the building. There is also this beautiful piece that (Maurice) Merleau-Ponty wrote, called ‘Cézanne’s Doubt.’ It’s about how Cézanne was doing the same painting over and over and over again, and the question is about the idea of the variation of the same thing: the painting that is done the second time is not really the accumulation of the work that is done before, but it’s different in terms of its variation. My question is: why do you want to freeze this idea of the accummulative process in terms of the project, and why do you want to express this condition.
EM: The ‘why’ is difficult to answer, but, as a joke, I have this classical thing, you know, horror vacui, this classical thing that happens at the end of the Roman Empire. This is difficult to express, but we have a room and we have it full, and then the room gets empty, and I think, I’ve been always working out of…let’s say, the description of a path, which is where people has been passing, or the kind of closing of some walls, and then at the end you earn some kind of identification in between human actions and you being an architect and making a human action, let’s say. So there is a moment in which I need the project to be full, and then, of course it will be emptied, but I need it to be full on the first place, to have built three different rooms, the roof twenty times, it’s almost like a kind of game in which the final solution—I hope—is not there alone, to say something. Before discussing with Pablo, he asked me something similar, and I have the feeling that this is a common thing for many architects, some of the architects have decided not to express that. I think in this profession we all share a lot of similar ambitions, and tools, and even more in a place like this. It is a moment in which you decide to cancel this or not, and I’ve decided not to do it. It’s almost like this game by (Herman) Melville, ‘Bartleby, the Scrivener’: it’s a wonderful short piece about a clerk who enters to work in an office, enters, sits on the table and doesn’t do anything, and the boss comes there the first day and says very politely, ‘could you do this?’ and then every time he answers ‘yes, but I’d rather not to.’ In that, I have the feeling that of course the solution at the end will be precise, but not using precise as equivalent of regular, or of a kind of convention. It’s beautiful when you see the Parthenon, you see the pediment and still they find a place for a horse, and then there is place for two more warriors… it’s very impressive, of course you could not do like that, but you know that this projects or this constructions could exist there. This is what I was saying about time, because if you are building a building on top of a church, that has been demolished, then they built a library, then they build it again, then they propose a market, then they built a garage, and this kind of overlapping is so material, that in a way you think that instead of doing that I’m doing this and then you go ahead.
[Audience question]: I would like to, perhaps, place your work in the context of other works that are being done today by other people. Some people look at your work and associate it with an organic trend, and perhaps other architects say ‘deconstruction’. You refer, for instance to the Smithsons… You have talked very beautifully about buildings which are on time, or perhaps lines which are on time, or components, architects which are on time. I wonder whether it is something which is specific to your work, or it is shared by other architects who are practicing at the present moment, or maybe in the past.
EM: What I think is for sure real is that I don’t feel alone at all. But if you look for that reason, a lecture like this cannot be given, anywhere where there is a deep interest on the things. The only thing that I try, besides share some things, to put the discussion of final form a bit out of the process, and really start working from really contingent situations, like the ownership of the land. one of the things that impress me, is that when you extract a piece of ownership of that land, you discover that a house has more or less this form [draws on a chalkboard the shape of a typical land parcel in Barcelona centre], which is not like Miro (the shape drawn before), that one is better—you will not forget that, I’m sure—any public space you can do with that. This maybe is about being stubborn, but it’s about not cancelling that, probably it is about not cancelling those things—physical things: limits, existing pieces, scale… Of course, you could start a new project and then you could do something that is completely cancelling that. If you think of it, a lot of the avant garde projects at a certain moment, their best statements were about cancelling, because the whole agenda and the program could not deal with this things (the different existing parcels). In a way, it’s about the things we share from other people, the things you find almost by chance.
(…) I like to find the freedom on existing situations.
(…) The Smithsons, being very British, this kind of biggest extravaganza, were taking common sense as the most sophisticated thing you could imagine, and then taking common sense as the most extravagant thought, I’m really interested in that.
[Audience question]: From the economic point of view, it looked incredible to me that you take great liberties with the client, you take great liberties (…)
EM: For instance, in the Utrecht project, you know the Dutch are fantastically Dutch, and I think when we start working with the quantities… they give prices to something, they say: that’s the cost, and then they come to the staircase and say: that’s the extra cost. I found the staircase crucial, so I said, ok, that is very expensive, but never more say “extra cost.” It’s very important, never a client in a public work will exceed budget, never, it’s impossible in Holland, impossible. But you should never allow them to say extra cost, because that means that there are forms that have a cost and others that have an extra cost. It’s about putting everything at the same level.
[Audience question]: The mimicking of Santa Caterina, in the urban scale, is it a critique or your response to the way things have been done in el Raval.
EM: Yes, but this is a very specific discussion, this requires a long explanation: the city of Barcelona has been using a very rational process of the street and the block, as to say that the only two figures you have in a urban proposal is a profile that defines the height of the construction and a distance between the masses. This is the only form defining urban rules, and I think, consciously, we need to add three or four more data, really go through a much more flexible system.
(…) About the choice of materials, I think that there are not so many materials… When you make a decision on dimensions, if you think of road construction, when you have a dimension, you have already almost defined the material, you think of the jumps of the geometry, so you jump from the possibility of concrete to steel to laminated wood to precast, so any of this tries deals with the material quality. Of course, I prefer to deal just with the geometric consequences of that. The final solution of the whole geometry of the market is based on what at the end turns out to be two big concrete pieces inside, that with just one pillar hold all the geometry of the concrete thing. This will change the whole perception of the market. (…) I am not very concerned with representing materials when I’m drawing, but much more about—let’s say—construction geometry.
[Audience question]: In relation to the question of time that you were talking about, do you recognize time also as a relation to culture? In that sense, do you think there is any relationship between your work and/or any influence between the writing of Eisenman related to the folds? It seems to me there is certain connection.
EM: This question goes back to the influences, or more than that, to sharing things. This is a tricky answer, but in a way, some things are better not to know very well. If two things… If I know, for instance that Peter Eisenman is doing something on that, it’s better not to know it very well, because in a way you are more interested about the small changes—of course everything could be described as some kind of tree with connections, but I think one of the fundamental things architects share, and I include myself, is about how we understand things through misunderstandings. Between us, we know that, and so the best thing about misunderstandings is to smile and keep going [Audience laughter]. Because if you try then to establish a connection, then you destroy everything, it collapses.
[Audience question]: I’m wondering why, if you want to keep the project moving, never stopping, showing many possibilities of the same thing, you still have the same way of representing the pictures and the lettering in your drawings, and the elements.
EM: You are probably right, but probably if you see a bigger gap, you will probably see the differences, even how some of the things become more important than others… it’s not as fixed as you imagine. But it’s not so much about the lettering, as about the precise description of the geometries, as the main material that the drawing should do. It should not be a representation, but working instruments. I hate sketches, and I’m sure this is a misunderstanding—the poor Alvar Aalto… in the beginning I hated Alvar Aalto because his sketches are painful. And to all the architects, when they ask us for material for a book, they ask: and the sketches? where are the sketches? I prefer to identify myself with this kind of geometrical plans than with sketches, or things like that. But again, this is a moment, I’m not really fixed on that.
Transcription by María José Orihuela, Architect, MA HCT at the Architectural Association.
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