Cinema and architecture are two forms of expression that appeal very much to emotions. Both are based on predefined structures, with variations between predictable moments and others of greater expectation and surprise. That peculiar path that you took in your life is a very interesting one.
In the late 1970, as an architecture student, I started making short films in “Super 8” which was an incredible media that revolutionized the world at that time. In Brazil it began with a lot of creative energy around it as it was also used to fight against the military regime, managing to avoid – in an incredible way – censorship. At that moment I didn’t exactly know if I would pursue a career as a director or as an architect. In 1988, I made a full-length movie named “Fogo e Paixão” (“Fire and Passion”) that ended up being a traumatic moment for me. The huge cost it took and my absence from office resulted in the end of both careers. From that moment on I restarted everything decided to begin an architectural career from scratch, but this time with an interesting know-how that ended up influencing my work. I “disconnect” myself and here I am. Recently I went back to film for the video installation called “PEEP” which was presented in the last Venice Biennale.
Rem Koolhaas is another interesting case of someone who excelled in the architectural area, but who also shares a past linked to cinema, specifically script writing. And it is curious that he points out Michelangelo Antonioni as one of his biggest influences in how he sees and produces architecture. The work of Antonioni is visually very rich. His characters – besides having a personality, a story – were also seen as shapes, as silhouettes. He did have a past as a painter, he studied arts, etc. Having said this, do you think that, generally, architectural production could be more interesting if it stimulated even more the connection with other areas?
Architecture is always absorbing influences from several areas of knowledge. It absorbs the contemporary culture, even if indirectly. The buildings can transmit the atmosphere, the “mood” of a few other things, cultural production – for example – which doesn’t necessarily deal with construction. Koolhaas also quotes sometimes the influence of Fellini, which is another strong reference here. Fellini has a career that absorbed much of the existing knowledge about architectural space. So, maybe that’s why he has done work with such a great impact in architecture. He not only handled this – in a more technical way – through lighting and by means of the representation of space through the construction of huge scenarios, but also in a more literal way. That is reflected when he shoots the film “Rome” while displaying EUR and oppression that set prompted. Another strong reference is the work of Jacques Tati, which produces a very deep and incisive critique on Modernism, about the contradictions in the inhabiting modern spaces. The design of your scenarios – from the houses and to the urban space – are true architectural masterpieces.
Is multidisciplinarity important in your work?
Architecture is a multidisciplinary subject by itself. In college it is common to study: art, design, graphic design, landscape architecture, urban planning, among other things. In the office we are always seeking this multidisciplinarity. It doesn’t matter what we are producing, it can be a movie or a piece of furniture, but also can be a mere discussion on what supports our architecture.
It is funny that, in the past you mentioned “crafts” as something related to your vision of architecture and what it does. This ambiguity between art and functionality is the most interesting things in what we do. Wouldn’t you agree?
The development of architecture in Brazil – the so-called “constructive culture” – is very artisanal, unlike Europe which, after the war, joined became part of a more industrial architecture. Here, in Brazil, it’s as if we still performed a more ”Arts & Crafts” type of architecture but with a modern spirit. The craft knowledge on the know-how brings many lessons on the rationalization of forms and also on construction techniques.
But would you agree that such countries such like: Brazil, Portugal, Italy and Spain, share a very interesting constructive culture?
In general, I think that European constructive culture is more closely linked to industry, even in countries like Portugal. One could agree that in some extent those countries are linked to a sort of “artisanal” way of expression when we mention architectural expressions. However, I do think that in Brazil we are still in an earlier stage in regard to building technology. Obviously this aspect has to do with economic issues and the abundant workforce there is in a country with 200 million people. Developing projects in a more artisanal way ends up being cheaper than the industrial way. It is also very convenient in many other aspects. Brazil has advanced a bit in the industrialization process – in construction – in the last 5-10 years, but it is still something in progress. On one hand, there is a poetry in building architecture in this crafty manner. On the other, it doesn’t make possible the development of large-scale projects for low-cost social housing.
On Brazilian engineers – particularly on those who worked in major Modernist works inside and outside Brazil – I share the same idea as David Adjaye on Soviet engineers. That is, they have a huge capacity to present incredible solutions that often exceed architects’ most daring proposals. Is this something that gives value to Brazilian architects or is there a difficulty in making the best out of the collaboration between architects and engineers?
Today in Brazil we are facing a major crisis in what civil engineering is concerned. There is a lack of engineers, but there is also a problem in the formation of new engineers. This is reflected in large construction accidents that we have had recently, like the gigantic subway station in São Paulo that collapsed a few years ago. Every day in the office we notice the difficulty in finding good engineers. In the office we work with two or three good one who are always full of work and struggle to meet our demands.
Paraty House was considered not possible to be built by a famous engineer of São Paulo. Fortunately found a way through another structural engineering office in Rio de Janeiro. Structural calculation in Brazil is very simple, not like in Portugal where you have earthquakes, for example. It is somewhat surprising that this has occurred in Brazil, because we have a great tradition of structural calculation. The great Joaquim Cardoso – who did the structural calculations for the main public buildings in Brasilia – is a good example. He invented structural models that we still do not quite understand. The problem is that, at the end of life, one of his buildings collapsed and he was accused. Later it was proven that what happened was not his fault. But it did cost him his life and died in depression. Thereafter, civil engineering – or at least structural calculation – went into a huge crisis in Brazil. It is an unknown fact, but I do believe that that episode had a huge impact in this area of knowledge.
Finally, can you tell us what projects have you been working lately?
A “show factory” in Rio de Janeiro. It’s an old warehouse converted to house all of the backstage production scenarios, lighting, sound and costumes, dance school and rehearsals for the Municipal Theater of Rio de Janeiro. Together with Teatro alla Scala, the aim is also to train new technicians to work in these areas, for free. It’s an important opportunity to contribute to society, culture, and preserve a historic building. We are also developing a hotel in Bali for some very special clients, a group called Potato Head. Great expectations for a very interesting location. The expansion of Micasa Vol C, which is the best design store in São Paulo. It’s exciting design a new building for a former client (six years after projecting the Micasa vol.B). The Riviera bar which was very well-known in the 1970s. It has been closed for many years and now is will be revived by Facundo Guerra (the “king” of night clubs) and Alex Atala (the best chef in Brazil) to host a jazz club and restaurant. These are some of the projects we are working on.