Do you recall the first building that made you realized – in a very particular way – that architecture wasn’t just about ‘the project in abstract, in drawings, but something physical and tangible’ as Jonathan Sergison once said?
The Hill House was perhaps our first project during which we were confronted with the concept of weight in both the physical and psychological terms of the word. Building on a steep slope with little flat area for staging, the construction process was equivalent to walking on a tightrope. The sense of a dynamic equilibrium – one that is in a precarious state of stasis that threatens to topple at any moment – was carried from the abstract stages of the design to the construction. Louis Kahn distinguished the difference between the tempo of construction and the tempo of the finished building in his famous aphorism – ‘a work is made in the urging sounds of industry, and, when the dust settles, the pyramid, echoing Silence, gives the sun its shadow.’ For us, the tension embodied within the construction process of the Hill House was manifest in its final form.
Normally are your expectations towards a building exceeded? And if so in which phase of its development does that normally happen?
The physicality of every project consistently supersedes the concepts and the promises leading to each of them. The chrysalis moment typically happens right after the completion of construction and before occupation, at the purgatory state between the consecration of the artifact just before life rushes in. Right after the completion of the View House for instance, there existed a moment where there was a stark contrast between the roughness of the exterior concrete surfaces and the abstraction of the white and empty interior. It is a surreal moment where the coexistence of weight and weightlessness oscillates, reciprocally affirming and denying one another. This state became less astringent when furniture occupied the interior. It is also a fleeting moment, as in Alvaro Siza’s assertion that ‘every design is a rigorous attempt at capturing a concrete moment of a transitory image in all its nuances.’
With time, is it easier to predict how the building will be or is it always a surprise?
The level of surprise decreases with accrued experience, the way a chronic drug addict develops immunity. But while the degree of surprise diminishes with professional age, one is never jaded as there is always of an element of unknown that is not unveiled until the building is finished. And when that moment of cognition arrives, whether its arrival is delayed or subdued; it is euphoric, like a drug.
In your opinion what is the importance of this kind of record?
The life of a building consists of many different tempos – a tempo of its conception, a tempo of its construction, a tempo of its use and its weather. While the tempos of conception and construction occupy a relatively short period in the life span of a building, their impact on the future of the building is immeasurable. If one could view the history of architecture as a history of styles, history of types, history of uses, or a history of ideas, one could equally imagine and benefit from an alternative architectural history of the decisions and nuances that stem from a building’s construction: a history that would capture the omnipresence of instrumentality in architecture.