I am interested in the design debate.
The theorical-critical debate “catalogs” the architectural production according to a values scale, more or less complex (increasingly less complex) in a convenient way for the historian or critic. I don’t deny the theorical-critical debate value, and its interest to support especially the pedagogic space, but is the design debate (kept, from production, by us the designing architects that build, if possible) which really shows at the threshold of creation, at the moments for conceptual or disciplinarily transverse decisions and which exposes the essential material for the architecture progress on the table. The design debate covers our affairs (“our business”).
To explain myself I’ll use a metaphor, the architectural debate is to cross a landscape. The theorical-critical debate does so in one way, from the beginning to the end, riding a vehicle over the surface, eminently logical and as easy or difficult as drawing a two-dimensional map. The design debate does it in a helicopter that varies the height, changes direction and speed, is illogical but rational and, above all, hyper-complex, difficult to describe and map.
It’s the design debate from which I will look over the Colombian panorama.
I am an interested observer of the Colombian architectural production, which constantly surprises and unsettles me. It makes me review my work in a constant catharsis mostly of vitality.
Colombian architecture shows me the constructors’ great craft. Here I behave like fish in the water. I breathe the same air and speak the same language. It is architecture without adjectives, elaborated with the constructive repertoire on the table already from the starting shot. A work that can only be understood as something built in which speculation or research (which also exist) bet for reality transformed by the project.
Genuinely Colombian is the well built, not only efficiently but also culturally, understanding that the expert, wise and realistic solution of the projected space constructive problems sufficiently guarantees the cultural quality of the architectural result. (1)
Genuinely Colombian is the intelligence of the scale, as an architectural quality from the urban or landscape entity to the immediate detail. Perhaps by an intense enjoyment thanks to the existence of an overwhelming landscape, we would say both in nature, and also in the urban context, as energetic and vital today as the natural.
Genuinely Colombian is the belief in the design work and its social, political and cultural utility. Not a hint of skepticism or fainting in the general practice.
It is within this framework where, in my view, the design position of any Colombian architect could be placed.
What is fascinating is to advance in the very significant differences between the objectives and the own conceptual content that form the work of young architects in relation to their previous generations.
Publishing works of these seven architects, from and in the environment of Medellín, is a timely opportunity to do so.
The compulsory way to start this text must be from Rogelio Salmona’s figure and work.
To say that he is an undisputed master of international architecture, from his commitment to the own variables of Colombian architecture, is unnecessary for obvious. His identity, with the influence of architecture so close and intelligent, frees him from Le Corbusier’s iconographic and technical “contagion” in which so many fellows from the French master atelier drawn.
Salmona’s work and each of his masterpieces are exemplary, for different reasons, and while in the final stretch appears a certain fatigue to technical difficulties, he always teaches how to respond to scale, space and to the understanding of architecture as an spatial construction problem.
Salmona’s explicit and implicit Magisterium is a universal heritage, but also an unbeatable and inimitable reference for the strength of his own talent and because of the society’s transformation (technology, phenomenology, culture, etc.) in recent times. His unreachable figure and legacy receive a pathetic and banal mimic when assumed as a style. Thus his very best masterpiece, climax of his work, which is the “House for Illustrious Guests”, is abused by the alien iconographic use of its matters, details, Fenestrae and construction. Use the master cared very much to reiterate in his later work.
Salmona’s tenacious talent, personal and unrepeatable heritage, cannot be passed on but his exemplary independence and personal freedom can be. Although superficially it doesn’t show because of the recurrence to a constant constructive repertoire, it is however the essentially versatile freedom of an architect reinventing himself at every opportunity.
Trying to assemble a “Salmona style” around his work is a big mistake, a great historical and cultural mistake, much more serious when the contemporary Colombian architecture production is appreciated on that presumption.
In this scenario the seven offices we are dealing with are a genuinely Colombian paradigm.
The basic variables to which I referred are stressed in Medellín by particular local circumstances of a border, both a cultural and social frontier situation. Culturally because Medellín has been a pressured container for paisa intelligence (5) (a cradle, surpising for its percentage, of writers, musicians, visual artists, architects, etc.). Socially because recent history has leathered its human fabric in the tough contradiction of a cultured, worker and creative community daily facing violence from a concentrated, powerful underworld underfoot.
Border space where roam as legendary strangers its young (and not so young architects as Marcos Montes, Alejandro Chavarri, Miguel Uribe, Ana Elvira Vélez, etc., etc.), rapid in response and accurate, very accurate in their hauls.
A lucky collective of insolent creators, each deriving on his or her personal path, well aware of any occurrence crossing their way to make a real design party upon it.
They are as interested in the stylistic (define an own style) as in the Pontifical carreer, so to speak, nothing, and so what’s moral gives way to the magic status of their work (2)
The architect’s condition transforms from the priest that manages the liturgy of good behavior to the shaman or wizard that invokes the nature to our existential welfare, superimposing on this reading the dialectic between Eros and Thanatos (3). Between the erotic and the immortal my admired colleagues are essentially erotic and shamanic, and this is the optimism, the joviality and happiness of living as authentic and independent actors of their own production.
It is thus irrelevant to stop on spatial programs, the formal material or the disciplinary condition and methodology. Luckily, they make us inhabit an illogical but essentially rational and immediate world. This is a common denominator for the production collected in this publication; it could by a study or a book, a villa in a hillside, a space for orchids, covered sports centres and open swimming pools, an airport or a habitable tower.
They know the direction to follow and greet from ship to ship in that design debate, each narrating the prey of the day, in a proud brotherhood envied by those of us who don’t have anything to lose.
The beauty is held in their work wishes, not beauty as “einfulung” of the 19th century (something possible to control, inmaterial and incorporeal as electrical energy), but beauty as hunting piece (4). Watchers that capture around the flotation line of the swimming pools in Medellín (Calleja Masó and Mejía), dreming on a wonderful sunset in Medellín, for a library in San Cristóbal or from the JG House (Camilo Restrepo), beauty of the weightless artifact-polyhedron laying on the edge of Manuel Villa Forest, the austere building, in wood and metal veneer, exciting beauty which Yemail makes dialogue with its homonimous and refined field partner. Viviana, Catalina and Federico’s flowering landscapes of dreaming desire beauty. Beauty in the perception limits of exemplary flow of collaborations with and between Mesa, C. Restrepo, Mazanti, etc., from the Orquideorama, a space for orchids, through the urban tree to the musical lyricism of the Sports Center. Disturbing beauty intrinsic and objective in Mesa’s diverse, always investigative editorial production.
In our present there are no limits for architectural thinking and production, and similarly there is no single architecture but, as these 7 offices attest, many different architectures, even within their own portfolio there also are, fortunately, many forms and degrees of beauty. I invite you to speak about them as I’ve already started.
I headed a text published by the Pasajes de Arquitectura y Crítica magazine by referring to the architectural present in Spain as the “Nightfall in the country of the thousand boxes” and ended it with the “Sunrise in the land of a thousand dances”, to this this beloved Colombian land I invite my Spanish colleagues.
Madrid, September 2009
(1) Architecture can be well understood as a space representation problem or as a problem of space construction of the area.
Architecture as a space representation problem attends, fundamentally, to the own discipline language, i.e. to make explicit the connotations that architectural elements support of their own tradition or their political, historical and cultural context, etc., for example, a staircase beside its own utility is also a “space travel” solved in a more or less rhetorical way.
Architecture understood as space construction addresses, directly and immediately, its material solution convinced, who thus work, that resolving expertly, or wisely we would say, the technique that enables work in site, durability, etc., is a sufficient cultural quality guarantee of architecture as a social practice.
(2) Art sociologists explain the transit of nomadic society to sedentary transformed the mode of relating to the universe and the existence from the magic to religion.
Religion appears in sedentary societies organized on the land’s private ownership. Social structure stands on a “revealed story” about the order governing the universe, from the creator to the servant-worker through monarchic intermediaries, priests, patriarchs, owners, etc. This “revealed story” contains the moral behavior codes that guarantee the common good and happiness in life after death (if we scrupulously adapt to these standards) to that religion.
Magic practiced by nomads, for whom hunting or daily fishing is essential, exercising rituals doesn’t explain anything; simply invoke the cosmological order to make it favourable. Favourable in their hunting days, for the human pairings, in the choice of an occasional or seasonal settlement or shelter.
Architecture practiced as a shamanic act is proposed as a magical ritual that simply calls the natural order for our existential well-being.
Architecture that bets for “revealed stories” by moral concepts or ideal models is a fundamentally ethical or moral architecture.
The first is linked to transcendental aesthetic objectives and the second with simple recreational purposes.
(3) Eros versus Tánatos
Thanatos is death, but is also the undying and immutable, the Ethereal. There isn’t a negative condition about it; it is simply a category inherent to traditional art. The pyramids, the Parthenon, the Pantheon, are referents for this.
Eros is life, flow of existence, but also the acceptance of aging, aging which is part of the flow of life as autumn to flora means the nutrient for the next spring.
Thanatos is the corpse and nostalgic beauty; Eros is the jovial beauty, excited of what exists, even if it fades out briefly.
(4) The issue of “beauty” is a particular topic. From the romantic model of 19th century beauty (einfulung) was an intangible quality that permeated the artistic production, and as the soul, infused the creator to his work as the creator infused the soul in newly created humans.
Today is an unmentionable topic. Efforts by theory and art criticism for, whatever the case, mention this attribute in plastic works, music sheets, poetry, architecture, etc, seem pathetic. Social, economic and historical contexts are just surrounded. It is derived on the procedures and materials, formats or peripheral matters to avoid judging something as important as the beauty of a creative work.
Is true that the perceptive human field has dilated exponentially from romanticism and its adorned scenarios, since the 20th century modernity we inhabit an unstoppable cast of dissonances, contradictions, exaggerations, mixings, which impede by its complexity not only assessing what we see, but even identifying the position from which we look and what is really what we see and why we see it (we hear, we touch, we read or all at once)
The theory and criticism, classical or disciplinary, has exhausted its classical sources to address the issue. It is from other conditions from which undertake this as risky as fascinating affair. First from the uncertain, uncertainty is a trusted position to understand the present, so to speak, there is no “einfulung”, there are inexhaustible forms of beauty, increasingly complex forms of beauty whose objectives are not always (do not have to be) “happy endings”, but instead uncomfortable intermediate stages in the physiological progress of human perception and reflection towards more tolerant, actively sensitive and participatory beings.
(5) Colloquial name given to the people living in the coffee production area, including Antioquia department and therefore Medellín.