Feb '10 - Sep '10
The School of Architecture at the University of Florida has begun the search for two new faculty members. Out of over 100 applicants, the choices have been narrowed down to eight individuals. Over the course of the next couple of weeks, each will visit the school, tour the studios and seminars, participate in critiques, be interviewed by both students and faculty, and deliver a presentation about the work in which they have been engaged and deliver their personal design philosophy.
The second of these presentations was delivered by Claudio Vekstein. He graduated from the Faculty of Architecture in Buenos Aires in 1988, and received his Masters Degree from the Staatliche Hochschule fur Bildende Kunste in Frankfurt am Main (studying under Professors Peter Cook and Enric Miralles) in 1993. He is a licensed and registered architect in Argentina, and since 1996, has been the principal at Estudio Claudio Vekstein in Buenos Aires. Prior to this, he had worked as an architect in collaboration with Enric Miralles, Braun/Voigt, Max Dudler and others. Since 2002, he has been a Tenured Associate Professor at Arizona State University, where he teaches both graduate and undergraduate design studios and Latin American architectural history seminars. He has received the Vitruvio Award for Integration of Art and Architecture, the ACSA Faculty Design Award, 1st Prize in the Urbanism and Theory Biennale in Buenos Aires. His current research is on the development of an architecture that actively engages the public in the city, he has an active interest in the issue of the public realm and how public buildings interact with it.
Claudio Vekstein began his presentation by explaining his philosophy of teaching as falling into the structure of a master-apprentice relationship. To this effect, he describes his function in the studio as being a bank of experiences in which he readily shares. In a short anecdote, he delivered an idea put forward by his friend that the only function of teaching is to save time for the students. Vekstein humbly admitted that his approach to teaching resonated with this supposition. It seems that, if this general description of teaching can be accepted as accurate, Claudio Vekstein would be in a position to save a large amount of time for his young apprentices. With his experience, the study of architecture may move from off the paper and enter into the real-world. In this way, the education he would like to deliver would move architecture from an abstract and academic endeavor toward a pragmatic pursuit in which one must acquire a correct understanding of universal needs and desires, and build up a resolve to advocate for public interests while wading through the bureaucratic quagmire of contemporary societal structures.
In the many years in which he has been working professionally, Vekstein has enacted thoughtfulness and demonstrated compassion in his work. He is acutely aware and actively engaged in exploring the transformative potential of architecture in society. He has been able to engage the public realm in very significant ways and has built up a unique understanding of what it means to design civic structures and spaces. His work exhibits certain sensitivity to the needs of the occupants of a city, a willingness to confront the political underpinnings of a project, and is supported by a thorough knowledge and awareness of the history into which he is intervening. At the intersection of these three trajectories lies the crystallization of his approach to civic architecture, one in which he calls [with a bit of tongue-in-cheek] “Public Demonstration [of] Architecture”.
The first project that Vekstein presented was the Monument in Homage to Amancio Williams, for the End of the Millennium. On this project, Vekstein worked as curator on the reconstruction of a monument that was first designed and constructed by Amancio Williams in 1962, and later adapted for the Bunge & Born Pavilion in 1966. Thirty years later, and with forty-five days to do so, Vekstein and a team set out to raise this monument in the Vincente Lopez District of Buenos Aires, Argentina. With a small amount of municipal funding, the intention was to not only build a centerpiece by which the activities of the people could rally around, but to also rehabilitate the ecology along the banks of Rio de la Plata. In the past and present, the shore of this river had become litter with debris and fell victim to the inconsideration of modern industry. Despite this beach being riddled with trash, the people of Buenos Aires would still try to enjoy the place -- sunbathers would lie among discarded plastics and rubbers; swimmers would brave toxic water -- in an effort to find some retreat from the city corridors once described by Le Corbusier as “tragic streets without hope”. As a seed for change, this monument project was meant to reinstate the natural ecology and to rehabilitate the area surrounding it. Upon its completion, the monument was well-received by the people of Buenos Aires and it would become an icon of the city. The results of this project offered the population a more agreeable place to escape into. The implicit value that the Amancio Williams Monument was granted, and the function that it would serve, reverberated into the landscape to stop, or at the very least slow, the disregard it had been subjected to previously. Today, this public space dutifully serves as a stage for recreation and has aided in recuperating the feelings held about the city.
In the past, I have unwittingly stumbled into heated political discussions because I had freely and simply offered up some opinion. I am not angling to get into that type of a discussion here. So, to give the reader some warning, the paragraph immediately following is sort of a rant that I am including in order to locate my individual perspective on some larger ideas with respect to the faculty candidate being presented here. These larger ideas provide the foundation for why I think what I think about Claudio Vekstein [and to be clear, I really like this guy a lot and I really hope he joins the faculty at UF: SoA]. I am fully entrenched in these ideas and I do not present them in order to sway any opinion nor open a dialogue. I am not trying to use this blog as a soap box. Everyone has a right to their individual ideas, and these ideas are mine and the best of what I have been able to put together. Read at your own discretion but please don’t use the comment function to challenge these ideas. Thank you very much.
My own thoughts about architecture have recently begun to move into a critical perspective. I have begun wondering about its relevance in contemporary society, and have felt disappointed about it having become commoditized [building buildings to house only those entities that have been able to corner the most cash doesn’t outright sound like my idea of fun]. As far as I have begun to understand [and as Victor Hugo has written], “architecture is dead, dead beyond recall”. Since Copernicus, society has been developing with science and technology at the center, and has placed a blind trust in those activities to fix all of the problems at hand [I think Cedric Price put it the best when he said “technology is the answer, but what was the question?”]. However, prior to the present circumstance, architecture seemed to be more concerned with the common interests as it was defined by a culture within a location. Architecture was a local, public and communal industry of activity. It united a people of a place and contributed to its identity. Today, it seems that culture exists at two extremes; one in which multiplicity has taken over and the other in which whole nations of people are being treated as though it were a single unit. I would argue it is the discrepancy between the two that is the source of modern ills, and in some sense, technology is only fueling the fire. Today, we have the luxury of enacting a discriminatory judgment that allows us to pick and choose with who it is that we associate ourselves. This has fragmented individual locals and has installed a distance between people who quite literally live on top of one another. In this way, we lose our empathy for our fellow human beings. As a result of this distance, we have been allowed to develop sweeping generalizations of those we chose not to associate ourselves with. This development, at a larger scale, has deprived us the opportunity to truly generate an identity. There is quite an amount of political implications that can be extracted from this basic idea and I began to write some but deleted it in light of this not being the proper forum. However, the gist is this: we should all be allowed to participate in the formation of our individual corners of culture, and should be very aware of our responsibilities in doing so. Architecture doesn’t happen privately. We should understand that a design can result in a certain form of well-being. In employing this type of thinking, we might be able to expect an aggregate amount of well-being resulting from the collective socially responsible practice of architecture.
Claudio Vekstein can be described as an activist architect who is well aware of his social responsibilities and very well equipped to confront the seemingly insurmountable challenge of changing whatever corner of the world he is in according to a drive that is both humble and empathetic. If there were a thousand like him, we would live in a better world. In order to get a thousand like him, he should teach and share himself with the people who will one day guide the happenings.