Can architecture be both poetic and serve the needs of the people who use it? That’s the question that orients this conversation between Orhan Ayyuce and Carme Pinós, the award-winning Spanish architect. Conducted at the former home of the famed architect Richard Neutra—what is now the Neutra VDL Studio and Residences—the discussion was occasioned by a lecture Pinós delivered at Cal Poly Pomona, upon her acceptance of the 2016 Neutra Award for Professional Excellence.
Where shall we start? In architecture, we are not so much talking about things that really matter. Perhaps the spiritual layers of architecture are being surpassed by super correct moves based on scripts. Not talking with each other. Do you agree?
We came to this kind of spectacular architecture and this is what [we’re] being asked to do and permitted [to do]...I think we have lost a little the idea of architecture [as an] answer to society. We have [the] possibility of doing something [to intervene] in the behavior of the society, because in a way architecture is the space [where] sociability happens.
I always say that the difference between an animal and a human is our capacity for thought. We must express this capacity for thought in everything that we do, and also of course in architecture. Architects have the possibility to offer to society a better life and we think maybe architects have become [instead] a service providing to the market.I think we have lost a little the idea of architecture [as an] answer to society.
We have an art form in our hands that has the capacity [to] poetically affect the world and the city. Like nature and its materiality does. Can architecture do that with space?
Architecture related to the sun, the reflection, the outside, the inside, is something that [is] more related with poetry. That is more in the sense of poetics. That is my obsession with [the] city, because in a way the city is the place [where] humans make relations, no? More than the private place they have in their house and when they sit in the car, and plots to be sold and build houses on with no idea of the city. It’s this we feel that the market has eaten, this sense of architecture…
The sociability of the city… I have a friend who’s just gone to Turkey and Greece, and saw cities like Izmir and Thessaloniki and he said something very interesting: “In the Middle East, people build courtyard houses, they are more inward, this is just the opposite in the Aegean region, in Thessaloniki and Izmir, people sit in front of their houses, they’re outward to the city, towards [the] Agora.” Greeks were outwardly people. We have some of those issues now in our cities; we are becoming more and more inward. I think the cities need to be more outward. To me, it was a beautiful observation on my friend’s part.
We must decide what kind of city we want. Tonight in my lecture at Cal Poly, I’m going to explain the construction of the center of Barcelona in the old city with new architecture and the re-interpretation of the old spaces in the old city to make a community. The market likes sad people to consume more and more while a happy community needs less things. The market pushes [towards] individuality and, [in the meantime] the idea of [the] city [becomes] less and less clear, no? Because markets are not interested in the happiness of us. Absolutely to the contrary. People who are unhappy need to consume more and more…because a community offers to the people much more things and the city each time is far from the sense of the community. It’s more [about] working individuality, closed houses, fewer squares, less Agoras. And we must be conscious of that change. The orientation of it. And [we must] offer this sense of the relations that make a community, no? That we are all broader in a way, not narrower.
What can we do as architects to activate this?
Again, with this observation that you did before, that, as architects now we don’t speak too much between us. We must make more conversations and not talk about the thing that we do individually and [instead] converse to learn together... We must talk more about themes in an abstract way: what the city means for all of us, what community means, what architecture means, what the architects can do for that and that. Not to explain how to do—to arrive, to receive commissions, to be on the top—that seems to be the conversation when architects meet. We must start to talk about the city, about community.We must talk more about themes in an abstract way
We are talking about maintaining the mastery of architecture, and the ability to deliver architecture in itself.
I was looking at your work—they are beautiful plans, and you have a mastery of making plans with the full potential of the program. The way that you circulate in them and then the way that you mix the architectural space and light. It’s flawless. I kind of enter visually from the door and I start to circulate [through] the building in Spain, Caixaforum. That building has beautiful moves in its plan and section.
I feel very proud of this project. It’s a project that seemed from the outside very monolithic, very sculptural, but when you are inside it’s full of light and full of vision. I like to say that it’s a building that works like a machine because we must have this responsibility also. We have the responsibility to make buildings work well.
For example, when you observe how you enter into this building, it is always the spaces in between. Not outside and not inside, it’s in between. I like to work in this way because when you enter a building you don’t enter…you have a preparation, we have a new space that prepares the experience of entering.
I like to relate architecture to ritual. I say when they say architecture must be able to transform, it’s an act in a ritual, and a ritual like a celebration. It’s a celebration to enter and go in Caixaforum. When you enter in the auditorium—it is underneath— [you go through] a garden and then go down and you enter and you see the light of the sun, and then you go out through the garden, and you get to the city. The people, after a lecture or an audition with friends, arrive at this garden and go to the city through the garden, like a ritual, you know? You enter in a way, you go out in another—like a ritual.
I think your work has a very strong layer of that, and when I look at it it just kind of immediately gave me that sort of reading. The poetic moment of architectural development. So, in a way it is a beautiful thing but also because of the things that we talked about earlier, it makes your job difficult selling those…the market is much more interested in [other things]…
It’s a fight at this moment because I’m from a country that had a lot of possibilities to work with the administration and public buildings, but this changed. Now it is a crisis, my clients are private and it’s these people that push me to make money and to make this kind of pragmatic architecture only. But it’s a fight and then you can’t convince them of [the value of] poetry. For example, now I am doing houses in Madrid for a bank to earn money, but I convinced them [to do] something different, something more for the people that are going to live there. If not, then it’s worthless. The only thing is, you must work more. And with the same money, they are doing the easy things, but if you believe in architecture it’s worth it to work more and to make the client understand that this is the poetry.if you believe in architecture it’s worth it to work more
Sure. How the program is going to serve them, your work is going to serve them even better than what they thought in the first place?
Yes, and also not to make the things cheap and commercial, not against architecture. You can’t arrive there, but it’s a problem also that the architect must believe in architecture‘s [capacity] to solve and must believe that you can arrive and do work…and also to say no. I don’t play this game and I refuse some things. And this is our responsibility also as architect to say no.
To feed your idealism is a very beautiful thing. If it’s gone, everything's gone. I think women [are] in a better place to say this. Why is that? Because they’ve been discriminated against? Did women win in architecture?
In a way, they won, also because of our history and also [for] biological [reasons], we know better to listen. Also, because they put us away and the only thing that we could do for generation and generation was to listen, to understand. And architects have an obligation to understand and to listen. And, in a way, as women architects we are more prepared to listen and understand. Maybe men ask the society—ask them to act, to pause, and in architecture, this is sometimes dangerous. This imposition of things, and this idea is very strong and manlike, they make architecture very strong and again maybe they think that when they are the client or they think that when they are the CEO [or] they think that when they are the user. It is the position of the ego of the architect. This for me is a mistake and as a woman we are more prepared to listen, to try to understand, to convince, to go in other ways [in order] to arrive at the solution.
And then you expand the context of things.
Absolutely, absolutely, and always expand the limits of the answer. Because architecture is a question. It’s to resolve a problem. The city makes questions and architecture [is the] answer [to] these questions. I try to [make] the focus much bigger and I take things from far away to make the answer of the question. And also to the student I always say, the answer of the problem is always a little far of the problem, a little outside of the problem.
If it was so close then everything will be easy and limited?
If you focus too much to the problem, it’s limited. If you say that my architecture is more fluid or maybe it is always because my focus is bigger and I feel very free, because I am very conscious of the answer, of the question, of the problem, but my vision is far.The city makes questions and architecture [is the] answer [to] these questions
And this makes great architecture because you know, architects, when they look far away from things, the architecture [produced] is as vast. It is not only resolving the detail that’s right but resolving a lot of things [that have] to do with life.
Because life is complex. It never is only one way, it’s a lot and our capacity like women, we have much more capacity to mix and to understand the things not in one direction, and we have that because of the things I said. For years and for generations and generations, the only rule that we had was to listen. And that made us better at it.
I think so too.
In life, it’s important: to listen with a little distance, to make the focus larger.
Great analogy! And listening makes better poetry?
Yes, and poetry also is [to] make relations [between] things. Always. And this also is in architecture. We have this responsibility to make relations, you know, and this is connected with the poetry. The thing doesn’t finish itself or make relations with its surroundings and other things.
Architecture has a capacity to do that, and [in that] it is like poetry. That’s what makes architecture an art form. It’s both resolving physical things but also arriving at sensorial experiences. We experience architecture every day of our lives.
I like to make this conversation in this house (Neutra VDL) because in the same time that I see you, I see all the reflections and the relation with the nature and the light and it’s amazing we have them.We have this responsibility to make relations
What do you tell your students when you teach?
I’m always saying that architects have a strong responsibility, with society, with also the place, because an architect builds things but we start [by] destroying things. We cut trees, we remove earth and our actions are not reversible. I don’t know a way back when you cut a tree. It’s cut and this is a big responsibility. We construct but our first action is [to] destroy and for that reason we must be very conscious of the place that we are in. What is our quest? And also, because we transform the life of the people, [we must ask] how they are going to work there and be conscious of the responsibility that needs to be enacted. It’s very beautiful. People think that responsibility cuts our freedom. I think that it’s the contrary. Responsibility gives us freedom, because you are more conscious of the answer you give.
You become more considerate, yes?
Exactly. And you know more your position, because with no responsibility everything is the same. And to be considerate of this responsibility gives a lot of courage and it makes the thing much more…courageous.
It’s a challenge in a way…And that is beautiful to take each thing like a challenge and it’s a challenge when you have a responsibility and to be conscious of this responsibility. It’s our work. It’s the work that an architect must have.
It’s [her] social responsibility? It starts at that point from the individual and so on and just gets bigger and bigger.
Yes and I [tell] the student that to be conscious of this responsibility is the first point [of being] an architect. Architecture is to respond to this responsibility.
I say responsibility is not against freedomIt makes the work more beautiful.
The thing that I love most is to be an architect that accepts this challenge and accepts this responsibility. Now I’m working in the center of the city, behind La Boqueria market in Barcelona, one of the most important markets there, which for a year was abandoned. Now I will make three facades for this space, and I have a lot of emotion [about] transforming this piece of the city that for years has been abandoned. I am doing a new university of art and crafts and it is a place where people are going to stay, where students will mix with tourists.
It is going to depend on the project, how the people are going to relate to it in the future and this [provokes] enormous emotion.
It always comes back to this responsible attitude the architect [must] take for the work to become more substantial. I think students really respect you for that because you’ve been able to kind of carry that thought process into your work and it shows and that’s why students get inspired by your work. I asked a few students and they almost all said the same things. They see that kind of social responsibility and the poetics of pulling the architectural things together.
It’s also about working with a lot of freedom and to think that you can change things, you can invite new shapes and you can do everything if you have cleared your responsibility. And for that reason, I say responsibility is not against freedom. On the contrary, [it gives] freedom because when you have to clear what you must respond to, you can make everything, you can change everything, you can invite new shapes. I change everything, I invite different shapes because I am very clear what is my responsibility and for that you must study very well the program, you must study very well the context. You must listen and then…
You are free.
You are completely free.
It’s a beautiful way of putting it actually. Thank you.
Writer and fake architect, among other feints. Principal at Adjustments Agency. Co-founder of Encyclopedia Inc. Get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org