Elemental: the work of Alejandro Aravena

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This is monocle on design Monaco's weekly design show. I'm Josh Bennett. Coming up today. Scorza Di it's a great filter against between us. You are not allowed to do. Whatever you want you need to justify what you're doing. We'll hear from the Pritzker prize winner Alejandro Aravinda talking about politics climate change and the role of architecture in turbulent times. Plus they've curated this show because they have looked harder than anyone has ever looked lection before we head to be Anna for a newly opened exhibition curated by the film director, where's Anderson and his partner, the illustrator Yemen move all that coming up right here on monocle on design with me, Josh venit. Do stay tuned. Known for solving social housing issues on a shoestring budget. And of course, for nabbing the Pritzker prize back in twenty sixteen Chilean architect. Alejandro Aravinda doesn't see architecture is just building things. No, he sees it. As agent of social change for an overview of his over which ranges from disaster relief projects to social housing and universities. There's a seemly new book out named for the maverick, Santiago based architect studio. Elemental is published by five and released in early December Monaco's very own Jonathan Whitfield sat down with Arizona and started by asking how this book came about. This book is about the buildings that we have done in the office. It's started with our very beginnings in my case in back in eighty five as a student, and it covers how we came a practice and all the buildings that have brought us here would we find to balance in the office is at least three. Thirds social housing with very tough budget conditions on when I say tough, I'm talking about ten thousand dollars per family with which you have to buy the land provide the infrastructure and build the house, then another third is buildings. And this is what mainly in this book, where we train our designers muscles to be able to engage social housing, for example, all the other end of the spectrum city design, and this other one may be started in two thousand and ten when eight point eight Richter scale earthquake hit Chile with salami afterwards. And there was a massive destruction. And we were required to rebuild an entire city. So this three thirds city buildings and housing is what would normally twice to have our drawing boards in the end. What we are getting do is to give form to the places where people live it's not more complicated that but also not easier than that as soon as you click on this word. Giving form. Well, what informs the form of this projects? What are the forces at play? And it's a rather wide range of things beyond aesthetics. That is what society expects from us as I said economics, politics the environment. And all this forces have to be integrated, and hopefully synthesized in a design in addition to that is which are those places where people leave well, they range from housing two houses, two buildings to parks to infrastructure to this high work to the carbon deci will all those places inevitably have to have a form. And with that form, we can improve people's live or we can ruin them. Unfortunately for a rather long period of time. So you met a make sure that you have intensified carefully the forces at play. So that when littering it in the form of proposal, you will be able to improve people's live and common. Good. And finally, it's life itself that is it ranges from. The basic needs to the mos-, intangible desires, and mysterious aspects of the human condition, and again, it's not one or the other is all of them something that is particularly person comes across the north of the work that you do is as a strong, very, strong, social, conscience, even is social housing urban design. It's on a huge scale. So it's not simply affordable housing. It's so much more than that. So have for example, the tissues and divisive politics of the US of the Americas affected the way, you work affected the way that you see do design buildings. So let me start by clarifying something it's true that we're better known most done for social housing, but not even for a second. We have ever claimed any kind of moral superiority why architects should be going into this field. Not for a second. The reason why we're there. It's because it's a difficult. Question is a question with intellectual merit. And if anything social housing requires professional quality, not professional charity full. Some reason society is not willing to pay for the time for qualified professionals from designers to engineers to builders to social workers to policy makers to create the conditions for how we're going to create an deliver the built environment for billions of people in the world. So we decided to enter this failed. Because we think it's a difficult question. The way we engage. This conversation is through design. We it's it's an talking about this condition of architecture nowadays, I guess that we are trying to put the service of a non specific question questions like poverty, inequalities under development, insecurity. These are all questions that we're interested in as a citizen in that sense are nonspecific, but we are trying to address them through the specific knowledge of architecture with this to translate the forces that are around here in the first of all in a proposal key and second and built form in the end we have to live somewhere and through that we can improve common. Good and people's quality of life all ruin them as I was saying before one of the things that we decided very early on was to accept the rules of the game the constraints that are out there in the world. For several reasons. One of the most important ones is that eventually in this very chart challenging environment. You have a point you find a new clue and can introduce a new light in fields where we're somehow kind of used to give up quality one with like that contribution to reckless hated as many times as possible. If you ask for too many exceptions, then the market governments the society in general has the perfect excuse for what for for not doing it again. So we were very careful in swallowing all the constraints all the policy then in principle. Sometimes it's is not enough. It's true is not enough. And that's why it requires to think twice or three times four times. So that we can deliver better built environment. So among those rule. Of the game. There are lots of Asians that you have described insufficient. Funding, a politician that may have the wrong approach to common good or not being able to understand that inequalities are not just a human tragedy. But is what makes our societies and stable? So would we've been trying to do is that within that set of constraints is not that we are supporting them, but something has to be done. In the meantime, we tried to work and the book in that sense. It's important. If those rules of the game are not fair instead of waiting until then to change where doing something that's why we call our practice do tank Notre thing tank, but as a think tank if those of the game need to be rethought reframed relanch questions, including those that made those rules, then we're willing to do that. But our way to comment reality is. Through projects we have a problem with an qualities will look at the city as a shortcut towards the qualities instance in canning prove people's quality of life without having to depend entirely or wait for income redistribution, which is almost the only thing when listens Nowaday as a solution to inequalities that I guess it's one of the major agreements that and challenges that we have nowadays as architect Alejandro Aravinda there and will him more from him later in the show where such teases, aren't we? But first we're off to the Anna. The consist Orage museum is going all out for a new exhibition the show on the works of Peter burgle. The elder added a twist to its usual pageantry. And that's all thanks to the talented. I of filmmaker whereas Anderson and designer artist Uelmen Malloy of the pack hundred museums enviable inventory to pick out the pieces that took their fancy the resulting exhibition opened to great fanfare last week. And it's everything you'd expect from such a high octane curatorial team Monaco's very own Alexi love in Vienna. Reports. Think of any Wes Anderson film think makes it a Wes Anderson film. The colors textures the intricate range of objects on the screen. Now, take a still frame from it and put that still frame on the wall. We've never done anything. Like this before. We've never hunt paintings the level of people's knees. We've never hung objects six inches off the ground. We've never used colors like this before we've never hung galleries with felt before this should give you summit what Wes Anderson and his wife. Jemima Loof have done him store. Shis museum. But as the show's creator Jasper sharp explains that they're putting forward and alternate. I wouldn't say they are undermining the established systems of which the museum is based. I wouldn't say they are being deliberately provocative willfully provocative. I would say that they are putting a question Mark around son things is this the right way to be doing things is Renell tentative way for these objects to be seen. How are these objects originally, Sean in the private universes that the Habsburgs had in that Qasim Palestine's on I think also referring back to the origins of collecting generally, the very first collectors on earth collected functionally would to make a fire shop stones to kill animals. It was only later that aesthetic collecting came in probably pretty stones in different colors and shapes and sizes. So I think they're also referring back to this sort of more intuitive and functional form. Collecting that existed long before the enlightenment, and all I museum relate out in a very academic manner. My wife, and I jumped at Jasper sharps offer to curate our own of version of the greatest hits of the Kunsthistorisches show because we thought I was going to be easy. We thought in particular, it would be easy because because our tastes and interests in colors and shapes and light and shadow in art were so similar as to be almost interchangeable. And that we would briskly choose several pieces that we both love. And and that would be that. And and of course, we were wrong. We. Exhibition came out of a chance meeting Jasper sharp, and Wes Anderson and Jim Maluku January twenty team, but the format had been there for some time ready. So we began a series of exhibitions in two thousand twelve for which we invite remarkable creative. Individuals to spend a sustained period of time looking at our collections meeting. Curator's meeting are conservatives diving deep into us storage rooms into on the bar trees and making a selection of works for public exhibition. We're not the first museum to have done this. I looked very much certain historical precedence in America. Great exhibition by Andy Warhol which celebrates its fifty th anniversary next year. Read the icebox a great series of the National Gallery in London did for many years called the artist's is. So we're really continuing a tradition which is already established was in the museum world, which we had never done our selves. Hello. This is Wes Anderson. I'm here at the Costa source museum in Vienna. We're going to make our own little personal contribution to the audio guide here, and we have Jason Schwartzman coming in the door. Jason Hello Jason has just set foot in our little exhibition for the first time, and he is going to now host us through it as he discovers these little spaces. What does the oldest piece in this from the oldest piece and entire exhibitions in this room? And it is feeling about that tiny little necklace for the co curator Jasper sharp one of the most. Interesting things about the project is the work that was done behind the scenes and the relationships that were built as a result. There was sort of mutual wariness to begin with David wary of the curator's because they're highly intelligent studied individuals and west German of very keen, art historians, but they're not people who've been through university to study history, and there was wariness from the other side as well. Because occupied is thinking, you know, who these people who are arranging objects by color by size rather than of known so exhibition history or rarity. But as soon as they began to understand, the sort of the soul of the exhibition, the look of the exhibition. Every single one of them to the laws person embraced it from fourteen collections, and they became increasingly proud of getting their objects from their own collections into the exhibition. So it's sort of flip to the certain point from a certain sort of healthy mutual suspicion into a real team effort, and I would say about half the objects in exhibition more than two hundred came as gestion from curated things that they had never shown before themselves, but whose existence they're aware of the collection. Another curious thing about the exhibition is that there are no labels anywhere site to find out what this of that object is you need to consult a special booklet it's very faithful to how they look at objects. And they don't look labels museums. In fact, if they see something that remotely, smells, like masterpiece, they walk in the other direction nominee. They had a favorite painting in the expedition for many years without even realizing petition they genuinely want people to look at the. Checked they've created this show because they have looked harder than anyone has ever looked at our collection before second reason is simply too many objects and Thirdly, it does go back to this idea of the sort of the private space the studio the funder camera the cabinet of curiosity. No one who collects in a private sense puts a label next to something that is essentially public offering you're doing when you put a label next. Now, museums have labels, and we are in a museum they've tried to create a different type of space going back to the claim Wesson engines. Do you think this exhibition in general is going to change the way people approach this museum, and do you know? Alonson that by telling you that I got an Email from one of our curator's who worked very closely with them on the exhibition, and he sent me an Email the morning after the opening to say, I just want to say, I'm so grateful for the opportunity to I have had to work with these people. They have given me completely fresh eyes through which view my collection. And if this is our own curator's who already know these objects if they're reacting like this, then I can only hope that the public will will will follow that when it change how we present our collection. I think the madness of it the idea of this explosion of objects that we have in this one room now might possibly lead us in the path of creating a gallery which more closely resembles this tight of insatiable mania accumulation, which wasn't you man have tapped into which characterize the Habsburgs in the first place. So I think it's going to watch this space in terms of what it does does it have the potential to do that. I think so. Absolutely. Yeah. Fits mouse, mummy and coffin and other treasures that's the name of exhibition runs until April next year for Monaco in Vienna. I'm Alexis Cohen of. And isn't always a delight to hear from Alexi coil of in Vienna. There. Next. We return to sit down with the Chilean architect and a hundred our Vana who was in London recently to promote his new book about these Santino base studio of his and a mental do you feel positive about architecture capability to deal with? A time of increasingly extreme weather conditions, increasingly extreme problems that arise from planet earth when I guess the effects of global warming and climate change. More and more more record and move Eylandt. But again in my training as in Chila with had nature raging, even before climate change in the form of earthquake Nahmias INVOKANA garage in. So I guess we've been taught by nature to respect those forces. But yet not to give up those forces are so big there's no point in two thousand to resist them, but eventually you can have channel that you can dissipate them and human ingenuity is about finding a way to how to deal with the forces in the land environment, for example, gravity. It's relevant. I mean, we're building seventeen thousand tone building and gravity's relevant accent lateral. Who is Alexa, relation of earth is more significant. How do you deal with that not talk about salami? I mean. The forces of it's not a big wave. I mean, it's a mass of water moving at eight hundred kilometers an hour. So it's pushing laterally you never ever will be able to resist. Fortunately, we had the earthquake in two thousand and ten to NAMI was a kind of new thing for us two thousand and eleven in Japan, you saw this massive infrastructure where waves as if they were nothing we're going on top of it and still destroying it. So resisting the force of nature. It's useless, and it's using public resources in the wrong way. Yet, if you frame the problem correctly, you may find a way around for protecting the city of Constitucion after the earth weekend to NAMI to geographical threat. We came up with geographical answer a forest in between the sea and the city to dissipate the energy instead of resisting it by. Introducing some Kotik movement into the mass of water. So by bumpy ground. And on top of trees with a certain diameter with a certain routes to that that Celtic movement could have been reduced energy can be reduced by fifty percent. And after that, you can more or less resist that with the how do we know in a conventional condition earthquakes that technology for Simic isolation that we have developed at a very low cost. So that we can export that knowledge to third world countries or developing countries in general just to give a quick example innovation centers on is this concrete volume. One of the reasons is that office buildings in a weather like the one of Santiago that because of the climate change is becoming more and more the scientific it creates a huge greenhouse effect. If you hands have sun hitting directly at last the greenhouse effect inside requires an amount of air conditioning, that's in bearing by placing the mass on the outside and having a hallowed core from where light is coming in a more controlled way. Day. We went from using one hundred twenty kilowatts per square meters per year to forty kilowatts per square meters per year. So this is not rocket science by making this decision you reduce by three hundred percent the air conditioning and the energy consumption of a building. So these are the kind of things that we more and more will have to tone our artistic agendas and eventually understand what those constraints those conditions orientation cross ventilation. Would you say the architects of a right to be involved in politics in almost a way that you'll firm doing now? Well, if there's any power in designing that's the power of synthesis. The more complex the problem than more need for synthesis. All all the forces at play that are not only political. You've just mentioned also show social environmental legal also aesthetical all those needs to be synthesize and organize in proposal and then make its way to the reality from paper all screen to reality. I would say that we normally try to wear expected from society of architects to deal with aesthetics or or maybe having a better taste than the average person. And that's one of the dimensions of architecture. But not the only one the thing is that we enter those none architecture conversations on constraints through what we know to do better, which is form conventionally Restorick, we architects have not been trained in being able to talk about the terms. Where with you should be accountable because some of them are actually very hard to talk about this unspeakable certain is that guide not just our profession but life itself yet, I think we need to make the effort to be able to explain what why we're doing what we're doing. And this is one of the good things about having been trained in Chile. It's you means is not something that you should be ashamed or your ask for forgiveness or excuses. Yeah. Maybe if I had more means I would have done it better. I think Sconcerti it's a great filter against between us. You're not allowed to do. Whatever you want you need to justify what you're doing. But again since response to tangible and intangible dimensions of the human condition. Then the answer is not the pure need. It's needs plasticizers. And I guess we're in a difficult alignment, I I wouldn't blame architects only we have not been like that. But the nature will. We're doing it combines this to aspect of things that you just know, but can talk about it. But we should make the effort for sure to be accountable to society, even gave us a commission. It's not that. I work wake up a morning with an incredible desire to do an office building and somebody has to need that building. And for that, I need to engage in conversation. That explains that architecture is an added value and not an extra cost, which is the way where I guess normally perceived by society. So do you see in the future the need for architects who so to say have the fingers in in multiple pies? So they kind of they're trained in multiple disciplines. They are professionally qualified to talk about really difficult an intangible subjects that the say. Let me put it this way. I guess that ourselves where trained in that way also side even expects from us or assumes that create. Vity is something that appears when you were allowed to fly free. I mean, allow your imagination to do whatever you want. So you whatever you're imagining is so rich so fantastic that within we would like to see that in the built form in the world. Well, I think it's just the other way around. I mean creativity is needed when the mount of constraints when they're mound of restrictions is so big that in principle. You don't see any way out. That's when creativity shoot appear and because of that all those constraints all those restrictions and starting points and expectations needs including those that are even hard Rask. Like Desai's should be part of the agreement on one society should expect from us, and what we should deliver back to society in that sense. I would say that we are Tech's have the obligation to speak. Those languages that inform the forms that we produce in the end those forces do have their own internal lodging the economics politics, talking to people in a participatory design process and more and more. We see society wanting to have a say in their built environment. Rightly so, but this is not just a right? It comes. We're response responsibility in the environment that we are working half of the square meters are built by people themselves. So it's impossible not to include them. So again, we have the responsibility and the obligation to speak, those languages, but the way we should engage that conversation is with the specific knowledge of architecture, which is designing and designed by nature is you shut up on you draw. And then is a very powerful moment because you. Don't give back a report that is linear. You know, you give bag a design that is similar Tanis. And this is the power of this. I know them type of challenges that we're facing that are complex multi dimensional require that moment of synthesis under the very core of architecture. There's this very synthetic to which is designed so I guess it's because sometimes we could get confused and in order to understand politics or include that language, then you become a politician or in order to talk to people you become a social worker or in order to understand environment. You become a green we have to talk that language. But recognize the fact that our contribution comes from what we know to do best which is to design, and it is about translating those forces in proposal k into something that was not there before you arrive to that place. Alejandra Aravinda de speaking to Monaco Jonathan Whitfield. My thanks to them. Both the former's new book elemental is published by Frieden unavailable from December the fifth or as a preorder now. And sadly, that's all we have time for on this week's show. Don't forget if you need a little more design minded inspiration. You can subscribe to this very show receive our sister podcast delightfully named on design Xtra which is available each Thursday. You can also pick up the latest copy of the magazine at one of our many newspapers or the books that keep us have busy all year long hegemonical dot com for one of those beauties Monaco on design was produced by definitely commies edited. By these saintly Christie Evans on Josh van at thank you very much for listening. Goodbye.

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