TD: As a means of introduction to the analysis of the present, so full of projects, how would you summarize the path taken by your practice? - PDF

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CAPITAL DESIGN Todoobras, Chile April 2005 By Tomás Dagnino TD: As a means of introduction to the analysis of the present, so full of projects, how would you summarize the path taken by your practice?
CAPITAL DESIGN Todoobras, Chile April 2005 By Tomás Dagnino TD: As a means of introduction to the analysis of the present, so full of projects, how would you summarize the path taken by your practice? GMV: In the initial stage, we lived off competitions and, fortunately, in the last few years we have passed from losing competitions to obtaining many projects on request, since we have been lucky enough that clients began contacting us by telephone. This is why, in the face of each architectural challenge, the theme or request, be it a vineyard like the one we are now designing for the first time or a one-family home or a building, is equally important to us. It is always a huge challenge, a passion, and the more diverse the program, the more entertaining our work; the more doubts we have, the more we debate So it s not that we are interested in architecture as a discipline of one or another function; we have never dedicated ourselves to any very specific thing. It may seem that we have become house architects because over the last few years we have made more than one hundred one-family homes. - What period of time do you refer to in the definition over the last few years? In order to understand our process it is important to remember that from 1980 until 1990 we were practically devoted to building social housing, and also taking part in many competitions of the Ministry of Housing; we built schools, also through competitions and, suddenly, we turned into one of those firms which makes houses. And that is how for 15 years we have developed many homes, which is why we always have ten or twelve houses in the design process and the same number under construction. - After completing that first stage of work for social housing and passing on to this more recent one, characterized by houses with large surfaces and excellent finishes, what conditions does the handling of the different budgets impose on the design process? - Be it a social home or a high cost one, the budgetary restriction is always huge. Obviously, when one faces the problems of social housing with 500 sq. ft. and a certain amount of UF* per meter, the restriction is tremendous. But there are also restrictions when working on a home of between 30 and 60 UF per meter. The restriction exists anyway because we are always working to the limit. It tends to happen that when we are working on assignments for large houses, of 5000 to 6000 sq. ft., we always exceed the area and the budget as well. It is difficult to admit, but we architects are always playing to the maximum limit. * UF: Unidad de Fomento. A unit of money used in Chile, mainly in business and formal financial transactions that involve large sums, that was created at a time when inflation was high. The rate of the UF varies daily according to the monthly inflation rate. There are no physical coins or notes. It is only a value. - And how do you handle the relations between the constructed area and that of the plots in which you have to design these houses with large dimensions? - The relation of architecture with the piece of land is always something different, exciting, and has to do with that which each plot possesses, which is the virginity of the place, which is unique and virginal, even though one has demolished something in order to build. The architect acts on it, but in the same way that we acknowledge the economic restriction of budgets, we are accustomed to enjoying the spaciousness of the plots. We always aim for a relation in which the building is one third or 25 or 20% of the plot. For example, in the case of the building on Glamis street which you have decided to present in this edition, there is a maximum restriction, since it is a building with a 23 foot bay, which we are not used to, but I think that the relation with the site, with the remaining space, is optimal. And the spatial relationship can be the same. A house is not better because it frees a large part of the plot. Most probably a house with a well shaped courtyard can often produce a better result. - In the previous interview, you emphasized the importance you gave to the architectural composition. When you are designing, what do the requests of your clients transmit to that composition, and how do you handle the relationship with them? - The program is very important to us, and we respect it very much because it reflects the wishes of our client. We feel it is very positive for architecture that the client is a participant; we encourage it, because it is very difficult to make a house for a client who does not participate. In this sense, they always set the bar high. That is why later, to ask the client to understand and respect your architecture, to comprehend what the architectural composition is, what the relations of proportion and geometry are, is very difficult if one has not been fully open to understanding how that client wants to live, which is different from the way other families live. There are conditioning factors which they often aren t aware of and that is where the architect must act and take the time to become a kind of psychologist, in such a way that he can rescue the basic considerations from it all. - You have mentioned geometry and, in general, when an architect or building professional emphasizes geometry, it is because he is concerned with constructive quality. In view of this, what importance to you assign to the construction of the project? - It is fundamental. Our maximum concern is that the project is well built. In fact, we are extremely demanding with the builders; we are not prepared to take on projects unless there is an agreement that we choose the builders. We only work with certain construction firms, and not with others. That is why we have lost some large real estate agencies as clients, because we are not interested in them if they do not share that same passion, that same strictness with regard to proper construction. In general, whoever sees our work will realize that it is the maximum we can do and the maximum a construction firm can offer, not in the sense of the luxury of the materials, but of the austerity of proper construction. And besides knowing how difficult it is to achieve this, I must admit that I have been enjoying architecture for more than 30 years, since I have been linked to it from an early age, visiting my father s projects; I have a family full of architects, and one of the things they have passed on to me is the interest in the adherence to proper construction. I am not interested in a poorly built project. That is why I have often been very critical of the great published works, which tend to have a very interesting architectural contribution when viewed in photographs, but when seen in person, make you want to scream because of the indiscriminate use of materials and because it is easy to see that in 3 years this work will become old and deteriorated. I want my work to endure the passage of time, to allow people to be happier, to live more content... That is why we are strict with details, from the economic home to the luxury one. - The variety of houses is really enormous. You find them on flat surfaces as well as on slopes. How does the structure of the plot have a bearing on each project? Do you consider it important? - Yes, absolutely. It has a bearing because, obviously, geography is a basic matter in architecture. It is closely linked to the project and I believe that the gradient in all of our Andean foothills offers great possibilities for the subject of interior spatial resolution, for the proportional relationships we spoke about and, specially, it is a great advantage for the architectural composition. It is often more appealing to work on an inclined plane than on a horizontal one. And, fortunately, we have a lot of this kind of work, with homes which are practically buried in the hills, with very pronounced slopes. - Because of these surfaces with gradients there is a strong presence of structured compositions based on a play of expressive horizontal and vertical strokes which define a way of experiencing architecture. Is this a search for contrasts between building and nature? - There is a lot of that. My position in relation to the location is to value it in the same way that I value architecture. It interests me more than mimicry. I believe that it is essential. Perhaps and we always come back to the same thing the best example of our Andean foothills is the Benedictine church (Iglesia de los Benedictinos), that cube which is suspended from the slope and is still there, after thirty years, wonderful, incomparable. And if one observes the houses that are close to that great work, they all seem to want to offer some kind of tribute, seeking a relationship with that exceptional church. - Another of the characteristics which can be appreciated in the houses you have recently designed and built, is a special choice of light tones, often white, in the concrete and in the finishing materials. Is this another search, which could be considered a constant feature? - The constant feature is rather the use of the one material. Normally, if houses are white, they are entirely white; they have no front or back. They are white both inside and outside. If they are made of concrete, we try to make them essentially of concrete. In general we don t use two materials, as is normally seen, even in good architectural works today; such is the case of the combination of stone-concrete or brick-concrete. As you can see (he stands to fetch some photographs with are hanging on the office walls), our works in brick from several years back, are one hundred percent brick. I like to take the material to its maximum extreme; I feel it s a clean attitude, and I m not saying it s not valid to combine two or three materials but, in general, in our projects the base material, be it concrete, brick or steel, is used one hundred percent. - After building so many individual homes, when new clients come to you, what do they initially ask for; do they want a signature house by Gonzalo Mardones? - Normally, they understand from the start that my work has an absolutely contemporary attitude with respect to architecture, where there is nothing stylistic. In general, I would say that it is an aesthetic work, valued by the people who understand art and who acknowledge that truly valid architecture is that which uses the materials typical of our country and our own technology. I think that they are looking for that and not for architecture which looks to the past in search of reinterpretations or postmodern attitudes. They know we offer them the architecture which we believe is applicable today. - Leaving behind the scale of the individual home and moving on to the building which has just been completed on Glamis street, in Las Condes, we would like to hear your considerations regarding high rise homes and in particular on this case, which is atypical with regard to the commission itself. - A first consideration is that this building is different from all the others. Different, because its scale is neither that of the recent buildings of the Barrio el Golf community nor that of the older buildings of this neighborhood. It refers, instead, to a unique site and location, between a building which we could describe as English, four stories high, brick, with stucco railings and corners, in other words, a good example of what this neighborhood used to be and, on the other hand, towards the North and East, two neighboring buildings of 18 or 20 stories, with the set-backs in accordance to the new building Code, maximum elevations, etc., in other words, representative of what is new without any additional contribution to the urban fabric or to architecture. Therefore, as we were dealing with an island or residual location, the problem consisted of how to solve the program by situating the building correctly, added to the fact that the maximum bay was 23 feet, which made this commission somewhat different and, consequently, very interesting. On the other hand, the commission itself also presented something very different to what usually occurs with other apartment buildings. Here we were not dealing with a real estate objective, but with a family composed of four families, all brothers, each with their own space requirements and a very clear program, but at the same time, different from each other. So, on the one hand there was the condition of the location and on the other, the families, which led to the architectural assignment being tackled with these very particular conditions. - Taking into account the considerations arising from the analysis of the site and the program of requirements, which were the steps which led to the architectural concept which was adopted? - In view of an urban location with such a narrow frontage, with the dramatic situation of the urban fabric described, a very clear concept design had to be implemented. A mental image always exists when one begins a project. It s a first impression, and in this case, that first idea was related to materiality. Materials are always present from the beginning and, as I already mentioned, our works, in general, consist of one material. This building is simply a rectangular concrete prism. We had recently finished a private home, on mount Manquehue, of unfinished concrete with 5 inch pine plank moldings, and I thought this was the appropriate materiality. It was appealing that since the possibility to create some kind of unity, a continuum, with the street did not exist, there should not be a unity in the materiality either. When I was considering the materiality, I also thought of the light, the climate, the culture, and also of the tradition of that street, of that neighborhood, and in that sense the characteristic of the street is discontinuance, the different scales, the different materials, the anti-urban fabric. That is why I thought that a simple concrete box was right. A box full of light. And that strictly cubic space in its interior, on the contrary, is articulated in such a way that the vertical section shows the families as intercrossed, but each with its own particular space. - Obviously, you are very enthusiastic about the subject of studied materiality, and in this case it is concrete. How would you describe its aestheticconstructive possibilities? - Concrete has a very profound, consistent expression, and an aesthetic quality which no other material possesses, except for clay, although the latter doesn t have structural capacity. Now then, concrete also has character, depending on how it is used. In this case the moldings give it a module of 5 inches which emphasizes the horizontality of such a vertical building, and at the same time allow the modulation of beams, windows, bays, cills and walls. This faceting permitted the windows to be designed in various dimensions, but always subordinated to the module. That s why I always say that each molding, each concrete casting and each type of concrete provide a different sensation. They are different expressions of one same material. And in the case of this building with the risk of appearing conceited I think it represents it as if it had already been there, because despite my remarks regarding different materiality, it radiates a certain serenity which makes it appear rooted and therefore, intrinsic to the place. - With regard to the relationship of the building with the location, it is important to refer to its form, to its relation with the sun and, because of the proximity of the San Luis hill, of its relation with geography. - As to its form, the first conditioning factor was the restriction imposed by the Building Code, or more precisely, the use of a very complex Regulation, that of the shade ratio, in this case used to its maximum expression. On the other hand, the way this lozenge standing on one edge is perforated and articulated, relates to the intensity of light required for each area. As ones goes through the interior of the building, the spaces go changing size as well as shape. Therefore, the light changes, it s different, and the windows vary in dimension and position because of the different spaces. It s like a story which has a lot to do with reality, but also with fiction. With regard to the relationship with the hill, the building has setbacks towards it, creating spaces open to the best views to the North and to the sun in the afternoon. - Taking into account the handling of the formal expression of the building, it could give the impression that there is no clear limit between architecture and sculpture. - I think that in the projects we are talking about and in general in all our work, there is no limit, or better said a border, between sculpture and architecture. Obviously, architecture responds to functional issues, but shelter, safety and comfort are also intrinsic to it, and comfort includes beauty and proportion, which are the basis of architecture and also of sculpture. - Most architects live waiting for that commission that allows them to conceive a work which will become a milestone in their careers. Is this Gonzalo Mardones Viviani s Major Design? - I think so, because despite being a building made with a controlled, economic budget, we have been able to fully express our design proposal, with a very good finish, without any extraordinary resources and we have received a laudatory review from architects. And that is always important to us.
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