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Interview: Langarita and Navarro

María Langarita and Victor Navarro at the architecture school of Granada (ETSAG). PdS header image.

As you know, in Patio de Sombras we took advantage of the visit of María and Víctor to the school of architecture in Granada to ask them the recurring question in our Patios (+) Personales section. However, this time this connection would not stop there, and they were kind enough to spend a few more minutes with us, in which we were able to chat with Sierra Nevada and the neighborhood of Realejo in the background. If you still haven’t seen what the answer to the question “What differences and what unites architecture with the rest of the arts?” we invite you to check it now. If you keep things up to date and you already know the answer, go on, we’ll leave you with the rest of the interview and hope you enjoy and reflect as much as we do on the experience! Without further ado:

Interview with: Langarita and Navarro

Patio de Sombras (PdS): Teaching as a way of understanding research in architecture, to what extent is school important and is it one of the best ways to keep up to date?

María Langarita (ML): You keep up to date, of course. The conversations that take place at school with peers, students, and other professionals are essential. But it happens at school, it happens in the market and it happens in any environment. For us it is a fundamental part of the discipline, of the exercise of architecture. The time of formation and the time of exercise is divided into a small portion that corresponds to the exercise alone or in intimacy, where you are drawing, thinking…  But another important part is also listening and talking to others. This exercise is as important as the classic structure of solo drawing. It’s part of it.

PdS: There are many studios that end up generating images that are recognizable as theirs… Is there an intention to generate a brand with the architecture?

Victor Navarro (VN): I think that as a matter of fact it would be a little irrelevant, in the sense that you actually produce according to some interests. So your interests sometimes have to do with formal conditions, aesthetic conditions…. While there are other people who have totally different interests. The ways of producing good architecture are many, therefore, if you replicate yourself, and in that repetition you are capable of producing good architecture, it is as valid as if you are reinventing yourself every day. We don’t have a will for it, we do what we can.

ML: It is the dynamics of the office itself, even when a new person enters the office, they learn from us through the work we have already done, and these are incorporated back into the next projects.

PdS: There is a painter and sculptor in Spain, who in his spare time has the hobby of being an architect. Has this approach to the arts by Juan Navarro Baldeweg affected the methodology of working in the studio?

Exhibition space in Canal de Isabel II.

ML: I would say that it is not so much his artistic or architectural practice that can influence us, because it happens at the same time as ours. But one thing we have enjoyed in a privileged way is his library. We have access to one of the most incredible libraries of art, poetry, thought, photography… Both Juan and Pepa are the intellectual nucleus.

VN: It is a library that is not only physical, but also mental. Material and immaterial.

PdS: There are many times when we are prompted to understand the problem as an opportunity: Is it optimism, or just a way of dealing with the project? 

ML: It’s an opportunity. The problem is not a problem. The problem is the gasoline that then leads to an architectural action. We have commented on parallels between art and architecture, but it is true that unlike other arts, architecture as art cannot only refer to itself nor can it be produced by itself. The problem is an original and fundamental fact, it lies in the origin of architecture itself. As an exercise of idea, of action, it can be a spontaneous and own thing, but from there to the production, it usually needs the existence of the problem.

PdS: Few people today dare to discuss a doctor’s diagnosis. In the field of architecture, however, it is becoming increasingly common for people without any approach to it not only to have an opinion, but to decide: Do we have a very elitist view of architecture or is society less and less aware of the capabilities of a good architect?

VN: That’s a very good question. There is something very interesting, and that is that it is true that although architecture needs some expert knowledge, so to speak, that in a way we should take advantage of it as a society – just like a doctor knows a lot – architecture is also about something that we all do very well, which is living. There are many people who know how to live very well. Architects are not perhaps the ones who know best how to live. Therefore, it should not become a space for experts and listeners, but a place for meeting and debate, where everyone can have a voice and be heard from the points where it makes the most sense for them to speak. It is a good start that it is a meeting place, and yet it should be shared.

PdS: In this context, how do you think action should be taken in schools and studios to bring architects and society back together?

ML: I do not agree that societies and architects have divorced and split up. We can take a stroll through a city we know, such as the periphery or outskirts of Madrid, and we would see an architecture that has no interest, with no construction of quality urban space and that has not been thought beyond an immediate short-term interest. But we see that this city has been made in perfect coexistence and in relation to the architects and society. Society wanted to promote this building, the architect has built the building. Society has wanted everything to be housing and give up space elsewhere for another activity, and it has been done. In reality, it is not so much a relationship of responsibility in the face of this loss of communication or not between society and architecture, which goes hand in hand. But the need to claim those observations that are made outside the medium of speculative, economic or personal interest – legitimate, but individual, not as a society. These readings that structure the city must appear. Much of that voice can be led by architects, but many other agents as well. It is not so much a divorce or a rapprochement, but we should reclaim that space for all as a society, and the architects within it to speak to and understand each other from a point of view of the collective and of what we share.

VN: In fact, there has never been more talk about architecture than there is today. It’s never been written or published that much, it’s highly exposed in the media. It’s something we want to do to punish ourselves.

ML: As if to claim some mistakes. There is a lack of critical debate in 90% of the city’s built fat mass.

VN: And there’s also something else that’s very interesting. No one has shared as much architecture as Instagram. However, I would tell you that maybe we architects are still unable to produce the experiences and desires that people project in Instagram and then do not happen in real life. Just like you don’t have those bodies you see in the media, or you don’t have those commercial smiles.

ML: You don’t have breakfast on that terrace….

VN: …with a tablecloth and a falling grapevine that is only in one place in Mexico, but you want to live in it, and in reality, it is not society that is moving away. It’s just that we don’t get there. We’re a little behind and we have to get our act together.

PdS: We seem to be increasingly aware of the effects we are having on the Earth. In architecture we can generate large quantities of waste, or manage the energy consumption of buildings in very efficient ways, although this may be inconsistent due to the carbon footprint produced by these constructive solutions. 

Project in an old water deposit.

Have you ever designed with any of these criteria as your main idea? How have you approached it?

ML: Always. The quantitative criterion of energy use underlies all projects. But in reality, from our experience, what we have realized with our own exercise, as well as with the study of the works of others and the study of everyday objects that others have designed, is that the best way to manage energy is to make beautiful architectures that people love.

A beautiful chair that people love, made in the 1940s, will still be roaming from house to house, bought and repurchased. Inherited and given away. It will not be destroyed. The energy invested in that tree that was then cut down, processed and produced that chair is still on the planet. It happens with the Alhambra and a lot of architectural constructions.

There is a very important effort that is technical, that has more to do with an Excell table -quantitative-, and there is a fundamental aspect that starts from the capacity of this architecture to establish affective ties with people and then with complete societies. There the energy used will be amortized over years and years.

PdS: In 100 years the building technique has changed radically, the same has happened with technology, and now more and more these two are working together, what do you hope will help us to solve this link between technology and architecture? Do you follow any research or technology hoping that one day it will be applied to architecture?

VN: Technology is everything. We cannot think of the human being without technology. Any technology, from the pot, which is a super sophisticated technology to contain a plant element that can grow, be dosed, but at the same time remove the water… From such simple objects to spatial structures, they are all necessary. And all the ones you have at your fingertips can be applied in architecture. I would not differentiate between architectural and other technologies. All of them should be continuously incorporated and evaluated if it makes sense for them to follow and remain in the discipline.

PdS: We don’t know who we’ll interview next time. In our line of wanting to generate debate and dialogue, we want to offer you the opportunity to participate in this “game”. What reflection or question, in relation to art or architecture, would you ask our next interviewee?

A pause in which our interviewees look each other in the eye with doubt, while smiling.

VN: We don’t know who it’s going to be….

ML: It’s very difficult…

Another short pause occurs.

VN: What book are you missing?

When the interview seems to be over.

VN: And read it now!

Ending with smiles on everyone’s face and laughter in the air.

María and Víctor at the end of the interview.

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