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Patios(+)Personales: Martín Dulanto

Martín Dulanto. Source.

This week we bring back an article that is framed in our favorite section, Patios(+)Personales! And to consolidate our interest in generating an international image in Patio de Sombras, on this occasion our protagonist comes from the other side of the Atlantic: We present Martín Dulanto.

For those who do not know him, he is an architect of Peruvian nationality and with a young career, having graduated in 2007 from the Faculty of Architecture of the Peruvian University of Applied Sciences (UPC). He began his professional career in 2008 as a founding partner of Taller 33, where he remained until 2012, when he decided to start a new stage by forming his own studio -Martín Dulanto-, in which he continues to work to this day.

He received the second prize in the “Built Architecture” category in the “Biennial of Young Architecture 2013” thanks to his project in the Seta House. In the same event he also won a mention in the category “Architecture not built” for his project Casa PuL. Among his work we can find projects as interesting as Blanca House, the oZs0 House or the Lapa House, the latter taking him to be among the 20 finalists of the Oscar Niemeyer 2018 awards.

Marcio Kogan, a breeze of fresh air

Patio de Sombras (PdS): To begin with, we would like you to tell us about yourself and how the studio works. How is Martín Dulanto studio?

Martín Dulanto (MD): The studio responds directly to a process of getting to know myself. When I was 25 I didn’t even know if I wanted to be an architect. I had already finished my degree, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do. When I finished I knew I had to work. Then I met Marcio Kogan, do you know him? –We answer negatively, and we initiate the contact with an architect who works with rotundity and pure forms, but who also seems to take from Barragán the colour, or from art the way of telling things. Gestures that become projects.-

MD: Marcio’s work is quite clean. Cleanliness as a concept, not complicating your life. Not only as an architectural concept, but something brought to life. Marcio gave me that. He arrived in a moment of personal crisis, I was working on two projects and none of them i liked. I couldn’t go any further, I didn’t know where to go and I didn’t like to see references. I felt that if I saw references I was copying. Then I learned that i was not right, it is not the case. Now it fascinates me to see references of all kinds. Looking for inspiration, or solutions and answers in other fields. Music, gastronomy, art…

I met Marcio and Diana and when I met them I discovered a world. What caught my attention the most was the way they lived architecture. Here at the university, some professors share their negative view of architecture. They want to convince you that to have a studio is to live a rather complicated and sacrificed life. Boring, tense, stressful. I didn’t understand why it had to be like this.

While I was studying, I was also overwhelmed by the fact that my friends were living a passion that I didn’t really feel. I did the things I felt I had to do, and that’s it. I felt like I was going in the wrong direction, I was going where the teachers were taking me, where we were all going. Meeting Marcio gave me the peace of mind of knowing that many things I sensed were not wrong. I don’t know how you have run the race, but I must have stayed up no more than 20 times in total, when I had classmates who did it more than 20 times in a single cycle. It was a matter of how you manage your time and how you live architecture. This tranquility that came to me thanks to meeting Marcio, I don’t know if it was exactly late, because it would have been vital that it happened earlier when I was at university so as not to have such a bad time later. But I think it came at a good time because I already had the ability to understand a number of things. I had already gone through years of college, two years of work where I didn’t get much taste. I just had to work.

Martín Dulanto and Marcio Kogan.

Already practicing architecture and facing real problems with clients, at work, comes this kind of fresh air that gives me the ability to see work and profession from another point of view. When I met Marcio I was a partner in a construction company. There they saw only the construction, I could see the architecture. I didn’t enjoy it at all. It was always quite stressful and I had the limitation of not being able to handle things the way I wanted, at least not 100%, because I had a partner.

Finally I decide to form my own studio. A couple of guys who worked at this construction company came with me, they’re still here and they’re like my right hands. They are the ones who help me with the office. Miguel and Raúl. Then other members joined and rotated. Miguel, Raúl and now Gabriel have always been here, they are like pillars of the office. With this peace of mind that the things I were doing weren’t necessarily wrong, I began to enjoy myself. To give you an idea, when I was studying I spent hours drawing stupid things. When I started working I completely forgot about that. I felt that if I ever drew, I was wasting my time. But I’ve taken that pressure off myself. Now with greater freedom and tranquility I can enjoy the artistic, architectural and gastronomic theme, incorporating it without guilt into our architecture.

In one way or another, everything is tied up, related. One of the things I enjoy most about my profession, my job, is the opportunity to get to know people. To get to have a friendly relationship with my clients. My two best friends started out as my clients. What do i mean? I don’t see architecture as purely architecture. I don’t see architecture as designing. I don’t feel like the owner of the word either, nor do I want to give lessons to anyone. I simply have that tranquility that matured with the passage of time to carry out the profession in a light way.

Once, Raúl, who is an absolutely theoretical genius and knows a lot about architects and theories, quoted someone to refer to me, and said something like that what he found very interesting was that I had this freedom not to know. Understood in a positive way. When you know a lot about certain things, you automatically set certain parameters. He said that I had the freshness of not starting with these concepts, for the simple and sincere fact of not knowing them.

Right now I’m in a professional moment in which we’re very happy with what we’re doing. I believe that our best projects, of what has been done so far – although it is always said that the best is yet to come – are the current ones. Those who don’t even have three-dimensional views yet.

Knowing the little family

PdS: Continuing chatting about the studio, we are interested in knowing what the dynamics of work in the studio are like. What is the environment like? Do you work with models? Do you draw a lot? Do you only work with plans?

MD: I’m going to be totally honest. All projects always start with an idea that usually comes from me as the initial concept of the project. The client contacts me, explains what he wants, I go to the field, I see how it is, I sit down with the kids and tell them that “the house goes this way” while I make a sketch and that’s it. This initial drawing that comes out in this meeting begins to become plans by Miguel, Raúl or Gabriel. After this, a series of meetings are held where opinions are exchanged and we begin to refine and clean the plan. We make models yes, but it is not so much part of our creative process. Normally the vast majority of models have been made after the project was ready, for a theme presentation either for the client or for some exhibition.

Without wanting to sound pedantic – you will have already noticed that I am not – I feel that I have a facility for design. Our designs could be much better, no doubt, but what I’m going to is that there is a lot of intuition in our work. I get to the field and have the intuition of where the project should go. Generally I’m not wrong, or if I’m wrong it’s not that bad, it’s not far from what’s initially conceived.

Returning to the question of “how is the environment”, I don’t know if you’ve heard this phrase which is something like “make your work not feel like work and you will never have to work”. I don’t know if in a very conscious way or not, but I think I always went for that. And little by little the kids have become infected. While there are schedules, and there are mostly goals to achieve, there is also a fairly open, quite humane treatment. They laugh and to annoy me they say that it’s not as horizontal as I paint it, but it is to a great extent, they have many permits, many freedoms. I like to handle it that way. If I’m happy, they have to be happy. If I do well, they have to do well. I couldn’t be okay knowing they have serious problems. Every time I can help them I help them, and they help me too.

Miguel, Raul and Gabriel took over the office as their own, so they are 100% involved. They don’t take every assignment as an obligation, but they become aware that whatever they do they are doing for them as well. If I’m doing well because of something they’ve done, it’s going to be good for all of us. I am happy. We laugh all day long.

These summer months in Lima every Friday we have gone out to lunch, some have ended up not exactly as a drunkard, but so, playing Monopoly here in the office, that to give you an idea the game ended suddenly because Raul in an act of greed, he made a move not to pay a silver and threw the board. That’s the kind of relationship we have. One way or another, and we always comment on it, this is transmitted to the clients.

For example, we have a particular way of charging for projects. No charge per square meter, charge per project. No additional charge, unless the situation is critical and the project has had many changes being too long. I usually give the client much more than they initially expect. And that’s already in the DNA of the team as well. It gets to a point where they don’t hire you and they say “make me ten cuts”, and when you have to do 5 more it bursts, because you feel you don’t belong. Here the mentality is that they are hiring us for the project and we do whatever is necessary for the project to go well. If it goes well they’ll publish us all and we’ll have more work. It’s a matter of getting it right.

They ask my permission to leave early every week, they know they can always leave. But they also know – and I know – that if I need them to come to work on a Saturday, or to work on a Friday until 11 p.m. or 12 p.m., they do so. It doesn’t have to be from the office, maybe from home, but they do. Now, for example, I had a meeting at 8 a.m., arrived at the office and had the plans ready. Raul had left them printed. Not just the file ready, but the printed plans so I can just come and sit down and have the meeting. I hadn’t even asked for it. We’ve already reached a point where everything is like this, super automatic and super assumed.

There are teams, inevitably work teams are formed. I am the head, then there are Miguel, Raúl and Gabriel. Finally Michaella and Adriana, who are the practitioners. Miguel, Raúl and Gabriel are each in charge of two or three houses. They divide and while Miguel works Adriana supports him. Michaella supports Raúl. But if a client arrives tomorrow and says “Martín, I need this for the day after tomorrow”, everyone is able at any moment to stop what they are doing, and support another.

Now we are designing houses in the jungle, in Kuelap. There are two houses, Raúl was going to take one, and Miguel was going to take another. But two old clients reappeared whose projects he was working on with Miguel. Since he is very busy, Gabriel is taking the second house and there is no problem. If Miguel ever gets free and wants to give his opinion, he says so. Everything adds up.

PdS: This leads us to want to talk about what that relationship with the client is like. How is the conversation in which the client tells you about his lifestyle and his needs? How does that turns into a form?

MD: Look, I think the client issue is perhaps the most complex. I remember in the university the professors used to say that the architect has to act as a therapist. And it’s true. I think that above all you have to have enough wrist to handle the situation. I’m a pretty easy person to carry, trying not to get into trouble. I invest a lot of my energy in avoiding problems.

This ease means that almost from the outset there is a good relationship with most customers. The client perceives a predisposition for things to be done well, that makes him feel comfortable almost from the start. When he sees that he starts asking for things and is not charged extra he feels comfortable.

Then it turns in conversations and in a “psychological” analysis that allows me to identify what the client needs. Normally the client comes, we have a first meeting where he tells me everything he wants, and that ends up being this –Martin shows us a sheet of his notebook-. It’s basically a list of needs, of environments, where I write down important things. As if he has had some bad experience, or a very good experience, everything that can be useful for the project. But then, as the meetings go on and the client sees that he is meeting not only with me, but also with the boys, who are quite easy people to take with them, a relationship of friendship begins to appear.

Do you know what “Chifa” is? –We answer negatively– The chifa is the Chinese food fused with Peruvian. The chef of the Chifa Titi, who has again been recognized as the best chifa in the country, is our client. We are designing the Arándano house for him. We have already reached a point where, if we ever go to the restaurant, he invites us. Not the whole meal, but we get some dishes. He has invited us to his house to cook for us. It’s about paying much more attention to all the details that are around in architecture but are not architecture.

In my case the important thing has been that, allowing me to enjoy all that comes with architecture. Because I assume that as an architect, I have to make an architecture that is at least acceptable. So when you start doing your work, but you start allowing things like this –Martín shows us different shelves from his work space-, when you no longer feel ashamed to have this as part of the decoration of your office, when you start enjoying those things, or when I started allowing myself those things, everything changed.

Then I arrived at Marcio’s office and he has everything like that. They took a Moleskine from his studio, “Inspiration and Process in Architecture“, where you can see his studio and his way of working.

Of course, his workplace is filled with design items, very expensive objects… He has thousands of such things. When I met him I gave him a drawing, and soon after he sent me a photo of that drawing placed in an acrylic urn among all those things. Knowing that, we gave him in the office one of these – He shows us a 3dprinted badger -, it’s the badger, the office pet, that little forest animal. I did it because I knew he was going to put it among his things. Indeed, when he returned to Sao Paulo, he placed it and sent us some photos.

This is fine, to allow you this kind of thing as long as you don’t go to the other side and end up projecting an image of absolute irresponsibility and negligence. Being authentic, but doing things well, period.

Emphasizing thought

PdS: We also want to find out more about your client’s profile. We would like to know if you are exclusively dedicated to the creation of this housing for the upper classes, or if you have also faced projects of a humbler nature and tighter budgets.

MD: From the outset, I don’t think that the upper class is the one most interested in architecture, but rather the one that can pay for it. I believe that it is the middle and lower classes that most need the service of professionals, and I believe that there is a worldwide tendency to change these things and bring architecture closer to the people, and through architecture to solve problems that are quite critical. Where am I heading? I am not going to tell you the story that I am an architect absolutely dedicated to social work and in an almost heroic way I am going to solve the problems of humble people. I think everyone is good at something. So what it’s all about is identifying that something you’re good at, and doing it in the best possible way. I don’t pretend to be anyone’s reference architecturally speaking. I just found my way, I do things the way I like them, and that’s it. In the best way I can. I think it would be interesting that this way of seeing things could inspire someone to do what they want. I don’t consider myself good at making very low budget housing, what I really enjoy for now and where I really find myself is in these big floats, in more complex structures that allow ample space… This is not necessarily the cheapest thing, but quite the opposite.

There are people who go against the architects who do this kind of work that we do. “You’re making houses for the rich and you should be making houses for the poor. No. I think there are all kinds of architects and everyone has to find their work and make it the best way possible. Curiously, right now we’re with a guy from the university where I studied, and we’re taking part in an affordable housing competition. Now we are working on the proposal, but unfortunately in the office we have a lot of work and I have not been able to enter 100%. We are thinking about an idea that needs to mature.

It’s definitely not our strength and we practically don’t do it. I’m not saying that I’m never going to do it, but it’s not what I’m concentrating on right now. While I don’t see architecture as my work, it’s what allows me to generate income for a living. And now I’m focused on consolidating an image as an architect. Making a name for myself that will allow me to generate more work in the future. Maybe when this is already consolidated, I can think about supporting myself in other ways. I’m giving you the most sincere answer, it really is. I think people should be like that.

Some time ago I saw a documentary, “Hacer mucho con poco” (Doing a lot with little) by some boys from Ecuador,”Alborde studio“. I saw it because there is an architect named Marta Maccaglia, an Italian friend. She has a foundation called Semillas and she really helps communities in the jungle. She does a very interesting job. She invited me to see the conferences and that’s how I met these kids.

They are deciding to support the people, contributing as much as they can. And I love that, when I have been able to tell them that if at any time they consider that we can contribute something, they should let us know. But always from a modest corner where, as I told them a while ago, I consider myself good for other things. If they are good at that, and they think that some of the capacity of our studio can contribute, we contribute under their direction. But I’m not an expert in making affordable buildings. It’s not something I’m proud of.

PdS: We’re not in the American world at all. There is a barrier that doesn’t allow the news to cross the pond, and you give us a very up-to-date view of it. We can jump and talk lightly about the crisis of the last few years. In our case, here the crisis was a monumental problem in the field of architecture. There was an urban exploitation that ended up with dead architectures, without inhabiting, that don’t work. Was it also noticed there?

MD: Well, there is a global crisis. Everything works badly in all parts of the world. We now have a serious issue of political corruption, we don’t know what is going to happen in Peru either. I think that if it was felt, there was a downturn, but definitely not as serious as what you experienced. Many Spaniards came, but I think they have already begun to return, and I think that is an indicator that things are better there, or at least they are improving.

About six years ago or so, like things were much more active than they could have been two years ago, until all these problems with the presidents started. And there we are, trying to move forward despite the shit that politicians have been.

PdS: We would also like to jump into the artistic facet. You told us that you wanted to be an artist, and when you build the Lapa house you showed a lot of that compositional capacity. To what extent are you able to justify to a client some decisions that could be more groundbreaking? How do you talk to a client about these decisions?

MD: Not all clients accept such strong elements. As often as it is a kind of aesthetic whim, I try to take it for something that is also real. The importance of the element itself. Something that will reinforce the character of the project, will give personality to the house. As a playful element. You will be living in a work of art. Stairs like Lapa’s or the Blanca House are not as much as a painting to contemplate. They are part of the experience itself.

In Casa Lapa you have two zones. One very open, totally linear and sober. Another one in contact with the stone and the natural of the sea, and another one that is this element totally foreign to these two, and that when you are there probably there is no other place in the city that resembles it. It’s not so much as if you put a painting on it. It’s like moving to another dimension.

I have clients who come at the first meeting and say “Martín, don’t be offended, but something like that orange staircase? Not like that”. While others come and say “I want that”. It’s all too personal. I have other customers who say, “But what’s in fashion?” and I tell them that what’s in fashion goes out of fashion, so forget about it. If something is used in our work, it’s not because it’s fashionable, but because we like it, and coincidentally it’s fashionable. I tell my clients that there are no rules. It’s not that something is right or wrong, it will be right or wrong in relation to how it works for them. If you love yellow and free shapes, you can have a ladder like that. If you don’t like yellow or the helical staircases, put another one on and that’s it.

It’s all about getting a little free. Take off this load that I was talking about initially.

PdS: Finishing with art. You are an architect, but your wife is dedicated to art. Has she helped in any project decisions? Have you learned anything from her?

MD: I’d say she’s a very integral person. What I like about art in general is blurring boundaries. I don’t like to see things pigeonholed. “Art, music, gastronomy…” I don’t know how to explain it well… It’s like sitting down and perceiving what moves you. You close your eyes and you’re eating something rich, or you’re listening to a good song. Or you find some painting that you didn’t expect to see, or that you saw as a little boy, you completely forgot and suddenly you see it again and it surprises you. It goes around a bit. Sensitize yourself to everything.

Direct interventions of my work, no. But if in terms of approaching art, to have a different and interesting point of view, as a consequence of her I can see the world in a different way. I think it goes around a little bit.

It’s not so much like doing architecture and putting some artistic element in it. Or to make architecture and put a natural element in it. It is to understand that there is no limit, or there should be no limit between architecture and art, or architecture and nature. To fuse them together.

I remember that at some point in my career I designed a building that had a tree on the façade. The professor told me something like that ok, but that the facade lacked to polish the composition, because the tree was not enough. That when the tree died, and the client removed it, the building was left lame. At that moment I did what most people would do. Remove the tree and compose a new façade.

Now what I do is explain to the clients that just as you have a column, a beam or a staircase, you also have a tree or a bush. They are elements that I don’t know whether to call architectural, but they are elements that help you or that you can use to design.

There is no such limit.

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