Oh, Spiderman!: Souto de Moura, the Pritzker and altitude sickness. By: Gonzalo Carrasco Purull + Pedro Livni.
It’s official. The Pritzker Prize this year went to the Portuguese architect Eduardo Souto de Moura (Porto, 1952). A choice consistent with a jury that in recent years has highlighted practices characterized by formal restraint and argument, a certain elegance in the manner and above all, a conception of architecture as art and as part autonomous, governed by its own laws. Architectures correctness, consistency and a clean office, where the material and measure are the issues where the projects are played. A line within which are embedded past winners Peter Zumthor and SANAA. Curatorial line on the jury in a tone that can be found in publications such as Casabella, wherein the displayed works beautifully photographed in large format, with loneliness property of a museum piece or the stillness of a forest clearing or convent.
The choice of Souto de Moura is therefore a decision of an exceptional consistency as to what is expected of the contemporary architect. At least by jurors – Lord Palumbo, Alejandro Aravena, Carlos Jimenez, Glenn Mercutt, Juhani Pallasmaa, Renzo Piano, Karen Stein and Martha Thorne. But, no offense to a larger size as architect Souto de Moura is, it should at least ask – and especially in light of recent world events – whether a practice like Souto de Moura plays the role of the contemporary architect? Or put another way, is actually what is expected of a contemporary architect is only the production of «great pieces of art»?
Whatever it may be the answer, just because it is uncomfortable to ask this question. In a contemporary setting that agenda appears to be dominated by the risk, entropy and the disaster in a world dominated by the famine, natural resources, financial resources, energy resources, housing, is it still possible to argue that what makes the contemporary architect is only works of art?
Unfortunately, it takes hold, at least without a guilty conscience.
This is an inconvenience experienced by the very Souto de Moura. As expressed by recalling his participation in the project for the Tower Burgo (2007). But where can rise to this «inconvenience»? As recognized by the architect, an office tower of 20 stories is somewhat unusual for those who feel more comfortable with the design of houses. A scale where the architect – understood as the architect and artist – can reign. A predilection Souto de Moura has significantly reflected in cases such as housing for the Quinta do Lago (1984) or the house Alcanena (1992). A scale where there is only the view that learning the work, but this is acknowledged by the whole body. The work means running through it, step by step, touching a lot of the time. One area of experience where the haptic is as important as the optical.
And hence the discomfort that recognizes Souto de Moura experiment with Burgo Tower. That the artist had to fully deal with a project type stressed by multiple factors: an abstract client (mercadoinmobiliario), with a construction industry away from the organization’s own manpower and local vernacular, with a site that must negotiate with an existing city, with one building in complexity supports the participation of many professionals, within which the architect is one more.
What’s left of it? Well, the discomfort of a project that seems to have changed state. Is it even architecture? Yes, and no. If, as to the response (Yeah, man, that is a building!). But their membership as a piece of art, but remains in Souto de Moura, this at least appears weak, diffuse, like a photograph with fuzzy borders, less defined.
And after that your references do not matter – existing or imagined – to the architecture of Mies van der Rohe. Burgo Tower arises from the discomfort of a project that relates so uncomfortable with their surroundings, which reaches to the floor awkwardly, leaving the same facade in an awkward position regarding the behavior of the curtain wall (or curtain wall «?). An arrival to the ground settled almost without articulation, disregarding one of the main problems of the tower – foundation, development and public auction. One way to reach the ground problems, which previously had experienced Souto de Moura housing in Maia, moving the grid which can be found in an office building at a domestic level – a strategy of movement and raised by Jeff Wall, referring the work of Dan Graham.
However, the main discomfort Burgo Tower appears to rest on what is so splendid in the homes of Souto de Moura architectures characteristic of being learned by the eye and hand, the experience of a subject that goes. And this little and there is nothing in the Tower Burgo. Everything there is exclusion of the hand and on the contrary, the realm of the eye.
But could it be that the discomfort of Souto de Moura is a result of which has played one of the limits in a particular way of understanding the architecture? And this is a question that contains perhaps the most important of the discomfort.
Yesterday the people of Dubai were shocked again. And this is no small thing for some people accustomed to witness the antics, mannerisms, and fireworks of a more sophisticated architectural scene dominated by excess and spectacle. What we witnessed yesterday was the great fact of seeing a man who, by their own means, climbed the facade of the so far the tallest building in the world. Yesterday, the Frenchman Alain Robert climbed the 828 meters of the Burj Dubai, in an exercise that challenges like no other the very nature of high-rise office buildings, reminding us of the day, and far (1974) Philippe Petit equilibrium path by a cable between the former twin towers of the WTC in Manhattan. Buildings belonging to the realm of vision, facade-ism, corporate envelope, the image of «world class city.» A world of appearance and exclusion, where everything is left out, starting with the subject and experience. Yesterday Robert – known as «Spiderman» – tested once again the height of contemporary tower, learning not only by sight, but with his hand and his whole body. Yesterday, Alain Robert back for a moment to architecture to the realm of the experiential over the optical. And that today is a dangerous business, subversive. For private property, like the towers and museum pieces are not for touching.
Architecture, an uncomfortable subject.
If following the Pritzker Souto de Moura opened the question about what is expected today in the profession, the Burj Dubai rise to subvert the way we relate to that may have been the main protagonist – and Guilty – of building the modern city. It is within this discussion, it is perhaps possible to outline a possible solution – temporary, incomplete and still in the very hasty, Alain Robert climbing.
Long ago, Rem Koolhaas compared the action of the contemporary architect with a surfer who is related to the changing world scenario, traveling from wave to wave. If the chosen tropes Koolhaas (architect = surfer), the architect is in danger of becoming cynical and opportunistic character, for the rise of Alain Robert does not.
Perhaps the contemporary architect is like him, who above all architecture is an uncomfortable subject. Has an end, provides the top of the tower, but the architecture offers resistance. Recognizes that it is complex and offers multiple routes. All reach the top. But you should choose one that is more responsive to their strengths and real possibilities, as their desires and fantasies. Something like building a puzzle. The architecture is reluctant, but progress is only if you take positions, views and positions is common. Positions that are taken to move forward, knowing that they are only momentary positions, which are taken and left. The architect as well, recognizing advances a complex surface, angular, with sharp edges that can make progress risky. Above, nothing is certain. Above, there is no ground beneath our feet. Only our hands, feet and body clinging to the contingency that offers architecture. A precarious balance, and as the times are dangerous and subversive.
But tell that the air up there is more clear and transparent. VKPK.