Architecture and obsession: zoom it, crack it, fix it!

23°33'37.8"S 46°43'49.0"W I with ppw

This project examines architecture and critique. How to react to architecture with architecture? Take your favourite piece of architecture and obsess with it: zoom it, crack it, fix it!  

Inspired by readings of Jane Rendell on critical spatial practice, the applied criticism accepts one´s subjective understanding of the matter as part of the equation and addresses the relationship between a built piece of architecture and its obsessive critics: students of architecture, who want to zoom it, crack it and fix it. The critique is conveyed by manipulating the medium necessary for the perception of architecture. 

“This building reflects the worthy ideas of today:
I saw it as the spatialisation of democracy,
in dignified spaces, without front doors,
as I wanted it as a temple where all activities are valid. “

    João Batista Vilanova Artigas

zoom it!
The Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism (FAU) at the University of São Paulo by João Batista Vilanova Artigas (1915- 85) is, intellectually and emotionally speaking, one of my very favourite pieces of architecture. Therefore, the ideal object of critique.

Together with Paulo Mendes da Rocha, Vilanova Artigas is considered to be one of the most important representatives of Escola Paulista, the São Paulo-based modernist architecture movement. Today, the building itself is acknowledged as the most significant built in the aforementioned style.

Throughout history, Brazil appears to be fertile ground for Utopia, repeatedly looking for an identity. Particularly during the times of cultural isolation due to unstable political times until the 1980s. Similar to this, as a reaction to the cultural anthropophagy popular in Brazil, with Escola Paulista, Brazilian intellectuals intended to create a self-centred movement.

Formally, the Escola Paulista strongly resembles the brutalist movement. The most prominent motive is public space. Every building shapes and creates public space, even private houses. This is particularly interesting as in São Paulo public space is a rare good and often neglected. Referring to Hannah Arendt, public space allows plurality and enables action and speech. An ideal that Vilanova Artigas holds in high esteem. Actively trying to shape an open society with open buildings.

The campus of the public University of São Paulo is defined as one of the largest publicly accessible parks in the metropolis. It is a city within a city. Most buildings and the overall planning are held according to the premises of the Escola Paulista. Without a doubt, the FAU is the most outstanding building in it.

The FAU assembles several influences, in terms of gestalt and content, to the oeuvre of Vilanova Artigas. For one, the building is completely open. No doors need to be opened to enter. As Vilanova Artigas saw it, students, like young gods, can float in and out. A central plaza on the first ground, similar to a medieval market square or, as a non-colonial example, similar to a Shabono by the Yanomami, an indigenous people in the Brazilian rainforest. The building shows a continuity of public space connected by ramps.

Modernist influences can be observed in the overall form, also, there is the brutalist usage of material and the unique columns around the facade. The ramp refers to Lucio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer, who prominently introduced this motif into Brazilian Architecture with their pavilion at the 1939 New York World's Fair.

Like Walter Gropius at Bauhaus in Dessau and Mies van der Rohe with his Crown Hall in Chicago, Vilanova Artigas not only designed the school but also reformed the curriculum at the school. Hence, gestalt and content build an entity. The faculty, which offers to study architecture, urbanism and design, is organised into only three departments. This way, human interaction is not only spatially guaranteed.

crack it!
Nevertheless, there are many ways to see and interpret the building to crack it. Further, we can turn it, break it, it, switch it, quick unbox it, print it, buy it and upload it. One can see the roof as a facade and the facade as a roof. There is open space inside and open space outside of the FAU. Regarding the pattern of columns, it is a temple.

Vilanova Artiga's quote heavily overloads the FAU and tries to moralise the architecture. For once I am manipulated through the medium of writing, believing in the power of public space, and idealising the FAU. In terms of construction, architecture is not political. The architect might be political, better said what the architect does and says is. In the end, the perception of something decides how we see it.

Even if it was the spatialisation of democracy, what kind of democracy are we talking about? In the open space, everything said can be heard. How to bring order in this noise? There might be no built hierarchy. But if everything is public, are minorities still being protected? Can I claim individual rights? And how come a single person decides upon the design of the building?

Architecture is an ongoing process - essentially it deals with inhabiting space, thus, how we live - object and subject are equally valid and connected by a medium. Fixing the medium, in other words, manipulating the subject, makes it possible to alter the perception of the FAU. 

For instance, the plastic art object "12 Scheiben", twelve glass planes installed in line, by Gerhard Richter brilliantly reflects this thesis. Assumed there is an object on one side of the panes, the observer sees it filtered by up to twelve different transparent layers, depending on your position in space. Yet, the observer also sees her own reflection. Perception depends on the medium and the position of the observer. 

fix it!
This entire undertaking produces a variety of images and artefacts; collages and models mostly exploring the understanding of what is. An obsession.

For an exhibition, three installations were created, representing the very same building, the FAU within a made-up context, as a potential autocratic, anarchistic and capitalist piece of architecture: a well-protected model of the building, a website of the faculty and a radio report about how the building is being occupied by squatters.