Sunday, May 9, 2010


To discuss what is the essence of architectural design seems nowadays an old-fashioned pursuit, perhaps the object of idle spirits, some would say. However that may be, it seems to me a timely subject for discussion and reflection, and for two reasons at least. Firstly, because the architectural profession is going through an unprecedented disciplinary crisis which may eventually alter radically its nature or even render it obsolete. Secondly, there is no agreement about which methods can guarantee a minimum of quality in the day-to-day architecture we produce, much less about what characterizes works of superior quality. 

In a historical moment in which it seems – once again – that everything goes in architecture, an introspective look may help us understand the essence of our discipline, in the hope of recovering one’s capacity to teach and practice an authentic kind of architecture, one that can uphold its social and cultural role.


That there is a crisis in the discipline of architecture is clear from the loss of reputation and influence over the important decisions society takes regarding urban and architectural matters. One origin of the present crisis is the phenomenon of globalization, a somewhat recent term to designate something that has been going on since the end of the Second World War.

Briefly, the following are some of the symptoms of this crisis[2]:

- Loss of the prestige and power the profession used to enjoy up to the middle of the twentieth century and its consequent decadence as a relevant profession, as perceived by the society at large, no matter how much architecture appears in the popular press. An irrefutable proof of that is that for the most part the decisions about the built environment or consumer goods are no longer in the hands of architects or designers, being now dominated by the prospective aspects of marketing. [3]
- Reduction of its visible forms to a series of postulates determined by other disciplines like marketing and advertising thus resulting in what is called ‘thematic architecture’.
- Architecture’s entry in the society of consumerism: buildings are now often treated as consumer goods, thereby having their organization and appearance dictated by fashion and trends.
- Architecture as spectacle: it has become common to mix up that which has never been seen with originality, and formal innovation is often taken as a sign of high architectural quality. The consequence of this desire to create visually striking architecture is that most cities are becoming an appalling mixture of Disneyland with Las Vegas.
- Both cause and consequence of our disciplinary crisis, in the last two decades there appeared the ‘global’ architect, a person who is much more of a businessman than a practitioner of architecture. To him it is more important to sell architecture than to make it, his motto is “if it sells it is good”.

The global architect does not serve society by providing services based on what his training and ethics dictate. Much on the contrary, he stoops to the client’s desire and the market impositions, embracing with devotion a practice that changes with fashion, without any care for its relevance or lack thereof. To the global architect it is less important to build for people than to build his own public persona; the profession is but a means to reach fame and, if possible, fortune. In the hands of the global architect our profession loses its social and cultural aspect and this is no small loss.


Given the scenario described above, is there any point in discussing architectural design as a discipline? Fortunately, there remains some room for authentic architecture in today’s society, although it becomes smaller and smaller as time passes. It is only through understanding what can still provide authenticity in architecture that we will be able to resist a crisis that can render the profession obsolete.

“The architect’s obligation is to find his place within the time in which he lives, to absorb the spirit of this time, to do away with nostalgia, to avoid the ridicule of anachronism, to get away from convention as well from fashions and decorator’s novelties.” [4]

We live in times in which there are no certainties and have the conscience that things could always be otherwise. Thus there is always at least two ways of approaching an architectural project. To reach some degree of authenticity it is essential to keep arbitrariness as far as possible from it. Perhaps the only way to do it is to base one’s design decisions on the specific conditions of any architectural problem.

What could these conditions be in the first decade of a new millennium? Two millennia ago Vitruvius said that “in all constructions one must take into account its beauty, its firmness and its solidity”. Up to the middle of the 18th century good architecture was considered to be embodied in works that showed a balance between firmitas (good construction), utilitas (functional correctness) – both objective aspects of knowledge – and venustas (beauty, for some people) – which is the aesthetic component of Vitruvius’ triad, in pre-modern times centered on proportional relationships and the use of the orders in the exteriors of buildings. [5]

In the 19th century a new understanding of good architecture was added to that one. To be considered of high quality a building should present correct composition – which had to do with its formal/spatial organization – and adequate character, an idea usually associated only with the symbolic and expressive aspect of architecture but which in fact is dependent on composition, materiality and on the object’s relationship with context. [6]

Perhaps our duty as architects should be to guarantee some degree of pertinence in architecture, both in the identification of a problem and in the form proposed as a solution for it. To break a situation down into its essential aspects and to know the properties of a given form in such a way that it can be a pertinent embodiment of that specific situation. The architect is a true form professional when he knows exactly the consequences of his formal decisions.” [7]
1. The contemporary quartet, after discussions with Alejandro Aravena.


The program is so important a component of a project that one can say that its resolution in formal terms is the essence of architecture. This is so because the program is the strongest link between architecture and reality. More than a cold list of activities and minimum square footage the program must be seen as a series of human actions that the architecture must provide for. These human actions suggest elementary situations that can serve as a base for the formal and spatial structure of a project. True novelty in architecture is not to be found in the areas of architectural language and expression. Architecture only changes when programmatic conceptions change, as they reflect the relevant societal changes.

Perhaps one source of resistance against the importance of the program in design is a possible association with functionalist orthodoxy, true or imagined as it may be. The problem with the form-follows-function syndrome as understood by some until recently is due to the fact that functions tended to be conceived of mono-functionally, that is, from the point of view of an object with a specific purpose. If instead we think pluri-functionally and see as the source of the functions that revolve around an object not the object itself but its subject, then it becomes easier to accept the program as one way for the subject to affirm himself vis-à-vis the external reality.

The program is a structured material upon which the project establishes a spatial order that is irreducible to its conditions, but in no way unrelated to them. The formal identity of a work of architecture must be based on a structural understanding of the program, instead of establishing connections with symbols external to it. This has nothing to do with that radical functionalism that used to link form and function in a cause-effect relationship, as it used to be attributed to modern architecture by its orthodox critics. As Helio Piñón has said, “architecture appears when the sense of form incorporates functionality without being submissive to it.” [8] This tight connection with the program and, at the same time, the need to transcend it, is what makes it possible for a work of architecture to keep its quality as an object intact even when the program has become obsolete. [9] (Figures 2 and 3) 

2. Edson Mahfuz, Political Party Headquarters, Porto Alegre, 2003. Site plan.

The program and the site influence greatly the definition of the generic aspect of a project, that which in older times was called parti. In this specific case, the setback from the street allows the creation of space for public gatherings. A formal structure consisting of alternating built and void bands guarantees lighting, ventilation and privacy, solving the present program and suggesting further growth. The decision to raise most of the building above ground level liberates the former for use as public space. All the above gives the building its formal identity without limiting its future use in case of change of use.

3. Edson Mahfuz, Political Party Headquarters, Porto Alegre, 2003.

The intention to liberate the ground level and to give it as much transparency as possible led to a structural solution in which the slabs are suspended from cross beams on the top of the building by way of steel tubes.


The relationship with the place in which it is inserted is fundamental to architecture and thus no project can be indifferent to its context. To design is to establish formal relationships among the parts of a whole. This is true for the internal relationships among the parts of a project as well as for the ones this project establishes with its context, the larger whole of which it is a part. (Figure 4)
4. Edson Mahfuz, São Pedro Theatre Complex, Porto Alegre, 1996.

The project relates to its context by following the position and the height of the neighbouring facades.

To insert an architectural object – single building, group of buildings or open space ­– in any place is never without important consequences. It is obvious that architecture is always built on a place but in reality any new intervention actually helps to build the place, as it transforms the existing situation in some degree. (Figure 5) 

5. Edson Mahfuz, Corpo Arts Center, Nova Lima, MG, 2001. Top view. A group of buildings around a covered square creates place where before there was just undifferentiated space.

Every place is a complex totality consisting of topography, geometry, culture, history, climate, etc. However, no matter how strong a place is it will never determine directly how an architectural artifact is to be. In the same way as there is no direct causal relationship between program and form, the link between place and form depends on the personal interpretation of someone to uncover a place’s latent formality. One’s attention towards a place can result in a visual/spatial structure related to it but autonomous nonetheless, in the sense that it has a formal identity whose perceptual recognition is independent from the relationships that may obtain between object and place.

In order to be possible to avoid the figurative excesses of the so-called postmodern contextualism, any place must be seen as containing a latent formality, not as a scenario to be emulated.

“The modern architect builds his artifacts in connection with the fundamental elements of the territory, not with the circumstantial features of its limits.” [10]

One of the negative consequences of making literal references to a project’s context is that the future disappearance of its referent will take away most of its meaning and will emphasize in a dramatic way its formal inconsistency. Other outcomes of a chameleonic approach are the devaluation of the object’s worth as such and the weakening of the active role it can perform in place making.


The technical aspect of architecture – here referred to as construction – is so important that one can say that without a good technical understanding no architectural conception is possible. It is the awareness of the importance of construction that sets real architecture apart from pure geometry and trends that tend to abstract the physical reality of the artifacts they design. It has been rightly put that the central problem of architectural creation is to solve the conflicts that may arise between the physical and the visual structures of an object, as to develop a design has much to do with their continuous adjustment. Far from being an obstacle to creativity, construction introduces a kind of discipline from which a good architect and its projects can only benefit. (Figure 6) 

6. Javier Garcia-Solera, University Building, Alicante, 1998-2000.

A tight budget and short design and construction period led to the use of techniques of fast construction as well as current and cheap materials. Already existent foundations introduced a dimensional discipline that influenced the spatial organization of the program.

One of the most noticeable features of the best architecture of all times is the fundamental role played by the load-bearing structure in the definition of its spatial structure and general configuration. In some exemplary cases, the formal structure coincides so exactly with the load-bearing structure that it is difficult to separate the moments of spatial and technical definition. (Figure 7)

7. Paulo Mendes da Rocha, PMR House, São Paulo, 1964.

Four pillars and two one-way joist slabs define the form and the character of the object. Very little is left to be added for the building to become inhabitable.

The material quality of an architectural artifact is very important but it becomes more so when its character is not dependent on applied historical motifs. For any architecture to be authentic, buildings should be what they are, not what they appear to be. (Figure 8)

8. Edson Mahfuz, A&C House, São Paulo, 2002.
A project whose appearance derives from its formal structure and from the elements, 
materials and construction techniques employed.


One cannot emphasize too much that the final form of an object is not a direct translation of a functional diagram, to be built in a certain way, in a specific place. Durand, Viollet-le-Duc and Hannes Meyer simplified the matter too much in establishing a cause-effect relationship between the objective aspects of a project and its final form.

“To design is to reach a formal synthesis of a program, in the widest sense possible, and of the conditions of a place, assuming at the same time the historical authenticity of the project.” [11]

To reach this formal synthesis referred to by Helio Piñón the architect must have recourse to the design materials that constitute the repertory of the discipline, the external condition that completes the contemporary quartet mentioned above.

This repertory is constituted by concrete elements and abstract formal structures, which are “ordering principles according to which a series of elements, controlled by precise relationships, acquire a specific structure” [12].

These ordering principles come mainly from the repertory accumulated through the history of architecture but can also come from the outside. It is enough to mention the use of perspective in Renaissance architecture and of several compositional strategies borrowed by architects from the artistic movements of almost a century ago. (Figures 9, 10 and 11) By the same token, there are cases in which the form of a building derives from the constitution and even the appearance of artifacts and objects from fields unrelated to architecture and art, although rarely the result is worth a second look, for the reasons discussed below with respect to the conceptualism of some contemporary architecture.

9. Mies van der Rohe, Casa com 3 Pátios, 1934 

10. Edson Mahfuz, Corpo Arts Center, Nova Lima, MG, 2001. Ground floor, Corpo Arts Group HQ.
The same general idea used for two buildings of very different size, containing equally distinct programs: 
a “porous” plan consisting of interior spaces and patios sheltered by a perimeter wall.

11. Edson Mahfuz, Corpo Arts Center, Nova Lima, MG, 2001. Corpo Arts Group HQ. View from entry.
Overlapping planes follow a visual and constructive logic rooted in neoplasticism.

However, authentic architecture always employs those formal repertories in a critical way, bearing in mind the pertinence of the decisions taken in each specific situation. An ordering principle should appeal to us much more for its substance than for its appearance, as this is in general circumstantial and relative. It is only through an abstract interpretation of the past that we can make it useful for current interests.

One of characteristics generally associated with modern architecture is a relentless search for originality, in the sense of creating forms without precedent. Apart from the fact that this only exists in the mind of critics and minor architects – as the built work is a clear refutation of this nonsense – the search for originality is irrelevant to the evolution of our discipline, which is essentially based on the transformation and adaptation of precedents. As the work of most of the great architects of the last century proves, a project should always start from the building that solved in the best way a case with similar characteristics. (Figures 12, 13 and 14)

12. Mies van der Rohe, Farnsworth House. Plano, Illinois, 1945-50. Plan.

13. Helio Piñón, Martí House, Onda, Spain, 2000-02.

14. Edson Mahfuz, A&C House, São Paulo, 2002.
Three very different buildings in all respects but one: the underlying formal structure that consists in two rectangular prisms of different height shifted in plan.


Although architecture has never been so visible in all media as it is today, it is nevertheless undergoing a severe crisis of identity. Paradoxically, help to overcome this condition comes form a most unexpected source: modern architecture, derided by almost everyone and considered dead and long gone for at least three decades. What it offers us as a foundation for the pursuit of authenticity is the concept of formal construction which, while central to modern architecture, is still very relevant to the practice and teaching of architecture.

Without ignoring the social and technological aspects of modern architecture, its transcendental importance lies on the methodological break it introduced regarding the previous ways of artistic production, substituting an autonomous idea of form – unrelated to any previous or external system – for imitation.

For almost one hundred years architects have had the possibility of replacing the classical mimesis with formal construction[13] which “is the result of a formative action on the part of a subject who strives to give meaning and consistency to the product of his conception”. [14] Formal construction is a logical consequence of the modern conception that demands a subject’s active participation for the completion of any artistic object. [15] As Martí Arís put it, “the modern object reclaims the spectator’s intelligence, turning him in a participant in its game”. [16] If that is the case, in order for this spectator to recreate in his mind the formative action of the author, it must not only be based on generic and intelligible ideas but also the mode in which the object is made must be made explicit.

The methodological break introduced by modernity was accompanied by a radical transformation in the nature of the architectural artifact:

: …in traditional architecture the different sub-systems that constitute a building (load-bearing structure, distribution, spatial organization, access systems, inside/outside relationships, etc) coincide exactly, establishing unequivocally their typological form. In modern architecture those systems can be isolated and abstracted, as well as they can be thought of autonomously according to their particular strategies which, although related, do not have to coincide.

In traditional architecture all sub-systems converge upon the definition of the type which in turn determines and constrains their configuration, making them subordinate to the type. In modern architecture, the sub-systems are not identified with type – which we can also call formal structure – nor are they pre-determined by it”. [17]

If in traditional architecture all sub-systems are mixed up with the formal structure of an object, in modern architecture their independence allows the abandonment of imitation as a fundamental design procedure, making it possible for the designer to employ ordering systems from any source, including the history of architecture itself.

Another way of defining formal construction would be as the means through which one reaches a synthesis of the sub-systems that constitute an architectural design, a synthesis materialized in a formal structured that possesses identity, purpose and consistency. Formal construction is a procedure that constructs a form as if it was a puzzle, by trial and error, instead of adopting a complete solution imported from another situation.

Another very import feature of formal construction is the fact that the logic of its constitution is never unrelated to the programmatic and technical aspects of a project but tends always to transcend it. Place, function and technique, far from determining form, are its conditions of possibility. All authentic works of architecture show formal structures that are capable of responding to specific requirements of place, program and technique without being determined by them. (Figure 15)

15. Edson Mahfuz, Republican Memorial, Piracicaba, 2002.
A long stairway connects all levels and defines two main sectors: the civic one, to one side, containing the paved square, library, auditorium and exhibitions, and the private/contemplative sector, to the other side, containing the day care center and the green square.


Although achieving a specific form is not architecture’s exclusive goal, form is architecture’s inevitable outcome. Free from the inhibitions inherited from orthodox functionalism we can today affirm the formalism of all architectural conception, for two reasons: formal definition is of the nature of any design and to possess a sense of form is a mandatory quality for any designer.

The concept of form has been largely misunderstood, due to the fact that two meanings are assigned to it and used without consistency. While for many people the word form refers to the external appearance of an object and is thus synonymous with figure (gestalt, in German), it can also be identified with the modern concept of structure (eidos, in Greek). It is this second meaning that is of transcendental relevance if we are to achieve any pertinence or authenticity in architecture.

The formalism mentioned above understands form as a relational structure, or a system of internal and external relationships that shape an architectural episode and determine its identity. Understanding form as web of relationships is the absolute opposite of designing objects as something closed onto themselves. The idea of form as a relationship among the parts of a whole is valid for all environmental levels, as form has no scale.

Many will be surprised by the fact that this notion of relational form is one of the main contributions of modern architecture to the conceptual repertory of architectural design. This knowledge refutes the widespread belief that modern objects are indifferent to context as this would violate, in case it was true, an essential creative principle of modernity. (Figures 16 and 17)

16-17.Helio Piñón, Multi-use Complex, Rubi, Spain, 2002. Aerial view and site plan.
A raised platform organizes public activities below and private uses above it. The void at the center serves as a reference for the placing of all the elements of the project, from the larger blocks to smaller elements as the stairways that give access to the platform.

In these terms, the notion of formal identity becomes clearer, as it is the specific order or structure of each work of architecture. The identity of an object is that formal quality that determines its essence and should not be mixed up with the notion of singularity, which refers to the features that differentiate an object from the rest.

The formal identity of any work of architecture depends on the presence of a formal structure that would control its spatial organization and its relationship with its external context. It is exactly the presence of this formal structure that sets apart an architecture of high quality from that cheap functionalism in which the plan derives directly from functional bubble diagrams, so common in the decades of 1960 and 70.

Thus to adopt a frank and openly formalist approach means to give the spatialization of a program a clear visual order, to refuse being satisfied by the simple functional correctness of a project and to strive for formal identity in all design situations.[18] (Figure 18)

18. Edson Mahfuz, CREA/PR, Curitiba, 2009.
The underlying formal structure is clear, independently from the program it houses. The combination of a taller transparent block with a lower one, more opaque, and perpendicular to the first gives the composition a clear formal identity.


What has been discussed so far is in frontal opposition to the “conceptualism” of a considerable part of contemporary architectural production, in which non-architectural ideas are given top importance in the design process. The present-day conceptualism is a consequence of the state of aesthetic orphanhood in which architects were left after modern formal principles were abandoned, forcing them to search for legitimacy elsewhere. Until the 1960’s architects took advantage of existent ordering ideas and formal structures to respond to social spatial needs; to them to use images or narratives imposed from the outside of a specific problem as a means of controlling the design process was a preposterous idea.

The repeated introduction of non-architectural ideas into the design process seems to work, in most cases, as a means to ward off the anguish inherent to a procedure whose result is unknown until the very end. However, to assign a dominant role in the design process to a non-architectural concept means generally the imposition of an arbitrary act of personal will over that process, which from that moment on is geared towards validating the initial concept. As a result, the formal identity of the object will be based on that concept instead of deriving from program, place and construction. It is enough to mention the lack of tectonicity of most contemporary architecture to suggest the negative effects of conceptualism.


Many people believe architecture is an art, others prefer to consider that the artistic is but one aspect of the discipline, among several others. Most agree on the belief that the artistic is something added to architecture, that something else that elevates a work of architecture above mere construction. I would like to disagree with both views on the subject.

While it would be foolish to deny the presence of an artistic element in architecture just accepting its existence does not lead us anywhere. What can really help us here is to understand the nature of the artistic side of architecture.

Helio Piñón has pointed out that the artistic is the sign of architecture’s transcendence.[19] However, in saying that he is not referring to something external that overcomes or replaces the specific components of an architectural problem but to “a formality whose consistency transcends the demands of functionality from which it starts”[20] without neglecting them in any way. Thus when we speak of art in architecture or about the art of architecture, we are talking about a superior way of solving, through consistent form, the practical problems that constitute an architectural problem or task.

To acknowledge the existence of the artistic in architecture is not to say that it is present in all designs; much on the contrary, in very few cases architecture and art are conjoined. However, in those few cases the project appears as an all-encompassing activity that synthesizes in form the demands of the program, the suggestions of place and the discipline of construction.


An attentive scrutiny of the best architecture realized in the twentieth century will show the presence of five fundamental concepts: universality, systematicity, economy, rigor and precision. I would like to argue for their continuing validity for an architecture of pertinence, not only for its creation but also as criteria for its evaluation. [21]


The universality of a design is a necessary condition for it to be identified for itself and to serve other purposes without losing its intrinsic qualities. The possibility of being identified as a form depends on its being based on shapes that can easily understood, as are the so-called platonic solids (cube, parallelepiped, cylinder, pyramid, sphere, etc). The flexibility of a formal structure derives from its generality as a spatial organization, quality that permits actual buildings to be used for other purposes than the original ones without significant changes and for their underlying formal structures to serve as starting point for many other projects in spite of changes in scale, material and location. Objects marked by universality acquire a quality of permanence that allows them to exist for a long time with dignity and to remain useful throughout. (Figure 19)

19. Helio Piñón, Barcelona Tower, Barcelona, 2001.
The same formal/spatial structure can be occupied in different ways to house offices, apartments and hotel rooms.


To work systematically means, on one hand, to be able to solve more than one architectural problem with the same formal structure[22] (Figures 20 and 21) and, on the other, to define compositive rules to guide the definition of parts – big and small – of a project. (Figures 22 and 23)

20. Helio Piñón, Apartment Building, Onda, Spain, 2000.

21. Helio Piñón, High School, Morella, Spain, 2001.
The same formal structure (shifted rectangles) used to solve two design problems: a façade and a whole building, including its landscaping.

22-23. Helio Piñón, Square, Barcelona, Spain, 2002.
Regardles of the synthetic and elementary nature of the design, there is a sophisticated system of relations that controls the size and position of benches, stairs, balustrades and other elements on the two superimposed platforms.

A formal system, far from being a rigid geometric or conceptual guideline, is a solid and flexible principle that has a double meaning: as a procedure to construct form and as an ordered assembly of spatial and constructive elements. Contrary to what many believe, systematic design does not lead to similar results and to repetitiveness, as the meeting of a formal system with renewed concrete situations always results in unique projects. Formal systems are important to architecture as they endow it with the order necessary to its recognition as form.

Another way of understanding this notion is by reference to its opposite, the symptomatic procedure by which architects go solving individual problems of a project without integrating them into an overall system or a superior formal structure. The result of this procedure is invariably an object without formal identity, an amorphous mass of partial solutions and isolated effects. Unfortunately, this is more common that we would like to admit.


Economy of means is a main feature of the best architecture produced in the last century. It has to do with using the smallest possible number of elements to solve an architectural problem and it refers both the physical and conceptual means at our disposal. It is important not to mix the notion of economy of means with that of minimalism – whose adoption is purely stylistic decision – nor with the deliberate scarcity of elements that can be seen in many contemporary designs. To be economic does not mean to eliminate necessary elements – like the ones that would improve a building’s climatic control, for example – to achieve a purer form. The output of an economic attitude towards design are never simple but elementary.[23] The command of the notion of elementariness is a necessary condition if one is to achieve authentic complexity.

A very important feature of economic designs is the intensity that results from a formal structure that contains a reduced number of spatial elements. Those who maintain that economic architecture is related to a law of minimum effort are very wrong: few things require more intellectual effort that creating good and authentic architecture out of a few elements. (Figure 24)

24. Paulo Mendes da Rocha, Forma Store, São Paulo, 1987.
One of the best Brazilian projects of that decade. An apparent simplicity disguises a project of great sophistication in which form and structure are one and the same thing. The way the size of the main structure is disguised by the position and configuration of the display window is anthological.


The notion of precision has to do with the ideal of human perfection that leads man to wish to realize well done works, conceived and built with exactitude. Precision accentuates the formal identity of an architectural artifact. This not only helps the understanding of its formal structure but also its actual material construction. (Figuras 25 and 26)


25-26. Helio Piñón, Plaza de la Sinagoga, Onda, Spain, 2001. Plan and view.
The precise coordination of all elements is easily perceivable. Groups of benches are related by the alignment of their sides and/or centers. There is perfect dimensional coordination between the facing elements of the retaining walls and the steps that come out of it.

If architectural form can be understood as a system of internal and external relations, then to design precisely is essential to the construction and perception of those relations.


To design rigorously is to focus one’s efforts on the most relevant and transcendental aspects of a problem, on that which is essential to a program, place or construction technique. One must be equally rigorous at interpreting the program as well as defining the concrete elements that will materialize its formal/spatial structure. To be rigorous in design does not imply austerity or formal asceticism as an outcome; rather, it suggests a skill to exclude from a design everything that will not contribute to its intensity and formal consistency. The excess of elements, the arbitrariness and occasional historicism of a large portion of contemporary practice are due basically to the lack of rigor with which architecture has been practiced in the last decades. (Figura 27)

27. Edson Mahfuz, SEBRAE HQ, Brasília, 2008.

*       *       *

The above is admittedly a minority vision anywhere, an attitude of resistance that tries to understand architecture from its specific disciplinary traits, and one which is opposed both to its dominance by others disciplines and to its submission to the logic of the marketplace. I am well aware that to adopt this stance requires an intellectual effort and rigor that many architects – and an even larger number of users – are not willing to exercise. However, I am sure that the result of such an effort, applied by architects with the support of their clients, would be to return architecture to standard of excellence it has not enjoyed for several decades.

[1] Originally published in Projetar: desafios e conquistas da pesquisa e do ensino de projeto, Fernando Lara e Sônia Marques, orgs., Rio de Janeiro: EVC, 2003, pp. 64-80.
[2] The subject of architecture’s disciplinary crisis is extensively developed by Fernando Diez in Crisis de autenticidad: Cambios en los modos de producción de la arquitectura argentina, Buenos Aires: Donn, 2008.
[3] As a consequence, programs become divided into two parts – a communicative program and a functional/technical program – conceived independently. The work of the architect has become limited, in the majority of cases, to make them compatible.
[4] Alejandro Aravena, “Los hechos de la arquitectura”, in Fernando Perez, Alejandro Aravena and Jose Quintanilla, Los Hechos de la Arquitectura, Santiago: Ediciones ARQ, 1999.
[5] To Ludovico Quaroni, venustas is the cultural knowledge, the means to manipulate the other two in order to create architecture. See Proyectar un edifício. Ocho lecciones de arquitectura, Barcelona: Xarait Ediciones, 1987.
[6] Ver “Da atualidade dos conceitos de caráter e composição”, in Edson Mahfuz, Summa+, 15, Buenos Aires, OUT/95
[7] Alejandro Aravena, op. cit.
[8] Helio Piñon, Curso básico de proyectos, Barcelona: Edicions UPC, 1998
[9] An example of this is the large number of buildings used for purposes very different from the original ones without having to undergo any significative changes in their spatial structure. This is the case of the Museum Oscar Niemeyer, in Curitiba, whose main pavillion – a raised three-tiered linear structure lit through long and narrow courts – was designed by the architect to whom it is dedicated to be a school, was used for decades as a public administrative building and is now a museum.
[10] Helio Piñón, Paulo Mendes da Rocha, São Paulo: Romano Guerra Editora, 2001.
[11] Helio Piñón, unpublished interview, 2002.
[12] Carlos Martí Arís, Las variaciones de la identidad, Barcelona: Ediciones del Serbal, 1983.
[13] Emphasis must be put on this condition of possibility, as modern conception modes are no imperatives but alternatives to pre- and post-modern practices.
[14] Helio Piñón, Curso básico de proyectos, op. cit.
[15] Although modern art and architecture have always had difficulties in being accepted by the general public – alledgedly for being abstract, cold, generic, etc. – their essential humanism is evident as never before, and rarely since, has the observer played such an important role.
[16] Carlos Martí Arís, Silencios elocuentes, Barcelona: Edicions UPC, 1999.
[17] Martí Arís, op. cit.
[18] This conviction is not shared by many contemporary architects to whom the main task of architecture is to reflect the spirit of the times in its appearance.
[19] Helio Piñon, Curso básico de proyectos.
[20] Helio Piñón., op. cit.
[21] The transposition of the concepts of universality, economy, rigor and precision from the texts of Le Corbusier and Ozenfant to architecture was made by Helio Piñón.
[22] Helio Piñón has said that an architectural problem does not end in itself: a good architect is able to solve several problems on the basis of a solution for a previous specific case (conference in Porto Alegre, Brasil, 2000).
[23] “The simple consists of a single piece; it lacks components and thus composition. The elementary, on the other hand, consists of some elements organized according to some rule or rules”, Carlos Martí Arís, op. cit. 


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