Conversation with Francisco Jarauta

A few days before meeting Francisco Jarauta for our conversation, we received a text of his, “Los tiempos de la arquitectura”, which we have included in the digital version of this second number of the magazine. It has the same title as the opening lecture of the 2013-2014 Academic Course, a lecture he had given on the 26th September in the assembly room of the Engineering and Architecture School at the University of Zaragoza, reason why we understood that he thought of our conversation as having already started then.

Yesterday I was really touched, you know? I went to the ICO Foundation, in Zorrilla Street. They have created this thing called T he Architect is Present. They are five architects from around the world: one team is Norwegian; they work in Burma [Yashar Hanstad and Andreas Grøntvedt Gjertsen], an Indian [Anupama Kundoo], the very famous from Burkina Faso living in Berlin, and progressively gaining acceptance, the Kéré [Diébédo Francis Kéré], a German, Anna Heringer, a Paraguayan [Solano Benítez], all building architectures without adequate resources. Architectures which aim to reuse material. Obviously, this material is, for example, bamboo; also mud and different kinds of fired clay, joints made from cane,structures... They have organized five consecutive workshops, one per architect, so the architect comes and spends a couple of weeks here. Yesterday I counted about twenty-something students. They were working with this architect who comes from Paraguay, a so-called Benítez. They were making models, and each workshop, at the entrance of the room at the ICO Foundation, there on the left, deposits and classifies the models that are made. It is definitely very enjoyable, very interesting. There is this most interesting photographic report. I was touched. They introduce all their ability and competence to the production process; they keep to not traditional ethnic shapes, but building techniques which could be considered an experiment of anti-architecture. Josepg Rykwert loves these things. It is definitely not like going to Lagos, as do those from Alicante. The Suisse Bank Foundation, definitely an important foundation, has paid attention to these kinds of projects in different fields. It has various ways of being put into practice in Schools and that’s why this architect from Burkina Faso has obtained such prestige. I listened to him not long ago giving a talk in Lugano about the different kinds of public space that African tradition had created. Five small huts build up a square, it’s not necessary to think much about it. And this square is so one neighbour can talk at a certain distance with another neighbour. Sometimes, these neigbours are seven women related to just one man, who in these systems are only useful as work labour and for childbearing. Apart from that, it is the first wife who rules over the rest, they argue over nothing. These are the stories of Burkina Faso.

Now it is the opening of the Biennale on Koolhaas, the preview is on the 4th and 5th.It’s given the Arsenale the leading role in what we could call the basic typological elements: window, door, column... those we can identify as well as their variations. But the problem is, in fact, evolving the concept of building. The XX Century is very broad, not only because huge progresses have been made within the history of architecture itself, but because other transformations have also taken place, an invasion of the architecture field by the current available technologies, concerning materials, but above all, concerning structures. That would be the case of the image of the new project by Foster for London, the tallest one in London. Of course, it had to be the tallest building in London; he wasn’t able to build the Russian, the Russia Tower fot Moscow, which was the emblem for the new ring in Moscow. But his images don’t give you enough information. This transformation in the field of architecture, maybe currently, coexists with other ways of thinking. This years’ Pritzker awarded to Shigeru Ban gives a perspective about small architecture, where material itself is another material. It is a current debate that is taking place and that the economic crisis is favouring.

In the text you sent us, “Los tiempos de la arquitectura”, you call for the need of rethinking the world, since the problems have become different from the ones before, their complexity being increasingly greater, you mention we need a new idea, we require something new. One of the things we thought about when discussing these binaries of the title of the magazine was the level of antagonism it could hold. You also referred to architecture as the best possible laboratory to hold and face this ineluctable challenge.

The decisive thing is that a new space has been created, a new space close to this rethinking you talk about. There is an element which makes us rethink things, not only architecture, but other facts related to the social experience within a new complexity. Let’s be serious: there is a decisive i n-put, literally demographic, and however, demography has never been considered as a social science, forgetting that immense praise that Marx made of Malthus: everything changes when the demographic parameters are modified. And not only because of that chapter where the law of demand is put into practice, but because, the social issue and in its context the urban issue, has acquired an unheard-of dimension in the past history. The most important issue concerning the XX Century is that the world population has gone from 1.300 million inhabitants in 1900, to the 7.300 million that we are today. Thousands of years of history to reach those 1.300, the population that China or India hold today. Everything that we have created as to be the theory of the city was based on a certain concept of its history, and this history of the city, was by definition, western societies. We have been the historians of the city. We have built it based on an empirically proven territory which is the history of our cities. It would be good to read some of the wonderful texts on the medieval city, or on the great sultanates... In the XI Century there were only two large cities in the world, the two capital cities: the one of the Abbasid Caliphate, Bagdad, the great city of the world, and the one of the other Caliphate, the Ummayad, which is Cordoba, which appeared miraculously. There were no Romes nor Istambuls, nor Paris’, nothing. Only two cities which look at each other, and which configure a real cultural laboratory, where sciences, arts, medicine, and other various disciplines are developed as well as political practices. It is obviously now, when the demography is changing the map, when because of nervousness of the response that has prevailed during these fifteen years basically in relation to social sciences, is now modifying the way we see things, thus we now focus on the new problems, the new situation, of an emerging social structure, which moves, emergent and also, so to speak, fragmented. There is no longer a global parameter, a famous unifying element... Recently I have read that text written by Eugenio d’Ors, entitled Cúpula y monarquía. I have suffered a delirious anguish after reading it. How can he possibly! He has just finished writing about Palladio, when immediately after he writes about “cúpula y monarquía” (power and monarchy). He well knows what it is all about: In such a tremendous society as the baroque one was, the king, the monarchy, that was the ultimate guarantee, the unifying element that put together that world. The great beauty of La vida es sueño takes place when the King, Basilio, brings his court from Poland together, to present his abdication. I no longer want to be king, I want to be a man of the Baroque, dedicated to high mathematics, the man of fiction, the man of the possible worlds of Leibnitz, and I do not want to be an administrator. To take this decision in the court in Poland, was more interesting than doing so in the Madrilenian Alcazar, Felipe IV was not in for these issues, he was building other networks: marrying his daughter to the Emperor, or marrying his other daughter to Luis XIV. These were other entendements.

These changes are very obvious in cities such as Prague. Half of the population lives in a fascinating baroque city, but there is a second Prague, where the other half lives, where there was no land market, full of neighbourhoods of blocks of houses and towers. It seems difficult to give full responsibilities to modern projects. On the one hand, let’s remember the repentance, for example, of Hilberseimer acknowledging the excesses of radicals, or the tremendous guilt Hall sets on Corbusier’s followers, versus his “nosotros gustamos del aire puro y del sol a raudales” (we like fresh air and lots of sun), versus the real understanding, of the fact that the world had changed.

Le Goff has just died, Jacques Le Goff, two months ago. I was lucky enough to spend a whole week with him in Fontevraud. Fontevraud is a great French abbey, very close to Nantes, where the Loire comes to an end. It is a great abbey altered by the revolution, it was even a jail, and now it has been recovered. There, Richard, the Braveheart is buried. It is shocking to see during the weekends people going through the cloisters with black capes and red crosses. Will these be the true ghosts of Fontevraud? Not at all, its nostalgic British people who, even today, come to see the grave of Richard, the Braveheart. I was lucky to be there with Le Goff, seeing them. His last book, a wonderful book entitled: do we have to tell the story by bits? [F aut-il vraiment découper l’histoireen tranches?, Seul, 2014], holds the thesis that the Middle Ages, lasted until 1680. Olimpic! It proves that nobody used the word renaissance in the sense we use it until 1680 when the book written by Burkhardt [L a civiltà del Rinascimento inItalia] appears, and starts the fashion of using this word, in the context of an eclectic world, without ideas, betraying a long tradition which reaches Viollet-le-Duc, when he restores Carcassone, where the real grid was to be found in the Middle Ages and not the Renaissance. In Prague, for example, the most astonishing thing is, you have probably observed it, is how you go from the Malá Strana, the gothic city, civil, to the baroque city without that transfer that characterizes a calm example of Renaissance. In the German culture, in many German cities, Bamberg for example, you come out of a medieval cloister, a century before the gothic one in Prague, and you come across an archbishops’ palace which is totally rococo. What’s happened? There’s something missing here. This is an issue that is coming back and becoming part of the agenda in a most interesting way. The way of thinking, not that they stopped doing gothic style architecture, but the mentality, the way of thinking, it remained til 1680.

The Modern Movement, has it finished or not? Its utopic tension could remain. In every moment you have to dream the future, you have to think it. Probably, now, we wouldn’t think about that future in terms of a large rationalist construction. We could maybe think about it in a different way. The question that arises is, how? This is the question. But none of us has the is an intellectual exercise, it requires critical analysis, we have to redimension, to redimension that critical analysis. And, obviously, it is the soul, so to speak, of our own work.

Today there is strong change in the whole configuration of social rethinking: the micro aspects, the aspects concerning new territorial geographies... Architecture bears, as ever today I would say, an agenda of independent problems, which condition, because they have always conditioned, its work: it’s about doing and building the human habitat, building Mans’ house. When you reread the classics from the Modern Movement, when you read Mies in the year 31, when you read Le Corbusier himself in texts dating the thirties, when beginning to build the hall of residence for the athletes for the Berlin Olympics, you still find something which is still admirable, exemplary: the ethic and utopic tension of the Modern Movement, which intelligently realized the transformation that had taken place in the industrial society but which also realized that some deeper and greater transformations were still to come, transformations which are irreversible. We don’t have the models of what the new type of society is going to be. We don’t have them because the ones we have aren’t useful, because they do exist. London’s development for example, the development of the Parisian banlieu during the fifties and sixties. How do we rethink the development of the large cities around the world? Why every XX Century city draws its planning, its ring, Zorzi says, with what concepts? The Modern Movement arose with that optimism, being aware as Mies says in the year 31 or in the year 29, that Mans’ house doesn’t yet exist, but- this adversative sentence has a tremendous strength- the conditions of the time will make it necessary. It is not about thinking in terms of the Modern Movement the house as being the house itself, but the Modern ways of living. How do you live Modern? When in the Heidegger conference in Darmstadt, in those conversations in Darmstadt, defeated Germany, all the intellectual people of every field come together, the problem they face is how to live. But, to be able to reach this living, we have to first go through the process of building, but building can’t be approached, we have to think. This theorem of thinking, building, living, Denken, Bauen, Wohnen, created a new dialectic which was not the previous one, the one of the classics which stated that something was built this way or done this other way. It is about building the meaning of Modern living. They had started off from a wonderful intuition: true revolution consists of evolving from, let’s say, traditional societies, dominated by real relationships, which are always horizontal, to a model of society which is ours, not traditional but Modern, which is characterized not by real relationships but abstract ones. We live in Madrid, I know what your name is, I know how we are all called, but I know nothing about those who are going past out there, beyond that window. If I lived in a traditional society I ought to know everyone’s name. That degree of abstraction forces and allows that vertical building, the American city that Tafuri would say, where the real gesture is not only the architectural one but, it is the institutionalization of the name of a subject with no name. It is inscribed once again within a new condition, to be citoyen, to be a citizen, but renouncing to that which could be called the individuality loop, which would now be private. The relation between private and public space is modified. In this new dialectic enclosure, a transformation concerning the structure of classic urbanism obviously takes place, and the city walks about, emerges and is transforms all that occurs in the second phase of the industrial revolution. This way, what occurs today is completely new. Today cities’ complexity is increasingly greater. It is this emergency which both the French and the so-called new geographers are explaining. Forgetting about the physical aspect, the city disappears and it is reduced to liquid, using a term used by Bauman, the digital city appears floating in this liquid. All that new geography leads to the city becoming a set of successive fragments, but articulated fragments. Our map is an articulated map.

Colin Rowe talks about microutopias. Why not think that in any project, no matter how small, the best of possibilities can be imagined? Maybe the exhibition at the ICO Foundation is thinking about it this way: leaving aside the difficulty that this dimension holds when imagining the world, there is the chance of projecting without renouncing to that utopic possibility.

Perhaps the most contemporary reflection could be on the utopic element. It is always said, and some have even overused this idea, that the best thing about utopias is that they had never actually been put onto practice. Even though utopic literature doesn’t have a role model, a gendre, we can see to the bubbling, the emergencies, the outbreaks even... they are voices, gestures, they are concepts. But knitted over a tapestry, a unique canvas, which is that each period dreams

its future. This is what Benjamin said when reproducing a text by a French moralist. What do we do when we imagine the future? We draw it, we do the minimum drawing which is necessary. The structure of the first book Utopia is in its whole a critical text on how England is organized in Henry VIII times. And the second texts says “I’m going to propose to you a different kind of society”, and More creates an imaginary character, Rafael Hythloday, to whom they ask “What’s your name?” “I’m Rafael”. “Where do you come from?”. “I come from Utopia Island”. “How come?”. Nobody until now had come from a utopic place, therefore, the utopic discourse was pure fantasy. For the first time, a chap who says he comes from Utopia appears. “Please speak, tell us about it...”. Chapter two: the story. The concept of Utopia that More brings forward has nothing to do with the one which relates it to Paradise, the Fortunate Islands, with the Arcadias... He says: “On the Island of Utopia there is no private property”. “Really? Is there no private property?”. “You work a lot”. “Do you work?”. The classic model, the one which was related to the concept of Paradise, goes into a state of complete shock. “Children aren’t property of their family, their parents’, they are the community’s property”. “How come?”. A dreadful, dreadful clash with the canonical ideas. What I really like is that in each period the testing of the truth of the utopia is not the building of it but the experimenting with it. And each time, instead of reaching the conclusion being able to say ‘Et voilà, this is the shape of utopia”, it’s the tension, and that’s why I underline the word tension, the utopic tension, because it permanently fails, reinvents itself, it is rethought, rewritten, redone. The problem is we need to have a tension towards that future. We spend too much time adapting to the present, and those of us who have reached a certain age, with great fatigue, when the time comes to worry about the future we are already tired or even exhausted. We arrive late, but there has to be the device of the eye, this tension must always exist. The most relevant example: on the one hand all the legend concerning the Modern Movement, and on the other hand, its detractors. Both parts could be adequately articulated. Nobody can argue about that enthusiasm, but it is also true, that all the drawings belonging to the Modern Movement were all just hypothetical. I am very fond of that text by Musil, by Robert Musil, dating from year 19, once the Great War was over, when he says that, “At present, the most important thing is to build a new hypothetic way of thinking”. What does Newton write for his exerga? “Hypotheses nonfingo ”, Newton says. What would Musil say? “Hypothesesfingo”. That is why the field of essays and the work related to them is the most important of all. It is a crucial type of work at the moment. It consists of generating a sort of dimension on the creation of the new worlds. It is very important that we, who have, and I include myself in this group, responsibility concerning education, that we make sure the architecture, philosophy, history of art or history of literature student sees that all the experimenting in terms of knowledge whether in its more rigorous dimension or essay related, is part of the same project which is creating a way of looking towards that future in its real tensions. It may consist of discovering the priority we should give to the utopic element, but not understood in high terms, but understood in the context of that tension present in that way of looking towards the future and its new complexities. What can architecture add to this discourse? Which are the problems, thinking about those which have been its problems traditionally, the problems concerning architecture, and how they are interpreted today, and how they question the memory the discipline itself has? You architects have had a long journey in terms of knowledge and practice, experiences, happy moments, established canons, that wonderful Albertian world which occupied the Seminar entitled la città ideale [Dalla ‘Città ideale’ alla ‘Torre diBabele’, Facoltà di Scienze della Comunicazione, Università della Svizzera Italiana, Spring Semester 2014]. Let’s go back to that moment, how does that moment appear? The same extrapolation can be done to moments in the XX Century, the transition from the XIX Century, to that so eclectic world in Vienna. How do you travel in that direction, how did the XX Century make it with enthusiasm to reach for its dreams? They drew them: those charcoal drawings Mies did on the Friedrichstrasse, that vertical city that reaches even the top of the piece of paper, which goes up, up, up... Who is the person who will live in that city, that new Modern someone who lives in Chicago, who lives in New York, who lives in the Tower of Houses by Foster designed for London? It is that person the one who suffers the transformation, the one who transforms his anthropological performance, his way of being in the world, his way of thinking. We must undertake other responsibilities, think about the building of the city, like those youngsters of the ICO Foundation. But at the same time, you are under an immense amount of pressure, to that in-put which comes from those great transformations of the contemporary world, transformations which have their own tempo, which evolve in a certain way, which are articulated in the new technological devices. It is very important at all levels from my point of view.

Possibly we ought to start off from a political view, and that is there are problems that can’t be negotiated. There are scales, densities, that are not negotiable for just one reason: because they are there, because there is an extrinsic element to our good intentions which works permanently and transforms the social fabric in an unknown dimension, and that can be solved in the most random way, almost seeming chaotic. Let’s give the example of the growth of the outskirts of Lagos, probably the most complex city worldwide, or with a town planning scheme that has given way to the cities in the Southeast of China, with which a new planned growth model based on the functionalist or post functionalist urbanism theorem has been aimed to be created. It says that this, for it to work, has to be the following way: heights this type, this kind of population, organization from transport to urban networks, services... What about the person who lives there? This is an issue which to us is not going to be a priority because there are social instruments which adapt the person to the habitat.

Even though we have predictable contrasts, I don’t know if we ought to speak about leaps in time when questioning the validity of current town planning theories. How can we understand the fact that we are still thinking about the future whilst putting into practice the Athens Charter in Chinese cities, in a massive way, with small variations?

Maybe an element we should consider, since it is undeniably important, is that everything that happens today, happens at an accelerating rhythm. Long periods, which were our way to understand History, today have become short periods of time, and above all, accelerated. This affects politics, it affects the economy, long periods of time are not relevant any longer. International organizations work basically on the emergency of the events that occur. They are all new situations, proving the lack of availability of the necessary instruments to understand or intervene in such situations. Take all that can occur relating to what today is called Ukraine and its related areas. Take that Russian demand of strategic reinforcement. How is it going to be solved? Mediation, a classic instrument, as was the OTAN, is no longer of any use. Europe, which used to be a traditional negotiating body, is no longer even the emperors’ messenger, because not even the emperor knows what to do in this case. Meanwhile, the Chinese diplomatic body, the third part in this issue, which is not that in discordance, remains alert, even though the Pekin-Moscow axis has been reinforced. We don’t know how to do it, because everything is infinitely quicker, infinitely more accelerated. Virilio said this, in a rather elegant way actually, as he always does: one of the most important aspects of the current world is having domiciled the vitesse, the speed, as a cultural policy. All that happens, happens rapidly. If we suppressed that vitesse tac, we’d fall, we’re submitted to it. Obviously, everything that implies recovering the “slow” is pedagogical, as so is the rural utopia in a certain way. But it is a reaction; understand it like that, a reaction, like a resistance. Today they have a greater impact, because deep down it has a lot of American intellectuals, intelligent, people who realize that maybe, if we stopped to think about the future, it would be more interesting to decide what kind of civilization we want, which is not exactly the one dictated by the models of the postindustrial societies. In the end, these are imposed as the unique horizon, almost necessary, of our future. And one of the problems that the “slow” radical movements held is posing a question which may lead to another idea, which already appears mid XIX Century, and that even Marx pays attention to it. Which is the basis on which the idea of industrial societies’ progress is built? It implies having created a system of needs progressively more complex. This is anthropologically important. It is about organizing life as a system which is able to respond to our needs. If this response is actually given, the result is what we call satisfaction, happiness, Bonheur , la felicidad. But how tiresome it is for you to be able to respond to your diabolical system of needs... I have practically dedicated my life to it; I’m not going to say the contrary, since I have it as the main issue of my ethic agenda. But one ends up totally exhausted... It is the most institutionalized performance of all, work as the answer to our system of needs, which is computerized: this is worth so much, this costs so much... A reflection on the system of needs bombards the whole of the culture of consumerism. And it obviously hurts what could be the strong argument of the whole concept of progress that there is. It is an issue which we will talk about a lot in the future if we are extremist, it will occupy our agendas concerning what we read, what we worry about. Deep down, culture as well, in a certain sense, controls its own survival mechanisms. Even in a perverse way, it makes us adapt to the situation using sublimation mechanisms well equipped, which work, and that make you say in the end “it’s worth it for me”. What does it mean for something to be worth it for you? This is a more problematic issue. In the text entitled El malestar de la cultura (Civilization and its Discontents), Freud, year 27, you read at the end that when a civilization stops satisfying the majority of its members, it is no longer legitimate to survive. To have the right, to be legitimate, they are terms very much Kafka terms. It is-isn’t legitimate to survive. How do you reach that satisfaction? It is the model that is created socially, that is why the “slow” appears.

In this sense, for example, it seems symptomatic that in Berlin, half the population of youngsters doesn’t hold a driving license; they don’t consider it necessary to have a car. Half the population implies a lot of young people, not those living an alternative lifestyle or more or less belonging to marginalized groups, in a country where the car industry is so important, the most industrialized country within Europe.

We ought to pay more attention to young people, to their new sensibility, to their new way of thinking, to their new way of positioning themselves after some fundamental theorems, as can be, and excuse me because it affects us rather directly, the issue of the profession have jumped over them. They are the direct victims of the end of an era. Before, they obtained a diploma, they went through University with their best competence, and at the end they were given the right to get a job. This is no longer automatic. The transfer is not immediate, but a labyrinth of search begins. Certain ideas will only be able to become real on an overall global way when those who defend them occupy a place which is socially relevant. This generation is called to be the laboratory of those new ways of life, those new life styles, those new styles of life. As I see it, it is very important to bear this in mind.

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