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An interview with the director of Fundació Mies van der Rohe

In accordance with its objectives, the Fundació organises awards, congresses, conferences, exhibitions, workshops and installations.
One of the FINALISTs of the YTAA 2020. Polyvalent Models by Oliver Carter. Image Courtesy of YTAA.
CONTEMPORARY ARCHITECTURE IS FOCUSSED ON EMPATHY
MESURA

Aside from the EUMIES AWARD, you promote the work of emergent architects through the Young Talent Architecture Awards, an extension of the classic award where schools propose students through an internal selection. Is the young generation of architects different to previous ones?

ANNA R.

I see a lot of intellectual reflection in terms of architecture, and a larger ambition to maintain architecture as a cultural entity rather than mere building for the construction industry or real estate speculation. I also see more of a vocation towards a societal service. 

MESURA

It seems there’s no more dogmas and rules in contemporary architecture. There’s no more “movements” today, just a collection of very different practices, from postmodernism and high-tech architecture to highly conceptual and expressive forms and designs, to a revocation of local and traditional practices. What connects contemporary architecture today? 

ANNA R.

Dogmas were imposed by historians and writers, who didn’t understand the new proposals of their time, and who applied the “stylistic” roller, much like they have always done when they spoke about the architecture of a specific era. Contemporary architecture, like modern architecture or any other type of architecture, is focused, universally, on the quality of the spaces in which human life unfolds.

 

Being emergent has to do with pointing in a new direction that is attentive to the new paradigms of society. I am interested in architectures that are aware of their time and context and have ambitions to improve it. To “better”, means to make it more liveable, more loving, more beautiful. Contemporary architecture is focussed on empathy for the people who inhabit it.

“I am interested in architectures that are aware of their time and context and have ambitions to improve it. To better means to make it more liveable, more loving, more beautiful. ”

Plasencia Auditorium and Congress Centre by Selgascano. One of the five finalists of the EUMIES AWARD 2019. Photo by Iwan Baan.
Winner of the EUMIES AWARD 2019. Transformation of 530 dwellings (Grand Parc Bordeaux) by Frédéric Druot Architecture, Lacaton & Vassal Architectes and Christophe Hutin Architecture. Photo by Philippe Ruault.
VALUING ARCHITECTURE
MESURA

The EUMIES AWARD sets out “to foster architecture”, which in one sense means it “promotes” certain work or architects. On what grounds do you, and the foundation value architecture?

ANNA R.

The EUMiesAward asks every national architects’ association of the participating countries to nominate a number of buildings that deserve to run in the competition. Then almost 100 independent experts from all over the world add their own nominations. The advisory committee of the award adds some more works. And then, an independent jury that changes from edition to edition, composed by a mix of practicing architects, researchers and critics, chooses the shortlisted and finalists. 

They then visit the finalists and talk to authors and stakeholders. 

 

Finally, after an amazing deliberation, they choose the winner and, the most important thing, they announce the reasons why it was chosen. Our task is to disseminate those reasons behind the award through our exhibitions and publications.

WE SHOULDN’T MISS OUT ON ANY CHANCE TO AWAKEN A BROADER INTEREST IN ARCHITECTURE
MESURA

Architecture deals with ways of living, which is something that touches the lives of everyone. Ironically, a large part of the public is not aware of the relevance of architecture in private and public life, as well as the many ways in which it can be applied. As Phyllis Lambert from the CCA said, architecture is a public concern, which is a premise very present in your foundation as well. How can we increase public awareness about the role of architecture?

ANNA R.

We have to reclaim the added value of good architecture. The real estate industry focuses on square footage and location. The furniture and accessories business focuses on decoration. But the quality of the spaces depends exclusively on their architecture. Spacious, bright spaces, well connected to the exterior space that surrounds it. Spaces that work well for the different individual and shared activities throughout the day etc. This is the message we should be repeating at all times, wherever we can.

MESURA

Is a building or a city capable of making clear its force, its strategy to the ones that inhabit it?

ANNA R.

Absolutely. It’s very important to promote direct knowledge of architecture, especially our best pieces of architecture. Because what we don’t know or understand, we can’t value. School activities related to architecture, open days in outstanding architectural works, architecture festivals in which the entire city participates, architectural routes through the neighborhoods of your own city. There are a lot of ways in which we can awaken a broader interest in architecture, and we shouldn’t miss out on any of them.

“What we don’t know or understand, we can’t value. There are a lot of ways in which we can awaken a broader interest in architecture, and we shouldn’t miss out on any of them.”

Lilly Reich in a Bauhaus class with her students, 1932.
REVALUING “MINOR” ARCHITECTURE A CHANGE OF CULTURE IN ARCHITECTURE
MESURA

For the longest time, architecture has belonged to male starchitects, and the few women in leading positions, have traditionally not been as mentioned or credited as their male colleagues. One could argue Mies is a lot more known than Lilly Reich. How vital was she in creating “Mies van der Rohe”? 

ANNA R.

Mies and Lilly had different personal and professional backgrounds when they met, although both of them already had a public reputation. Since they started working together, they both evolved towards an incredible understanding of the ‘total space design’, where proportion, space, material and technique created a unique atmosphere. Velvet or glass, any material was key to create the spirit of the space. An exhibition, a building of a piece of furniture, all their joint production during their 14 years cooperation shows the same attitude.

MESURA

Part of what might account for the low numbers of female graduates continuing in their field may be their interest in forging a different path, where success is not defined by the design of skyscrapers, but a different kind of architecture; Housing, low-income housing, gardens, questions of public space, architectural criticism, even the design of an app. Are women paving a new path for architecture? 

ANNA R.

Alfa-male spectacular architecture has been the priority for many critics, writers, curators and journalists for quite a long time. Other kinds of architecture have been always produced, but understood as ‘minor’ architecture.

 

The more women are in the room, the more changes I experience. But we still need to fight to achieve (and keep!) that 50% in all the rooms of the house, and we still have a lot more glass ceiling to break.