Vazio S/A – The Developer (theory) – Vazio S/A

Originally published on the online journal  Vitruvius, this text advocates the participation of architects in property development and describes an experiment developed in discipline Estudio V at Unileste-MG, taught by Wellington Cançado and Carlos Teixeira. It was a good opportunity to contrast the limitations and greed in civil construction with  the freedom of academic speculation.

Incorporations
Carlos Teixeira

“A creator who is not fully limited by a group of impossibilities is not a real creator. A creator is someone who creates their own impossibilities. [...] You have to work against the wall, because without a set of impossibilities you will not have a line of flight, the exit that is creation, the power of falsity that is the truth.[...] Your writing has to be liquid or gaseous simply because normal perception and opinion are solid, geometric”
Gilles Deleuze (1)

Architects are always drowned in a sea of impossibilities and obstacles, especially in Brazil. We are living under a bankrupt state, cities produced by the great corporations, provincial architectural schools and everything that could turn this text into a lament of the profession. Would it be exaggeration to consider today’s architects professionals who are detached of the market by their own fault, due to a lack of perspicacity to notice contemporary phenomenona, and for a refusal in taking risks that other correlate professionals take? Couldn’t architects use this urgent situation – the present crisis – to try to see in the production mechanisms of the city a creative and opportune way of acting?

Everybody knows that the Brazilian architecture is nostalgically confined to the anchor that was the architecture produced here in the middle of the 20th century. All good Brazilian architecture, inclusively the contemporary, is connected to a line traced by the local modernist masters, with very few exceptions. And this entire heritage linked to those modernist heroes was mythologized, rarely being associated with factors that effectively stimulated the modernization of architecture in Brazil and the rest of the world.

Discussing the importance of the housing market in Brazilian modern architecture is something to be done yet, a discussion that can start a critique as compelling as the one Brett Steele (2) made about the relation between publicity and modern architecture. In Brazil, it is important to remember the isolate work of Wellington Cançado, “Lugares-Comuns Classificados”, in which he tries through his words to understand the processes and circumstances that determine the failure of the established modernist model and the appearance of those buildings, despised by the standard architecture, which in the absence of a most adequate term are still called architecture, but with the addition of some adjectives like ordinary, quotidian, marketing related, commercial or even housing architecture (3). Even knowing that many modernist architects have found many project opportunities in the builders, the confluence of interests between both parts is never considered by the critics (4), who usually prefer to stick to much more descriptive texts or tend to consider architecture as a profession out of the external forces that conform to it.

According to Webster’s Third International Dictionary, Incorporate means “3. to give material form to”.

In English, the word is more used meaning to unite with, combine parts into one whole – the fusion of companies from various areas, a group of companies connected to a common organization. However, as it has its origins in the Latin word incorporate (in + corpus), incorporate in English is also a word of many meanings. It was the title of a book launched in 1992, Incorporations (5), organized by Sanford Kwinter and Jonathan Crary. Incorporations mean for both authors the new forms of understanding two apparently and historically incongruent systems: the organism and the machine. For them, what is changing nowadays in the advanced civilizations are the historical processes of mechanization of life. They are accelerated by the industrialization and the fast spread of capitalism since the end of the 19th century. They are now being substituted by what they classify as the vitalization of the machines. By tracing development lines imagined by philosophers, neuroscientists, architects, biologists, artists and historians, Incorporations tries to show that such vitalization is already not just in many contemporary regimes of power and production, but it is also a trend in the forces most resistant to change of paradigms such as architecture, and therefore, full of capacities yet unknown and unpredictable for cultural transformation.

The term incorporation was introduced in the Brazilian civil construction in the 1960s, when Brazilian law 4591, which provides for the condominium buildings and the sale of units in plant, was passed. Before the existence of this law, the person who would articulate the ones interested in a venture was called armador. The armador was one of the main modifying agents of the city. He would see the market potential of a site, contact the owner, propose a barter trade (the exchange of the land value for units to be built), hire an architect to translate their ideas, announce the construction in the media and eventually hire a builder to run the project. The armador was an enabler, an articulator of interests able to converge. In this chain, the architects are not limited to the elaboration of an architecture project according to the ideas of the one in charge of the project – the armador. But the armador, who was ignorant about architecture and urbanism, of course just wanted to repeat the formula already tested and successful elsewhere. He would take risks, but only in the sphere of a project administration. Whenever the architects, on the other hand, decide to take risks, they do not assume their economical and legal implications. As they have not been trained to assume those responsibilities, they do not take them, but they are often the same responsibilities assumed by architects from countries of countries where architecture plays a fundamental role in cultural production. (In Spain, architects have a social status above average, even if compared to architects from other countries in Europe, especially because they have an active Collegio de Arquitectos with offices in every medium and large sized city. Until the inclusion of Spain in the European Union, the city administration organs were not the only ones responsible for approving projects, but also the Collegios, what gave them power of decision and control of institutions like Brazilian IABs do not have. The inspection of projects also gave the Collegio a higher credibility to raise funds from the architects themselves, which resulted in investment in architecture magazines, publications, exhibits, etc. Those were the reasons that certainly contributed for the Spanish architecture to gain the international recognition it has today. Beyond that, the Spanish have double qualification as engineers and architects. Even in small offices, professionals usually develop the structural calculation projects and the electrical and hydraulic installations project in the same architectural project. In the end, we can say that the legal and economical responsibilities are also enablers of new projects. In other words, the definition of the projects evolved with the definition of the responsibilities related to the projects. The architects are required to have visionary ideas. The responsibility of putting those ideas into practice is not attributed to the architects, corroborating and addressing the image of the architects as passive and marginalized agents.

Taking these architect limitations as potential of change, what we tested in the discipline Estúdio VII of the architecture course of Unileste-MG is a critical approach to the architectural project, civil construction market and the environment limitations increasingly influential on the agenda of the architects. The study began with an analysis of the metropolitan region of Ipatinga, a city founded to be Usiminas headquarter, from a similar perspective of the one used in strategic plains. Divided in four groups, each one was responsible for the analysis of the municipality through a certain perspective (group 1 -transport, group 2 – environment, group 3 – economic situation, and group 4 – social situation). Based on these four studies, the four groups proposed programs that would work as answers to the potentials and deficiencies implicit in those studies; in other words, all the projects proposed would form together an articulate and cohesive answer for the city problems and possibilities indicated in that first research.

In parallel, we used to bring several reality attacks into the classes. Students were compelled to defend their points of view with the ones effectively connected to the implementation of the projects during the profession practice like the landowners, the municipality, and the builder, among others. Those ones were invited to compose the two panels prior to final delivery of projects. The comments made by each of them of course were consistent with the interests of each (6) – public sector, private sector, environmentalists, the owner of the property, etc, and generated a debate not only between students and the jury, but also among the guests of the jury.

The idea was to insert the projects in a rich and environmentally complex area, defined north by Usiminas plant and south by the Piracicaba River, a tributary of the Doce River. All the great voids included in this area, present environmental obstacles: secondary forests, floodplains of the Piracicaba River, intermittent lakes, water holes, and the river itself. This way, the projects found themselves facing a difficulty that forced the convergence of projects of large impacting buildings (hotels, shopping malls, health clinics, residential buildings, etc.) in areas where the insertion should happen necessarily with the previous knowledge of the Environmental Law – a general law that increasingly overlaps with the laws of use and occupancy of land. The ongoing environmental revolution in Brazil that is creating procedures of projects many times Kafka-alike in environmental organs was then brought critically inside the Studio (7).

Even aware of the side effects of this kind of approach (patronage, curtailment of projects less engaged in the local reality, market opportunism linked to academic projects), we believe that the mentality of the passive architect must be revealed and criticized still in school. Estúdio VII is a discipline of a project that reflects this intention of clarifying the market of the architects. It is a discipline that could be summarized in three attitudes: the compliment of the attitude of the architect who is an articulators of interventions that contrast with the always reactive, and non active, role of the architect; the support to the attitude of the architect who is an environmentalist that needs to master the laws that control the approval of the great architectural and urbanism projects; and the search for a critical approach between the market and the university (8).

Notes

1
DELEUZE, Gilles. “Mediators”. In: Incorporations, Zone Books, Nova York, 1992

2
Brett Steele, present director of the London Architectural Association, published the amazing article “BrandSpace: Design ®esearch and Product Placement” in the extinct magazine Archis nº1/2001, where the publicity strategies are considered one of the main reasons for the modern architecture triumph, and where Brett himself uses the publicity language a lot through bombastic slogans such as: “Advertising is the world’s most perfect surface. StarbucksTM is the ultimate Miesian space”.

3
CANÇADO, Wellington: Lugares-Comuns Classificados, master’s thesis, EA-UFMG, 2002. The author begins his thesis not only questioning the concepts of architecture applied in the country, but almost inverting them to amplify the spectrum of his study: “The question posed about the “extinction” of Brazilian architecture can be approached in many ways, but the main form taken here as a hypothesis states that what is expected by critics and architects to be called architecture, not only mysteriously disappeared and obviously was not extinct in the last century as it was never so potentially built, disseminated and consumed; but for demanding concepts, definitions and standards beyond the orthodox modernists, and for breaking one of the main requirements of the modern etiquette rules, this architecture is completely jettisoned from the official architectural universe.”

4
The case of Artacho Jurado (for critic Hygina Bruzzi, Cristian de Portzamparc is a contemporary version of Artacho!!!) is an example of the critics Puritanism, to whom it is preferred to keep him out of the list of largely accepted names.

5
KWINTER, Sanford; CRARY, Jonathan (org.): Incorporations, Zone Books, Nova York, 1992.

6
Each of the invited actors behaved in a considerably predictable way: the municipality was more interested in the projects that offered good counterparts to the city; Usiminas, the landowner, sometimes shocked, sometimes surprised by the ideas presented as its priorities; and a businessman, mostly unbelieving about the economical value of the offers, but also enthusiastic with the few projects of more explicit market potential.

7
Nesse sentido, a presença de Cristiano Otoni, arquiteto com larga experiência em desenvolvimento de projetos para órgãos ligados à Secretaria de Estado de Meio Ambiente (FEAM, IGAM, IEF, etc.) dentro do quadro de professores do Estúdio foi fundamental. Conforme a etapa de projeto, Otoni funcionava ora como um fiscal do poder público que apontava problemas de projeto baseado em restrições ambientais, ora como um consultor de projeto que assumia a função de defender os estudantes frente às instâncias ambientais competentes que estariam eventualmente analisando o projeto.

8
So, in partnership with Wellington Cançado in the discipline Estúdio VII, today we are former lecturers at Unileste-MG. And since 2008, my office Vazio S/A Arquitetura e Urbanismo has been developing projects in which we accumulate the roles of architecture and building incorporation, in parallel with public projects, examinations and researchs. This role accumulations is nowadays done by other architecture offices in Belo Horizonte, such as M3 Arquitetos and 1/1 Arquitetura.

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