Conversation with FREDY MASSAD

Blog, CCAD, Conversations, ENGLISH
I’m very glad to announce the publication of a deep interview with the argentinian architect Fredy Massad.
First I want to thank him for the his great contribution to the blog. Even though the post is a bit long for a blo, we consider it necessary not to split it in two in order to make it easier to follow. As the title of this blog says, I’m eager to read your comments on this post.
Fredy Massad (Buenos Aires, 1966) is architect from Buenos Aires University, (Architecture and Design School). In 1996 he stablished ¿btbW/Architecture focusing his work in criticism and research on contemporary architecture.

He is now architectura critic for the spanish newspaper ABC, the contemporary art magazine  EXIT and many international media. Has written with Alicia Guerrero Yeste the books “Notas sobre ciudades mutantes” (Ajuntament de Lleida, Lleida, España, 1998)  and “Enric Miralles: Metamorfosi del Paesaggio” (Testo & Immagine, Turín, Italia, 2004). Also with Alicia Guerrero Yeste has edited the books “a+a architecturanimation” (COAC-Actar, Barcelona, España, 2002), “ExpoZaragoza 2008: Un proyecto urbano” (ACTAR, Barcelona, España, 2008) and the monography ‘Arquitectura en la era de la revolución digital’ for Experimenta magazine.

He has lectured and still does at architectural schools from Europe, Asia, Latin America and the USA, and participates in seminars and congresses focused on the actual state of architecture.


CCAD- You describe yourself as a passionate football (soccer) follower, you watch gossip tv shows and you say you do so for a better understanding of the world we live in. Do you think that, generally speaking, the architect does not understand the world he lives in?
FM- Otherwise, I take architecture quite seriously to vulgarize it. Once I heard someone who stated that his architectural thoughts were influenced by venezuelan telefilms: that’s a silly thing, that’s not the kind of approach I’m interested in.
My interest in football (soccer) is more a private thing. I don’t think it determines my understanding of the world, but it helps me to set analogies that let me get closer to the sociological and psychological background of the architect as a character. It’s the same with TV and those reality and gossip shows. Obviously they have nothing to do with the understanding of buildings and cities, but they help in understanding the architect as a character in a specific time, and help in making a cultural diagnosis. In the show business all those questions are presented and discussed more clearly than in a theoretically intellectual and elitist world such as architecture’s.
If we can freely speak about junk tv and its main characters, why not honestly assume that junk architecture exists and that there are architects producing junk in the name of sophistication while delighting with it?
I believe that people like Bjarke Ingels (1), paradigm of a whole generation I’ve called “generation Rem 2.0”, or “digital (de)generation”, are more valid as a symptom of a cultural state than for their architectural contribution, which is quite poor. What makes a Big Brother character different of a common person? Only the celebrity given by TV (2). It’s quite interesting to see people devoting a person who just a few minutes before was exactly the same as them. Our society is needed of idols and gods, and in our culture gods and idols are fast consume products.
Whether the architect understands the world he lives in or not, it’s obvious that each one understands its own situation and sphere, and so having a fragmented understanding of reality and the status quo. Anyway, what I see is that in a world where changes happen faster and faster, many architects and thinkers insist in interpreting reality, or their reality, using ways from the past. That’s why they, necesseraly, cannot bring answers to actual questions.
The most blatant, worrying case, is when this situation extends to the so called “high architecture” or “elite architecture”, what we commonly know as “star-system”, those who stuck to power try intuitively to make up their immobilism (3) as changes or evolutions. The worrying thing is the influence that those architects’ attitude has, because this position of celebrity sets them as some kind of spokesperson of the time we’re living. I’m worried that there are many young architects that are after that status (4). Those young architects have an understanding of the world they live in, but in a way I’m not very interested in, and based on a vision on reality that is not useful anymore.
CCAD- Historically, intellectuals have always been far from “earthly problems” in order to solve those problems (moral, ethic, philosophical, scientific) from their abstraction. Is the architect an intellectual? Can an architect be both architect and intellectual? In other terms: Can an architect build and be a critic?
FM- An architect doesn’t need to be an intellectual or a theoretic, but someone with sensibility and pragmatism in order to give solutions and interpretations of reality. Not that everyone should be an erudite, but it’s necessary to have some knowledge and some basic interests to work as an architect.
I believe that education is important in any case. In spite of the ease of access to information we have today, we’re through a generic process of growing ignorance. To know the History of Architecture is fundamental not just as an enciclopaedic basis, but in order to know better and deeper the principles of architecture.
In regards to being a critic and build it is quite difficult, not a question of incompatibility, but a matter of time. Anyhow, I think that many architects, even while not writing down their thoughts, they set strong ideological and critic positions through their built work.
One can be an architect and an intellectual, absolutely, even though what we call intellectual is being devaluated and shall be redefined. I find it quite pedantic to call oneself an intellectual.
From my point of view, I think it’s more interesting a work connected to a more direct and tangible reality. I’d rather put myself in the position of a provocative and doubt everything around me than set great theoretical manifests. It’s hard to theorize about a world changing so fast, so I honestly think it’s best to ask than giving answers.
CCAD-In which point is architecture, in this moment?
FM- I think that architecture and the world, as a whole, are in a very interesting moment. We got to live in a disconcerting and fascinating time. A time in which changes happen at an exponentially growing speed that forces us to stay up-to-date everyday, to be permanently alert, and ready to call ourselves into question constantly. That speed in changes let us see how traps and cheatings expire quite fast. This drives conservatives mad, because they don’t know how to handle this, forcing them to clumsily get the last train of innovation, thus being quickly unmasked.
In our profession we watch news pop up and disappear. If we look back to ten years ago and take a look at the magazines of that time, we’ll find a lot of promises and myths that no one remembers anymore. In that case it is interesting to see how close this is to football and the show business, and realize how both of them make cracks and stars fall into oblivion. I don’t think this is incidental: It can help us understanding our present and start to see what really stays beyond all that fleetingness.
CCAD-How do you take your work as a teacher? How do you think you contribute to the students that listen to your talks and lectures?
FM- It’s not a daily experience, but the way my lectures are received lets me see that students are eager to listen to people who speak clear. Whether they share their opinions or not, they appreciate that someone takes a position in order to activate them, to question them, to star debating.
Sometimes we see current students passive or apathetic, but I think we should speak about the monotony and self indulgency of the people of previous generations and their ways, maybe more interested in listening once and again their own reflections and thoughts, obsessed in their own work, showing it in a lack of self-criticism, rather than trying to share other preoccupations.
I repeat: it’s a serious question. I’m not talking of being a showman, apparently subversive and seductive but actually very little interested in trying to push the others into a position of individual criticism to be shared in a plural debate.
Whenever I speak to an audience, even more when they are students, I try to generate reflection. It’s stimulating to me to produce an interchange at the end of my lectures. Not just give a closed message, or a distant point of view.
CCAD-After the definitive burst of CAD software, sometimes we cannot see clearly who is more affected, whether the architect or the client. Copy + paste used in excess, the client asks for things that are not as easy as pressing a key… Do we really know how to use the computer?
FM-We must generate an architecture that matches the means we have today and the services that contemporary individuals need.
Now it’s time to set clear what we think technology is, surely something completely different of what “digital technology” meant in the 90’s.
Analogical culture is coming to its end. Everything around us is digital technology. To hold on analogical tools is becoming a contradiction. If the Modern Movement was related to the industry age, architecture today is related to bits, and this doesn’t have to be intended just as the generation of renderings through last generation tools, but something quite wider (5).
At first (we can take as references the work of FOA at the Yokohama International Port Terminal, or Gregg Lynn’s thinking) it could have been intended the introduction of computers and three-dimensional drawing (what by then was called ‘virtuality’), but digital culture and information technology soon let us see that it was quite a deeper change, and I sense that these examples got only a little grasp of what that revolution was meaning, but surely they couldn’t even see the intensity and cultural transcendence that change was commanding.
New technology requires a specific mean of diffusion. Copyright models must be redefined. I think nobody’s affected by this change, neither the architect nor the client. This copy+paste thing happens everywhere today. I believe that we must change habits and aim our goals beyond copyrights. When we write something, we want it to be spread. That’s the way our ideas exist. If people copy or plagiarize them, our ideas are already there, they’re no one’s property.
The point is, if someone takes our idea and makes it better, what’s the problem? I don’t think there’s any problem in that. The problem with computers is doing copy+paste or cut+paste without reflection. Actually, copy+paste has been done even before the arrival of digital technology.
CCAD- Regarding the formal in architectural design, How has the aesthetical canon evolved in a few years, and how much is it due to computers?
FM- I don’t think architecture has evolved a lot because of the computer. If we think of a great example, such as the Yokohama International Port Terminal, we find a great conceptual leap in the developing of ideas. Maybe this can be taken as the very first reference in the use of digital technology in a big scale, but it was very frustrating as well, whether because they couldn’t or because they didn’t know how to take that new vision on architecture to reality.
The point is, for sure, materiality, the search of materials appropriate to new technology. The bridge-pavilion in Zaragoza is another good example of the search of a complex shape under the possibilities brought by 3d software, but it fails when it uses a material related to another time.
The possibilities brought by computers have made many architects to think that whatever they see on screen might be built. This is due both to ignorance and to not wanting to assume the limitations of actual construction technologies, and thus, resulting in that copy+paste architecture based in the reutilization of projects that ends up in a kind of ugliness.
CCAD- In a recent interview with Peter Eisenman he says he tries to teach Palladio to his students, which might not match the image we have of him. Is architectural discourse being trivialized, both formally and aesthetically and in generative and creative processes?
FM- It shouldn’t be such a surprise. Peter Eisenman is a cultured architect who understands that architecture is not an invention of last week. When he teaches Palladio he doesn’t mean to teach a historical view, but to speak about transtemporality in architectural thinking.
Personally, and matching up Eisenman in this recognition of Palladio’s transcendence, I’m still very interested in Borromini, Assam Brothers, or Balthasar Neumann (I have a personal preference for baroque), not meaning that I’d like an overelaborated architecture, but for the spatial and research principles developed through the baroque period.
The great drama we live in is the trivialization of culture and erudition, and the indifference for knowledge (6). I believe that there are lots of people that think there was no architecture before Koolhaas, or that any former architecture is no longer valid. This slows down work, because it’s disqualifying in order to understand interpret the references, and so it happens what I call “knowledge shightseeing”. Today everyone travels, access any kind of information, and very often this information is absorbed and reused in a completely insulting, trivial way.
CCAD- As a consequence of the ease of use of 3d rendering software, it looks like the making of scale models is gone. Recently, José Luis Mateo has developed a show of his scale models. Is this a generational matter? A question of convenience? A conceptual matter?
FM- Surely, even understanding the importance of scale models as a symbol of the Project, it is also true that we should not fall into a nostalgic sublimation of them.
That said, I consider it is a fundamental thing yet today. Probably next generations will not take scale models as we do. Probably virtual scale models or whatever other invention will become an equivalent. But for the people of my age and older, scale models are still an important way to understand and develop the project. A lot of analogical processes are still in use in our generation, coexisting with digital ones, but surely we’ll have to get used to a change of tools in the coming generations (7).
The point is not to make a myth of scale models as we know them today. In a revolution of tools and ways of working, what is necessary is to understand that we need stuff that let us develop our mental resources at their best, be it a pencil or a sophisticated virtual scale model to be invented.
Making a fast analogy, the book as we know t today probably will never disappear, but it will be quite more comfortable to read a novel in some kind of device like Kindle. Some aspects and some ways of reading will change, depending on the contents of the book and on the use and validity of that contents.
In that same way, probably in architecture a tool like a scale model will be modified. But as well as reading, it has to be taken as a mental activity. The materiality of the stuff is related to the way our mental process is developed. That’s why it’s necessary to find a device that is able to take that intense power of conceptualization that scale model brings. I think by now we still haven’t found any.
CCAD- What do you think of sustainability applied to fields like architecture and urbanism? Is it correctly understood, or is it just another commercial strategy?
FM- Sustainability, like everything in our society, has become a slogan, a pure commercial fact. I’m not completely convinced about the vision, close to gloomy, regarding climatic change – even more if people like Al Gore, who has been for 8 years vice-president of the world’s first power, come to alert us of the danger of this situation. I’m sure we’re not doing things right but I’m not sure of what’s the power of human kind to change the evolution of climate in our world.
That said, I’m convinced that it’s necessary a drastic change that should come from common sense, not panic. Hyperconsuming society is degrading not only by the abuse of resources, but because it is a flagrant injury to humanity.
The architecture of great corporations, and even worse, the one from the sat-system, whenever they use the word “sustainability” is an absolute trick. Let’s think about the bridge-pavilion in Zaragoza: The Expo was exactly about the awareness of the use of water and its importance as a resource. So, what’s the expense of such a structure that has only been used for three months and that today has become a hardly recyclable waste?
A genuine search for sustainability can be found in projects where the needs are above whims, where there’s a reflection on materials, on the building’s recyclability (8), a strong use of common sense (9)… and not just building with false aesthetical resorts supposedly ecological and green, and inflating the project with void speeches.
I strongly recommend the Reading of “Cradle to cradle” to define a consistent perspective on this issue. Probably, not building is, sometimes, the most sustainable thing.
CCAD- To end the interview, which architect or architects do you think should be known in this moment?
FM- I think that, in a world where the most important thing is to becamoe known, the architects I’m mor interested in are those who don’t have this as a priority.
I sense that the world of architecture is going to a scenery of team working, more than keeping the cult on only one person. I think this tendency will end up with the figure of oligarchitects that have turned architecture into trademarks, and that have lead the profession to a point of no return because of an interpretation of globality without sense (10). The understanding of local and global, where anyone can and shall read from every source, has nothing to with constructing artificial buildings. A lot of good architects have derived and their architecture has lost a lot of interest because this dynamics of greed and great ambition of celebrity.
As well as this generation influenced by these architects and eager for this status, there is another group inside that generation that reacts against this model. Obviously everyone wants his work to be recognized, the problem is when recognition is the main goal of the architect.
Giving names of architects I find interesting is quite hard for me and would probably be tendentious. On the other hand, to make a selection of architects I find fundamental to understand our time I should include both architects I value positively and negatively, because both are part of the state of the architecture I’m interested in analyzing and understanding.
CCAD- Thank you very much for your contribution to CCAD.
FM- It’s been my pleasure to reflect on these questions. Thanks to you.

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