Interviewed in Madrid, May 22nd 2008
The singular position of Alberto Campo Baeza within contemporary architecture is consequential and consistent, with the architect himself opting not to actively engage into its systems of competitiveness and its strategies.
Through the ultimate projects of his now legendary houses, such as De Blas, Gaspar, Turregano or Guerrero, he creates an ideal world ruled by the laws of gravity and light. Behind Baezo’s seemingly simple projects, there are dozens of models and thousands of drawings exhibited in the most prestigious spaces – Palladio’s Basilica, Mies’s Crown Hall, or the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In order to clarify and strengthen his thoughts, Campo Baeza also reaches for writing. His book, The Built Idea, is in its seventh edition.
ORIS: Aaron Betsky recently said in an interview, ‘Architecture allows us to be at home in the world.’ Your very poetic text about the Guerrero house ends like this: ‘Heaven on earth, after all, what else is architecture if not that.’ Do you create another, better world because you cannot accept the present, real one which is around us?
Campo Baeza: I like to be optimistic. I think architecture doesn’t die. I think architecture is very alive. I think that we should be optimistic, architecture is a very deep creation. At this moment, there are a lot of stupidities. In the star system there are some architects who sometimes produce a good piece but often produce stupidities. Some of them often produce very superficial architecture. Do you know how much time you need to cook rice? Rice needs 20, 25, 28 minutes. But if you use only 5 minutes, it’s impossible. I think architecture needs a long time. We can’t just judge the last five years or last ten years. At this moment, architecture is not dead, it continues. I enjoy teaching at the University a lot because the students are very good, they are not attracted by stupidity. You need to prepare, you need to think in the deepest sense, to attract the sharp, the best minds. Yesterday we were speaking, for example, how close I am to Bernini. Bernini was making the scala reggia to connect two pieces in a very long space. He was making a miracle with light there. As an architect, I try not to be so vain and I try to serve people. And the people in my houses are living happily. I am not making houses for people to suffer because they are living in a piece of art. No, no. I am trying to use the light, the space. Of course, we are trying, on the one hand, to produce happiness for the people living in our houses, in our schools, in our architecture. But on the other hand, when you are producing architecture, you are trying to resolve more abstract problems, for example: continuity, transparency, lightness. The history of architecture is a fight to try to be lighter, lighter and lighter. You can make thinner and thinner columns but with a limit, because they are in stone or in brick. When I am writing about gravity and light as the main ingredients for architecture, it’s not because I should invent a theory, it’s because with me or without me – gravity, the fight against gravity or the capacity to control gravity and to control light are important. When Adriano made the Pantheon in Rome, it’s the same quality which was made by Bernini when he was making everything. It is the same quality which was made by Mies van de Rohe when he was putting the columns out of the clean, horizontal plan for the Farnsworth House.