Interviewed in Madrid 14 February 2011
The person with the greatest authority on the Spanish architectural scene today is certainly Rafael Moneo, the teacher of several generations of excellent Spanish architects. His teaching activity is not restricted to Madrid and Barcelona. As its chairman, he widened the horizons of the Harvard School of Architecture, inviting guest professors from the Mediterranean and Central European area. He realized his other important role as a creator by promoting architectural works as essential elements in the continuity of a comprehensive cultural tradition. Moreover, he believes that construction belongs to Rossi’s ‘architecture of the city’. In his famous works, like the Mérida Museum, the Pamplona Archive or the Kursaal in San Sebastián, Moneo not only established historic continuity but also enriched those places, indicating new aspects and giving them new values.
ORIS: We could begin our conversation with your recent book Remarks on 21 Works. This book could be read as a comment on the architectural tendencies of the last forty years, but you also maintain a critical position towards these shifts and changes. For example, in the period of brutalism you were committed to excellence of execution in your buildings, or in the period of compositional fragmentation, you had compact bodies. What gave you this strength to keep on in your own way?
Moneo: It’s quite true that the book very often reacts to or comments on what could be considered the pains and the pressures that the architect was working with. I think that the book would also like to recognize how much one lives with the issues of time. Talking about the Urumea housing project in San Sebastián, I recognized how taken we were by typology, and how I started looking for those aspects of typology that could be used – how one could take advantage of these reflections about type. In the case of brutalism, one responds to brutalism, and also starts to think about the recognition and indeed the value of individual elements in a building like Bankinter in Madrid. In the book I recognized the depth of the relation that I had with Rossi and the emphasis he placed on the city. In retrospect, I see my work as very dependent on putting the building not only in the context of the city, but the city considered as collective works over time, something I learned from Aldo Rossi and the people of his school. Therefore, the book could be read as an attempt to remember. In other moments, it reacts against excesses. I believe it is possible to build architecture just assembled with pieces, but then fragmentation became too exaggerated. What made sense was to establish the due contact point and then offer another point of view. I want the book to be a companion to my own influences. It speaks about how you use or take advantage of those trends, but at the same time being critical of them.
ORIS: Yesterday, we were in San Sebastián. The sea was violent, it’s was slightly raining, gigantic waves were breaking, and your Kursaal stands there like a lighthouse. The atmospheric conditions led us to understand the concept of the house better. You decided to detach the layout of the ensemble from the existing orthogonal urban fabric, and develop the project by referring to the landscape and nature. These are also two lanterns facing the sea as intermediate objects between nature and the city. You could imagine them giving light to those coming from the sea.
Moneo: I was pretty fortunate, to have, in a city that I love as much as San Sebastián, the opportunity of confronting and putting together the Urumea Residental building and the Kursaal, dictated with not only such different requirements, but different goals, because as much as housing takes or transforms elements of local architecture to make the building truly embedded in the urban fabric, this is not the case with Kursaal. Besides reflecting on the type that we were talking about, the Urumea building tries to give an answer to the question that was very much alive in those days. It was the issue that the Italians call preesistenze ambientali. Kursaal shows a recognition of how the singular conditions, those geographical, geological conditions of the site, are used to discover the required, quite different answer. It is true that, by facing the ocean, the building acts like a signal for those coming from the sea. Therefore, your association with the lantern or a lighthouse is quite pertinent. Kursaal is very much related to the Sydney Opera House, a building so important in general and for me particularly. In a way, the building tries to see how two auditoriums are able to communicate and tries to avoid some of the problems that the Sydney Opera House had, not just with its construction, but what the Sydney Opera House promised clearly in the plan, that both halls could be related, and actually they are only related outdoors. I started from that, just recognizing that they were independent, I tried to explore the way in which they could be reconnected in the platform again, maintaining this independence that in the end produces two geometrical figures that are quite different.
ORIS: On several occasions you stated, and it was mostly in the time of the dominance of postmodern discourse, that a project is not a direct answer to its context, because it would mean that there is only one possibility, or only one response to the given conditions. You always stated that context is something which you can work with, but you have to transform this context into something more independent regarding the architectural object itself.
Moneo: It is quite difficult for me to think about what is called ‘context’. Because the idea today about context overcomes what the influence of the content of context was in the last thirty years. Context has been very often thought of as just the set of physical conditions that in the end force you to fill up and to complete the scene. At this moment, instead of thinking that buildings are completing something or just finding what is missing there, I would say that buildings open up the perception of the context. They open, enlarge understanding and provide the enlarging of the interpretation you could give to this specific site. You have both served the context, and you are serving the context by enlarging, by allowing it to breathe more broadly than it did. That is the way in which I like to view context now.
ORIS: Context is not defined solely by the physical elements. Also, working with a context shouldn’t imply a submissive attitude but the expansion of pre-existing conditions. Various places demand various approaches to the issue of context.
Moneo: In the case of the Kursaal, it was a building that could be thought of as a meeting point, a place of contact where most of the social life of this community happens. It’s wonderful for a building like Kursaal to have such multiple uses. It makes the building able to serve for almost everything. It is used for film festivals, musical performances, but also political meetings, operas, ballets, from time to time small symposiums related to academic life or related to small fairs, like kitchen or cooking fairs or whatever. We are talking about a context that goes a bit beyond the physical, I will think about that as well, from the point of view of how buildings that play such an important role as this one in the city have been able to transform this place into the centre of the city. The centre of the city used to be closer to Playa de la Concha, to the big beach, but now it has been displaced much more toward the Urumea River.
ORIS: You created a prolific public space which is not related solely to the programmes that are taking place inside the building, but contributes to the city as a whole. Also, it’s not only an extension of the waterfront promenade since it introduced a new spatial quality to the urban space of San Sebastián.
Moneo: I was lucky for that to happen. I consider myself to be favoured by fortune in getting a job like that.
ORIS: Building in historical contexts, especially in those densely saturated with historical layers, raises the question of the relation between the new and the old. In Murcia you designed the extension to Murcia City Hall which is situated on an important city plaza with monuments like the cathedral and palace. In a similarly complex situation in Vienna, Hans Hollein used glass façades as a specific device of adapting to the context. You were going in the opposite way.
Moneo: I wonder if I should bring up the issue of one’s own sensibility to answer this question. In a way, there has always been a struggle in contemporary architecture, whether or not architecture should be independent of the time and saying ‘those are the materials we are working with’, we shouldn’t avoid them or prevent ourselves from using them. I mentioned the issue of sensitivity because, again, with the overview of something that is happening together, it probably made me use stone instead of glass, which prevented me from considering this kind of simple reflection that could solve the context problem. Photographers have discovered the value of reflections. You can think about the architectural atmosphere of a place that is better without these reflections. One great thing about architecture is that you don’t need to see the image of the building at once with yourself, you don’t need to be in the same shot as the building. It is nice to consider yourself out of the buildings, and not just replicated by the buildings themselves. That would be how I would try to explain my resistance to using glass in Murcia. Glass ended up being the most characteristic material of the late 20th century. As much as industrialized construction takes over, this is probably the only material that builders are comfortable with, that they know exactly how to handle. My latest experiences with glass either in San Sebastián or in the Maternity Hospital in Madrid acted to take some expression out of the glass. Once you decide to go with glass, you need to approach the issue of literal transparency, and then translucency and then a kind of atmosphere makes the point. Glass on the other hand, in these days when everybody’s talking about energy conservation, is always a very problematic material, because of the energy needed to produce it and because of the bad way it reacts against the sun. Therefore, I don’t know how the future of glass will look.
ORIS: Glass sheets are an ‘abstract’ material, but you showed different ways of using glass. For example, in the case of Kursaal, from my point of view, the glass becomes ambiguous. If you look at the structure of the building, it’s a Semperian concept: the base is stereotomic while the superstructures are tectonic. But you use the glass as the stereotomic material. The glass is not treated like an envelope which is stretched around or between the building’s skeleton structure. Instead, watching from the outside it seems that the translucent stereotomic volumes are solid and built with glass laid like brick.
Moneo: Kursaal was born from a very primitive, abstract, minimalist geographical idea. When you start to solve the issue related with construction, the problem was quite difficult. Then the content of the project, from a very, let’s say, contextual approach. It ended up in just trying to translate this contextual approach into a buildable substance. Then this buildable substance finally came about by giving the glass blocks a sense of big stone-like pieces. And it was done in a rather complex way, because it meant having to curve the glass, and later to add some texture that in the end gives the glass a certain sense of vibration that was probably needed for such a huge building mass. The image of fish scales comes as perhaps something atmospheric. But this issue of materiality seems to me very important, and I have always claimed to have made the choice of material when starting to think about buildings. Did you see the recent building in New York?
ORIS: I have only seen the photos of when it was still in the construction phase. That building pays homage to the tradition of New York curtain wall façades.
Moneo: Not completely. The building takes on once again the issues we have been talking about, because it’s a building that can only be seen as the last building site left on the McKim, Mead & White campus of Columbia. We needed to span the existing gymnasium in order to proceed with the building. My very first starting point was clearly to see the building as one more piece of this great urban design that was the McKim, Mead & White plan. The building, instead of being isolated, should serve the campus as a whole. From this point of view, I would say that the building has a very clear, larger strategy, as later on it ought to solve extremely specific problems and also generic problems, like the issue of cladding. Again, as much as San Sebastián is inspired by research of how to wrap a structure in order to keep the intention you have for the building, in New York, the building clearly establishes the broader strategy and then later also this sort of generic problem. In this case, there are more aluminium panels, and then the issue of the relationship between holding a structure and panelling is what this is about.
ORIS: It seems it was done like in San Sebastián because, again, it’s a relationship between structure and cladding.
Moneo: In the end, in San Sebastián the cladding ignores the structure. As a matter of fact, the translucency, when the glass allows the steel to foresee how the structure works and you realize that the wrapping glass is working independently from the structure.
ORIS: In Bilbao, your design for the library building is conceived as a dialogue with the Guggenheim Museum. You argued that this building is a magnificent piece of opaque architecture. Then you started to explore the phenomenon of transparency in your design in order to establish a relationship with Gehry’s building and create an urban setting of conceptually different buildings.
Moneo: Gehry’s Museum was the issue. In a way, you have been given hints of what’s to be done in an architecture that must work as solids, as volumes. But by allowing the volume to be translucent, as it is in our case, you are also remembering that the issue is not completely finished in Gehry’s building. On the other hand, in a building like that, the cuts in the volume are oriented in a way to allow the building to pay homage to the Guggenheim that I thought it deserved. Again, in our case, as much as the Guggenheim recognizes and celebrates the ability of pieces to be born freely in these volumetric conditions, my building is more modest than that, and therefore by entering the vertical that speaks about these overlapping floors it is in a way asking or claiming the instrumentality of buildings that very often act by not being afraid of recognizing the geometrical principles on which most architecture has been based. These days it seems to me to be an act of courage to do so.
ORIS: The columns in the library are placed slightly diagonally in relation to the perimeter of the building; the structure is not parallel with the envelope. What was the reason for this decision?
Moneo: That was quite clear. I realize now, trying to answer your question, I would say that something like that could be said to be happening in Kursaal where the concept of two different orientations sets up a grid that in the end is not orthogonal. By denying the orthogonal, you are making the spaces less perceptible. You are not in the end ordering the spaces with the conventional perspective devices that we are accustomed to. In the case of Bilbao, clearly once the perimeter defined by the urban plan was established, I wanted the building to face the Guggenheim, which gave me a new alignment that dynamizes and guarantees that in the end this building’s small shape is not simply taken over by a more super structural grid, the grid of the city, or the grid of the building itself.
ORIS: Structure can give meaning to architecture, as is the case of the Museum of Roman Art in Mérida. Of course, there are many layers there, but speaking about structure, you don’t imitate the Roman art of building but you are establishing a memory of it, and with subtle differences in new walls, declaring that this is something different, something new. William Curtis wrote in his beautiful essay in the book Modern Architecture Since 1900, ‘Moneo’s building is touching deeply the continuities of Spanish architecture,’ so it is also an act of the cultural meaning of architecture.
Moneo: Obviously, you are right about that. In a way, I don’t mind recognizing that for the idea of context we used a sense of making buildings in a larger space, that they are not autonomous pieces, and can’t be considered as isolated beings. The same reasoning can be extended to culture and history as a whole. You are able to say you think this way, that you don’t mind accepting the recognition of the continuity throughout history, and then to think about let’s say, a continuous thread. Even more so when the indication is made that the building needed to discover its Roman past, which was not so evident because many things had been built over the site. It seems to me to make sense to convey, to make a structure in which so many different periods of history coalesce. Therefore, even though the linguistic quote is very direct, let’s say literal, the building is able to live with a mechanism of construction of form that could be seen as contemporary, or as modern, and you can speak of a building which is not in any way a pastiche. I consider Mérida a strong architectural statement.
ORIS: There is something I always wanted to ask. Maybe I’m completely wrong, but can we consider the special concept of the museum in Mérida as a sort of a labyrinth? The repetition of the parallel sub-spaces is geometrically simple but it is also to some extent enigmatic, a spatial question or challenge. I haven’t visited it so I’m interpreting it as a diagram, not as a real experience.
Moneo: I wouldn’t say that but let me think about your suggestion. It has happened in certain buildings where the project tried to be closed, like Logroño City Hall, for instance. I would say that I have made very clear that I wanted it to be close to Asplund or traditional labyrinths, or the columns used by Tessenow. That wasn’t the case in Mérida. I realize that the nakedness of labyrinths could be related to it, but it can also be possible for churches or labyrinths to be contemporary. I would say that if I needed to make some parallels, I could keep in mind the value of using brick by Louis Kahn in India. Kahn keeps much more the sense of the abstraction that despite being rooted in historical references, there’s always some kind of abstraction in his work that is present there. I like how in Mérida the materials speak by themselves in a most sensual way, serving the abstract thoughts of the architect. Therefore I see differences between Kahn and myself, even though Kahn could probably be seen as a reference more than a labyrinth. If I might say so, now I could feel myself closer to the labyrinth sensitivity than Kahn at this moment.
ORIS: But the issue is also the space, the promenade architectural, and then I found your parallel with Piranesi interesting.
Moneo: We will come back to Piranesi, but following the point that you have raised, I would say that I’m improvising and that I never thought about that, but probably I guess, it was a labyrinth I had in mind, although it could look like a quite different approach and sensitivity. I would say that the interior of a labyrinth or a church has to do with Ronchamp and has to do with the sense of a mystery-like space. At the end it is the darkness in which the souls of mankind rest in these sacred spaces, more and more. There is more of a sense of a celebration of Roman culture, seeing it as a culture able to display spaces. That is what you are able to see in Piranesian images, but yes, the building in Mérida had in mind Piranesi’s plates, I have no doubt about that.
ORIS: There’s similarity between Mérida and the Royal Archive in Pamplona. It’s also a building with a special cultural meaning because it’s an extension of the sensitive previous situation. In Pamplona, you contested the conventional expectation of situating the programmatic elements. The new building houses old documents, while people are working in the old building.
Moneo: I would say that Pamplona illustrates more what medieval Pamplona could have been. The building can be seen more in the skyline of the city and one can almost say that the city has recovered a lost and ignored building. However, having said that, the building also raises some other issues. I would never associate Pamplona with Piranesi, not at all. Again, it has much more to do with certain architectural devices. In this case, these architectural devices, or the problem how to deal with architecture, addresses the issue of what you want to maintain, what you want to keep, how architecture deals with the walls. It happens very often, even in a restoration I am doing now in Barcelona, transforming a medieval house into a hotel. I am trying to keep any intervention whatsoever, even that imposed by the archaeologists. In the case of Pamplona, I tried to go back into the medieval layers and I thought it was going to be impossible. And then came this device that asked why what has been left could not be preserved by the new layers, not just a new skin, but almost like when an old skeleton has developed a new skin that wraps and defines a fossil. Why are we not thinking that this really could be wrapped in a new layer of stone, then keep what is substantial in the stone. The building is not aging, it is new, but keeps the form of the old building and therefore it attempts in a naïve or very simple way to say let’s make something as it used to be – a palace or a castle – with a new building that pays homage to the tower of the castle.
ORIS: Although you left some traces of the old structure inside the building.
Moneo: In the end, the new archive is a metaphor of the Tower of Babel. There is an endless way of dealing with storage. If the building could go up it would be able to grow in the future.
ORIS: The project in Pamplona is also related to the extension of the Prado Museum. You were faced with a ruin which you reconstructed and then enclosed with new building. The new structure is not mimicking the historical shapes, but it’s clear that it’s a contemporary addition.
Moneo: No doubt this idea probably came from the thought that buildings are not alone. What is the case of Pamplona is obviously even clearer in the Prado. I would say that in the Prado, it would be my spirit as an architect. In the end, whatever personal note is restrained in the service of the whole. From time to time, there are moments where the building could be seen as strictly personal, let’s say, in the choice of the stucco walls, in the choice of the way the stone is layered on the floor. There are moments where obviously some personal presence is there, it’s inevitable that this is going to happen. And yet, I would say that everything is just serving this understanding of a building; how to interpolate into a building that has such a clear structure, like the Prado has, with this new part is more of an academic exercise. It has something to do with, if you’ll allow me to say so without being pretentious, the use of what you believe to be architectural knowledge. Architectural knowledge continuously dictates what you are to do. But you are very flexible about accepting whatever new episode ought to be taken. In the end, we were talking about fragmentation. You could say that Prado had something that dealt with the fragmentation of the collection in independent episodes that in the end would allow you to say that this collection of independent episodes at the end holds everything together. What I like most in the Prado is the fact that this entire operation could be seen as a rather complex operation, and that this fragmentation needed somebody who knew what ought to be done. It is not an easy project at all. Paradoxically, the building is used by people with extreme naturalness. In the end, you see people taking over the Prado entirely with a sense of understanding in spite of this complexity. You are not just structuring how people move, but you are displaying the architectural promenade in a way that people understand what happens in a very unconscious way. I allow myself to speak of some success.
ORIS: What I really appreciate about the Prado is the entrance sequence, because after going through the door you keep gently descending towards the café and the main access to the gallery. That’s the result of topography, but it works so well as an entrée.
Moneo: That happens entirely with El Prado and with Paseo del Prado, the entire Paseo de la Castellana moves this way, and we needed that just to keep the highest floor to floor dimensions. But you’re right, that is subtle, prominent or not, so conspicuous and yet a very effective way of recognizing something that is very important in architecture, that is the topography. It used to be a building which was very aware of how the topography worked, so that in the end addressing and interpreting this recognition of the topography gives you ideas that seem to me a way of paying tribute again to the palace of Villanueva.
ORIS: And the natural and artificial topography played an important role in the disposition of the church in Los Angeles, the highway is a prominent element there. It is a radically different context from building in historical cores.
Moneo: No doubt in Los Angeles I was looking back to Ronchamp. I consider Ronchamp to be one of the greatest pieces by Le Corbusier. I wouldn’t dare establish any relationship between Los Angeles and Ronchamp, and yet, my thoughts always gravitated to Ronchamp. Obviously, Los Angeles had even more difficulties than Ronchamp in a way. A small chapel is much easier than a huge church. The size is very important. I would say that, coming back to your question, when you are saying that the topographies in the Prado and Los Angeles have something in common, the case of Los Angeles has much more to do with celebrating the view. Does it happen in the Prado? No. The Prado reminds you of the connection with the urban setting and with the two conditions of the city’s topography. Los Angeles is something else. Obviously in Los Angeles there is a reflection about how the urban layout ought to happen. The scale is very much present, as is the architectural play that happens there with the issue of inversion. The difficulty in Los Angeles was that once the urban layout dictates the position of the cathedral, you are forced to recognize the conflict between the apses and the entrances. To solve this contradiction between the location of the apses and the entrances to the church, you have to make the inversion. Once these architectural processes took root the potential of this inversion was discovered. In the plan of the cathedral the pre-ambulatories are actually placed in just the opposite way that they used to be.
ORIS: While in this situation you were building on a larger scale and within a context which is defined by infrastructure; in the Rhode Island School of Design you had a completely different situation. You were building in a very congested place and you solved the problem through the section.
Moneo: It’s a building that in itself disappears, taken by its capacity to become just the substance of the urban fabric. In the end, you can actually see this happen, and I realize I am saying this now for the first time, because you have some frontal views of part of the façade that happens on one of the sides, in one of the streets, but not the other two sides. The façade is drawn, but the façade doesn’t exist as such and the other façade in the upper part of the building takes advantage of an existing building which means that I didn’t draw that. Therefore, the building very much shows an ability to establish all the connections that the city asks for and there were plenty of them. Just connecting those outdoor entrances ended up providing the opportunity for building a narrative in the space. The building has its own idiosyncrasy, its own way of being unseen to these, not isolated, but independent situations.
ORIS: Again, regarding your work in the US, the Davis Museum at Wellesley College, you raised the issue of the potential of metaphors, or a narrative in architecture. You’re using the stairs as a metaphor for adopting knowledge.
Moneo: There I was recognizing something that was probably brought to excess in architectural schools in the 1980s, when things like ‘Make a house for a poet’ were said to the students. I challenged and tested myself, whether or not some kind of architectural plot or narrative could start one of those literary contents. In the case of Wellesley, the massive volume again, as happened in Los Angeles, was conditioned by urban design issues. Once this volume was established, the question was how to give it life and how to do this with the most economical means, and therefore relating it to the partitioning, the division of the space with the smallest gesture made by the stairs, and how in the end the stairs create both the possibility to oversee the building from any of the floors, and how they are able to concatenate and facilitate the display of the entire history of art. I would say that for me it was quite an intriguing project that in a way also forces you to recognize how difficult it is to read a building literally. A building resists being understood. In the case of Wellesley, no doubt there was again the idea of respect for the existing architecture. The value of the close Paul Rudolph building was very present for me. I wanted first of all to make something that truly matched the Rudolph building. It could be read that way, but that would be deceptive, because in the end, I cannot say that in this building the indoors is less important than the outdoors. The inside is as important, even more important than the outside. Yet, the building without a doubt began from the outside not the inside.
ORIS: How important is the presence of the non-material, of atmosphere in the Miró Foundation, where you introduce the light in such a way that one has the impression of being under the surface of the sea, with the reflection of light coming from skylights in the roof pool.
Moneo: I don’t know if I’m responding entirely to what you’re asking me, but at this moment, what you are putting together, light and Miró, I would say that is as much as I have explained and talked about Miró, in many different ways. I remembered the sun in the paintings, but altogether, I wanted the building to offer an atmosphere that didn’t need spotlights. All the spaces are illuminated, and some spaces are illuminated by alabaster screens, but it almost seems in the end that the light emanates from the walls. No matter that the walls are solid concrete, it is the moment when alabaster and the light coloured concrete walls create a certain continuity that makes the entire building provide the light that allows the paintings to be hung on its walls.
ORIS: There’s another beautiful moment there. By means of a water surface you tried to establish again the atmosphere which was there before this environment became banal and hostile.
Moneo: That is something else in a way. Probably the wrongdoing was much more noticeable twenty years ago than today. Now, the vegetation has grown in such a way that it is taking over the building and it is also taking over the neighbours making its own foreground that allows you to perceive the city without those very painful conditions you had when the building was first started. In a way, it can be said that as much as inside you have an illuminated atmosphere, outdoors you have the same kind of new atmosphere or new surroundings created by the garden, perceived quite differently from the garden of the Prado which is much more a surface, a garden texture, while here the garden is invasive.
ORIS: Throughout your career, you have written about other architects as a critic. I presume that you incorporated some of the concepts and ideas of architects who you find interesting. Of course, this process of learning is not literal, but writing is an occasion to reflect upon projects and it may be an enriching experience. What is the relationship between the writing and the understanding of the projects?
Moneo: I think it has to do with the choice we have made as architects today. To be an architect in the Middle Ages wasn’t the same as being an architect nowadays. It wasn’t even the same thing to be an architect in the Renaissance. Being an architect probably forces us to reflect more. There is a moment where society is asking architects much more which direction construction is to take than before. I guess that in the past architects received many more inputs from the surrounding culture than they do today. Today, you need to take the lead in saying what you believe the problems are connected with building. This means that this forceful reflection is needed as the basis of your own work. Once this critical approach happens, the reflective approach with both your own work and the works of the others takes place. I do this in order to understand the works of others, why we don’t do that almost as an open conversation either with our colleagues or our students. Therefore I consider that in doing so, I am just publicly manifesting the way I work. Since the 1970s or 1980s architects have become used to relating what they do. That was something that was established by Le Corbusier, and the avant-garde continued to do it with CIAM and then Team 10. These links and relationships between magazines have allowed the establishment of this connection that in the end comes to life together in schools and symposiums, very much a sort of corporatism, a way of living together as a group, in the way filmmakers do through film festivals. Architects for some reason have used schools and magazines.
ORIS: Today, we are witnessing an extreme diversity of architectural approaches. Even more, there’s no consensus about the role of the architect. Architectural discourse is dispersed.
Moneo: That is very much characteristic of our days. Techniques are somehow less important in establishing architectural forms. I believe that to prevent and to resist this disassociation between construction and the architectural form, to recover this sense that architectural work is still trying to say something about construction and building techniques, would be extremely valuable, and the same can be said about cities. Therefore, to recover the role that housing used to have in the form of the city, something that has been lost in the last fifty years would be the kind of architecture I am looking for. It’s a kind of architecture that doesn’t want to ignore the context in which you are working, and doesn’t want to ignore that what you are doing still could be considered as a stage of what has happened before, both in the physical world or in this cultural, broader way of seeing present and past, which you talked about when mentioning Mérida.
ORIS: It would be architecture of the city again.
Moneo: I don’t see any other way of dealing with that. We had the opportunity to set a path on the way. There are a very few cases where buildings could be considered isolated objects.
ORIS: I believe that valuable architecture should endure the test of time, but our opinions about architecture also change with time. Why is it, is it the Zeitgeist or the state of society?
Moneo: Among the many contradictions or paradoxes we are dealing with, one of them is that building is becoming more and more costly. The more a country is developed, the costlier the construction. Only the underdeveloped countries are able to make buildings that actually could have been built with less. That said it is also true that buildings are asked to last, if only for economic reasons. We are reminded of the same economic reasons in Spain, that we can’t spend without considering how much we avoid saving. Savings are happening. It is an intrinsic value of construction that ought to be recognized again and put in connection with architecture itself. It is true when you look at architectural history, architecture has been used so often with other intentions, like political intentions, or almost as a sacrifice, just as something that honours religious goals or manifests power, that it was possible to add the superfluous. When architecture has lost this role that it used to play, it must come back again to recognize the intersection between formal research and intrinsic value. It seems to me this intersection is that point which the architect should be aware of.
ORIS: Some years ago I was at a lecture by John Hejduk which was unbelievably intense, and he was speaking about the slaves of Michelangelo, about the air around the sculptures and about breathing this air around them. I remembered that when I read your words from your Harvard lecture, ‘The building stands alone in complete solitude. Architecture is the air we breathe, when buildings are already in their radical solitude.’ Could these beautiful words be seen as some manifesto of yours?
Moneo: It is not a manifesto, but I would also sign it today.