Regarding a certain structuralist neo-formalism
Since the middle of the 20th Century, architecture for private customers has been considered to be domestic architecture, a denomination that, beyond its limited wording, suggests that the impossible can be possible: significantly high performance materials and forms can be domesticated. A subgenre of tests with preconditioned limits. The limits come from many different facets: budgets, cultures, forms, presumptions and boldness, from modernism in its colloquial sense, the risks that a customer is willing to take, etc. Such limitations intertwine with the contextual conditions: depending on where they are inserted, the constructed medium, the population, the established neighborhood, etc. Generally, the choice of aesthetic risks is offset by a certain reluctance to overextend themselves in socially defined settings, characterized by furtive glances exchanged with the neighbors. We can summarize these limits as structural or as those determined by the unprejudiced (or not) glances at the other.
Nevertheless, beyond this scene that defines our decisions, we are met with a particular impossibility, perhaps from the accumulation of those factors that lead to a certain deception, a contained audacity, or to what Alejandro de la Sota referred to as “pulling the wool off of their eyes”, in the sense that one is offered more than what was originally requested.
Domestication is not only headed towards what is simple and honest in these postmodern times. It is guided on a path of mutated personal poetics; a certain hidden reference that makes possible what was once impossible. In other words, creating architecture from any possible glimmer, thus converting the seemingly simple and honest task into a challenge that evades all disciplinary limits. Over the last twenty years, a neo formalist line based on poetics has been developing quite profusely during the postmodernist era, a common practice that transforms itself into a poetics of concealment that, in the era of appearance aesthetics, ends up being an alienating feature.
This formal pleonasm is the reactionary response of a pragmatic generation trying to take itself off the list of postmodern generations in order to become exclusive members of a pseudo-modernity. To escape from the “park” of misconceptions in order to delve into a figurative eclecticism brought on by an autistic formalism without narratives. An alienating desire that, despite all efforts to escape it, tows along its appropriations of the cultural matrix; its remnants and its tracks. These dynamics are practiced globally, similar to the informational sources that reactivate all formalist references that have evolved into figurative references: because the impossible quest for random and repertorial shape creates new significant figures whose clues are autonomous in regards to their anthropomorphic residential performance. This same difference grants it a redemption value, taken mistakenly for aesthetic innovation and by this very method reconfiguring its representation.
This evolution presents itself in a similar manner in our architectural surroundings, and it is here where Rubén Muedra Estudio de Arquitectura occupies a significant space among those who are searching for their own space while avoiding this morass: to emerge from the pleonasm towards the configuration of a personal poetics. In this publication celebrating his ten years of existence from 2010-2020, we are presented with ten completed projects whose production entails much more than what is represented in the selections. It reveals the emancipated problematics that the past two generations have been dealing with, the latest being the generation that includes the entire production; all of those who compose their artistic works on the brink of obfuscation and alienation. Those which this Studio has managed to avoid by proposing, from the very beginning, the subsequent elaboration of a “collective poetics”. Although it was established in the same iconographic plexus as the others, the fundamentals of this “collective poetics” differ from the rest: to avoid self-invention, to renounce an exclusive and excluding constructive syntax, to avoid monochrome and boastfulness while searching for the balance between cause and effect. To take on every project with its particular shortcomings, limits, or preconditions, plainly and without prejudice. By putting service before the star-system, correction before inventive illumination, satisfaction before stardom. His works demonstrate the interiors that are constructed for the comfort of its users, without stylistic complexities and characterized by their high experiential quality. Interior design goes hand in hand with architecture, as a collaborative unit, and not as an imposing supplement. At the heart of the proposal is the inner living space: all of the projects are nourished by the sculptural staircases, the void and the abundance, the cross-reading of spaces, the escape and passages influenced by phenomenological resources illustrating a bona fide intimacy with the concept of familiarity. Rather than repeating signical iconic images, his projects create comfortable living spaces from past experiences. They are born from the inside out, and do not solely focus on the external qualities. The outermost surface is the result and is not a borrowed image from consumer marketing. Hence we distinguish between personal pseudo poetics and the “collective poetics”. Collective poetics not only lies in the multiple voices of its team members, in its shared management, in its lack of constraints, in genuine collaboration and in its complete commitment to materiality that occasionally reaches manufacture, therefore resulting in an unusual devotion to the workshop and to the study of manual processes. Collective poetics lies in the necessary re-integration of the society as the center of the discussion. Culture and society strive to recover the nexus, as opposed to other seemingly similar attitudes that become lost in the connection with the contemporary, not with the modern.
Others struggle to find their own referential poetic space, thereby creating rivalries that are present in all sectors: for example, the well-established study of Ramón Estevez (recovering the poetics of Louis Kahn as seen through the readings of Carbajal) or of Fran Silvestre (representing the passage from the poetics of Size Vieira to minimalism), all contending for the same space in the market sector by means of different personal poetics with similar strategies.
In the shadows of their iconic productions and alienating figurative sources, younger firms are emerging that still navigate in architectural pleonasm or in significant redundancy–styles that, disguised as contemporary pseudo minimalism, manage to conceal the lack of interior design. Overall, we perceive what is claimed to be the new modernity and, nevertheless, it does not appear to break free from the reactionary postmodern pleonasm.
On the international scene, the problem is quite similar: The participating firms with established authors create source images that are provided by the same eclectic networks that make up this circuitous backdrop. In Buenos Aires, we come across the unexpectedly sound productions between Besonias-Almeida with Luciano Kruk (BAK) and Alarcia Ferrer Arquitectos, in the style of the Chilean reference Mathias Klotz, although these are recovering their narratives of identity: Clorindo Testa, Emilio Ambasz and especially Amancio Williams (Bridge House and its shell canopies). Following closely behind is a vast array of similar impostures. In Mexico, the displaced planimetrical composition of the Agraz Arquitectos firm, with the HG house, the volumetric set of the Lucio Muniain´s AR House; or the sculptural eccentricity of Rafael Pardo Arquitectos, as seen in the Briones House and in “Casa Oyamel” (Oyamel House). In the formalist culture setting of Madrid, we come across the professionalism of Alberich + Rodriguez, in their house in Soto del Real; in conjunction with the acultural imitation of A-cero with its spectacular architecture that gives voice to Guy Debord; the Otto Medem de la Torriente who presents himself as healthy and positive, in favor of a signature architecture. In Bilbao, Foraster Arquitectos or Hoz Fontan; in Ibiza, Romano Arquitectos. In Marbella, where the culmination of this apodictic process of eclectic prevalence and productive mystification takes place, very few architects really stand out given that the majority of them are either property developers or in connection with property development companies, like NOK Arquitectos, Serrano Font or Balzar Arquitectos, whose “Casa del Horizonte” (Horizon House) is indistinguishable from Fran Silvestre´s “Casa del Lago” (Lake House) or from his version of “Casa del Horizonte” (House on the Horizon) or the “Casa Zagaleta”. The Chilean Alejandro Aravena´s registry in the Innovation Center UC-Anacleto Angelini of 2014 brings to mind references from his other Project in 2015, Novartis on the Shanghai Campus. Solid tri-dimensional boxes whose hollows are formed from the displaced filled spaces in the cantilever, that evolve towards a free interplay among the mismatched filled spaces and hollows according to levels. Crossed evocations that are present in the Project belonging to the Chilean Diego Duque Motta, Rafael Hevia and Gabriela Manzi, in the School of Economics at the University of Diego Portales in 2013. It is difficult to avoid comparisons between these images and those of the “Casa Concreto”, one of the first great works of Rubén Muedra. However, only in reference to the disciplinary constructive syntax, not in the service of the invention of subordinate cases. The samples are infinite, and the references are not coincidental. In all of the previous statements, we can see corners or parts which could place the architecture of Rubén Muedra on this iconographic plexus. If we remain true to the aforementioned guidelines, however, this reallocation is not possible. And this is where the distinction lies among resemblance, similarity, likeness and evocation. The evocation is “the other way of being” that Derrida adopts similar to Heidegger’s Being; it is not entirely part of the symptom, but rather a tangential circumvention.
The Brise Soleil house externally reproduces the same organizational interplay between the floating stairway space and the dividing shelves from the interior spaces. The set of surrounding circulatory movements recreates a thoroughly familiar space; whose system of shapes resolves the façade as if it were part of the same set. The “Casa Buganvilla” (Bougainvillea House) distinguishes the weight-bearing bodies from the aerial ones; the former are integrated with the stairways and circulation areas, and the latter with the living spaces built from the resistant framework. The “Casa Tangente” (Tangent House) is comprised of various bodies organized around a simple visible structure, with shifted parallel walls and covers, with the singular gesture of eliminating the side wall on the pool terrace. The structural order dominates this project by bringing together the basic antinomies: solids and hollows, background and shape, open-closed, veiled-transparent, etc. The interior space is compiled in a similar manner, without concealing the constructive system, where the superimposed planes once again compose the repertoire of movements and passages. The “Casa Grace” (Grace House), emerges from an interior space around which other vacant subspaces are composed. This spacial tree allows for cross relations, whose interior composure organizes the exterior morphological answer. The “Casa Alpha” (Alpha House) overlaps dark horizontal volumes with white elevated bodies represented by the joineries and the voids. The reference to Tuñón and Mansilla is intended in the void bodies and the interplay among the same elements. The “Casa de la Duna” (Dune House) is an interesting intervention in a pre-existing but fading element whose only tie to the past is the remaining building envelope. The house that was once closed to the sea opens itself up by changing its focal point, and the transparency between the centerlines is resolved in the interior design of its parallel spine. The “Casa Nobel” (Nobel House) works with the solid body by sculpting it, as in the “Casa Aquarium” (Aquarium House), which tests the forms by overlapping independent flagstones. This same original plan has lent itself to many distinct approaches, and it can ultimately be admired in the Offices of Idai Nature. The sculptural staircase reminds us of the Tate Modern stairway that organizes the spaces and interior voids connecting the spatial relationships. In this case, the transparent building envelope resolves the required scenography without affecting its internal functions. As we can see, the resources are similar: The interior space prevails, the cross-relations between voids strengthen the functional dynamics and actions, and the exterior is the result of having respected the same codes for the interior and exterior.
On the opposite side of the road, the companies with their “special solutions” proliferate. Symptoms of a modern-day functional pragmatism undermine these constructive factors: “façadism”, rebuilding, cladding and veneers, interior design, etc., where architecture exists as a commercial brand. These companies lend their productive services to the offices, in the name of technique, of special constructive solutions, quickly becoming the coauthors of such productions. And which these same offices use in the interests of spreading their own influences. Or the boom of prefabricated structures whose resulting metalanguage is indistinguishable from our relationship with the eclectic repertoire that we follow. But the truly paradigm of this reactionary period is the publication of virtual realities as if they were finished works. This is symptom of various traits: Architecture is produced without the customer in mind, commercial, ready-made, where the user is no one specific: that is, dehumanization. There is a virtual way of life that the customer takes on as his own, therefore configuring a way of life that is unreal. This style of architecture cannot take part in the current social problems because it has been produced in a commercial laboratory, far from its users and far from its final surroundings. It becomes acultural because it does not forge intersubjective relationships. Rather, it presents an idealized world, that is in all actuality a sign of associality. Architectural competence is no longer cultural nor aesthetic, but of Renders. The ritual of producing a product and explaining its demonstration has been converted into drawing and self-justification based on spurious accounts.
The work of Rubén Muedra disregards these prefabricated ideas and steers clear of what is considered to be the factual or reactionary approach currently dominating the overall doctrine. In his emergence from the masses, however, one does note certain shared elements between his general aesthetics and those of the discarded alternative ideals. These shared concepts in a new light make possible what was once impossible, therefore confirming what we outlined in the beginning. This collection of creations is evidence of the struggle against the dynamics of the times. An opposing stance that allows him to stand out in the reactionary pleonasm that surrounds us. This is the confirmation of these values.
In that distinction between significant objects operates the difference that in this study we glimpse. In the first case, ‘reactionary’, the effects are greater than the causes to the extreme point of virtuality, where there are effects without causes; In the second case, there is a tight balance between causes and effects. In the middle of the pleonasm of ambiguity, where there are more causes than effects, more noise than sound or more significant redundancy than true meanings derived from precise, structured, hierarchical, holistic and revised work. Work of Rubén Muedra Estudio that is based on a precise constructive syntax and a derived and not self-imposed morphology; factors that configure a deduced and non-induced result. The first is configured in a subtraction work, in subtracting from that iconographic plexus that surrounds us, leaving its evocation. The second is configured in the addition, in depositing one over the other until the repetition is based on referentiality. This is the ‘documentary value of the sample’; the difference, as the distinction between what is presented as the same. Here lies that ‘certain possibility of the impossible’.
José Manuel Barrera Puigdollers