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Interview Series by Salo Levinas

Our latest collaboration with one of our sponsors, Salo Levinas, Principal of Shinberg Levinas Architects, is an interview series with several Spanish architects and leaders who answered this question:

Is the knowledge of art important in the formation of an architect?

Miguel Alberto

Cultural Counselor Head of the Cultural Office

Of the close but sometimes complicated relationship between art and architecture, we ask ourselves here not so much whether architecture is art or not, uncertain terrain as that may be. Since we are talking about architecture, this is not the best premise to construct that argument. Nor are we interested in delving into the architecture of art, or of museums, which are conceived to house art. Rather, we are concerned here with the role that art should have in the formation of an architect.

That the architect needs technical knowledge is obvious, that his training be limited to that technical knowledge is undoubtedly manifest recklessness, as it is for the doctor to limit himself to his own technical knowledge without understanding the person he intends to cure; as for a judge to limit himself to knowing the laws and not the man he intends to judge.

Rafael Moneo, Pritkzer laureate and someone who has not only produced architecture but has pondered it, once stated that the scholarship from the Spanish Academy in Rome, where he lived for a year with visual artists, had been the crucial element of his training as an architect.

We may not agree with Frank Lloyd Wright that every great architect is necessarily a great poet, but we can agree with another of his statements: he must be an original interpreter of his time, his day, his age. And for that he must also know the art of his time, of his day, of his age, and also that which preceded him, because that knowledge will nourish his work. It will feed his technical knowledge. It will guide him.

Art does not make us better people, as many maintain, but the study of art, of art history, does make an architect better, as long as he is clearly permeable, as long as his brain does not have the same insulating material that he cautiously includes in his buildings and is resistant to all external input.

So no, but as for the rest, without a doubt - yes, certainly yes.

Carmen Espegel

Professor, Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura at the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid

Through his work, the genuine artist, like a perplexed madman, discovers other limits of the world, mapping unknown territory.

Understanding art in general, and contemporary art in particular, encourages us to perceive the physical and human environment with more dynamism and interpret it in multiple ways, with subtle insight. For this reason, this acquired discernment helps us better understand the target public for our architecture. Even more, thanks to a critical approach, to the analytical approach that art accentuates, everything is questioned, and that methodical, meticulous and systematic doubt is key to carrying out projects that respond to current needs and that transcend established, standard limits. Consequently, an architectural project implies the profound reformulation of a global world, with a firm social commitment, where the anthropological is combined with the cultural, theory and practice, the future and the past, the conceptual and the pragmatic.

During the disciplinary training of an architect, projects should use research and criticism jointly, as they are alternate and successive moments of the creative thought engine. The first dilates the diaphragm towards promising fields, with measured rigor, while the second closes it off by finding its intrinsic reasons, in a continuous feedback loop.

In summary, architecture entails a poetic action that awakens the intelligence, shaking off stereotypes, allowing us to discern, conglomerate and delve into the essence of the project and, therefore, show what was previously invisible.

Francisco Domouso

Deputy Director, Head Professor of Architectural Construction

School of Architecture, Engineering and Design Universidad Europea Madrid, UEM

The training of architects in the third decade of the 21st century doesn’t fit into linear sequences of increasing complexity, as in other times, when technological changes were slower and environmental consciousness less prevalent: the new digital technologies have radically changed the nature of the creative process.

Future architects are being trained in a digital world, where Artificial Intelligence (AI), parametric design and the complete and profound transformation of architectural computer tools have burst onto the scene.

Also, in this process, the need to minimize construction’s carbon footprint comes into play, which in many cases involves the transformation of what already exists, instead of constructing new buildings. At the same time, young architects are formed in the contemporary and necessary concept that their function is to project and build a better, new and exciting world. For this reason, in the current context, it is necessary to "re-code" the approach to architectural projects, and in that mission, in my opinion, knowledge of art is essential.

Art, in all its expressions, is one of the most powerful tools that we can make available to architecture students. In a digital world, knowledge of art (digital or analog) helps students build their own critical model, which allows them to go beyond the mere functional use of new technologies, encouraging them to explore new frontiers and creative intersections. On the other hand, projecting the transformation of what exists cannot be approached exclusively from a technical point of view: society demands architecture.

Art, as a living expression of its time and the representation of humanity, provides intangible but fundamental keys to the history of places and buildings. Knowing art, students will be able to move forward and dream, they will carry out solid and creative transformative projects, typical of their time, and they will not be condemned to repeat past design strategies that are effective and consolidated, but culturally obsolete.

Lorenzo Fernández-Ordoñez

Architect and Professor at School of Arts and Architecture in the Universidad Europea Madrid, UEM.

I believe that art gives meaning to being a human being and, above all, to making a human being, so facing art, in any of its expressions, involves an essential question, which will make the future architect consider how, where and why to develop one’s work. This, beyond mere technical training, should be the objective of our schools. If the knowledge of art is the knowledge of how, in other times, the philosophical longing for what it means to be, and to be in the world, has been responded to, I believe that this knowledge opens the door to everything that truly matters. For this, it is essential that this knowledge be personal, through the student’s physical approach to the work of art, since, even distorted by time, the works of antiquity speak directly to us with a power that the media are not capable of transmitting.

It is undoubtedly for this reason that educational trips to the ruins of antiquity, such as the Grand Tour, became ritualized as soon as it was possible to carry them out, becoming mandatory for any aspiring artist or architect.

I was lucky enough to live in Rome for a year with a diverse group of young artists and discover with them how current the beauty of a work from thousands of years ago can be and how obsolete a newly created one can be. We also discovered the dedication and passion with which this profession should be enjoyed.

It is mandatory to understand how contemporary art is made, since it usually involves a vision free of prejudice, necessary to counteract the forced, formative rigidity of our profession. The technical knowledge and the energy of our tools give us a transformative power necessary to control not only from environmental parameters but also from sensitivity.

My experience with art and architecture joint degree students tells me that most of those who have been exposed to essential questions, such as those generated by art, and the artists' vision of our reality, are more willing to seek a depth to the raison d'être of their architectural proposals, to try to make them go beyond the pure function for which they are intended, so that the technique accompanies an ordering idea. In this way, they want to respond, in our time, to a question which each generation has given its own answer about what it means to build.

Thank you to our sponsor, Salo Levinas, for this thoughtful interview series that explores art and architects

Salo Levinas

Principal, Shinberg Levinas Architects


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