Over the last four days the participants and workshop leaders flew in from all over the world. On Thursday the workshops officially started with a meeting at the Facultad de Arquitectura. For the next seven days the participants will think, discuss and design on issues concerning water, informal settlements, the port, the Ramblas and recycling city tissue. The outcome of all the workshops will be presented on 2nd April and will be followed by the opening of the exhibition of all projects send in for this years Archiprix International edition. The big award ceremony will take place on Friday with speaker like the eminent Brazilian architect Ruy Ohtake and Marcelo Ferraz, who worked closely together with Lina Bo Bardi. The young and already famous architect Bjarke Ingels will present the workshops results to the large number of people that is expected to come to the ceremony.
Uruguayans are known for their ultra relaxed attitude towards life. It's being mentioned in every tourist guide and promotion movie for tourist. This take-it-easy attitude is something the Uruguayans cherishes. Today we made a long boot trip along the coastal line, from the centre of Montevideo up east. Exemplary for the relaxed attitude is that the trip took place on three navy vessels. It was very special, nobody could image that this would have been possible in their home country. We got a grand tour around the ship, which used to be from the German navy, and could take pictures of everything. Alas, it was a hazy morning, so there was no clear sight on Montevideo. Still, it was fun. It was a great way to get to know each other, there were many photo sessions, and most of us got a nice red tan.
As days passed, it seemed that not everybody who enrolled in the Archiprix workshops has arrived. Some couldn\'t make it because of personal reasons, like the guy from Singapore who serves his country, the army didn\'t allow him to take time of. But there are also many, who had difficulty getting a visa. Like the girl from Bangladesh, who had to go to the Uruguayan embassy in Mumbai (India) to apply for a visa and then wait for ten days before receiving it. She didn\'t come to Montevideo because this procedure of getting a visa was to expensive for her. Others had to show their plane ticket when they applied for a visa. For some of them this was a catch 22, buying an expensive ticket and not being sure if you are allowed into Uruguay. Needless to say, but the people from most European countries and South America didn\'t need to apply for a visa. The capsule society, as the Belgium philosopher Lieven de Cauter describes the politics of exclusion, in a nutshell.
(When people from South America want to go to Mexico, they need to apply for a visa as Mexico is seen as the stepping stone to America. And if they want to visit America they have to go through a long and intensive proces, and the apply can be turned down at any time.)
The workshops take place at the Facultad de Arquitectura, an amazing place located near the centre of Montevideo. The design of the building is the outcome of a competition that took place in 1938 and was won by R. Fresnedo Siri and M. Muccinelli. The building was completed in 1946. In the next decades, three major extensions were added and since 2000 the building is listed as a national heritage site. Today more than 6000 students read architecture at the faculty.
What's most striking about the building is the way it's being used. The corridors that give access to the classrooms, opens towards the large patio in the middle of the building. Patio is perhaps not the right word for this green space where water flows through, it's an open air study room, a gathering place, lecture theatre and assembly hall all in one. The corridors itself are being used as workplaces. And than there are the stairs in front of the entrance of the building. As smoking is not allowed inside the building, the stairs are crowed with people.
The faculty is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Everybody can walk in and out, there are no security people, no cctv, if you want to get in between 1.00 a.m. and 6.00 a.m. you have to ring a bell, and it's works fine. Makes you wonder what went wrong in other countries, were you need security cards and have to go through detection gates to get into a building and cctv hanging everywhere 'for your security'.
The average time between enrolling the study and graduation is twelve years. That's not because the students take it easy, but it's due to the financial system. Enrolling a public university, like the FARQ, is free, you don't pay any tuition fees, but there are no such things as student grants. Therefore, students have to work, unless of course, you have rich parent who can support you. As Uruguay does not have a system of part-time jobs, most students work at daytime and go to the university at night. That's why the building is quite empty during the daytime and lively in the evening. And with employers not being very cooperative for giving you days off for leaning or even taking exams, twelve years for completing your study doesn't seem to bad.
Another great thing about FARQ is the student involvement. De students syndicate owns and exploits the cafe/restaurant, the bookshop, and the shop where they sell model making stuff. All the profit they make is for the benefit of the students.
Ones a year a group of about 600 students make a trip around the world in ten months. This trip is financed by organising a big national lottery. The first prize is a house, which is the winning design of a competition held among students.
When a student finally graduates, he ends up in the pond, and is covered with flour and eggs afterwards. The first night all workshop participants met at FARQ, this ritual was taking place. It amazed everybody. 'So much different than in France', as one of the workshop participants remarked, 'we are offered a glass of champagne, to drink'.
Deserted streets, empty buses, Montevideo at 5 p.m. on Saturday the 28th. The national football team is playing Paraguay. It\'s a qualifying match for the World Cup games, which are held in South Africa in 2010. Only the first four teams of the group can qualify. Before the match started Paraguay was first in it\'s group with 23 points. Uruguay fifth, with 13 point, three points behind Chile and Argentina. Great was the joy in our local when after 90 minutes Uruguay beat Paraguay with 2-0.
(photo: Montevideo at 5 p.m.)
Lost of old buildings are empty and in decline. Some are re-used, like the old market hall at San Jos√©. Downstairs there are shops selling handcraftstuff, and upstairs there are restaurants. On Saterday nights is full of people from Montevideo who eat, drink, dance and listen to live music.
During the week that the workshops are taking place, there are evening lectures giving by the workshop leaders about their own work. It gives participants and other workshop leaders an introduction about the way the different architects operate, differences in style that also show in the way the various workshops are being organised, the way the briefs are formulated, and also in the design approach.
The lectures form a kind of connection between the Archiprix workshops and the FARQ students and staff, that\'s why they being held in Spanish. Officially the lectures start at 7.00 p.m, that is 7.15 p.m. Uruguayan time. Perhaps it is a coincidence, but way the South American architects presented their work, differs completely from the way architects present their work in the Netherlands. If you go to a lecture at say the Academy of Architecture in Amsterdam, the lecture will last no longer than one hour, that\'s the average concentration curve of the Dutch. If it takes longer Dutchmen and women will start shovelling on their chairs, make whispering conversations. Generally, the presentation itself is most of the time one big success story, illustrated with flashy renderings and architectural porn pictures, one or two floor plans and if you\'re lucky a section. (Maybe I exagerate a little bit, but not so much as you might think.)
Back in Montevideo. According to the timetable the lectures would last one hour each, two lectures on one evening, so from 7.00 till 9.00 p.m. no break. No way, the first lecture series ended at 10.30 p.m., the second at 10.10 p.m. (no breaks) and nobody in the audience, many students from FARQ among them, seemed to object. Although the various presentations differed, the structure of the lecture was the same. All projects where presented in a very detailed way, what went well, what went wrong, with images of the construction site, drawings of details. If you put it black-and-white, these \'South American\' lectures are more about sharing information with colleagues, and the \'North European\' ones seems to be more concerned about representation. At times even a bit showing off when the speaker shows his/her colleagues how inventive he/she is, what a nice commissions he/she has, and how well the office is organised. When you think of it, comparing both styles, the Dutch one occurs to be quite boring, even if it last half of the time.
Photo showing the lecture by Adrian Duran and Mario Baez
The houses on each side of the road are becoming more and more \'informal\'; skinny horses used for pulling the carts with which men collect garbage from containers in the streets, garbage that is sold to be re-cycled, are standing in what ones used to be a playing field; litter everywhere; a policeman is holding guard in the doorframe of a primary school; 100 meters further down the road stand a tatty looking school - no policeman standing guard here; women and children hang about in a small green grass strip that\'s between the road and small boxlike houses; teen-age males driving around on brand new shiny motorbikes - the re-cycling business seems to pay well; the asphalt road suddenly becomes unpaved.
The intention was to make a hard core architecture excursion. The Gu√≠a arquitect√≥nica y urbanistica de Montevideo listed some housing estates I wanted to see, estates for social housing, middle income housing and the cooperative housing. This last form of housing has quite a special scheme. In the late 1960 the government made it possible for people to by land collective and to build their own houses on it by granting low loans. Ever so often, these projects consist of small apartment blocks, two to four stories high, set around nicely designed collective spaces. The tour took me all around the northwest of Montevideo. To a project in the peaceful green neighbourhoods of Atahualpa, where it was not allowed to enter the premises. But as there were no closed gate, I went in. Immediately someone came to me, asking if I didn\'t read the sign. Telling that I was from Hollanda did the trick - thank you Dutch national football teams. Then I went to Lavalleia, the gate of this housing estate was closed, and up north to Penard. Cycling along the Maximo Santos from northwest to southeast turned out to show a cross section of the social and economic differences between middle class, low class and no class represented in the housing. You have the little, self-build, detached, houses most of them made of brick or concrete, with their little front garden, all nicely kept. Most of these houses where build on squatted land. In some neighbourhoods, the local authorities legalised its use. People living on these plots now have to pay rent to the local authorities for the use of the land. It\'s in these zones that you most likely find the cooperative housing estates, recognizable by the fence and the closed gate, and the well kept houses and green collective space. Southeastward the houses are made of less sustainable building materials like sheet of corrugated iron, the front gardens are getting smaller and are less well kept. The housing estates, by the look of it, are not much older than 30 years, have no fences around them. From the outside the buildings look run-down, the collective space not kept. Further down the road what looked like a long wall appears to be boxlike almost windowless houses, with no front gardens and no designed public or collective space at all. As these are not self-build houses, at least not the ones along Maximo Santos, I presume the local authorities build these houses as a quick and cheap solution for the housing problem caused by poor people coming from the countryside to the city in the hope to find some work. Continuing the road you\'ll end up in shantytown with people living in tent like constructions.
The local authorities call these last three zones, critical areas. The situation can improve or get worse, depending on if the people living there succeed to make a decent living. It\'s a small and thin line where a lot of them balance on. Given the global economic situation, which also affects Uruguay, you hope they at least keep their balance.
Catchy animations with nice music, seducing images, well timed jokes and a BIG dose of youthful optimism, in a nutshell the performance of Bajrke Ingels of the Danish firm BIG in a overloaded lecture room at the FARQ. Bjark Ingels (1974) founded with Julien de Smedt (1975) in 2001 PLOT. In 2006 they slip up. Julien de Smedt, who recently won a leading Dutch prize for young architects, started in Belgium JDS Architects and Bjark Ingels started BIG (Bjark Ingels Group). BIG (and before 2006 PLOT) is well know for their housing estates in Copenhagen (Denmark). The VM apartment blocks with their glass facade and the triangle balconies sticking in all directions made it into almost every trendy architectural magazine, just like the last year completed Mountain dwellings.
The evening started with a movie featuring urban climbers using the Mountain dwellings to perform their tricks. And that was the only connection made that evening between the use of urban space and the projects by BIG. What followed were nice stories told at a huge pace. Stories about a competition BIG did for a sport facility in Sweden, a competition they lost. And then, hey wonder, suddenly a Chinese businessman sees the entry, recognize the Chinese character for people in the shape of the building, and therefore wants to build it, this time as a hotel, somewhere in China.
Or the one about the president of Azerbaijan who came to visit BIG, saw the Mountain dwellings and pronto asked them to make a masterplan for Zira Island, a more or less deserted island in the bay of Azerbaijan\'s capital Zira. BIG proposal, a zero energy resort and entertainment city with a iconographic skyline representing the seven most famous mountain peaks in Azerbaijan.
An other nice story was the one about the Danish pavilion for the 2010 world expo in Shanghai (China). Here they proposed a loop-like construction, with in the hart of the building a pond with clean river water from Copenhagen and the statue of the Little Mermaid. Sideline, did you know that stories of Hans Christian Andersen are part of the curriculum in all Chinese schools? Every Chinese knows the story of the Little Mermaid, according to Ingels.
For my personal taste the performance was a little over the top. When Ingels told the construction of the Danish pavilion is designed in collaboration with Arup, it is meant to impress you, Arup wants to works with them. Cynical? Perhaps, but is was the only thing he mentioned about the construction. When Ingels proudly stated that the Little Mermaid on show in Shanghai is the real thing and in Copenhagen it will be replaced for a statue made by Ai Weiwei, my first not so nice thought was, how safe, how conservative. After all, all big names from Koolhaas to Herzog & de Meuron worked with Ai Weiwei.
The show lasted for an hour. Afterward it was possible to ask questions. \"Nobody leaves the room unless there are five questions asked\', Ingels warned the audience at the start of his lecture. There were some interesting questions, like the one about the motives of BIG. Bjarke Ingels and his partner Andreas Pederson, manage the art of avoiding difficult questions by not answering but producing sound bite statements. It is like their performance, overwhelming at first but when you start to think about it, it is not convincing. At least not to me.
MY PLAYGROUND - TEASER from KASPARWORKS on Vimeo.