This is an article i wrote the summer of 2009. It is a reflection about the future of architecture and the denial as a tool to create architecture. After the crisis, particularly hard in Spain, I was and I am wondering if architecture is going to be the same.
Few weeks ago I met the obligations acquired by myself in a moment of weakness to write a text about city and architecture for La Ciudad Viva´s blog. But a thought was besetting in my mind constantly, I would prefer not to. However I had no option so I decided to write about the two projects which illustrate very well this attitude and which have a great influence exactly on not do architecture.
An astonishing coincidence has pushed me to do so with more energy. Right now I am in Manhattan in a hotel between 29th Street and Park Avenue, and it turns out that the master of NO, the writer Herman Melville, worked three blocks further down, exactly between 26th Street and Park Avenue. From what I’ve been researching, it seems that was the place where he worked as an office employee between 1866 and 1890, as a real Bartleby, his own character.
The projects or attitudes which I am going to describe later on, intend to be the beginning of a list on the labyrinth of No, a remarkably attractive tendency about contemporary architecture: a tendency which is the only open way to the authentic architectural creation, a tendency which asks what is the architecture and where is it, which lurks around the impossibility of itself and which tells the truth about the state of grave prognosis, but extremely stimulating, of architecture in this beginning of the millennium.
“In my first term of office as mayor in Curitiba, one of the first decisions I had to make was when I received a request from a neighbourhood association asking for something very strange: they requested City Council to not do anything in that neighbourhood. Then I pointed out to construction councillor to verify the situation. We found that the petition, despite being unusual, was a logical origin. The municipality was carrying out building works in the area and the concerns of the neighbours were that the machines finish covering a small spring. My office was terse but decisive: Do nothing, with urgency!”
+ Léon Aucoc Plaza in Bordeaux. Lacaton & Vassal. 1996.
“Where is nothing, everything is possible, where is architecture nothing else can happen”
Rem Koolhaas. El Croquis N º 53. 1994.
In 1996, Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philppe Vassal received an order registered in the municipality plan of Bordeaux for the embellishment of several squares. The one they had to work on was a triangular plaza, with trees on the perimeter, benches and an area to play petanque. They visited the place several times and made a study of neighbourhood residents. When they visited the place for the first time; they realized that the place was already pretty. It seemed genuine and without superfluous sophistication.
They wondered what meaning could have the word “embellish” in this context: changing the flooring, put some more “modern” lights or design a more modern furniture. And the conclusion was there is no reason to change anything. The quality, the charm of existing life there made the square already pretty.
So the completion of the project was limited to simple maintenance and immediate works: to replace gravel soil, plan a periodic cleaning, pruning the lime trees and modify slightly some traffic. These decisions highlight the value and the capacity of abstention in architecture.
+ The Petatera, Square for celebrations of the Villa de Alvarez in Colima, Mexico. 1857.
“.., the no creative Man can claim greater force than the creative one, since the second one only has the power to create while the first one has the same power and also has the power to reject create.” Clément Rosset Le choix des mots. 1995.
“At the Villa de Alvarez, Colima, every year they built this unique structure, made of trunks, sticks, ropes and “petates”. Tied and interwoven like a basket. It is, at the beginning, a bullring that is built in honour of San Felipe de Jesus, patron and protector of the city against trembling, but the uses are not limited to the bull-runs and formal training fights, the space is a multiple use for celebration and festivity; so is the place where the bishop pronounces Mass in honour of the saint, and where procession and masquerades rides leaving from the main square and will arrive there in those days, therefore there is where will offer the bull of eleven, buffa bullfights and the clowns.”
The square is divided into stages(tablados), the structural and the construction module, and each is privately owned. They consist of posts, sills, cans, and “petates”, and when it is taken apart, each family must take care to keep them and maintain the stage. Making the community as an indispensable part of the project. The petates, which is the name of the structure, are the closure, the skin that envelops the entire structure. The passing of the years the petates are changing around the building in different places, from the shadows to the surface and the doors, until his last stage when is used as a tablecloth in the area of boxes.
Every year when the square is removed, the center is marked with a sign. And to resist the rain and to avoid no one change the signal site, is marked with oil and a plastic pipe buried just below. From this point begins the layout for the excavation of wells, where the pitchforks are thrusted: the structural base and the principle of the construction process. Work equipment and tools are few required, in three weeks the work is completed. The whole process is led by a master in charge of checking the equipment, plan and coordinates the work of the stages.
Ten years ago Carlos Mijares, Mexican architect and professor at UNAM, received an order from a small town situated in the southwest of Mexico. Its mayor had dreamed to turning the town into a place of cultural tourism reference, his big bet was to convert the temporary bullring into a permanent public space with a modern and innovative design and of course with concrete.
Carlos Mijares traveled to the city and visited the place at the time in which the temporary bullring was built. He was surprised and amazed by the participatory process of its construction, the formal result and its connection with the environment. Then he decided not make any architectural project but write a book about The Petatera. A book which allowed converting the temporary bullring constructed every year by the community into The Petatera, turning what was already exist into what the mayor had dreamed.
“Those people weren´t any crowd, but a trio of people who I had the impression of knowing very well. After pricking up my ear and listen attentively, I heard Rimbaud say that he was tired trafficking of slaves and would give anything to get back to poetry. Wittgenstein was feeling very sick of his humble job as a nurse in a hospital. Duchamp was complaining about not being able to paint and having to play chess everyday. The three of them were complaining bitterly when Gombrowicz, who seemed twice their age, entered. He told them that the only one who needn’t regret about anything was Duchamp. He, after all, had left something monstrous -the painting-, which was convenient not only to be abandoned but also to be forgotten forever.
- I do not understand, master -said Rimbaud-. Why only Duchamp has the right not to regret?
- I have already said,” responded Gombrovicz with great sufficiency and pride.
Since in poetry or philosophy there is still so much to do, but neither you, Rimbaud, nor you, Wittgenstein, have nothing to do anymore. Why not to recognize, once for all, that the paintbrush is an ineffective tool? It is like undertaken the unmeasurable cosmos full of sparkling lights, with a simple toothbrush. No art is so poor in expression. Painting is not more than renouncing everything you can not paint.”
A tale of Enrique Vila-Matas, described as a dream of the protagonist in the novel Bartleby & Co. (2000). The novel brings us one of its many conclusions about the art of denial.
[i1] La Petatera de la Villa de Álvarez en Colima –sabiduría decantada-, Carlos Mijares Bracho. 2000. Pags 152, 145, 33, 8
[i2] Google Images.
[i3] Plaza Léon Aucoc. 2G, Lacaton & Vassal. 2006. Pag: 74.
Samples and references.
 2G, Lacaton & Vassal. 2006.
 Bartleby y Compañía, Enrique Vila-Matas. 2000.
 La Petatera de la Villa de Álvarez en Colima –sabiduría decantada-, Carlos Mijares Bracho. 2000.
 Bartleby, el arquitecto. Iñaki Abalos. El País 10/03/2007.
 Bartleby, el escribiente. Herman Melville. 1853.
 Jai Tek –tecnología feliz-. 2007.
 Acupuntura urbana, Jaime Lerner. 2005.
 El Croquis Nº53. 1994.
Translated by Ran Chen