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David Pedroza on Architecture and Sustainability

Interview Date: 14-05-2016
(More interviews from this person)

VIEW the entire interview on VIDEO!

Nowadays, every major city has a selection of high-rise buildings to take pride in. How have they affected the profile of the city? What does the future have in store for these gigantic constructions?

High rise buildings change mostly downtowns or financial districts. In the future, as countries develop their capacity of height, they will probably create higher and more complex forms. It could be considered as an iconic and competitive urge for the city, its builders and architects. So my opinion is that it will not decrease even though we are in the middle of a crisis in architecture but hopefully it will become more conscious with the environment and the context. Attention will also be paid on the city and where a building is built and not only on the building itself. I hope it develops that way but I do not see that high rise buildings will disappear. On the contrary, they will grow.

A debatable opinion has emerged that great cities worldwide have started to look alike. Are they really losing their local character? If so, what has led to this? Where does contemporary architecture stand in this matter?

Cities are looking more and more alike, that is true. Sometimes when you travel around many cities you start losing consciousness of where you are standing. This is might happening because there is a series of constructing standards that are common in every city. As a result if you are designing a building that is as much “rational” as possible then it will look kind of the same in every city. Moreover we are following a model that is not ours. For example Latin America where I come from, did not embed the high rise so we are basically following an American model. Therefore a financial district is trying to look like a very powerful financial district in Europe or in the United States. Hopefully it will become more local but what we need to start doing is to give substance to our buildings. It is not wrong to have icons but let the icons talk about us and not about random things.

What in your opinion are the main issues that the local authorities have to face when it comes to the urban environment? What is the role of the designer-urban planner towards them?

The authorities have economic needs that lead them to certain urban decisions. Architects come on the mix; we either respond to these economic needs or we try to give a proposition. The disadvantage of that situation is that most of the times our proposals do not come from a social point of view but from a formal point of view. So when us, architects work as urban planners we are designing huge projects. We forget to think about climate, or people, we emphasize on form. As a result what we need to have in mind is that when we are involved in the city we have to think about the fact that we are designing a space where people are going to live. And that space is responding to a particular climate. We need to understand all these factors before we start to talk about form. That is the big danger when architects are dealing with urban planning that we think of the city as a huge building. The city is something else.

Every human’s need is a place to live and a roof over their head. Is decent housing for all an achievable concept in today’s society? What are the projects that seem to work and what are the plans that failed in your opinion?

We really need to take this matter seriously. There were a lot of housing projects, in Manchester or London for instance, that based on the reconstruction of Europe they take under consideration the idea of housing for all. Density was a problem because high rise buildings tend to create a bit of bad environment. There was lack of sense of community even though these were successful projects in a way that they really took seriously the matter of housing for everyone. However later they were destroyed because they do not provide a livable place. When you live stacked with thousands of people you will need some facilities, like a piazza or small shops, as a community. The modern projects usually forget about that and they build platforms. As a result the projects that are more reminiscent of the old way of stacking people or having density are more successful because they create community.

One of the main concerns of citizens around the world is for their town to provide them safety. What could be the proposals of an architect in order to achieve security in the urban environment?

This is a particularly difficult question because I come from Monterrey in Mexico which three years ago it was a very dangerous place to live in. Developers and architects started giving a solution that was basically medieval. They built clusters of houses that have greenery inside and in that way they formed a wall but with a happy place inside. However this is completely contrary to an open city because from the Renaissance we got rid of walls. When you think about space giving way to security then you have to start building these types of walls and little by little without noticing we are back in the Middle Age. By creating community, you are creating security. If you create places that people can gather, then having an insecure environment will be more difficult because everyone will see you. Sometimes there are situations that are so difficult in which architecture cannot provide any solution. So we have to be very connected with the authorities because security is an architectural problem up to a point. From that point on the authorities have to come in. From personal experience, my city was open to everyone and then it was taken from us but now things are more calm. That gave us that point in which you know that you as an architects you do not have all the tips in your hand.

Over the past years we’ve had projects that derived from local initiative and lead to the revitalization of certain parts of a city, such as the meatpacking district in New York or Belleville in Paris. But how can we prevent gentrification in cases like these? What are the options?

Sometimes sadly we need to be cynic about some things because you cannot stop these developments. “Hipsters’ paradises” are exploding everywhere and you cannot prevent them. If you are a developer, you will exploit this kind of different phenomena. The process of gentrification has to in a way keep the original spirit and also provide affordable homes with a new community for the people that are replaced. You cannot stop economic cycles or the natural development of a city. It is a problem that you know you cannot solve but we can do something about the people that are replaced, we can give them a home again. That home needs to be closer to the city because what is happening now is that people are sent at the outskirts of the city. So how do we shape these new places, how do we give people a home? Collaborative design is very important; we need to ask people how they imagine their city but usually architects do not do that. There is a meaning in small things in the city that we do not take into account, like a bench or a tree. So how can you use that or what type of qualities do the new cities that people will move have to have?

How are the developing countries handling the design programs that are offered to them? How are the opinions of the authorities, the architects and the citizens combined and merged into one design?

Developing countries do not really enter the discussion. They are the places where everything is experimental. Many developing countries fail in their programs because they are programs that were given to us, for example the Motor City in which everything is about the car. We just swallow the pill without questioning. Finally developing countries in order to build their cities they need to be active in the conversation about what do they want for their cities, what works and what does not, how a city is more public for us and how can we shape the local place according to our local culture.

Seeing that new technologies have become an essential part of architecture design, what are your feelings on open source software systems used in urban planning?

Open source modes are good because can be changed again and again by many people not just one. As a result the “dictatorial” planner and the “dictatorial” architect disappeared when all these different inputs were put in the mix. Open source software in urban planning is a way to ask people what they want. The city can become a lot more local this way because everyone is included in the process, it is not a direct or an exported process. It may start as a weird project but it can be developed in a way that it becomes local and gives sense to the growing city.

At the end, can you please provide your personal proposal for 10 buildings (constructed and visitable) which you think as the most important worldwide that someone must visit anyway?

This question is leading more to architectural masterpieces. But staying on the topic, I would suggest the Unite d’ Habitation in Marseille made by Le Corbusier. It is a good example of combining different ways of living in the same building. I would add the Silodam of the MVRDV which is a modern version of that initial project. Additionally the Salk Institute by Louis Kahn because Architecture needs to be able to provide you with a space where you can dream and feel. Kahn’s project is really rich in that sense because it has a public configuration even though it is a private building.
The architectural masterpiece also worth-looking is the Ronchamp Chapel (Notre Dame du Haut) by Le Corbusier. Religious architecture gives you places in which people can gather like more classic examples: Notre Dame in Paris which includes community in a very beautiful building by the public space in the front; L’ Alhambra in Grenade because for personal reasons I think it is the most beautiful building it exists. Moreover the houses by Luis Baragan because he is Mexican and his houses give you a story. When you can ‘dialogue’ with a house that gives you a special input then you know you are in front of a good project. Baragan’s houses give you feelings that you will not get in other projects. Rem Koolhaas’ (OMA) mixed-use buildings especially the Euralille in France and the Kunsthal in Rotterdam. I recommend all of them because he brings back the idea of a city in which human activity is part of it and it is not only about the architectural form.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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David Pedroza

Country: Mexico
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David Pedroza (Guadalajara, Mexico, 1980)
Graduated Architect from the University of Monterrey (UdeM) studied a Master in Structural Design in the UPC in Barcelona.

Director of P+0 architecture, a studio centered in the relationship between architecture and exterior space, founded in 2011 in Barcelona before formally establishing in 2013 in Monterrey.

Besides being published in multiple national and international books, magazines and websites the studio has won first prize on the main Mexican Awards such as the XIII Mexican Biennale, The XXIII Obras Cemex Awards, The “Obra del Año” 2014 Award, and has been shortlisted in Prestigious International Awards such as The World Architecture Festival Awards and the WAN House of the Year Awards.