Conversation with Blanca Lleó en Minuscity
“Architecture is always in relation to human beings.
11th Nov 2011
Rl: Ryan Ip
BL: Blanca Lleo
Rl: As we are preparing a booklet for our graduation, we would like to interview you with regards of our theme of graduation. The first thing we would want to know is what you, or many other architects, would see the distinctions between academic training and real practices? During your career path after the graduation, what have impacted your belief? Anything we may encounter in the future.
BL: Probably you are very lucky as your country is going very well right now, my students in Spain are very worry because there are no work, but you are in the best place in the best moment. In my country, architects has the main responsibility for the building, since the principle of the main idea till the last detail, including structure, installation,… which is different from many other European countries. This is a very good tradition of Spain, as this permit we to do everyday architecture, which always under control from the architect.
This tradition allow people in the teaching side are also designers in practice, the best designers are always teaching in school, unlike the situation in United States which is usually separated. Moreover, as you teach, you involved in research. So, for us, to be an architect is to be a teacher, a researcher and real practitoner, three bonded together. This is the best because this articulated your project from the ground.
Rl: So how would you comment, or compare your situation with the States, that teachers are not practicing?
BL: Well, I have some friends in US, who are famous and very good teacher with a lot of construction of interesting books, but they have never build. When they teach, they focus very much on theoretical idea of architecture; so as the students start to build, they need to go to studios for few years to actually learn how to build, to learn what are the reality in design and construction which they did not learn in school. This is the reality. I felt we are more similar to you, more connection with the reality, society and the practices in architecture. I am not so sure about the background in terms of theoretical and cultural aspects of your master programme, but I think the main theoretical idea and cultural background is very important. For example, when I gave examples/ references to students, it is not necessary contemporary examples, as sometimes it is so closed that we have the intention to copy. It has no sense. We are much more interested to understand the concept related to the necessity in the contemporary moment. You need to process, understand the world you are living in, to study what happened before you, and most of all, to study how the answer was answered to the conditions at the time. If you understand that, you can start to think the problem in your contemporary time, and with this capacity and freedom, you will not copy the last design of the last architect.
Rl: This is interesting, and I believe that would be your main principle in your design. But how that idea actually arose? Is it something from your educational background, or is it triggered from your practices?
BL: I had a great master education as they taught me something more than architecture, they taught me about human beings, about the relationship with everything in life; that is what architects need to know. Only if you know how people live, you can create spaces for them to live in. I am lucky as I finished my study, my professor, Rapheal Moneano, asked me to teach with him, and this was very useful to me. While I was teaching, I was learning to teach and in the same time learning how to express my ideas. Architects need to express ideas; when you are expressing ideas, you are creating ideas. If you cannot express, you cannot think. Talk and think are very related. During the four years I spent with Moneano, I had several opportunities to join competitions, we presented out ideas and if you win, you have a chance to build and defend your idea. We need to be competitive. It is very necessary for us to build; if you don’t build, you don’t learn; every time you build something, you learn a lot. It is the process of reality, you need to make decision and meet people all the time. There are many things to encounter before your idea become reality, so you need to be clear about your idea, strong argument and a lot of common senses. It is so challenging but beautiful progress. I loved to be involved, loved to see the transformation from idea to building after years. It is amazing. Other thing, you need to be strong, physically strong. It is very necessary to br fit to be an architect.
RI: As you mentioned the importance of your teaching and building experiences, how would you define a architect? Is it the combination of what you had said? Teaching, building, joining competition, publishing … is architect one of the above? Or all?
BL: I think it’s everything. You can do everything in the same time.
Rl: So, for those teachers you mentioned who only teach, are they architect also? Though they had build nothing.
BL: Yeah. In my school, there are many architects who teach varieties of subject, like mathematics, physics, geometry, electricity supplies, structures … among the many materials, I always teach design, which is closest to the real practices. For design, research is very important. Even though you have a lot of ideas, if you stop continuing study and research, your ideas become not competitive; it is fashion but it has not much to offer towards architecture. The process of research refreshes and feed the idea, and connects the idea with the reality; that is the philosophy of how I work and teach. There are a lot of architects who neither involved in teaching nor research, although they are building a lot, it repeats and repeats, they are only making money. This is not what I am interested. I love design. I want to ask you, what do you want to do in the future? I am very curious about that.
Rl: In the context of Hong Kong, the real practices are like what you’ve said, repeating and repeating, only about making money. It dominates the practicing field, so the difficulties we are facing are, we are struggling between the reality and what we believe; how can we apply our beliefs in a situation like this?
BL: There are always small spaces. You need to find those small spaces. In my country, the situation is the same, any place in the world are the same. But you have opportunities in Hong Kong, in China. This country is becoming the first in the world; there are millions of people, and millions of necessities. So how many hospitals, schools, cultural centers, museums, bridges … are going to be built? Probably a lot. I always think it is not about the amount of projects to do, but the satisfaction of the project. For my own studio, I have never decided to grow too much, a maximum of 10 people. We are small, so we can run project one by one, since the very beginning to the end. In other way, if you have thousands of projects, you cannot work, and at the end, you are repeating and not enjoying work as architect. All you need to do is find those small spaces. Competition is a good training, to learn how to present yourself and learn how to win.
Rl: Would you like to elaborate more about your design, is there a central message you want to deliver through different designs? In other words, what do you think is the main responsibility of an architect?
BL: We have a lot. The social responsibility of architect is very important for me. For example, when I won the light tower competition, although it is more a technical problem, to provide light for ships; we proposed public spaces, a kind of promenade open to public without any commercial elements. An elevator carries people to the top, and enjoys the landscape when they go downwards slowly. As the tower is open, people can enjoy the sun, the breeze, the views… you created something for the people. The most important element of architecture is to offer opportunities to create relationship between human and the social/civic life. In Hong Kong, I feel the public spaces here are always contaminated by the consumerism. I enjoy in the beginning, but after few hours, I cannot stand it. It’s too much. I need quite spaces to think. In Spain, we are losing it too, in some way. We are losing because the consumerism is spreading a lot, and we are fighting by creating spaces for people to find a way out of it.
Rl: To wrap the interview, we would like to know how would you describe architecture.
BL: Architecture is always in relation to human beings. For me, it is important how spaces create the scenario for everyday life and also the exceptional situation. Always think in the human point of view, no matter today or the future. Also try preserving the surroundings and the planet, the only planet we have.
Rl: At last, any suggestion to the future graduates?
BL: Be curious, try to pop questions all the time. Don’t accept the reality, but try to change it. You can change the world. It is very important to have the captioned feelings; you had these feelings when you went to school, but you need to have good relations with your friends, who share the same sense of sensibility, to keep this feeling when you practice. Maintain the heart and desire to do something interesting.
Rl: Hong Kong people are always consuming, and that’s why they try to bring the commercial elements into public space.
BL: But sometimes, you don’t know which is the first, the desire of consumerism or the present of consumerism. They present and you addicted to it. I felt myself, or everybody felt, the temptation all the time. You need to forget it; you need to understand how to live, and what you want as a human being. Architecture gives these opportunities.
Rl: We would also like to know how you define the field of architects, in terms of architect and planners. Is urban planning also part of the architect’s work, or is it different?
BL: We don’t trust planners. They began with huge planning, and start to draw, in yellow, in red … in a big scale. This kind of planning is politic and economic driven, which are very far from architects’ work. But in the medium scale, it is very interesting. These Master Planning, in the medium scale, allow a team of architects working together and bring up a high level of discussion. In Barcelona, different architects work with different buildings under the same master plan; this can create relations between different buildings, under a general idea.
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