Architecture-Art (II) | Óscar Tenreiro Degwitz

He was saying last week that the architecture rides between the utilitarian thing and the poetical thing and that this condition that could call hybrid does that to qualify of artist an architect for the fact of it being turns out to be strange, in spite of that to any writer, poet, musician or painter, bad or mediocre, gives himself this title, because it is supposed that it does art1, though he lacks artistic merits.

Leyenda de la fotografía: Variación sobre “La Mano Abierta” de Le Corbusier.
 Variation on “The Hand Opened” of Le Corbusier.

Inversely, if an architect convinced in the artistic value of his work was objecting strongly to his adulteration, transformation, mutilation or abandon, the most probable thing is that it does not achieve any support, since the people would see it rather like bad-mannered, slightly realistic, or as troubled and problematic anybody. Because this work, so importantly for him, so worth being preserved, respected and up to venerated, is not important for almost anybody, until there conjugate factors that motivated by his better virtues allow to see her from a not routine point of view, extract it of the simple commonness. Thing that sometimes happens; when already there has died the architect (because of it Le Corbusier was saying that the recognition was coming always late); when value is awarded by means of the critique or a consensus between peoples of the trade; when his owners are an influential people that in addition they promote it; when for his dimension, his symbolic character, the fact of being a headquarters of some institution of prestige, is admired by many people; or finally, if his author is a very celebrated personage. Conditions that are given little, if we bear in mind the quantity of meritorious architectures that there construct themselves opposite to very few ones that are respected. Respect that owes to itself that is recognized as part of the collective heritage, a quality that gives category of art2 to a concrete architecture, and it makes it come out his merely utilitarian attributes.

And this difficulty of recognition owes to the hybrid condition of the architecture, to which there adds his material facial value, his simple value in invested money, always much higher than that of a book, a picture or, even, a sculpture. All this without considering the value added by the artistic merit. And in case of the building, it is a question of a cost that it is not supported by the architect but by an owner, it is required a laborious process of construction where many persons take part, and has a presence emphasized in the urban scene, apart from being used, used, frequented, for many persons for a long time, sometimes centuries. Completely singular conditions of the architecture, not shared with no other artistic expression.

For all these reasons the work of architecture can be and transformed along all his useful life, and though enjoyment of the advantage of having being constructed well and following carefully the guidelines of his author and the consent of a client, suffers changes that sometimes disfigure her totally. For example Case Study Houses (16,17 and 18) of the Arq. Craig Ellwood that I mentioned last week, they were all modified up to being unrecognizable, in spite of his value as pioneering experiences. But it is not but a detallito compared with the tens of thousands of works of architecture of patrimonial value that have been trasformadas, mutilated and modified of the most radical form throughout last decades, not to speak about the universal history, which is full of disrespectful and degrading aggressions to important monuments.

But let’s go to what affects us in a direct way. What does happen when besides the above mentioned thing it happens that the company in general is characterized by the scorn of the constructed past and, in general, by a manifest disability for the conservation of his urban heritage? What does happen in a situation as the Venezuelan?3

The University City of Caracas, for example, was declared “Heritage of the Humanity” by the UNESCO almost two decades ago but his general condition of maintenance is lamentable. With the exception of what one comes doing in the Set Library – assembly hall, the rest of the buildings of the set would demand a not minor investment of a hundred of million dollars to do to him the honor that deserves his patrimonial condition, that, I it have said other times coinciding with different many, it has turned her into the most important work of art of Venezuela. And our revolution of operetta in fifteen years, having money of surplus, not only did not adapt funds to this end but one denies them close to everything what he denies to the Central University of Venezuela. It looks like an accident, a detail, but it demonstrates with all clarity the negligible value that grants him in Venezuela, from the politics, to the architecture. Which in a petroestado is the same thing that to say from the highest hierarchies of the social and economic power.

This attitude discovers a cultural specifically Venezuelan bias: we lack an urban and architectural sufficiently solid tradition as to recognize the priority of the conservation of the most valuable of our constructed heritage. Not even the presence in the latter fifteen years, in the high levels of the government, of any architects, could correct this narrowness of gun-sights, with which it can only demonstrated that not even these architects grant real value to the architecture, not inside our unsincere political rhetoric of social advance4 there is space for the requirements of the urban life. This defines in a clear way the difference strictly between ourselves and other countries of the world, including many of the Latin Americans, in whom the institution building and cultural, it had never been allowed that a supposed advance5 qualitative in social terms was including so many nonchalance, so many irresponsible blindness.

Óscar Tenreiro Degwitz, Architect.
Venezuela, october 2013,
Entre lo Cierto y lo Verdadero


1. Other times I have written on the movie of many years ago, with Gary Cooper in the principal role, that it was taking in Spanish the title “One against all”, based on the novel “The Spring” of successful Ayn Rand (1905-1982) American born writer in Russia. Always I have in the memory the scene in which the architect (Cooper) dynamite a set of buildings in construction of his project that had been adulterated. I think, that in the judgment that followed him the architect worked out absolved, and what I am interested in emphasizing here is his attitude opposite to the work and his scorn for the material value of her, opposite to the enormous value that had for him his integrity as product of his personal art.

It impressed this challenging attitude that was placing the esteem of the architect on his “creative“ capacity over all the utilitarian and economic arguments that had justified the violation to the Project. One heroic visión, very to tone with the epoch (the thirties), attractive for any young person anxious to break schemes, eager to give him to yes same a liberating and risky image. I think, that in the judgment that followed him the architect worked out absolved, and what I am interested in emphasizing here is his attitude opposite to the work and his scorn for the material value of her, opposite to the enormous value that had for him his integrity as product of his personal art.

It has been said providing that the model that Rand took for his personage was Frank Lloyd Wright, but if it it should not be, anyhow it was common in this time, if one saw the life with spirit of forefront, to suppose that the architect was a part of the advanced cultural one who was awarding, enclosedly, the right to be implacable in the support of his points of view up to all the ends.

2It was treating itself in account end of fiction, but it is not others to say that along my professional life I have had experiences that well had deserved a similar attitude. And the same thing would say many of my colleagues, with variations of intensity and consequences but with identical reasons: the work of the architect reduced to simple basic guidelines that can be controlled to will.

Because it forms a part of the experience of every architect in our way, to suffer interferences, to see alterations, to be present impotent at the arbitrary modification of a project from the authority of the client or of the administrator of the public money, all this without there exists a juridical statute that defends rights and protects of arbitrarinesses in name of the money or of the Power. And especially (it is what motivates my reflections of today) a cultural foundation that acts as limitation, a vision of the architecture with deep roots in a tradition capable of giving to the trade the dignity that has, over the personal peculiarities and the impulses of authority. The lack of regulation is definitively a consequence of the levity of the architectural tradition, producing to him an absence of support that comes to be generalized in spite of that, certainly, spaces exist both in the public area and in the private road, where the situation is much more positive. Niches, it might be said, in which one proceeds in a different way.

3. These niches, I it have commented on other times, they were very important in the middle of last century when Venezuela was in an intensive process of modernization and a political situation in which, in spite of the restrictions that marked the dictatorial stage, the populism had not thrown roots. And, being true that there were very few architects in exercise, the public and most important initiatives to private level were doing for be inserting in a “modern” perspective that was including the architects as a necessary profession, peoples worth being listened it was indicated by the guidelines of the countries of major tradition

But if the profession in the following years expanded enormously in numerical terms, it was not like that in qualitative terms, being kept a way of proceeding generalized very incompletely, in the middle of a species of populist enslavement that marked the action of the State and was eroding progressively the qualit notion, and as consequence, the need to guard an integral and complete vision of the discipline. And today we continue suffering the consequences. Between them, her almost impossibility that the building construction is assumed bearing in mind all the aspects of the process. It continues thinking that constructing is to define a continent, a bundle, without assuming the consequences of his urban insertion, of his “prolongations”, as it was said in the slang of the fifties.

4. To help to overcome these limitations, to fight because he throws roots a vision of the most complete, mature, conscious architecture of the long-term implications of the construction of the city, it might be the paper, for example, of a Museum of Architecture: to locate in context and intentions the labor of the architects, to establish links with similar efforts, to jump geographical and cultural distances to place better, to help to deal by means of the document, the critique and the debate, the motivations of the author, to reveal what remains secret in the tangle of the utilitarian and circumstantial thing. But it is not as well as the “revolutionary” civil servants have understood it. It come as an organism of propaganda pawned in trasmitir a vision unidimensional, the only, exclusive, from the architecture. It is not that a vision like that could not take place in his divulgative efforts, but other visions would be forced to document and support to be able to be considered to be a culturally complete, universal, conscious institution of which his scene is multiple.

5We know it that it is not possible in the current political Venezuelan context, but it it will have to be in order that the institution justifies his existence.

Óscar Tenreiro Degwitz

Es un arquitecto venezolano, nacido en 1939, Premio Nacional de Arquitectura de su país en 2002-2003, profesor de Diseño Arquitectónico por más de treinta años en la Universidad Central de Venezuela, quien paralelamente con su ejercicio ha mantenido ya por años presencia en la prensa de su país en un esfuerzo de comunicación hacia la gente en general de los puntos de vista del arquitecto acerca de los más diversos temas, entre los cuales figuran los agudos problemas políticos de una sociedad como la venezolana. Tenreiro practica así lo que el llama el “pensamiento desde y hacia la arquitectura”, insistiendo en que lo hace como arquitecto en ejercicio, para escapar de los estereotipos y cautelas propios de la “crítica arquitectónica”. Respecto a la cual no oculta su desconfianza, que explica recurriendo al aforismo de Nietzsche sobre el crítico de arte “que ve el arte desde cerca sin llegar a tocarlo nunca”.

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