Architecture-Art (I) | Óscar Tenreiro Degwitz

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It seems to be completely unnecessary to wonder today if the Architecture is or not an Art, question that was very present in the sixties immediately after the effort of the Marxist sectors to insist on his utilitarian condition qualifying the “artistic” vision as a nineteenth-century diversion. Because already today all the big museums of contemporary art have very active departments of architecture and numerous Museums of Architecture exist all over the world including our country. And the presence of the architects has become very current in groups of debate, forums or interviews treated more as artists that as builders, up to the point of which rarely they allude to the technical dimension of the discipline.

Kubly House, Craig Ellwood, 1964 |

What he was saying in the last weeks on the difficulties that the venezuelan company1 in his set objects, for action or omission, to the construction of an architecture with cultural deep roots that could turn her into heritage, he proposes many slopes for a positive debate.

The matter is of very old byline and occupies our worries from a lot of time behind when there could verify what today is true, the minimal importance that in the means that outline the exchange of news, events, the most public cultural debate, which is called the cultural movement, occupies the architecture. Even in the specialized means the situation is kept; and in general what is published is what the international news proposes: the architecture of the spectacle, of the exceptional thing or the noise of the mode, stopping was any careful examination of the local production of architecture.

Even the design of interiors, fundamental discipline, it removes to a background, taking the first line a strictly commercial notion of the decoration, which requirements are founded on the magazines of the branch and the consumption of brands. One believes this way a small very superficial universe that allows to label like well or badly what is within reach of an epidermal vision that is kept alive with the costly and restricted consumption. An additional symptom of the lag of a company which more influential sectors orientate his preferences according to values foreign to the productive effort. Ready not to grant too much importance to the immense contradictions on which there moves the economy and the social exchange of a stone been.

He was saying that the topic is old. I reported it with the journalist Mary Ferrero (1936-2003), about the Biennial show of Architecture of 1967; what I said to him then might repeat it today with identical words. But she made me notice that the architects, for his passiveness, for his silence, could be culprits of this state of affairs. I could not but admit that it was like that, but aduje reasons that today I would like to elaborate again, with the distance of more than forty years and the current points of view.

I emphasize of beginning that the architecture has, to be perceived by the public in general as a cultural manifestation, the difficulty of being a discipline that arises, it answers, links itself narrowly, with needs of practical type. It in certain way the ride to the land, makes it walk with everything and with all, with which in certain way they get dark his cultural contents.

Craig Ellwood2 (1922-1992), californian architect who did not study in any school of architecture, which finished his life as painter and which produced designs of very high level, between which you change (16,17 and 18) of the famous ones Case Study Houses promoted by the magazine Arts and Architecture and the headquarters of the College of Design de Pasadena, a very beautiful and polished building – bridge, it touches this topic of a very interesting way in an interview that they did to him in the seventies of last century:

“My friend Luis Kahn said to me as soon as a painter could paint a cannon with wheels squared to express the futility of the war, that a sculptor could do the same thing … but that an architect was forced to use round wheels. Kahn was emphasizing this way the limits of the architecture. Our search is not that of an aesthetics, but of the logic, the honesty and the truth. Search that maybe takes us to a poetics.” 3

Ellwood4 speaks about a poetics, necessary attribute of the work of art, about his cultural value, using the determining one “maybe” in the same way as our Villanueva, in his very guessed right definition of the architect, says that this one “can” manage to be an artist.

College of Design-Pasadena 1976
College of Design-Pasadena 1976

The perception of the architecture is so, for the company in general, holds to the condition of which the work in certain way comes out his utilitarian condition and shares the attributes that are own of the art, between which the poetical condition. But the poetical thing like attribute of the architecture not always is perceived in an immediate way. It is, we might say, subordinated to that the user or the observer should be capable of going beyond, so much of the utilitarian thing, of the efficiency, the practicidad, the aptitude to solve problems, since of the overcoming of the amazement, the fascination, the impact of the monumentalidad, attributes of the architecture that not always derive from the poetical thing but from the dimension, from the straining to achieve effect, of the new thing. And for it there is needed a training, an experience, a certain traffic to slant and in touch with the problems of the architecture. Not at least between the same architects there is an agreement on these things.

It contrasts with the fact that any new plastic artist, writer, sculptor, filmmaker, poet, has guaranteed that treats itself him as an artist as a creator though it is relatively far from it being. Whereas an architect is seen always, at first, rather as someone by organizational capacities in the field of the construction, provided with a certain good taste guaranteed by his training, suitable for the design from the constructive knowledge and … ready to follow the dictations of a client.

This one to ride between the utilitarian thing and the poetical thing does that the architect places in an area in certain indefinite way, which sees his discipline as near to the art but knowing that to come to him it must exceed a few limits of very difficult overcoming. Sufficient reason in order that his participation in the cultural debate sees her warily. This it is one of the reasons of the silence of the architects, but there are different many that will be the object of successive reflections5 in this space.

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


1. But the matter is not so clear in a country as ours in which, precisely, newly created Museum of Architecture presents exhibitions of governmental propaganda in which there is prohibited the identification of specific architects by the projects that there are exposed, restriction that has been applied even to the exhibitions led to international forums as the Biennial show of Venice. And if the architecture does not have a specific author but it is produced by the “people” or “the communities”, it is because it is a question of an object of industrial production, of crafts, a “social product” or any other thing less a work with patrimonial vocation in the cultural sense of the term. One denies his artistic dimension. And to abound in this it is enough to mention that of one of the most emblematic works of the Regime since it is Simón Bolìvar’s Mausoleum, there are not known officially his authors (on them it does not report in any document or inscription in the place), in spite of the fact that the guides who work there reveal his names before any question and say this way:

“they are Lucas Pou y Farruco Sesto, I finalize this one, they heel, of Spanish surname, but hundred Creole per cent …”.

2. I mention in the today note the American architect Craig Ellwood (1922-1992) for the precise of his comment on the nature of our discipline, which is based on Luis Kahn’s concepts of many keenness and especially suggestive; and also because his interesting work clarifies that the subjects that appeared between the architects are done by it more than half a century they remain opened and admit continuity into his development. In effect, his work is located in the same space of constructive worries, of managing resource of design and as consequence (though Ellwood it had denied as explicit worry) in the expressive area, of materials, proportions and links interior – exterior, which many architects handle nowadays. Nevertheless the North American critique anchored in the idea of style that so well put on the table the postmodernism, would insist on calling Ellwood a “modernist” an architect is to say in certain way restricted by the modern tradition, whereas his work would be qualified as “minimalist”, very to the mode, revealing this way the contradiction promoted by the use of terms coined for the consumption.

3. The interview of which I extracted the appointments that I include in the today note can turn in SCI-arc Media. It is very short and of a lot of interest thanks to the force of many of his reflections. To the text that I include in the note observations add him as these:

“Many architects today are interested in the form instead of the intrinsic force that motivates the form. They play with forms.
A building must show the order, the discipline that gives him origin.
In the moment into which the form turns in arbitrary or into style, it becomes slightly different from the architecture. There must be some internal force that motivates the form because the form does not exist for yes same. This age one of the favorite expressions of Mies Van der Rohe”.

4. Actually Ellwood’s work, though it is true that differs for the rectilinear search of a brightness and purity of marked horizontalidad designed based on a species of calligraphy of steel and glass in the tradition of Grain that turns her into a typical well “writing”, was rather associated with the search of economy of means (it had an extraordinary experticia in the construction with steel) and the experimentation with technologies of prefabrication. Of there they arise his “Case Study Houses” (it designed and constructed three of them, at least) experience of construction of economic housings constructed for the sale, designed by important architects, promoted by the Magazine Arts and Architecture and his owner, John Entenza, who lasted between 1945 and 1966. The Número 8 of the series was it of Chat and Ray Eames who armed himself based on parts prefabricated in only three days in 1948 in a hill together with the Pacific Ocean, or the Estenza house (her Not 9) at which Ellwood was employed as collaborator of Eames and Eero Saarinen.

South Bay Bank, 1956
South Bay Bank, 1956

Ellwood had a personality “hollywood people”. His name of origin was John Nelson Burke and it one decided to change then that his company of construction (he did not study architecture) was taking the name Ellwood of a shop of liquors that was staying in his surroundings after Craig added him because he liked, until in 1951 it founded an office of design with this name and his changed definitively. The history that continued was so productive as contradictory in the human sense, up to the point of which it had relations always laborious with his collaborators and a rough life that led it to leaving the architecture, to devote itself to do and finally to be established in Italy, where he died.

5. From them one might give an interesting debate when, as today, efforts are done for correcting the excesses stimulated by the economic bubbles. Very slippery debate because it is sent to the concepts that we could call “previous” to the exercise of the thought on architecture, understanding this one as one to think that it is given in the project and the construction and not out of him. On it I will try myself to spread in the later weeks.

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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