The architects and their private devil | Óscar Tenreiro Degwitz

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Gehry y su 'peineta' | Fotografía: M. Rojas 
Gehry and his ‘comb’ | Fotografía: M. Rojas

Two things were recorded to me from a teenage reading of El Diablo, by Giovanni Papini (1881-1956), which gave the author some difficulties with the ecclesiastical world. The first, that the greatest success of the evil spirit is to make us believe that it does not exist; the second the cover of that edition, the face of the Devil painted by Michelangelo in his Last Judgment, peeping between flames and blackness in the lower right corner of that Masterpiece.

Today I join rather the idea formulated by Carl Gustav Jung that we all have a light side and a dark side. The devil is there, in ourselves, we could say in a simple tone, not outside. We no longer look for it in the infernal mists.

An imp that makes his own in every human being is that of Vanity. Which seems very characteristic, by the way, of the world of architects. Few things can stimulate vanity more than to see a building that has been born from schemes made in the intimacy between paper (or the computer) and the author. Seeing that a lot of money is destined to him, that are added to his realization diverse disciplines and techniques and that, finally, they are delivered to the task of building it tens, hundreds and even thousands of men.

Political power participates in that vanity. When it is authoritarian, it feels special weakness for big constructions, unless vanity, as in the Venezuelan case, consists of distributing rentier dollars that do not come from a productive economy. The dictators want to leave a mark of their passage through architecture, but it is also true that every regime, democratic or not, puts into practice the principle that I already mentioned on this page, that every political program manifests itself in the domain constructed.

From the point of view of Power, then, the Olympic Games bring as a natural consequence buildings that want to be showcase of economic, human and technological resources. The Chinese regime could not be oblivious to that impulse.

But the Chinese State did not seek the people, the talents, formed by its Revolution. He did not look for them in his own town that he should be, after sixty years of exaltation of local values, amply qualified to do the task, He looked for it in the capitalist thicket. And thus he erased the “revolutionary” Manichean language that was once a standard of his politics and that today is used with self-confidence among us. Names from the mother of the “empire” (Foster, English) or from the cradle of planetary capital (Herzog & De Meuron, Swiss), from the nation that was once refined example of the most rancid colonialism (Koolhaas, Dutch), or of the British enclave in Oceania (PTW Architects, Australia) that undoubtedly did their work very well in association with the system of Institutes of Architecture that works in China. There is no American name, certain appearances had to be saved.

In other words, the vanity of the revolutionary State ends up giving an irrefutable endorsement to the Star System, to the traffic of planetary success. And he recognizes the failure of the totalitarian state that, in addition, used for these works the huge Chinese private capital.

And the vanity of the architects?

Any of those named would have gained in prestige if he declined the orders based on criticism of a political situation that only seems to be sustained in the context of a nation that for centuries has been the victim of vassalage. As Kafka illustrates in the story of the emperor whose messenger crosses walls and enclosures that lead to other walls and enclosures until he finds his death or oblivion. But those architects seek success and not prestige. His interest is not in cultivating an integral vision of the world and its contradictions, or of the simple human being. On the contrary, they talk about the future of cities from Singapore, Honk Kong or Shanghai, where they have contracts. We miss in them the desire to deeply understand reality as the architects who founded modernity tried it. Because if we except Koolhaas, who has talked a lot, his speech is second philosophy with technical, or postmodern clothing as appropriate. In short, in all of them vanity makes its own, and can not stand, to put it in Creole, two requests. In addition, in these times it is thought that giving up the show offered on a silver platter is foolish. The existence of the devil, or the private imp, is denied. Does not exist.

A reader wrote to me telling me that he cared about buildings without asking too much about what originated him. Maybe that can make all the sense of the world when we see the building far away in time or we want to “think” in light code. Because every building belongs to a story and tells us about it, there we if we listen to it. And in addition, the architect himself, at the time of the assignment, faced a client, inquires about background, motivations, about the conditions that will determine his work. And decide accordingly. Unless it is a game of interests in which the client does not have a visible face but money or power and the architect is in reality a corporation without a face but with skills that are its trademark. And greed for money. That is what is happening in the world of the great globalized architecture: it is a scenario where the identity is a style, a signature, that is offered to the highest bidder.

And one wonders if that is the only way for a globalized world in the economic and fragmented in the cultural. With so many inequalities that make Beijing an unattainable showcase. As we do to Venezuelans when we look at our “modules” of Barrio Adentro, our sad schools, crumbling hospitals, perverse prisons and public buildings that never end or end badly, like all recent sports facilities. And that after ten years full of dollars and words.

Thus seen things, and not from neutral posterity, one misses some NO with consequences, some ability to defeat vanity in the name of old and worn out principles.

Óscar Tenreiro Degwitz, Architect.
Venezuela, august 2008,
Entre lo Cierto y lo Verdadero

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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