Not only the domestic place is what interests you as architects but also the public space, how do these two come together in your work?
We are interested in breaking the dichotomy between public and private. The most interesting public space is one that can introduce the intimate or the domestic. You could say the same about domestic spaces; if we acknowledge the enormous labour taking place in them, then it would be easy to recognize in them the political, social and economic implications we associate with the public sphere. Nowadays, we take for granted that houses are private spaces. The procedure by which architecture separated domestic life from the public sphere was and still is particularly problematic for women. This resulted in the isolation of women in single family apartments, turning their work invisible and undermining their agency in the political sphere. The modern alternative of a home is cleaner, safer, but it is also a place where solidarity has disappeared. Going back to Chambi’s photograph, what we are looking at there is the possibility of bringing the street to the living room and vice versa, whatever way you want to look at it.
Nowadays, because of the pandemic, we can also recognize a new subversion of the dichotomy public – private taking place. People, forced to only meet outdoors, have started to bring the familiarity and intimacy of domesticity to public spaces in different ways. From people bringing blankets, cups and plates to outdoor spaces to a greater proliferation of ollas comúnes (mutual aid food pantries distributing hot food). We believe architecture should recognize and explore the potential of these new associations.
How do you approach these outdoor domestic places as architects?
The basic starting point would be to treat outdoor public spaces as one would an interior, making sure that the relationship we establish with the outdoors is not purely scenic but of a place to be inhabited. Again, this idea is not new at all. For instance, through history, gardens have been an extension of domestic life and labour, as well as places for pleasure and recreation. For us it’s interesting to build from this tradition but to reconsider what would be the values on which to rethink the contemporary garden. These ideas are part of current discussions in architecture to approach outdoor spaces as potential refuges for people, plants and animals, particularly within urban environments. The figure of the garden is particularly thought provoking because it also implies the architect needs to assume certain qualities of the gardener in his way of working. Instead of a top down approach, the gardener is someone who necessarily works with what is there, and in the creative maintenance, through time, of the environment in which it operates. This way of proceeding resonates with how we understand our job, as we described before.
Do you think these ideas need to be developed in a built project or can your work be done without actually being built?
Certainly, It’s very important for these ideas to find a way into built projects. Nonetheless, the sphere of the architectural project has never been limited to the building. Drawing and language are also important tools in our practice. Perhaps even more now that we are trying to establish our particular way of doing architecture that needs its own means of representation.
What do you mean with language?
Language has always established the way in which architects define, produce and communicate their work. The usual way architecture uses language is to justify the building, almost as a means to evaluate the correspondence between the building and the ideas that are supposedly behind it. This use of language is quite limited to explore the building as an inhabited reality. It’s difficult within the discourse of architecture, to work with the entangled relationship between the building and the people, things, plants and animals that inhabit it, which we discussed before. On the other hand, for example, this approach is completely natural in the way fiction engages with the built world. Language remains an interesting medium for us to explore and experiment with the architectural themes we care about. Right now we are working on a series of drawings and stories which we hope we can share with you soon!