Architecture in Valparaiso

architecture-school-valparaiso-03.jpgThe works brought together in A View from Outside represent an effort to better understand the pedagogical approach of the School of Architecture and Design in Valparaiso, Chile. For over 50 years, this approach has been famously manifest in architectural works published in reviews of architecture and publications throughout the world. Indeed, the modest size of the school and its relative isolation along the Chilean coast would seem to belie the influence its production has had on the architectural imagination of several generations of students and practitioners. For architects familiar with the school, the word itself--“Valparaiso”--evokes a certain relationship to place, to making and to collaboration.

The intention of this publication is perhaps to move beyond those images, not in order to discount or dismiss the architectural works that have come to be so well known, but rather to ask how the teaching and making of architecture are founded at the school: founded in time and in place, with origins that can be delineated as a constellation of ideas and intentions that made the production of the school possible. For most of the authors, Valparaiso as a subject of research, if not curiosity and admiration, is new. We hoped that by bringing together essays by authors looking at the school and its pedagogical approach through their own, diverse points of view, we could put forward a discourse that opened up questions or perhaps suggested trajectories for future research. This exchange occurs between the essays themselves and, we hope, between the texts and the collection of drawings that make up the second half of the publication. Many of the ideas in the essays find resonance in the drawings, so that between the two worlds there is an exchange that leads to other questions about the school and its approach to teaching.

One theme that carries through all the essays concerns the unknown: unknown not in the sense of a search for innovation, novelty or the new, but rather in terms of the uncertainty that is a necessary condition for any creative act. This unknown is linked to South America, linked to an approach to architecture as poesis, to teaching and building as a lived experience constantly in confrontation with the stoppages and deviations that characterize life itself. The bringing together of poetry and building, of the poet and the architect, insures that any form of reason would have to be fabricated using a shared language, utterances that can be neither wholly be spoken through one or the other. The drawings also operate from a place of uncertainty, projecting into the future through the careful observation of place—a kind of grasping for space that trusts in the acts of looking and taking note, the vast landscape of the Chilean coast never sought to be controlled or mastered but rather allowed to reveal itself in its unresolved force.

In their essay, Patricia Guaita and Cornelia Tapparelli argue that to understand the ephemeral, light-weight structures that resulted from some of these drawings and for which the school has come to be known it is important to look at other, specific aspects of teaching at the school. For the authors, the well-known works cannot be understood simply through their formal qualities but are instead situated in an approach to process that privileges improvisation and uncertainty. The travesías that take students and faculty across the South American continent are themselves linked to a desire to explore, discover and interrogate the unknown lands that lie within the South American continent. The authors describe how the travesías often were stopped, re-routed or transformed because of circumstance out of the participants’ control: life events. Ultimately, improvisation and uncertainty are welcomed into the design process and seen as a way to destabilize any idea of order or control, such that the making of architecture is brought closer to the precariousness of life and lived experience itself.

Gerald Wildgruber takes on this theme as well in his close analysis of the influence of Freidrich Hölderlin’s thinking on the founding poem of the School of Architecture and Design, the Amereida. Wildgruber looks at how the Amereida’s telling of Virgil’s Aeneid becomes a re-charting of the relationship between East and West to account for the place of Latin America in a foundational myth that links back to the shores of Spain, to Rome and to Greece itself. Amereida also draws on Hölderlin’s thinking about the ambivalent function of art and architecture—as a kind simultaneous remembering and testimony—projecting both backwards and forwards into time, thus creating an unstable ground for all arts, including building. In Amereida, Wildgruber sees resonances of Latin America’s own historical struggle and the condition of chaos that characterizes the ground on which this struggle operates. Indeed, this difficult ground, and the discipline needed to hold on and attest to it—rather than hide from and attempt to bury--could be seen as a marker of political or creative activity in Latin America, and for Wildgruber one of the founding principals of the Open City and the School of Valparaiso. Indeed building must necessarily be understood as a negotiation of uncertainty that neither attempts to fully control or abolish or, nor cedes to its whims.

As a number of the authors point out, the founders of the Valparaiso School included not only architects and designers but poets. As a foundational poem, Amereida takes part in a larger attempt to understand the productions of the school, the creative life of its students and faculty, as a product of poiesis, such that the “human condition” was linked to the “poetic” one. In his essay, Ignacio González Galán argues that the school’s particular understanding of its own activities through the idea of poiesis influenced its self-definition in the political and social turmoils of the late 1960s. Indeed, this self-definition was largely at odds with most student movements in other parts of the world and could be understood as an attempt to define a modernity that was “other” to that which had been inherited from Europe and also to any positivistic belief in the “future”. The “poetic” condition that the school’s founders sought the kind of scrutiny of lived experience that poetic demanded of language, such that only the constant making and remaking of relations could form a basis of judgment and renewal. In that sense the future was not a goal or a destiny but rather an always fleeting or receding horizon that needed to continually be questioned and reestablished.

Valparaiso’s search for greater autonomy and the freedom to pursue its pedagogical approach was one of many of what Beatriz Colomina and her co-authors, Ignacio González Galán, Evangelos Kotsioris and Anna-Maria Meister, characterize as the “Radical Pedagogies” that developed in architectural teaching in the late 1960’s. These transformations were marked by a questioning of the power structures that bind courses in architecture to their institutional contexts as well as of the dynamics of relations between students and professors and the pedagogical approach itself. Despite these shared interrogations, one of the most interesting aspects of this radicality, was the diverse nature of the experimentations that took place during the period. Indeed, for Colomina and her co-authors, no one single response was predominant and the cross-contagion of ideas engendered by encounters – debates, discussions, disagreements-- between different pedagogues from schools of architecture throughout the world created a viral outbreak of ideas on design education. Although everyone seemed to have his or her own answer, no single approach would prevail and it was this instability that would strengthen the very ideas in circulation. Colomina’s essay is an explicit provocation; if we look at architectural pedagogy today, radicality is dismissed by some as a nostalgia, its lack painfully reconciled by others as a chimera.

While questioning and doubt transformed architectural teaching in the 1960’s, the essays in this publication also make a case for the important role they play in the works produced at the Valparaiso School. In the sense that life, work and study are linked at Valparaiso, teaching and making architecture are understood as one and the same. The uncertainty that characterizes one is carried through into the others, not as an impediment but rather as a potential left to unfold. While uncertainty is part of any creative or architectural activity, we are left to ask if Valparaiso does not offer an alternative to the smoothed-over rationality that architecture sometimes strives for. It serves as a model, reflected in other moments in architectural history, in other places and contexts, of an architecture that struggles with the unknown, holding it up as a kind of two way mirror looking both forward and backwards, doubt sustained into the future, doubled as a projective potential.

Extract from Building Cultures Valparaiso
From Sony Devabhaktuni, Patricia Guaita and Cornelia Tapparelli
Published by the PPUR

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