The architect’s travels

ana asensio

Photo © Ana Asensio

It’s six o’clock in the morning. I’m on a train looking towards the night at my own reflection in the naked window.

I’m on a train, yet I’m not travelling. I’m just changing places. Travelling is a state of mind.

Travelling is not being tied to a single place, or person, or to nearly any object. Travelling, as the song goes, is not having a place or a landscape or a homeland. It’s not having any of that in order to be able to look out with pristine eyes, untainted by the dregs of the passing years or by any expectations, at that spider web woven around you as if it were your home.

Travelling is not merely getting to know other cultures, other ways of life. It is how we receive that knowledge, transforming it into feelings that go straight to the soul, unfiltered, without anaesthesia, in solitude. Travelling is a state, not something that can be done on specific dates, staked out in scheduled steps. To travel is to drag oneself for an instant through the lives of others. An instant, but an intense, concentrated instant.

Travelling requires dismantling the home you have built around you — not only the walls and ceiling, but also the carcass surrounding us with its hard protection, so that we can be vulnerable. In a certain way, architects always need to dismantle other people’s houses, disassemble the pieces, get to know the people behind them to rebuild their way of life in our minds.

Architects travel constantly through the lives of others, and we move in modest attempts at getting to know on site what was studied in those pieces.  In an attempt to travel, we observe those illustrations of the great masters in their great travels. We read their old notes in their notebooks. We praise how that influenced their work.

But none of that is enough. Travelling is an educational phase, a point of no return, an irreparable change in the person that deliberately makes a hole in order to be immediately filled

We are experiencing strange times, where the straight line of the road to take, that road that they had (perhaps) conveyed to us, or that we (perhaps) imagined, is not so clear. The line looses its opacity and becomes transparent. It breaks or becomes covered with stones. Perhaps now is the time to leave the road and walk cross-country.

I talk to many architects who struggle to continue along their continuous line, or, contrarily, who reinvent their profession.  There are also many who combine the ‘old ways’ with new aspects of the profession and enjoy this new phase. There are many students worried about their future, and many recent graduates in professional limbo. There are many who emigrate with a single vision: that continuous line that they had imagined in their initial excitement as they began their studies.

But, hasn’t the time come to break the web? Isn’t this instability the first blow in the demolition of our house? Niemeyer said “life always seemed more important to me than architecture”.

Perhaps now is the time to no longer be tied to a point or to persons or to nearly any other object than our clothing, our notebooks, our pencils and our cameras. A time to be as ephemeral as life. Perhaps it is time to buy a ticket with no return fare, to emigrate without an agenda, to move with a sole state of mind: travel.

Text translated by Beth Gelb
(Almería, 1986) Arquitecta formada entre Granada, Venecia, Londres, Santiago de Chile y Madrid. Especializada en memoria y arquitectura popular (tesina de investigación, UGR), Asentamientos Humanos Precarios y Habitabilidad básica (postgrado UPM), realiza un activismo por investigación, documentalismo, divulgación y acción cultural, especialmente centrada en la experimentación arquitectónica, la cultura contemporánea y el medio rural.

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