An Architect’s Story

A few months ago, my friend Monica Galindo asked me to draw a picture expressing my thoughts on how my idea of housing has evolved from those first innocent little houses drawn as a three- or four-year-old through to the present.  That’s a perverse request to make of an architect. Maybe it was a little joke,  an affectionate way of getting back at her own husband. Everyone knows it’s impossible.  No psychoanalyst worth his salt would ever want to give an architect a Rorschach test. That’s the one where the analyst says, “draw a chicken” or “draw a fish” and then uses the position of the drawing on the paper, the way it’s facing, or the firmness of its lines to tell you who you’re sleeping with. We architects are a cagey lot. We always want to be original, and our drawings are hardly ever a spontaneous spilling out of our subconscious. Another time, Andrea Paredes – a psychologist friend of mine who also happens to be the wife of another great architect – asked us to draw “a person out in the rain” while we finished our third pisco sour at a terrace bar somewhere in Santiago de Chile. I couldn’t resist drawing a top down view of an umbrella and a lot of dots. “I’d never pick you in a management recruitment process”, she said. We split our sides laughing. Honestly, it still makes me giggle.  You can’t trust an architect’s drawing. It doesn’t come from our digestive apparatus or our guts. However much we try to forget drawing,  it comes from our nervous system, our brain. So anyway, I tried to respond to Monica’s request as quickly as I could, so as to keep the architect within me well under control. But I knew she had also asked eleven other architects to do the same. And I thought, “What a responsibility!” That was a big mistake! And the little devil had ample time to slide between my fingers. I tried to recall the words of my teacher, José Ignacio Linazasoro. “Arturo, you have to learn to draw with your left hand”. The words echoed in my head. That was even worse…

It took less than a minute for me to come up with this ingenious drawing– or, worse still, this drawing by a supposedly ingenuous architect.

Up to the age of 10 we copy what we see the best we can. We represent surfaces, obvious things, facades. That’s the stereotype stage.

From 10 to 20, we become aware of the individuals we are and start looking inside ourselves. We know things have an inner life. We bring in X-rays, turn to our own experience and what we think exists inside.

From 20 to 30, we start studying architecture, cleansing our eyes of “all the filth our elders have instilled in us”, as the great Antonio Miranda vehemently used to proclaim in his classes.

From 30 to 40, we’re already messed up for good, shanghaied by the School of Architecture, by descriptive geometry classes and by Le Corbusier himself.

From 40 to 50, we start to seek out our own path, to shed unnecessary attributes, to do without architecture itself, and to search only for what is strictly necessary.

And from 50 onwards, we realise we’ve lost everything, we sit down under a tree and try to get enough breath back to wonder about the origins of forms, of things. And we begin to have fun with more superficial things, like we did when we were 3.

But being architects, when we’re in a thinking mood we always turn to some teacher to justify our behaviour, and, of course, the most omnipresent teacher of all is Le Corbusier himself.  What did he do when he was 50? Desecrate the pure, white architecture he himself had exalted. Deface the house of his friend and follower Eileen Gray. Strip naked and become a child again.

[ Main image: Face to Face by Monica Galindo ]

Text translated by Andrew V. Taylor


Arquitecto, crítico y editor. Como crítico y editor su trabajo se ha centrado en la exploración de la realidad contemporánea así como en la intervención en el patrimonio. Actualmente es profesor del Departamento de Proyectos de la ETSAM.

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