Guallart Architects


Geography, Information and Architecture

Vicente Guallart

Published by ACTAR, 2009

The research presented in this book condenses the work carried out over the last fifteen years, oriented toward the development of architecture projects. Our practice encompasses multiple scales, from the territorial project, the creation and reform of cities, the design of neighbourhoods, landscape, the buildings, the homes, the objects that inhabit it and the informational relationship between them. ‘From bits to geography.’

This multiscale approach is prompted by a recognition of the need to think and create ecosystems in their entirety rather high-profile one-off actuations isolated from the city and the territory. A process oriented toward creating conditions of habitability in the territory more than constructing buildings. We are, then, more interested in the systemic character of the architecture than in its iconic character per se.

There would be no need for architecture if human beings were content to live in caves or in trees. Architecture is necessary to create conditions of habitability that are not dependent on the time of day or the time of year, on the climatic conditions of the environment anywhere in the territory. Architecture, then, must emerge in specific places, at particular moments in history, in a continuous process of re-foundation of the territory.

Geography is the science that deals with the mapping of physical, economic or social phenomena on the territory. . It deals with mountain ranges, trade flows and social interactions. Every architectural project is thus a manipulation of the geographic parameters of a place.

GeoLogics are the logics of the Earth. They are the mechanisms we use to interact with a place in accordance with its own essential rules. They are processes that we define, based on our recognition of the various systems to be acted on, in order to implant habitable structures that follow a natural order. We understand a natural order as one that emerges from the nature of things, from their basic principles, following patterns that tend to the generation and conservation of life.

Architecture is thus a process that adds new layers of history to places. If it knows how to interpret the values of the site, it will be capable of producing a richer and more complex place and leave it open to life and to its transformation and evolution.

Every architecture project acts on a particular geographical environment, interacts with the world through the multiple networks that traverse it, and ultimately defines a functional node that transforms the properties of the place.

Architecture is a re-active activity.

Our generation, which is the first to operate in a global context, needs to be able to redefine the modes of construction on the Earth so as to ensure that the fact of inhabiting it does not transform the basic parameters of the environment itself in such a way as to make it inhabitable.

And in the light of this, the knowledge of the medium in which we operate and the definition of strategies of interaction with it define new ways of doing for the science of the construction of inhabitable locales that is architecture.

Architecture has managed to respond to the social, technological and cultural conditions of each successive era throughout history. The logics presented here thus encompass a range of issues —structural, formal, physiological, relational— that have to do with the physical aspects of the territory and the elements that compose it and with the actual structural relationships of living beings.

The buildings that we construct today and the cities we inhabit are the products of an accumulation of knowledge over the course of our history. But still, the most rudimentary living being on the planet is more complex and more intelligent than any building constructed at any time in history. Architecture and urbanism need to learn from nature in a structural way, in order to integrate the principles and values of environmental processes, of the logics of natural ecosystems, of the anatomy or physiology of living beings and of their material properties, which in their totality have demonstrated their capacity for survival throughout their evolution process. And to accumulate this knowledge of all the values that the discipline of architecture has generated in the course of its history.

This constitutes an incredible opportunity for architecture, which down through the ages has defined its field of action in terms of the challenges and aspirations of the societies and cultures that construct it.

In this way, architecture expands its areas of action and its materials for its project of habitability of and in the world. In doing so it must define new codes of actuation, new principles with which to set an architectural project in motion that are grounded in their connection with the energy and the potentials of the place and that, on completion, enable us to leave there open conditions in which life can operate. Just as when a tree is planted.

In the pursuit of an architectural project that is more than an object on a background, an affirmation of personal identity on the landscape or a phenomenon on a cultural context, the human actuation must be a nature in itself capable of possessing differing degrees of artificiality both in its gestation and in its operation.

In this situation, architecture itself must operate on the basis of logics that are no longer confined to the traditional functional typologies or to simple exercises of formal manipulation of the material for a manifestly iconic purpose; what is needed is a logic that responds to the processes and conditions that obtain where it is to be inserted. In fact, taking the world as a system of ecosystems that interact in a scalar form, every architectural project should seek to integrate itself into that habitat, whether by literally resonating in tune with the energy wavelength of the place, or by acting in the territory as a transformative element, detecting the potentials for modification produced by the new operating conditions on site.

For this to be possible, the informational processes linked to design, visualization or manufacture using digital systems can be seen as key tools in the development of new construction techniques and processes for this new hybrid reality. This means that the practice of the architect is transformed: from being an actor that interprets initial conditions, generates a design that will subsequently be developed and will be constructed by mechanisms more or less linked to the economy and to the techniques of material manufacture and industry, she will be an operator producing information that in the current state of production permits a personalized fabrication in every aspects of the architecture.

This research extends over a considerable period of time in which some of the initial lines of work have been consolidated as precise forms of actuation, while in other cases new lines of work have been marked out for consolidation in the future. In many cases it has been necessary to redefine the team with which the architect works. The incorporation into the projects of external specialists from fields such as geology, anthropology, sociology, engineering, software and interface design, ecology, art, economics or biology enables these projects to encompass records registers that in other conditions would be impossible. In this way, the actual definition of the working group —as in the case of a chamber group, a jazz combo or a symphony orchestra— efficiently reveals the different areas, intensities and registers of interpretation of a project.

We understand the practice of architecture as an activity that sets processes in motion rather than simply surfing the conjunctural waves that periodically invade the territory. In this way, when new spaces are opened up for action, it is able to define its own rules of actuation. This is especially relevant when operating in relation to mechanisms such as the production of the city, where practices based on purely economic problems have produced in the territory places of low environmental or social stimulus. Our practice’s approach rests on processes associated with the investigation of new conditions and with principles that we start off intuiting and in most cases go on to establish as crucial for the next years.

A number of the projects are explained in terms of various logics that can operate at different scales or by way of multilayer systems. We seek to ensure that the logics we present act as dynamical rational systems that go beyond the development of a project on the basis of an ‘idea’, a purely formal response or an economic discourse. The projects in this book follow a logic that embraces everything from the interaction with natural elements such as mountains, rocks or trees, the transformations of urban areas, and social organizations through to the projects’ interaction with the digital world.

Any architectural practice that it seeks to act according to these principles must devote a significant amount of its time to research.

In view of this, over the past few years we have created various architectural platforms that make it possible to engage in what we have come to call R+3D (research plus development, teaching [docencia] and diffusion), in order to create and participate in knowledge networks as a means of developing the principles and the technologies with which to achieve these goals.

The Metapolis group, the Institute of Advanced Architecture of Catalonia and the Fab Labs and other structures that may be created in the future are oriented toward stimulating the progress of architecture in an open, collective way. The processes of socialization of the information technologies in the last years permit now mean that all of this open system of organizing the world on the basis of open knowledge networks is diluted in the physical world and transforms it.

We work in this way to produce an architecture which develops the potentials that the information society offers for constructing a more natural world.