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Wheelwright Prize Lecture: Samuel Bravo, “PROJECTLESS: on the emergence of a dwell”

Wheelwright Prize Lecture: Samuel Bravo, “PROJECTLESS: on the emergence of a dwell”


Good evening. I’m so pleased and
excited to welcome Samuel Bravo and his wife,
Jessica, back to the GSD, I should say, and to this
celebration of his Wheelwright fellowship. Since 1935, the Graduate
School of Design at Harvard has awarded the annual
Arthur W Wheelwright traveling fellowship. I said 1935. It was established in memory
of Wheelwright class of 1887. And importantly, it was
intended to encourage the study of architecture
outside the United States. When it was founded,
Americans for the most part did not travel that much. It was a prize clearly
thought of as a kind of American version of the grand
tour, where architects would go to Europe, Greece, maybe
Florence, Rome, of course, but maybe Florence
in a pinch and that was about it, to
become sanctioned by that travel as architects. And it was available
only to GSD alums in the Department
of Architecture. A few years ago, the GSD
was pleased to broaden the scope of the competition by
inviting architects practicing anywhere in the world to apply. And in addition, they were
to propose research agendas outside their country. That’s stipulated in the
contract of the grant. They still had to travel outside
the country of residence. But an affiliation with the
GSD is no longer required. The prize is $100,000. And for a young
architect or firm, it can make quite a
lot of difference. It’s awarded annually
to talented early career architects worldwide with
a proposal of itineraries for research, discovery, and
the development of what really is an ongoing design project. And I say that because in the
case of Samuel, who is here tonight to present
his Wheelwright 2017 research, Samuel, he studied
in Chile in the Catholic University of
Santiago and graduated and already established
a fairly small office, like two people small, no? But the research was well
underway and was already, let’s say, his research
into community building was already well underway and
being verified by architecture involving buildings in the towns
mostly in northern Chile, which had been damaged and
destroyed by the earthquakes. In 2017, Samuel had
already designed and built a community building for– it was a town of 40
people that was completely lost in the earthquake. But the town is
located on a river, where in an annual parade of– parade, is that good enough– a carnival type parade gathers
more than 100,000 people from all over the region. And this was a– Samuel didn’t have
a lot of work. But this work was
of such quality, the design of such quality,
and as importantly, the community engagement
of such quality that we thought
Wheelwright was in order. The Wheelwright is productive
in many, many ways. When Samuel and Jessica
visited Cambridge in 2016, a certain number
of months later, they– count them– had a child. And she was able
to go on the trips. So the Wheelwright is
productive in many ways. I’m glad the vacation was
successful, as it were. In 2017, as I said, Samuel
won the Wheelwright prize. His proposed project, which
we’ll hear about tonight was called Projectless. It explored the relation
of architectural practice with non-project
driven traditions and informal environments. And this journey
that he’ll talk about involved a study
of dozens of cases in seven different countries. Samuel’s work has been
exhibited in the 2010 and 2012 Chile Architecture
Biennial in Santiago. The Ladder, the 2012 project,
won a jury selection. And it’s also been in
the Chilean pavilion. My printer ran out. So I didn’t get the date. Samuel, welcome. [APPLAUSE] Well, thanks, Professor Hayes,
for such a nice introduction. I traveled to the remote
Yaquerana River between Brazil and Peru, because I wanted
to know the collective dwell of the Matsés people. There I witnessed
the construction of the [INAUDIBLE],, a
communal house of the Matsés, in a process that revealed
extraordinary bond of the culture with a territory
that they are able to interpret through craft and
knowledge and language. Then [INAUDIBLE],, a
traditional leader, told me, with the
construction of this house, the construction of this
house gave me great joy. Because with it I’m
going back to being. I was impressed by these words. I wanted to understand what
he really meant in the context of the cultural transformations
undergoing in the recent history of the Matsés people. And this insight represented a
pivotal moment in my process. I would like to acknowledge
and express my gratitude to the jury of 2017
Wheelwright prize, Gordon Gill, Michael Hayes, Mariana
Ibañez, Mohsen Mostafavi, and Gia Wolff. Thank you all for your
faith in my proposal. And thanks also to the GSD
and to the Arthur Wheelwright Traveling Fellowship for
such an amazing opportunity. I would like to recognize
all the amazing people that in so many different ways
collaborated with this endeavor along the way, especially
my daughter, Elouisa, and my partner, Jessica,
which came along with me and shared this
experience in a way that makes it difficult
to individualize the origin of our thoughts. I will frame the
itinerary of my journey within the guidance of this
question about to dwell and being that in
front of each case unfolds in a
particular dimension. Upon the relation of Lima
with the Andean world, I will analyze the
role of community, co-operative organization,
and a common ground for thinking about informality. Then, in Belén Bajo, I
discovered a settlement that reveals a territory and a
particular relation with water. With it, the fluctuations
of the public realm. A condition that resonates
in several water settlements observed in other regions. In the case of
Bangladesh, I learned from the community architecture
method, in Jhenaidah. I also learned about the
symbiotic and often problematic relation between the
formal and informal city in Karail, Dhaka’s biggest slum. And finally, with the
construction of the communal house of the Matsés people,
I will refer to dwelling and being and the operation
of the human environment as a synthesis of this relation
between language and craft. The South American
state consisted of three excursions in which I
made short residences in places of interest. Sometimes coming back,
up to three times, such in the case of Lima and
especially Iquitos, which has a strong seasonal fluctuation. Well, the first
step of the journey was the settlements
of Lima where I explored the informal
process of one of the biggest metropolitan areas in South
America and its bonding with a traditional
Andean background. The Barriadas movement
began in the ’50s as the Andean people
drawn to the city organize themselves
in committees that later gave origin to
informally built settlements. This urban process reached
up to 70% of Lima’s area. Now what has been
remarkable about Lima’s case is the ability of
the informal process of transforming
a piece of desert into a proper city within
a matter of decades. And this is both an ongoing
process and a massive driver for the built environment. So we wonder, can informality
be turned into a positive force for creating the city? And, if so, then what is
the nature of informality? The Peruvian urban
anthropologist José Matos Mar said of the Barriadas, I dare
to propose that the Barriadas is the great form of
accommodation to the capital of the provincial migrant. In that sense, it is
not only the answer to a problem of homelessness,
but much more than that, it is the other Peru that
makes himself present and claims belonging,
citizenship, and recognition. Its peculiarity is that it
has to recreated in its midst the world of the Andean
community that is expressed in the presence of straits such
as reciprocity and mutual help in work and social life– [NON-ENGLISH] and
[NON-ENGLISH] in Quechua– and self-government,
[NON-ENGLISH],, based in the participation of
all adults in decisions as it happened in the [NON-ENGLISH]. [NON-ENGLISH] is the basics
social structure of the– many different Andean people. So at the same time in
1967, Bernard Rudofsky state, in the catalog of his
famous exhibition Architecture Without Architects,
that we don’t have a proper name for a
broad portion of the built environment that
has been produced in the absence of the
architectural project. We extend to read the names
of vernacular architecture or traditional architecture
while from the point of view of the method it may not
be architecture at all. This is not a judgment,
it just noting that it relies on
different processes that we as architects
are not used to. Implicit behind this
assertion is the understanding that we, as architects, are
yet to develop new methods and strategies for
learning and operating within the Projectless paradigm. Although through architectural
history the “how do we project” has been under
scrutiny many times, this questioning rarely reaches
the architectural project as the fundamental
method of the discipline. And this methodical
criticism has the potential to reshape our discipline as
some innovative practices are already doing. I stayed in [INAUDIBLE]
in the northern mountains stretches of Lima. There we gather testimonies
from old settlers as well as the young community
leaders up in the Cerro. I received there and
interviewed the architects of [NON-ENGLISH],, which
have developed a long-term commitment with the neighbors
of La Balanza in Comas. I walked through the
stairs that climb to the very end of
the newly built houses on the edge of the mountain. With each step it seem more
unlikely to dwell there, away from the water
and access roads. Yet once you are
at the very top, it becomes apparent that one
more house could be built. Up in the Cerro, I talk
to Mr. [INAUDIBLE],, a worker carving a
small terrace in this– in the rocky slope,
just big enough to set alight prefabricated house. The mountains are wrapped in
this seemingly infinite pattern that fades into the
hazy atmosphere. The need for building at
terrace carved in stone in order to settle the slope
seems to revisit the substantial relation
to the ground brought by the Andean imaginary. Then Mr. [INAUDIBLE] took a bag
of coca leaves and a small pot with a stick covered
in chalk and put it in his mouth to chew. The chalk add some
alkaline to help the enzymes of the saliva
extracting the alkaloids. This is the traditionally
revered Andean consumption of coca. For the Andean
people, the slope is a daily and fundamental
inhibiting condition where as in a stairway,
their unevenness represent transient situations
while the platforms provide permanence. The agricultural terraces
also separate to conditions of the mountain range. Seen in elevation, they
are a sterile stone wall, hewed horizontally from above. They are a stratified extensions
of fertile land, arranged for the smooth runoff of water. I followed this linking thread
up to [INAUDIBLE] in the Andes where the Andean
agricultural is still sustained by traditional
co-operative organization. Behind the cultivation platforms
leads an extensive network of canals that bring the
water from the [NON-ENGLISH],, or highlands, and
allows irrigation. Without this network,
the cultivation terraces would be useless. The channels are one of the
largest collective words in the legacy of
the ancient Andeans. Their administration
and maintenance is due to a traditional
co-operative organization. Perhaps the most relevant
network of cooperation that remains to this days. [INAUDIBLE] is just
over 30 years old and he’s the major of
irrigation of a canal. As a traditional
authority, his job is to manage irrigation
and maintain, along with neighbors,
the nearly 20 kilometers that the canal has. Now the irrigation
that were greatly contributes to create a
territorial rooting of culture. It is [INAUDIBLE] that
the patron mountains of the Highlands, which
provides the water. Farther west, there is
the arid literal desert. The Andeans live in this fertile
stratum where the water can be carried from the mountains. And on the mountain
itself can be terrorist to nurture
the wealth and variety of the Indian agriculture. The potato and the
corn, the quinoa and many different covers. This territory is
in itself complete. It is systemic. It is generous. It is wise and meaningful. So I volunteer for the
restitution works of a– of this fallen irrigation canal. The canal had collapse on
an abrupt slope exposing a bedrock that made it
difficult to build again. We started with a
group of neighbors with bags, chisels, and pikes. And after a long climb to the
bone and the earth 4,000 meters have over the sea level
where the air is thin, we enter a canyon
to find the canal. To begin with the
work Edgar the water major offered coca leaves
and gave a bottle of rum with a glass that
began circulating between the lively
debate in [INAUDIBLE].. It went to the glass,
dip his fingers, and leap towards the apples, the
patrons spirits of the mountain that provide the water. Then dropped some trickles
to the ground as a payment to the [INAUDIBLE],, and then
finally drank themselves. At the end of the
talk, the eldest asked me in Spanish,
Samuel, what would you do? This dialogue offers
an insight in the way an essential construction
takes place within a community. We know how ideas develop
within the project paradigm. But should there be no project,
then how do ideas develop, are shared, and get
built within informality. A short answer
may be by talking. But let’s try an experiment. Take the case of a canal. A groove in the ground may so
that it can transport water to distances. Its slope should always descend. However, moderately,
so that the water loses the least
altitude along the way. This essential definition
has no shape or material, although water underground
needs to be mentioned. It contains in it
all the conditions that the construction
must satisfy. In a way, it is the
most condensed instance of a project, but it
lacks all the specificity, as it lacks design. Design is a process of
giving shape to ideas, specifically, by drawing. This way of thinking
synthesizes an intention into a spatial formulation. We participate in this
essence of the build as elimination of burning. In this way, it also install
rates of common ground through our understanding
of the environment. It can be design. But if the design fades,
the idea cannot persist. It can be built. But when
the material falls apart, the canal still
remains among us. I think Professor
Case better explain this with example of a
pyramid and then [INAUDIBLE] to an idea of a scheme. But as we came from Lima,
one thing should be ask. When did the community
of thinking and making a shared environment
started to get lost? Architect [INAUDIBLE] explains
that today the challenge of the areas is,
to a great extent, a conflict of public space
abstracted from the community and being consumed by
particular interests. Such is the case of
land traffickers. In the past,
informal settlements where community
organizing invasions, they had something
heroic about them. It was there even consolidating
in the Peruvian constitution. Today land traffickers claim
for themselves the right to load and sell the Cerro. They would maybe invest in an
access road, and the stairway, sometimes even a soccer field. But then they will manage
their debt portfolio in a mafia scheme. Some of them achieve
political momentum out of the role urbanizing. This is how there
is often a degree of complicity among authorities
on land trafficking. [INAUDIBLE] from [INAUDIBLE]
began working years ago with a community
dining room held by a woman’s organization
in La Balanza, Comas. Through his
cooperation, they found a way of articulating
community and collective space. They also involve
local authorities in the process of
consolidating collective spaces from the pressure of
alienating interests. And you may also remember the
work of [INAUDIBLE] community dining, because it
was already here a year ago in [INAUDIBLE]
generous presentation. So informality much like
emirate fades as we approach. In formalities, it’s a former
consequence of dwelling on the product of culture. It has to be a
logical constraint. It is develop as a place
appropriation strategy. And an attempt of
context today was seen. Despite the difficulties and
distortions it is undergoing, the Barriadas movement did
congest the desert and managed to create the city out of it,
something that is yet to be achieved over the fluctuating
grounds of Belén Bajo in the Amazon. This is a place where the
earth can turn into water, and the water may become earth. During the growing
season, the neighbors traveling canoes and
temporary pedestrian walkways. This is the way that people
have organized their lives around the cycles of
the river, the coming and going of the waters. What does it mean to dwell
that in plurality of water? I will take the neighborhood
of Belén Bajo as a paradigmatic case, which incorporates a
multiplicity of dimensions observed elsewhere. Belén Bajo is nuanced. It is complex and contested. It can split yourself
between awe and rejection. It is located in
the city of Iquitos over the seasonal flood
area of the Italian River. The neighborhood is
composed of tall structure of parlor features and houses
that float in the fluctuating waters. Belén Bajo is under the
influence of the largest river in the world, the
Amazon, which until 1980, flanked the southern
margin of Iquitos. The Amazon does not
have a definite chorus. I live at his wake a landscaping
constant transformation. Its meander crawl through the
territory cutting the ground, devouring kilometers, and
leaving lengthy lagoons behind. Year by year and season by
season, and the rivers change. Today, the Amazon has retired,
but Belén Bajo remain its domain. Now, when the dry season comes,
the river withdraws and Belén Bajo will experience an
extraordinary transformation. The ground emerges as
a clear and shady space between the palafitos. The breeze runs
through the stilts, refreshing the humid
heat of the summer. The children gather
under their houses, and an entire ground level
makes the town a great hypostyle hall. The town can be crossed
in multiple directions with relative independence
of the streets. The space under
the houses provide a place to stay and
gather around with tables. And the streets is celebrated. Belén Bajo is the home
of merchants, fishermen, and farmers, in the
great market of Belén, the main market in
the city of Iquitos. And the sort of interface with
the broader region of Iquitos. Most of the products that the
city of Iquitos consume comes through the market
of Belén Bajo. Now, most of the land
market is a street market. However, a major portion
of it is not temporary. It is hardly definitive
transformation of the streets into a market. And when the river
goes down, the market extends to it until the river. But in Belén Bajo, most people
do not have access to drinking water and see what is directly
discharged into open water courses. And even having a
littering in a creek or at the outskirt of
the town is an advantage that many people lack. Each year, the neighbors
set up a network of runways that allow
partial connectivity. However, precarious, it is
an example of collaboration. Once the water is gone,
most of this effort has to be dismantled
as it occupies the vital space of the streets. Now, urban life is based on
spaces and services that are largely absent in Belén Bajo. We must ask ourselves,
why we don’t find here most advantages that arise
from the life in the city? Why there are no public spaces? Why are there are no walkways? Why are there so many people
without drinking water and sewage? Why the authorities
and the neighbors themselves creators of an
extraordinary space, failed integrating it into a city? For these reasons, some of
the neighbors are hopeful with the possibility of being
transferred to a resettlement known as the new city of Belén,
a housing project some 15 kilometers away from Iquitos. [INAUDIBLE] and his family
are among the settlers that look for better condition
in this governmental project. However, the promises
have not been met. And much of the
initial project have proved short of accomplishment. The work had been
stopped for a year now. Some neighbors are reluctant to
abandon what they have achieved in Belén Bajo, and the network
of relations that their lives rely on. So at this point, we ask,
couldn’t it be made different? Isn’t there any place that
has solved what Belén Bajo has failed to solve? And this is how I got to Afua. The city of Afua in
the mouth of the Amazon is a city entirely built
over tidal flow that ground. In four hours, the tides of
the sea come up the river and flood the ground. The highest tides
a few times a year even flood the street
level of the town. During the hot hours of
the day, the activity withdraws from the
streets of Afua. It is the coolness
of the afternoon what brings the neighbors
back to the streets. People take out their chairs
and gather in terraces in front of their houses. An entire town becomes
a family atmosphere. Afua is so unique
because the people agreed to ban modern
transportation, allowing only pedestrians
and bicyclists over the runway like streets. Among all the difference
that there may be, I think what propitiates the
radical difference between Belén Bajo and Afua is the
role of an active city planning authority that literally
bridges the gap of public space, provides basic
services, connectivity, and even social spaces. Unlike Afua, the merchant
communities of the Mekong Delta pose the most radical
case of water temporality. There, all what creates the
urban structure is absent, and everything that inner
cities fix in a place here can be moved. They consist of an
arrangement of boats and the families and communities
that leave it in the river. These families having
their boats, much of what creates the sense for place
and [? quotidian ?] space, from small gardens
on top of the boat, to altars and miniature shrines
placed on the ship’s bow. These boats navigate
the extensive network of canals in the region
of the Mekong Delta to reach the villages
where specific products are cultivated. This is what they bring
back to the bigger city. And once there, they mostly
source local land market and also sometimes
find our customers. If we look at this
boat cluster, we will see that although
all of the boats seems to be able to navigate,
the ones in the extremes are most likely used for
transporting products, while the ships in the
middle are habitation. In the end, what these
settlements are made of is a series of movement
through the territory and a network of relations. The community is a link to a
territorial system of trade and production,
and the observing of any informal
settlement is in the end the serving of life itself. So again, what does it mean to
dwell the temporarily of water? This seems to be an
unsolved definition and probably there is
no need for defining it. It seems that these
places can never be, but they’re always becoming
something different. While in English to be as
an ontological definition is in a way meets with the
transitory situations that involve being, there
are other languages, like Spanish, in which
this duality sets apart the essential being from its
becoming and its circumstances. The nature of dwelling
is a temporary one. You need a deal
being seems always mediated by the
passage of material and temporary manifestations. In Bangladesh, I found
in a brick factory an instance of the infinite
cycle of the built environment. While some of the
workers were assembling the kiln with raw bricks,
right next to them on the other side of
the wheel, another group were dismantling
the fired bricks. Informal environment,
much like this steel, are never finished but rather
ever evolving processes. I went to Bangladesh as part
of an east bound journey from the west of India
to the Mekong Delta. In Karail, Dhaka,
Dhaka’s biggest slum, I observed the same building
and often problematic relation of the formal and informal city. Karail is located
in the Banani Lake, an artificial lagoon created
as a landscaping element for a 1950s urban development. The relation of the
former neighborhood of Karail in Dhaka, is at once
symbiotic and contradictory because the benefit– the city benefits of areas
like these sourcing services as you can not have a
service city without people. And the people,
on the other hand, benefits from a central location
and working opportunities. What keeps Karail, then, from
becoming a prosperous area? And if not solving the problems
that arise out of encroachment, at least working on
them side-by-side the [? secret ?] organizations
and the local government authorities. Karail is a complex settlement. It has in it an entire
urban system with education, a market, and a commercial
street, [INAUDIBLE] and services. It even has a dairy farm
with goats in the middle. [INAUDIBLE],, an architect
and researcher points. The biggest fear that
these people have is that one day you will
see thousands of police coming and evicting them. The one major drug for Karail
developments is land ownership. If the people has no
access or participation of any of the different
available models of ownership, then the settlement
is illegitimate. And for a government
owned plot of land, this becomes a matter
of political will. This arises the ghost
of mass eviction. As an opposite to this, I went
to Jhenaidah to met [INAUDIBLE] and his office,
co-creation architects, whose main work strategy
relies on people’s shared ability for creating
their built environment. The community
Architecture method focuses on developing
capacities within communities. As a first step,
the neighbors are invited to observe themselves,
analyze their environs, and gather their own
spatial information. This part of the work is
called community profiling. When facing a
problem, the neighbors are encouraged to design
themself and assist in this process. While building
the projects, they received the fundamentals
of project management. So they can autonomously
carry the process. And finally, when a new
community approaches attracted by the
results, they are referred to a previous
formed community to guide them through. In this way, the
process and abilities can disseminate in an
autonomous way, a process that in many ways resemble tradition
as a knowledge transference method. Community architects
do not necessarily show up when there is
something to build. They question the
built environment and make the people
question theirs. They promote
community organization and self-awareness. In the end, the
built environment is seen as an expression of
the life of that community. It is a consequence of
the people’s capacity, their awareness on the
community, and on themselves. People is the origin of the
built environment, and not the other way around. And a primeval expression
of this community in relation with
an environment is what I went looking for
into the remote Amazonian Hamlet of Puerto Alegre. The community of Puerto
Alegre is the last in the upper part of the jacket
on the river on the border between Brazil and Peru. The Matsés people came
into sustained contact with the outer world in 1969. And the life in
the communal houses was maintained
until the year 1999. Since then, the role of
community and the life and the defense
of ancestral lands came into a complex restrict
relation of new relations, leadership, and aspirations. The communal house, [INAUDIBLE],,
plays an important role as a built instance
of the community. In the ’70s, the Chilean
architect and video art pioneer Juan Downey travelled
with his family– his wife, Marilys Downey,
and Titi Lamadrid, the 12-year-old daughter
of Marilys Downey, to the Yanomami communities
of Bishassi and Tayeri in Venezuela. He carried some of the
first video equipment, bulky and primitive. But his intention was
beyond registration. He wanted the Yanomami
to interact in real time with the image they
were projecting. The Yanomami saw a monitor
for the first time. And within it, magically,
their own image. But Downey did more than that. He described the maloca of the
Yanomami, the [NON-ENGLISH],, as a light and invisible
architecture that embodied the material and significant
relationship of the Yanomami with their surroundings. A link to the cosmos
to their ancestors. And part of the same jungle
in which they belong. This registry is at
the same time burned– at the same time burned the
reality that it registers, contributed to pollute, and they
saw it into another culture. The Yanomami immediately
understood that this [NON-ENGLISH] was no longer
the center of their universe, but it was a tiny part of
the most remote periphery of a world in which
they would never fit. As we enter into the
Matsés territory, an extraordinary landscape
unfold around with ancient forests of vibrant nature. Before dawn, the trees around
sparkle with fireflies. All kind of birds passed by– falcons, macaws, herons
of different kinds. Some occasional
rainstorm and a forest of an inexhaustible
wealth of forms, palm trees of those
and different types. Man’s loop walnut trees
with a whole world living in their canopy and
with thick vines hanging from their branches. This side of the
river is Brazil, and the West Shore is Peru. Both side of the border
indigenous lands are protected. However, they are threatened. After noon, we stop at the
house of Mr. Arturo Tumi, an old Matsés who decided to
get away from the Matsés hamlets to live alone with his family
in a place where he could still hunt and fish. His house on a hill is
surrounded by huge trees. The farm is a magical
space, practically a [INAUDIBLE] forest, so
high that one can walk below. There is also corn, coconut, and
wild tobacco to chew according to the Matsés custom. Next to the house there is a
small maloca or [NON-ENGLISH],, a house with a roof that
falls to the ground. There is something nostalgic
about the story of an old man who leaves the village
to live like before, before the missionaries arrived
and the order of the Matsés world shift. Here in the
distance, he has been able to reconstruct
part of that order. In times before the contact,
the maloca was also the center of the Matsés universe. It was the only place in the
world where they could actually be. You do– they still
with neighboring tribes and with external visitors, such
as Robert collectors, loggers, hunters, and even
the Peruvian army. The maloca was the place of
family, the place of friends, and the articulator of their
community in the territory. It bursting itself meaningful
relations and materials that tie it as a part
of nature that has been interpreted and humanized. There I met Abel
[INAUDIBLE],, a man that liked few incorporates the
recent history of his people. Abel’s house is a
large and gloomy room with high powered roof
blackened by smoke. The walls and floor are made of
pona, an open palm tree trunk splinter in the slats
that is used as a board without the need of a saw mill. The result is a space punctured
by thousands of lights leads. Beams of light fell
from the ceiling, through the fireplace smoke. Three hammocks hung, and a
bell rest and one of them. Abel told me that the
community had decided to move their maloca to a new
location outside the village, and that he will
move to live in. I was thrilled by this news. It means that I was being
able to document and witness all the stages in the
construction process. In 1999, the great communal
house of Buenas Lomas Antigua fell and Abel decided to found
a new community called Puerto Alegre in the remote Yaquerana. The old people were dying, and
with them, their communal life was extinguished. Later Abel told me,
without the [NON-ENGLISH],, I cannot mean anything. That is why we have built it, to
represent ourselves as Matsés. The construction of this
house gave me great joy because with it, I am
going back to being. The connection of
dwelling and being never appeared to mean
a clearer expression. To a kid, the Matsés word
for boss means someone who frequently advises, tells
stories, and is consulted. Rómulo Nacua, referred to
in Spanish as [SPANISH],, or the wise, was
our master builder. He would guide the construction. Rómulo acquired this craft
by helping his father. The [NON-ENGLISH]
is an oral building. During the construction, the
wise gives the instructions. He directs and
teaches how to do. Otherwise, the maloca is
a system of parameters. Once the width and
length are defined, there are no more decisions. The rest are building craft
and a typological consequence. Much of the work consisted in
collecting from the surrounding the precise
materials, a work that required to identify the right
species and the right quality. Two species of palm leaves
were used for the roof. Three kinds of bark and vines
for tying different parts had to be brought
from hours away. I can only imagine
what this task would have been without metal tools. By means of orality, the maloca
interprets the role of nature in the context of the human and
of the belonging of the human in the natural environment. The forest is the substratum for
this dwell, which appropriates all what there is experienced,
touched and transformed, known and name. The word for shelter and
house, [NON-ENGLISH],, comes from a kind of plant
that is used for shelters and roofing. It can be hand-picked
with no need to chop trees or using metal tools,
so it is possible that this leaf was used as an
early construction material. Beside it is also found
in some other languages of the pan-linguistic family,
like the [NON-ENGLISH].. [NON-ENGLISH] then extends
to other shelters in nature. It is used for wasp
nests, [NON-ENGLISH],, and [NON-ENGLISH] for the
yellow rumped Cacique bird nest. Earlier we did an experiment
about the persistence of abstract ideas. But abstract ideas
themselves tell too little about the
basket woven with leaves. They tell too little about the
elaborate craft the Matsés have developed to weave a
cloak like plant roof. Without the craft, the material
awareness of thinking hands, it just wouldn’t be possible
to translate the essence of an idea into matter. We note here that
the word object comes from the Latin
objectum, which means to throw in front in a
sense of displaying something. Similarly as in project,
which means to throw forward, crafts are here the
process that makes it possible to materialize
an idea in front of people. So the world object always
supposes the presence of an observer, of a human. The word for access
opening, [NON-ENGLISH],, also means burrow. And the word [NON-ENGLISH],,
the sleeping place, is the same as
the word for nest. The word for hammock
is also taken from the kind of
plant that provides the fibers it is made of. The juncture of the roof
slope at the end of the maloca is called scorpion chest due to
its particular woven pattern. In the Matsés language, many
meanings come from nature to the human dwell. And then, as the nest of
the [INAUDIBLE] build, go back to nature. This is how the
human environment emanates from nature by
meaning and interpreting. The maloca has a
timeless darkness. Even during the day it
seems permanently buried in the night, a burrow. The day at its
opening penetrates with a blinding force. Upon entering it, it is not
possible to distinguish people. After a while the
interior begins to appear. In the dim light,
the palm leaves acquire certain brightness. Even blackened by the
smoke, its texture appears as a metallic
reflection of the entrances. The maloca is also
the place of fire. In its clear center,
community meetings were held. The side aisles were served
to hang the hammocks, and in separate spaces the
fires of family kitchens. Trunks are located
at the ends as a seat to receive and
serve visitors, who will not enter beyond the
triangular space at the end. The maloca has a
particular warmth. In it, the world fades smoothly. At the end of this work, the
community gathers to celebrate. We’ve had a typical Matsés
meal with cooked banana fish, and chapo, a non-alcoholic
banana beverage. There was an
instance of dialogue in which each of the men
present had a say regarding the significance of the
world, the current times, and the condition of
traditional culture. And remarkably, the conservation
of the lands and ecosystem. I choose this picture because
I think it is in a way a comment on change
and adaptation. You see, someone
brought a laptop, and people gathered
around to watch a movie. The community gets together and
instantly recycles the darkness of the maloca as a cinema. So being the house hamlet,
[NON-ENGLISH] is to take a particular place of
the Matsés within nature, amidst the extended family
and surrounded by what is transcendental life. I think this is what Abel
[INAUDIBLE] wanted to tell me. Thank you. [APPLAUSE] So you just have some little
time to talk, and then. Sure. So Samuel and I will
just take a little time to begin a conversation that
you will quickly interrupt us, please. I was fascinated, of
course, with this idea of an Andean imaginary. And I wanted to begin there,
because my larger question is going to be of a
polite challenge to the word informality,
which we also use, and I think it’s become the
word that we’ve decided to use for such projects, as you show. But the idea of an
Andean imaginary, as you were talking about
it, I was jotting down things that I thought might be the
Andean imaginary might include certain forms. And of course the terracing
that you showed absolutely seems profound to me. It’s a very particular way
of inscribing the earth, of marking the earth. And I understand it has
functional derivation or like tectonic
derivation, but when it goes into the imaginary
the schema, thank you, it goes in as form. And I was looking
at other things. Even the stones
in that, when you were talking about
your little trip where you were building
a canal, the stones seemed very, very
specific there. The size, the way
they’re scattered. I mean, I know that that
happens in many places, but the photographs
you took made them look very precise
to that locale, and I was thinking that
there should be a way to map or draw or schematize the
form of even the stone. Because how it lays
on the earth also informs how you then build
with it, how you gather it up. And then the last
was the canal itself. And I didn’t quite under– did you stay for the
building of the canal? Yes. Yeah. Because you didn’t
quite answer how the dissemination of knowledge
or dissemination of technique does take. But you mentioned
maybe they talk, you mentioned they don’t draw. But those three
things– the terraces, the stones, the
canal, made me think that in the Andean imaginary
there are forms of building, but also forms of collaboration,
forms of communication. That is to say, there
are certain forms. It’s not truly informal,
but it’s not unformal. And I wonder if you could
speak a bit more about that. Well, they took a long
time at the beginning and they were having like a
really nice time together, I can tell. And this was, like the
anthropologist José Matos Mar, kind of an instance
of self-government. They all had a say
about what to do, and then when they finally agree
on how to approach their work, then they proceeded
to execute the work. But then they also
needed me to have a say. Because I was present, I think
according to their tradition, I should have to
say something too. Of course I was
of not much help. But I think it is important
that they consider me, and I think it’s just
talking what makes possible. I think that this
schema and this image belongs into the realm of the
language, as a way of thinking. So this tugging is what make
it possible to get share. And then, I mean,
the extraordinary– I can’t say the word, the name
of the communal house that the Matsés built.
How is it again? [NON-ENGLISH],, but let’s
just call it [NON-ENGLISH].. OK. Let’s just refer to it
without calling it everything. It is an extraordinary
construction, and did you find
that you could detect that there were also still
these forms of collaboration? I mean, I know that some of this
stuff almost comes, over time, the tradition becomes so
strong that it is almost without thought. It’s just like what
we call muscle memory, or it’s just part of the
imaginary very precisely. But did you detect some– how are these
techniques handed down? Are children expected to
somehow apprentice or follow their parents around to
learn weaving and tying and the tectonic connections? And does it scale? Is this only the architecture
of the communal house, or did these techniques scale
down to domestic dwellings? Well, it does scale. And I think to a
great extent that allows for the
preservation of part of the craft that are involved
in the weaving of the roofing, right? And then every
part of the maloca has a particular name, so
that typology’s precisely configured. Like there could not
be a missing part and there could not
be something that is not considered
within this typology. And I guess that leads us to
the notion of Alberti’s beauty that is something. Yeah, a common community
sensation, common consensus. May we ask him a few questions? Yeah, yeah, absolutely,
but let me ask one more and then I’ll stop. Just one short one. Because I admit that when I
first saw this building that I thought it was your
project, because Samuel in his characteristic
modesty, didn’t show any of his projects. But I just wanted you
maybe, and then I will stop, probably there’s a brief way of
giving an example of something that you have learned. Your own work had
already learned from similar situations. Did you gain new knowledge
that can actually be– not that this is
necessarily the desired end, but could it be employed? Well, I was thinking about
understanding some things that I had already
applied in other projects. Like why it has to be
like woven, the leaf? I had used leaves,
different kinds of palm leaves in other projects,
and this is the first time that I have seen this
like so precisely woven. And it has to do with
the drying of the leaf, that when leaf gets
dry, it shrinks, and then the water
can go through. But if it is
precisely woven, you begin to understand this
sort of subtle perception of the materials. Like when the Matsés tied
together structural parts of the construction,
they use a kind of vine. But then when they tied
together the scaffolding, they used another kind
that is much more flexible and comes actually
from the cambium of the bark of the trees. So it’s amazing. It’s a lot of subtle elements
and a precise, very precise knowledge of the environment. That’s amazing. There was a question? Well, I just wondered
when I looked at that image, which
I can barely see now, well I just had a question. When I looked at that
image, first of all, I wondered a little bit
more about the people. Now when I see
that image, I think the men are sitting on one side
and the women are in a corner? You’re right. So how do the women see
the screen, I wondered? And then I wondered how many
people are in this community or in this extended family? So if you could tell
us a little bit more about the people
and the community and what do these men do
when they’re not weaving, so forth and so on? Who wove this? Was a lot of it
done by the women or by the women and
the men or what? Well, this is a difficult issue. I actually wasn’t planning
to refer to this because I think it’s quite controversial. But when you approach
to a community like this that has been contacted
by missionaries, and then you realize that
all the entire world shifts and that gets lost,
you immediately tend to reject that, right? And that is why in
vast areas where there are still
uncontacted tribes, missionaries are forbidden. But here it is hard for me
to condemn this process. Because you see that the role of
the women in the Matsés society has improved dramatically
with the contact. There are stories about
the women being kidnapped. Like when there was a fight
among different tribes, the women were taken and
the men were all killed. And up to these
days there are still women that speak
different languages that come from different tribes, some
of them with no surviving men. So it is a very
difficult reality. And in the old
times, the women used to sit behind the men
in the social instances. And if the men feel that the
woman was being too gentle to other men or something, he
could easily beat the woman, and this kind of violence
against the woman is something that the Matsés
now have abolished. So it is in a way
a very good thing and a significant improvement
in the standard of the woman. But they’re still very
separated roles that they take. The women perform some
certain jobs and the men perform different kind of jobs. And I guess they probably
wasn’t paying much attention to the screen because they
were just not interested in the movie. But there are a
lot of things that make a severe distinction
in the role of women in many traditional societies,
and this is something that we could discuss,
but I don’t have much more information about it. OK, thank you for this
wonderful lecture, Mr. Samuel. So I want to return to
the topic of informality that Professor
Hayes writes before. Because most of the literature
talks about informality as processes that are
outside the economic process of construction. But also here there’s
a different process that formalized what
we are seeing here. So I wonder if you
could find or you found even hidden
rules that formalized the process of construction? I see this image and I know
the process of [NON-ENGLISH],, because I’m from Venezuela,
and there are many, many rules, sometimes hidden rules,
that formalize the process. So I would like to know if
you detect in the construction of these [NON-ENGLISH] or in the
[NON-ENGLISH] or in the amazing path that comes out
during the winter, have you found hidden rules
that are repeated that we can determine as a type
of formalization of the construction process? Well, I think the [NON-ENGLISH]
created an entire set of rules. Rather than some hidden rules,
it is completely a system. So when you see, for
instance, the two columns that are right beside
the entrance, this has an anthropometric measure. It’s a man with
their hands open. So it is quite like the
Vitruvian Man, in a way, to see a Matsés doing
this in the entrance of the construction. But yes, you think when you
set the right dimensions of the construction
that you’re making, then the roof is going
to have a certain slope, and that has to be preserved. And then there is a precise
way of joining together the two main water slopes of the roof. And so on. Like it is a system
of relations. First, thank you for sharing
that great part of your trip with us. It’s very interesting. And I guess my question
or comment is a follow up to the previous one. You talk about how
like in India there is a co-creation architecture,
and that what they do is expression of the
life of community. I guess in short
I’m thinking, is it possible for the architecture
we have today that like utilizes a lot of machines
and is so embedded in the hierarchy of the system,
of how like authorities and all the bureaucracy works, is it
possible to do architecture for the community? I’m asking because
like the example you showed of how the local
people construct a house. There is a lot of local,
say, the knowledge of man, like human hands involved. But now what we do, we
are making everything super calibrated,
like super precise, because we are relying
heavily on machine, and we sort of make
detaching us or our hands from the construction
of architecture. But I’m just
wondering, is it still possible to create a face for
an expression of community in today’s setting? Well, that’s a
difficult question. Of course, there
are a lot of things that keep ordinary
people from getting involved in construction. Even in the case
that you mentioned that was in Jhenaidah
in Bangladesh, co-creation architects,
the final construction work were made by
specialized workers, and the people was involved
in designing and thinking and in managing the process. But if some of them knew how
to work or needed a job then they could also
join the workers. But of course there’s
certain standards that need to be met in
modern construction, and this is an obstacle
for the common people to get involved in construction. But other than that,
the case of Jhenaidah, the degree of public policy, the
work of cooperation architects involved directly
the local authorities and the local government. Same as in the case of
[NON-ENGLISH] in La Balanza. They could probably do what
they do without the authorities, but they understand that
it is important to get the authorities involved in the
consolidation of public space. I don’t know if I’m
addressing your question. We’ll take a couple more. Thank you. It was a wonderful talk,
also a very beautiful talk in terms of your photographs. I have a question, I guess. So I think Michael
tried to get you to talk about how this
influenced or tied into your own work. Some of the other questions
have been more about how this ties into processes
or sort of, let’s say, lessons learned in terms of
production and standardization or form. My question would be,
how do you tie this into a sort of
disciplinary context? You referenced Rudofsky from
50 years ago, 52 years ago now. And how would you say
that your experience of having gone to
these communities and documented so well these
informal environments offers a different reading today
now, maybe partly in response to your question of we’re
in a very different moment of production? But how do you
deal with Rudofsky having done this 50 years
ago, and now you’re doing it? Well, I think probably not
the entire answer to it, but a key to that question could
be thinking about architecture as an ethnography. If you think of architecture
as a series of hypotheses about reality and about
life, then the vilification of those hypotheses needs
to come from the contact with the people that is
experiencing the architecture. And we have a certain
thinking of the architecture in the way of a project, of
our reality that is finished and that is untouched. And I guess a key to that
is to think about how do we experience these buildings? How do we register
architecture, not as a still image, not as
a finished product, but rather as an evolving
reality that is created by the people that live there? So I guess we have
to be able to recover all this experience
into the project and hopefully also
into the process. I’d just like to echo Sara’s
appreciation of the beauty of the presentation. I think the photographs
were quite striking, and I’d like to use them maybe
as an occasion for a question about representation. So Michael used
the word drawing, or one could draw
some of the phenomena that you saw in the
field, and yet I’m struck that there were almost
no drawings in the presentation. There was the kind of
section of the communal house that was a kind
of proper drawing and then maybe a kind
of diagram of a canal. The others I’d
say are more maps. Everything else was photography. And even in the case
of the photographs there was a kind of striking
difference between yours and the one
photograph you should of Downey’s, in that
I would describe yours as a kind of immediate
form of witnessing. Like, this is what
was in front of me. In Downey’s case it was almost
like a David Hockney Joiner, where there is a kind
of attempt to recreate the spacialty of the
thing he’s observing through the sort of
stitching of the photographs. And so I’m wondering if
there’s a kind of ideology that you’re attempting
to sort of softly convey to us that has to
do with representation? That in fact it’s
drawing or representation more generally that is exactly
the kind of enemy or barrier that would prevent
us from achieving a kind of more
direct relationship between architecture and
the kinds of collectivity that it might sponsor. That it’s this sort of
distancing layer of abstraction that we might get away
from through other means. Yeah. Well through some
experiences that I have had working
with communities, I have tried to make– well, I do a lot
of plans actually. But then when you get
to build the thing, you have to explain the building
to some group of workers, and then you may not
need any plan at all. You may need some
measures and then you may need a
system of relations that they can interpret
and they can understand. And this has to do with the
way of working that the Matsés apply in their own work. And about representation
and about photography, yes, I think it has– and there’s also the interviews. There’s also a lot of video
that I’m not showing here, but much of the
research that I did was recorded in video,
like dozens of interviews. And that I think contributes to
create a body of documentation for an ethnography. And as for the
photograph themselves, I have seen a lot
of idyllic versions of reality, makeup reality. I didn’t want to persuade
anybody in the pictures to look in a different
way that the way I look at them spontaneously. Last question I’m afraid, sorry. Thank you so much for this
beautiful presentation. I would love to push
you a little bit further to talk more about your
work or your architecture. I don’t know if you
have any images. But I’m really interested
in how you walk us through these beautiful
traditions that are not just about construction but
community building. And I’m wondering about some
of the big lessons learned or takeaways from
your presentation which are in large part related
to sustainability of materials or availability of materials,
co-operative labor, ritual, and dialogical processes. And I’m just
wondering how to move from taking these beautiful
examples that come out of traditions that
are handed down from generation to generation
to a practice that is perhaps pushing us to think in
different ways, in a new way. So it’s sort of like taking
the traditions that maybe are unfamiliar to us,
and what are the lessons learned that can be then
adapted to a new way of thinking about architecture? And if you could tell
us more specifically, I don’t know if you have
any images about instances. And then when just last– and just a small connection to
that is, if in your practice in following these
methods, does that create more participation in
the buildings themselves, right? So if following some
of these lessons that you’ve learned
from these traditions, are the buildings then
generating other processes or making the users
participate in different ways? So the question’s
about traditions into a new era for
architecture, but also if you have found that the
user’s behaviors are somehow molded by these same processes? Well, first of all,
I will try to refer to the adaptation of
tradition into our practices. I am not willing to
promote a revival of sort of traditional
look by any means. I think that what creates
what we understand as heritage and as tradition and
as vernacular architecture are logics that are embedded
in to construction. And these logics can be
abstracted and interpreted into newer materials. So in the case of the
place where I live, it’s an island in
southern Chile. We have these old wooden
shingles that are not being used anymore,
and people complain, why people don’t use any
more wooden shingles? Well, because there
are no more trees, because they’re much more
expensive, because they resist in a much
worse way the weather. So the new vernacular
architecture is composed actually
of metal sheets, and everything looks
like metal sheets, and this is our
vernacular architecture. And this is what we have
to be able to interpret in our contemporary practice. And the knowledge is there. It might not look
like it looked before, but the logics are the same. Any other questions? I’m sorry. Well, I’m just thinking
about the big takeaways in terms of collaborative
labor and rituals, right? And if involving the community
in those, both the labor and the rituals
around the production, does that some guide or
modify the use of those spaces in your experience? Well, it depends on the
place where you are. People have their own grateful
practices around construction. And I remember building in
[INAUDIBLE],, the project that Michael mentioned earlier. It was important for the
people in [INAUDIBLE] to make a proper
opening with a ceremony, but that has not been the
case in most of the projects that I have been involved. But there are other things, like
the participation of community like you said, that needs
to be taken into account. And sometimes you will
also find some opposition to what you’re trying to do. The community will not
always be 100% receptive. For ideas that may tend to
recover their own heritage in a way or reinterpret
their own heritage, they may want to have a newer
or a different aspiration, as they see in cities or as
they see in external models. And this is also, in a
way, a valid process. We have to learn to
deal with this also. Yes. Samuel, it was a
beautiful presentation. Your language also
is very beautiful. I love the title, The
Emergence of Dwell. And you said two things. Michelle and I
can’t remember, we were whispering at
the very beginning. You quoted someone
about something about being was the last word. And then the other one
I loved was to dwell the temporality of water. Those are some very
beautiful moments, and we appreciate it, and thank. You can find
Samuel’s work online, including a really interesting
view with Archinect. So thank you.

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