Socio-oriented architecture, or Architecture as the hardware

, People

Last week Mexican architect Michel Rojkind came to Strelka with the lection «Сity buildings beyond the familiar borders». Michel Rojkind belongs to a new generation of Mexican architects. According to “Forbes Life” he is the one who changed Mexico undoubtedly to the better. Also he is a founding partner of Rojkind Arquitectos, that was considered one of the best ten Design Vanguard firms by Architectural Record in 2005. His projects like Nestlé Chocolate Museum and restaurant Tori Tori are known all over the world and are shown in universities as the examples of modern and progressive architecture. Rojkind's main idea sounds very easy, buildings should be for the society not for themselves.
We've met him before to get to know what is the architecture of the future, why developers are predators and what means modern self-efficient building.

DG: Your new book “Overstimulation”,that came out on May,shows a very strong connection between architecture and modern technological tendencies. The book comes together with a special application “Arquine”, that gives more detailed and updated information. What do think, how modern innovations and technologies stimulate architecture?

MR: I think all technologies are just tools. Tools to design, either fabricate, either enhance. I mean, it’s thing that you have, but you may use or not. As for me, I do not depend on it too much.

DG: But in this case having a book that can transcend the physical state and be continued in another way is great! On the one hand, “Overstimulation”is still a book in traditional comprehension so that you may open it ten years later, hold it in your hands and feel something new and different. But on the other hand, it has a chance not to be ended because it is also virtual. “Overstimulation” is not a retrospective book of our work. It is three conversations with three other architects, three projects. Application gives the chance to these conversations to be continued for a long time. So it’s the way of tying the social media with the book.

MR: And what books should every architect read in his life? I mean not only professional textbooks.

DG: I think all architects should start from how the cities are living. For example, Jane Jackobs’ books. The more we think about the way we live in the cities, the better architecture becomes. Anyway, we should stop reading professional architectural books that are only about buildings, because they won’t help us to plug architecture into a bigger scenario, stop it being an isolated project. I think that every architect should try to broaden the perspective on what he is reading on. You have to think of five-ten years from now, so you have to think how society will change in those years. If you don’t know how society, economy, politics coming to play, you’re not going to be able do the right building.

MR: And if we are talking about future… What tendencies in architecture you may name? Where are we moving?

DG: I’m more concerned about what building does than what it is, and I believe we are moving in more socio-oriented direction. If architecture is the hardware, who is designing the software? When a client comes in, he gives you a program and he may say it’s the operating system. But how do we know that it’s a good operating system? I do undeсrstand that if we don’t design negotiations, don’t invite experts, the building might not happen or we will have a building, that would be just a physical construction. We’re facing the time when architecture is not enough because we’re only complying client’s requests. We, architects, should be translators not only executives. That means bringing together experts, financiers, bureaucracy, sociologists and clients and negotiate so as to obtain the best results. Because we are working on a part of the city not the project for one person who’s paying.

MR: So, does it mean that modern architectural problems are connected with the difficulty to find the agreement between all the experts, government and client?

DG: The main problem of modern society (and it’s not only about architecture) is to find the balance. And if we are talking about big cities, this balance problems touch all those people, who live there. I’ve been walking around Moscow for a couple of days, and it’s crazy! It’s a car-ridden city, and pedestrians are hijacked by the cars. You don’t even have the freedom to walk in the direction you want, because you have to go on the sidewalk. This is the problem of appropriating space by a group of citizens. And everybody is different, bicycles, somebody in a wheelchair, somebody in a car, somebody in a truck, all of them should feel free and comfortable. We implement solutions for cities that may be adaptable. My biggest concern now is adaptability: how can we have a street that is comfortable for pedestrians, bicycles, cars, public transportation. But all that has to be implemented in a way that it can be evolved in future. So we stop thinking about final solutions and we start thinking of a platform where we may realize different ideas.
And if we speak about the problem here is the example. Most of our governments think that they may put a park and that’s it, everybody is happy. But that’s not true. Citizens come to the parks because of cultural and sport programmes, activities for children and so on. So, again we are talking about negotiations between bureaucracy and experts.

DG: What other feelings about Moscow you have already got?

MR: I noticed many positive things also! You know, my grandparents were from Russia, from Borisov. But it is my first visit to Moscow. I found out that you have a very efficient metro but there is a same problem as in Mexico – too many people. Our cities outgrew the transportation systems. Also Moscow has a very nice geographical location, I love the river very much. I think you have two very important things: cultural heritage and a good vision of what’s coming. And it seems to me that several years ago “Strelka” couldn’t have happened.

DG: How do you make all these social researches for each project?

MR: In our small office in Mexico we have 25 people. For every new project we invite different specialists like sociologists, lawyers, financiers. Several years ago I could not imagine I would have a creative session with a lawyer. But now I do! All this experts are making the result much better. And in this situation my job is to make the client listen to the experts.

DG: Imagine there is no client, just an opportunity to make a city of your dream, how it would look like?

MR: I imagine a very flexible city. And I don’t like formulas, that’s why there would be no ended solution. I know, that all the plans do not work twenty years later. I imagine the city, where we don’t need to tear down buildings to have a new one. There the buildings for offices and apartment houses would be equally beautiful. Also my ideal city is the city that produces and not a city that is for contemplation. But it’s very difficult to describe my dream-city in details, because I don’t know the future, nobody knows how people preferences will change. I like to come from the conflict, to have the challenge. Mexico is a chaos and I love it because in chaos you see the opportunities.

DG: Many famous architects designed for a far away future. And they had never expected in what environment their buildings would exist. Some of our projects are compared with Gaudi’s because natural elements, flow of the lines. how do you feel the succession to architectural traditions and are they important to you?

MR: Of course, I admire different architects, but I would describe it as more organic and dynamic process. Now I’m less concerned about the form, even though it looks like the form is really important, it is the outcome of something. As the architect, I love design and I want to see, if the concrete has a certain shape. But I am more anxious about what architecture can do, if our negotiations with our client are good enough to push him a little bit forward, to make him responsible or to make him understand, that there has to be a commitment to something. It’s a chain that starts from a dialogue, continues with the designing of interactions, designing the buildings and finishes with the designing of the afterlife of these buildings. If client comes to us and says, “How do you think my building will look?”, I’ll answer “I don’t know”. Because we have to work on the essence and the basics of the building and that will have an impact on the form and the final result. That’s why I call it an organic process.

«That’s why I call it an organic process.»

DG: And were there any projects that you declined to work with?

MR: Yes. Clients whose only interest was to make money and who didn’t care about the rest. We didn’t have any empathy with such people. There could be developers or predators, as I call them, because they just want to eat up the cities. Also there were people from government. In all situations we couldn’t share the same vision with those people. That’s why we just sent them to other architects. Funny thing, but several times they end up coming back saying “Well, you know what? I thought about it and you were right. Maybe we should do this”.
Working together is a really tough relationship, because it’s a hard process. I know a lot of people ended up fighting with their architects in the middle of projects and we’ve managed to repeat working with clients, because we have good relationship. Finally, it’s not about our ego and it’s not about the client’s ego, it’s about the best building possible. So we tend to repeat process with the clients, because they’re happy of the way we approach it. We become more an advisor than just a designer.

DG: Once you've said that you are dreaming to make a project of a home for elderly because we are not have questioned enough about the end of our life. What do you think can make a house for elderly feel like home for those who finishes their lives there?

MR: Well, first of all, not isolating them. When I become old I want to be connected to the city, to feel that I can be a part of city and I want to feel that I’m helpful, I can do something, whatever my limitations might be, because my body is not longer strong or my mind is no longer sharp. I don’t want to feel disconnected. There’s a lot to think about in houses for old people. A lot! How would you have cultural institutions be involved, how would you have people still teaching them, how would you help them out? To me there’s a certain beauty of understanding, how people live their life and how to create the place to say goodbye. I think, this should be a great place, not depressing at all, symbolic way to say “This is perfect for the end of my life”.

DG: What do you think was the most social oriented building in the history of humanity?

MR: I think, for instance, the Lever House in New York. It was one of the first buildings where the ground was lifted. It is a great contrast with other buildings in Manhattan. It feels beautiful that you can go underneath the building, it liberates the space. Also, talking about New York, Central Park is the perfect example of not-built space.
Most of all I admire those buildings that have given something that they were not asked to do: create a community, give a park on the roof for citizens, football field or ping-pong court. I would like to call it self-sufficient buildings. In that case it doesn’t mean that such kind of building produces it’s own energy or recycles water, but it gives water to those who hasn’t enough, provides energy to constructions that are alongside. 

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