Andrés Jaque

Ana talks with Andrés Jaque of the Office for Political Innovation about what it means to be an architectural dissident, the status of formal decisions in his work, and why listening is an important tool for architects.

Recorded on June 20, 2023. Read a transcript of the episode below.

Andrés Jaque

Andrés Jaque co-founded the Madrid- and New York City-based Office for Political Innovation (OFFPOLINN) in 2003. Through his work with OFFPOLINN, Jaque creates interventions on multiple levels, or through what we might recognize as varied types of media exhibitions: writing; films; performances; and buildings.

Over the last decade and a half, his work has been exhibited globally at high-profile venues, and he has received numerous awards. In 2018, Jaque co-curated the European nomadic biennial Manifesta 12 in Palermo, and in 2019, he was the chief curator of the 13th Shanghai Biennial. His installation Shininess Explored exploring the global human and environmental costs of super shiny architecture was included in this year’s Venice Biennale. Jaque’s book Superpowers of Scale was published by Columbia Books on Architecture and the City in 2020. At the beginning of 2023, OFFPOLINN’s largest work yet, the Reggio School, opened to students and the public in the Madrid suburb of Encinar De los Reyes. He is the dean of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation.

About I Would Prefer Not To

Conceived and produced by MIT’s Critical Broadcasting Lab and presented with The Architectural League, I Would Prefer Not To1Herman Melville, “Bartleby, The Scrivener: A Story of Wall-street,” The Piazza Tales (1856). tackles a usually unexamined subject: the refusal of an architectural commission. Why do architects make the decision to forfeit the possibility of work? At what point is a commission not worth it? When in one’s career is it necessary to make such a decision? Whether concealed out of politeness or deliberately shielded from public scrutiny, architects’ refusals usually go unrecorded by history, making them difficult to analyze or learn from. In this series of recorded interviews, I Would Prefer Not To aims to shed light on the complex matrix of agents, stakeholders, and circumstances implicated in every piece of architecture.


Transcript lightly edited and provided for reference only. May not accurately capture all aspects of the conversation.

Ana Miljacki 00:23
Hello and thank you for tuning in. I’m Ana Miljacki, Professor of Architecture at MIT and director of the Critical Broadcasting Lab, and on behalf of The Architectural League of New York and the Critical Broadcasting Lab, I welcome you to our architecture podcast series titled, I Would Prefer Not To. I Would Prefer Not To is an oral history project conducted through audio interviews on the topic of perhaps the most important kind of refusal in architects’ toolboxes, refusal of the architectural commission. By definition, the topic of refusal stays hidden from public scrutiny and thus also hidden from history. Withdrawals of this kind tend not to leave paper trails and are not easy to examine or learn from, and yet, the lessons contained in architects’ deliberations about and decisions not to engage are politically relevant and urgent. Decisions to not engage a commission or types of commissions or commissions with certain characteristics inevitably forfeit potential profit, placing other values above it, at least momentarily. My guest in this episode is Andrés Jaque. Hi Andrés.

Andrés  01:29
Hello Ana.

Ana  01:30
Andrés Jaque co-founded the Madrid- and New York-based Office for Political Innovation (that I will call OFFPOLINN) in 2003, and through it intervenes on many different registers, or through what we might recognize as many different media exhibitions, writing films, performances, and buildings. He’s dean of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. His work has been exhibited in many globally important venues over the last decade and a half and has received numerous awards. Among them, the Office for Political Innovation was awarded with a Silver Lion for the best project in the Mundo Italia section of the 14th Venice Biennale in 2014. In 2016, the office received the Frederick Kiesler prize for Architecture and the Arts, from the city of Vienna. In 2018, Jaque co-curated Manifesta 12 in Palermo. In 2019, he was the chief curator of the 13th Shanghai Biennial, and his important project exploring the global human and environmental costs of super-shiny architecture was included in this year’s Venice Biennale. Jaque’s book Superpowers of Scale was published by Columbia Books on Architecture and the City in 2020. At the beginning of 2023, OFFPOLINN’s largest work yet, the Reggio School, opened to the public and to its kids in the Madrid suburb of Encinar de los Reyes. It has already been called surreal, extraordinary and the most innovative school around. As usual, I hope that we will be able to discuss some of the key aspects of OFFPOLINN’s body of work by talking first about the work that is not on the boards in the office or in its portfolio. So, as I’ve told you, I’ve been starting these conversations with my interlocutors’ most memorable decisions to not engage or to drop the commission. And so, let’s start with the same question for you. Or if you have not walked out of a commission or decided not to take on a project yet, can you imagine it happening? And on what grounds?

Andrés  03:39
Yeah, that’s a very good question, and a question that I think we all face every day. I must say that, on the one hand, there is invitations to be part of process, processes of commissions that we have decided not to be part of. And mostly it was cases in which architecture was called to, to basically hide the way power was to be managed in a particular situation. And architecture was called on to somehow provide the delusional image of progressiveness to governments or to companies that were actually doing the opposite. And that we’ve done often, in initial moments, like when basically we get the first invitation to be considered, we basically… and that we’ve said, “well, we’re busy, we don’t want to do it, we don’t feel that we fit in that project,” ultimately, and that’s something that we’ve done many times. Many, many times. We do it almost automatically when we feel that there’s really no possibility that we can contribute to or improve the situation that these commissions are a part of. And also, that we were expected actually to be hiding it and allowing it to continue. But that’s kind of the easy, I must say, that’s easy. It comes with a label, like, “oh, we have this awful government, just do this amazing museum of art, contribute to this big competition to do a museum with a school of art, with this and that,” but I must say, that’s easy [to say no to] because it’s quite obvious that, basically, we should not be there. What I think is a little bit more difficult are other kinds of refusals, which have to do with how you want to practice—what are the dynamics you commit to? It has to do with conditions, with time, with what end result is expected, with how much you can really decide or contribute, to discuss and to redefine, and what is already defined. And for me, those are the difficult ones, because you believe that you can do a lot. And then you find yourself in a situation that you, everything’s already decided and wrongly decided. And you’re there just to give it a little bit of style to everything, let’s say style that looks progressive, and that could be sold as politically, I don’t know, critical, and those are a little bit more difficult, because it requires to have a methodology, I would say, or a way to interrogate commissions and opportunities that allows you to perceive what’s going on.

But I think that the problem with that is that that includes maybe 99% percent of architectural commissions. When we see buildings, they’re mostly designed. So, architects are there not to contribute, to define them materially, programmatically, but just to give a little bit of shine to them, that makes them be what they are already meant to be. But just kind of renders them a little bit cooler, or a little bit more pleasant to our audiences. That’s what I think it’s more difficult to do. I think architecture now, it’s in the mechanical systems. It’s in the societal relationships that architecture produces. It’s in the way that architecture enacts larger systems of relationships that operate across scales. It’s in the way that detail of how molecules are managed, and are entangled with life, happen. Those are specifically the areas where politics are still possible. And precisely because those are the areas where politics are still possible are the ones that are predefined. Or many, many people try to predefine so that architects don’t mess around with them. So that’s for me where the difficulty comes.

Ana  08:48
I’ll go there more specifically, in a variety of different ways as we go, but maybe as you respond to these first things about what’s easy, what’s hard, it might be useful to talk a little bit about the size and the mechanics of the office. Your website lists you and three other architects as principals. And I’m wondering, how many are you and where? And also, do you have procedures in place by which you both expose the office to the realities of running the office and invite this team to think collectively about the difficult and easy yes and no, right? The commissions that you will take on and those that are easy to say no to.

Andrés  09:33
Yeah, our office is, I would say, small, distributed, and I would say, slow. It’s small because we are all together never more than 10 people. And that’s the way we are. It’s not like we are that much flexible in growing and decreasing, it’s really, it’s a bunch of people basically that we have nurtured a language, sensitivity. There’re new people coming, people leaving, but somehow we are more or less the same people for many, many years. The second thing is that we’re, we’re distributed. So, and saying that were, part of us are [sic] in Madrid, part of us, it’s in New York, is not all the complexity of this. There’re now people that are living in tiny villages. And we keep meeting every day or every other day. And they work whenever they want. And there’s other people that are very intermittent, like, they’re not permanently working in commissions of the office, but rather doing it for maybe a couple of months, and then they have something else, and they cannot commit, and then they come back.

And then there’s a broader network of people, we work with many different fields. And then the last thing is, we’re very slow. And I think this is, we have a slow pride, let’s say, we’re slow, because we did take a long time for us to be part of the office. We just have people that work together for many years on long projects that are very slow. And when I say slow it’s because we do research, we try to find the right language, we combine projects of different mediums into one project. So, for instance, the installation that you mentioned for Venice is very related to the school, the Reggio School. And it is part of a series of performances that we’d like to consolidate in one that started with being silica and a series of pieces on ultra-clear glass, so it’s kind of a body of work that is all interrelated. And the work of the Rambla Climate House, it’s connected to an exhibition we did in LA on water, and the project that we did at PS1, Cosmo. And pretty much it’s the same people over the years, over a period of 10 years, discussing, working. And that’s kind of a formula that we never invented. We just ended up there. And it works for us.

Ana  12:38
You suggested in an older interview with Nicholas Hirsch that in your office, architecture is understood as a trajectory. And you know I like this description, as a process of producing effects in an existing situation. And so that makes architecture a long performance of sorts, which works with your description just now. And that sometimes ends with a building, or transformations to the building or other things, right. So I thought we could talk a little bit about, more generally about the implications of this procedural conception of architecture for the role of the architect. But then also, specifically, what does it mean for, how does it manifest in the procedures of the office? Which I think you already started kind of building out.

Andrés  13:25
That’s a great question. I think we lost so much; architecture lost so much by reducing the spectrum of our reading of what the building is. I claim buildings, I love buildings, but buildings are very complex entities. They are entities that have a very complex lifespan. That start as air and mining and geology and many forms of life and go back to that all the time, that are made of ideas and performances, and that are made of associations and alliances and controversies and conflicts and activism, and ultimately, they’re not zipped up. They are nodes of exchange and flows. And it’s impossible to distinguish where bodies start and where buildings start and end. So architecture has been the art of narrowing all this complexity into a stupidity for many years. It was like, “okay, let’s reduce all this complexity to an instant photograph,” and let’s pretend that that’s the complexity of architecture. Or let’s pretend that the complexity of construction, it’s just a detail that you draw with black lines on white paper. And that’s it. You don’t ask where things come from, how labor operates. What is the, you know, like all these, like it’s really… and I think that we’re in a moment where there’s a huge dedication, collective dedication, on understanding that we just have to release the narrowness and allow the broadness and the complexity and all these trajectories, complexities, to be read and to be mobilized.

Because the problem is not that by narrowing… I mean, it’s impossible to make this complexity disappear. It’s just by narrowing what we decide to put inside our threshold of perception, we just disengage with reality, we become delusional as a field. So, what I think is, we’re living now, it’s just the momentary and very narrow in time period in which the description of what architecture was, was that much simplified. We’re witnessing now [is] the way that these simplifications are removed, and then all these complexities emerge. And I think it’s a very exciting moment. For us, that’s what we do in the office. And to do that, and we feel that we’re doing that in cooperation with a coalition, I would say, with many, many, many people, but also confronting other forms of practice that we clearly see as an impediment for architecture to be, let’s say, gaining a voice or mobilizing its political capacity. And, in order to do that, of course, we have to do many things. We have to do research, we have to do performances, where we basically create alternative situations and allow others to be part of the making of reality, and many, many other things. But that’s worth it, because otherwise, we would be operating in this very, very narrow inherited frame.

Ana  16:57
I will ask you soon a question about what this means for architecture schools. But before we go there, I did want to make it a little more specific. And so maybe a question could be, how would you say that your definition of architecture as political and situations, or sites is always full, which again, you sort of described now, influences the thinking about what you want to engage as an office. So now positively, not negatively. And maybe we can go to the recent projects, Colegio Reggio or Babyn Yar or the Ocean Pavilion. And maybe, it basically registers that, I’m assuming it registers differently in those projects. But I’m wondering, what, maybe, what are the kinds of conditions or what were the conditions in these particular projects that were of interest to you that you thought you could shape in some particular way?

Andrés  17:52
A fundamental element that I find in most of our projects, and that instigates us to work on them and to accept them, and people to want us to be part of them, is that they are in the making. They’re undefined. And this is crucial. For me, it’s a crucially political, there’s a crucial political dimension in allowing others to participate in a process when decisions and knowledge is not fixed yet. In projects like Colegio Reggio, or the Ocean Space, or the Babyn Yar Museum of Memory and Oblivion, there was something that was common, that those that were commissioning these projects, were figuring out what they were about, there was not a description of what was needed, that would be shared with us, so that we could translate it into rooms, nothing like that. There was a need to reinvent reality somehow, for instance, in the case of the Ocean Space, TBA 21 was doing a big effort and keeps doing a great effort, to bring together scientists, artists and activists to change the way humans and human institutions will relate to the ocean, and to the very diverse forms of life that the ocean is composed of. That was not how to do an embassy or a center for that, to host a project, was not easy. And we’re still struggling to find out together through experimentation, what that means to operate ecologically, in a way that we can question humans as much as we question the way humans relate to the ocean. And the same in the Reggio School. The Reggio School was an attempt of, or is an attempt of a group of teachers to think pedagogy differently and to think of architecture, not that much as a container, but as an actor that gathers so much diversity as possible, so that kids and faculty and guardians and parents and friends can basically be exposed to a large number of situations, so that the daily experience is an opportunity to learn and to learn together. And also, as a way that is not confined and privatized, but rather by connecting with what is shared with others, and with public space, and with the ecological networks they are part of. So again, how do you, what is the way architecture can do that? So, it’s an open question. No one knows the answer to this. But we are willing to work together with others to experiment ways to approach that and to do that, not as, let’s say, a fixed design that brings certainty and close the questions. But rather, we are accompanying others in experimenting how to do that. And the same with other projects. So, I think that, when I think, the other day, we had a meeting with some people that wanted us to work with them to do space for interaction, wherever. And they were saying, Oh, you don’t have to think too much because we have it figured out, we just need a box for this. We say, Well, if you just need a box, and you have all figured out, we’re not going to be good here. Yeah, we’re not going to be good partners. Probably you will find other architects that know how to deal with this. We want to work on situations that no one knows how to how to deal with.

Ana  21:54
Maybe we can, I was going to go to something else, but I think we have to talk about how you talk to these people that we might call clients, if that’s still possible, in the context of architecture in this mode, right? But what is the nature of that sort of collaboration or conversation? Or what are the tools by which you get engaged in the way that seems appropriate for these questions?

Andrés  22:23
I think we have mainly one tool: time. We just spend time listening. When I was in the School of Architecture, doing my master’s degree, I was always surprised that my teachers were, they always had answers for everything. So, I would say, but why do you know that fast what is needed here? Like, it’s really much more complicated. So, then I had some friends from sociology, from the school of sociology and anthropology. And they were all these followers of the 60s, Harold Garfinkel, and the methodology, and they would spend years to know how the way you make your bed and you put your pillow was the doorstep to dreams and nightmares. How, by changing the way you would put your pillow on a bed, you would actually change the way you access your subconscious. And I was fascinated by the ability to spend years just interviewing people, listening to people to say, well, I need to do this before I go to bed, I always leave my glass of water here, otherwise, it’s kind of annoying, I have to wake up and if I woke up, basically… all these complexities of listening to people, how they queue, Harold Garfinkel was asking people, how do you queue in a post office? And by listening to them, he could reconstruct all the power structures that people were assuming and accepting and how they confronted them. So for me, time is the key and listening. And looking at people, those are the three tools. So when we have a client, we have a protocol, we just ask them to tell us what is important for them. And often we ask them very basic things like what was your day yesterday? Tell me all about your day yesterday, since you woke up till the moment that you remember, let’s go to the last thing that you can remember. So we would be listening, listening, listening and taking notes. And then we would go back and of course when someone tells you one day in their life, in specific terms, not an abstract kind of idealized day. They tell you many things and you can ask them: So you didn’t have lunch right? No, I didn’t have lunch. Why not? What happened? Can you tell me more about this? No, I never have lunch because I prefer to, you know, and then all these, and then you understand a little bit, you start to understand the complexity they are part of. For me, it really makes projects very difficult to handle, because you need time, you need patience, and you come up with weird ideas, but for me, it’s been crucial. And I think that just listen and looking is important. Because you have to, you have to look at people and you have to let them know, by the way you look that you’re there to listen, and you’re expecting them to keep talking once they they’ve given you the first version of the answer. And there’s a second version, a third version, and the fourth is a good one, right? But that’s for me, that is the technology to do architecture in the way we do it.

Ana  25:58
I like listening as technology. You’ve basically described elsewhere, and now here with me kind of, architecture as a kind of intersectional and inter-scalar entity that includes care and embraces with nuance and understanding its own inevitable and possible political agency. So now I’d like to figure out basically are there then key tools and expertise that you would cultivate in your office, but also in pedagogical, so I’m going to lean towards your pedagogical leadership a little bit, and ask what might all of this entail for architecture schools? Do we teach our students to listen? Or how do we sort of deal with this thing that you described as a problem in a previous version of school that we experienced?

Andrés  26:49
I think that pedagogy is crucial, is probably the space where architecture can really expand its agency most intensively now. I think that it’s a place where responses can be slowed down, and where we can engage with others, not only intellectually, but even in the daily performance of how a group operates. So that realities can be reimagined, prototyped, researched, activated. I think that’s what we do. For me, school is not just the result of the exercises, but everything, the way people approach to it, the way people talk to each other, how we constitute our groups, what is the daily dynamics? What is the use of language, or space or furniture, but it’s a place for making. We’re making alternatives, and testing alternatives is possible in a radical way. And by radical I don’t mean like weird necessarily or, let’s say flamboyant, but, but more careful, I would say, and more ambitious politically. And I think that, for me, that makes it necessary to understand that the technologies of architecture are very diverse, of course, those of drawings and in 3d models, and prototypes and models, but are also the way we move in a classroom, the way we listen to others, the way we engage with people that are not in the room. So, if I had to explain what it is that I think is important in pedagogy now, in architectural pedagogy, now, I would say it’s an understanding that we don’t operate through abstraction; that we operate from inside, installed with our bodies in ecosystems that are previous to our arrival, and that everything that we do is changing them.

Ana  29:16
I’m obviously a fan of this notion, the thing that may be a sub-question, do you think we can slow down architecture and architectural pedagogy and fine tune it to this listening and being and still deliver on our accreditation?

Andrés  29:41
That’s a very good question. Because on the one hand, we operate in a context. In contexts that have many, many implications, and where changes can end up in undesired effects. So, I think that there’s a need for certain principles of precaution to operate. So, I would say that operating responsibly in a context where implications could end up damaging, or producing the damage that is not necessarily predictable, requires to do tentative approaches where the risks can be managed collectively and assumed collectively. But I don’t think that should be an impediment to be honest, to be responsible in moving in the directions that we think we should be moving. So even if we are, we do that with certain precautionary principles, the direction in which we decide to move collectively can be clarified, can be discussed, can be very open and public. I think there’s certain transformations that we’re facing collectively, not one school, all schools, hopefully, at one point. What is really moving away from the participation of architecture in systems of abstraction, to dynamics and the acknowledgement of an emerging paradigm based on mutual care. This changes everything. I think that it’s, the politics that we need now, cannot be an extension of the politics of the past. Architecture has kind of an automatic action of whenever there’s something to address, addressing it with the tools of modernity as a new problem that needs to be solved by expanding the modern way of doing politics. But I think that we’re finding that there are issues that cannot be addressed through production and productivity, and through the hegemony of human domains on others, and human elites imposing action on other bodies, and sexism, and anthropocentrism, and Western systems, you know, colonialism. All these are interrelated parts of the same paradigm based on destruction. And the problem is that we cannot just find ways to address questions like climate crisis, geopolitical tensions, the drop of biodiversity, growing inequality, by just mobilizing the tools of modernity. All these are symptoms of the need of a change of paradigm that is confronting colonialism and coloniality, that is confronting anthropocentrism, that is confronting racism, that is confronting the very notion of resource and waste, as something that is available and defined by human elites, and imposed on others. When you put all this together, there’s a need of a rearticulation of our world. And one that is sort of radical in the way that replaces previous systems. But those are the systems that are sinking and cracking. And this is what emerged from their cracks. So, I think it’s inevitable that we work on this.

Ana  34:00
If we can go back to OFFPOLINN again, I have two questions out of what you just said that might be useful, but they’re slightly different directions. One is, and maybe I’ll tell you both, and you can pick the one you prefer. But one is really about how, and whether during the life of this office, you have changed ways in which you think about commissions. How have the growth and the capacity of the office influenced what you think you can and shouldn’t, should and shouldn’t take on, on one end? And on the other end, I’m wondering about how we understand any kind of formal decisions or specifications in your work, and this is really going back to the modernist project, like, what is the value of the modernist project that we have ingested in schools at the very least? We may be in the process of it being questioned and cracked and rethought or abandoned. And yet, there are certain decisions and certain knowledges that come from that mode that are still within the kind of the material that you’re working with, if nowhere else, right? so whichever one of these.

Andrés  35:29
Well, I think that the goal of our office is not to grow, actually. We don’t grow, we decrease in a way. So that’s very important for me. So, I think it would be good to decrease progressively and each year be a little bit smaller, smaller, smaller, and do smaller buildings, in a way, but more intense. And that’s been definitely something that we learned. So, we evolved in the way we related to commissions. Initially, we were very happy accepting any commission, we would be very, very willing to do everything. But we set certain rules that were good, when we open the office, we would say that we would not take the phone after 2pm. So, we will have the afternoon as a little bit of a playground, a space of certain autonomy for the office to discuss what we’re doing without really being all the time trying to respond. And that was very productive for many years. At one point, it was not possible anymore, because the proliferation of channels in which we would be connected to others would make it really not working, we could not really cut everything. But that was great, and I would say that the big evolution is that initially, we were interrogating the intentions of the clients, let’s say, or the representatives of the clients who are saying, Oh, this person has good intentions, that’s amazing. Let’s do it! But then we also learned on the way that is not people, like a commission is not just people, it’s  many, many things, it’s the frame in which you work, it’s the way it’s organized, it’s the overall empowerment that those that come to you give to themselves, and that really changes everything.  The other thing is that, to a large extent, we produce domains or shaped our own clients after a while. So many of the of the clients that we had were either or we didn’t have clients, often we were having ideas or working on something, and then ended up knowing how to make it happen. Or we influenced others. We worked with someone on a project that we ended up developing a common culture and a common discussion from which other things would emerge. So it was very common for us. I mean, it’s very common that we work with the same people for many years. For instance, we did a restaurant, Ojala awareness club that was promoting people’s exchange of ideas. It was really good in Malasana and changed totally the area, it became very, very activist area. Not only because of us, but because basically the owners manage to bring all these different groups and then we, but the experience of doing an awareness club in the 2000s was so exciting, that we ended up doing many, many projects with the same people. And we were learning together and shaping each other through the way. And I think that that’s crucial. So, in a way, maybe why we kept working with the same people often is because we were educating each other and we were building something of an alliance that was growing through conversation, interaction. For me, that’s the perfect situation in which there’s really no commission, it’s just the next step in an ongoing discussion.

Ana  39:18
But what do you think about the status of formal decisions or offers or a specification or both of those. The kind of standard architectural offering, where does it fit within this larger picture?

Andrés  39:39
Well, I think that there’s, consciousness for us, it’s not something that is driving decisions necessarily. It’s not that we do research and then we have some certainties and then we use them to make decisions. It’s more like consciousness is a layer in the making of reality. Or the way we operate, so we do things, we wait with others, we experiment and make some options emerge. In parallel, we’re creating a kind of an awareness of what we’re doing, or finding ways to discuss them with others. And we interrogate things, and we do research on particular things. But I would lie if I would say that we would drive the processes through a linear consciousness and sequence of consciousness building, decision making, mobilization of material reality, or programmatic reality. That sequence is messy. All these things happen. But the relationship among them is messy. I think that’s crucial, because that’s, in a way, architectural making is not a perfect version of reality, it’s part of reality. And that messiness is needed. But it doesn’t mean that we don’t have tools to interrogate and the research. For us form is crucial. Because it’s concreteness. It’s also a way to, and it is agreements. And I would say contracts to many, in many ways, like when things are concrete, and they are represented in a way that can be shared with others and end up being built, it’s sort of a contract. And there’s so much discussion and negotiation around form. So form allows for discussions to be detailed and specific and situated. So as things are very abstract, they don’t need to land and be grounded and situated. But when you really, as you get closer to form, then stakes start to be more relevant for everyone. And then cost implications in the long run, then start being very concrete, and therefore painful to others, and something they have to fight for, and discuss and confront. And so, I love form and form making because form is contract, it’s the social contract of architecture. And in as such, there are certain preconceptions, but I don’t find it to be a site for personal expression. Of course, there’s ways of doing that stay through the process of negotiation, because probably they are the least important parts of it. But important parts always change, and how could they not if they’re affecting many stakeholders, and many actors, and many players, and many activists, many victims, and many, they all react to it. And our job is like, really, our responsibility is to make sure that as many of these actors, and not only those that have the power to be around the table, but others that are, they should have been given the right to be around the table, can contribute to that contract. So, I can tell you many examples of that. But for instance, the facade of Reggio School was a big process of negotiation, and the details of when could it be done? What was the sequence, for instance, something very simple, what could be placed first, the glass or the cork was a big discussion. And that had issues that came from how rooms could be furniture, and labor issues, whether people could be working on scaffoldings, to place the glass, or they could be doing that through cranes. And all these details are details that are crucial for me, so the form was actually the result of addressing all these questions together with other people that have other sensitivities and priorities. And of course, it’s often difficult to track because there’s asymmetry in the structures of power in these conversations. And also, not all information is transparent to everyone, right? But that’s really politics. That’s the making of politics and politics are always a little bit of pack, because not because people want to be your pack, but because there’s certain uncertainty and an awareness of how things operate and work. But what I can say is at the end, the building plays a key role and the form of the building plays a key role in stabilizing an agreement between many different parts. I think the question is for architects is What is our capacity to make those contracts and negotiations, participated by all the actors that are affected by this building, or at least those that are most crucially affected by them?

Ana  45:17
I have two big questions that I’m going to ask you and maybe a couple small ones. But you once told me, challenging profoundly in that moment my view of the way architecture was implicated in political economy, that not everything is capitalism. And I understood that to mean that sociality, intimacy, and aesthetic experiences can at least once in a while change the course of powerful forces that tend to negate and quantify them on a regular basis. And I’m wondering if we can talk about that a little bit more if that’s a correct kind of reading of what you meant. I still tell my students about this every once in a while, because I’m like, you know, Andrés blew my mind this particular day!

Andrés  46:12
I think that there’s two questions here. I’ll do two responses that are very important to your question. On the one hand, I think we are inseparably entangled with capitalism. There’s no way out. We cannot claim let’s say virginity here or purity. There’s no safe space, even physically, where we’re not affected by the effects of climate that we’re unchained through production and the notion of production and expansion, and colonialism, and racialization. Like, there’s no way out, we feel that in the temperature of the air, right, but also in the pollution in the air, it’s in our lungs, we are capitalism, physically, we have particles of plastic in our lungs. There’s no way out. We’re sort of entangled with this ecosystem of guilt, as much as victims and also to certain extent, exploitation. But that doesn’t mean that the spectrum of the possible does not contain non capitalistic ways of doing things, and gradients of capitalism. I think we have to resist to the very notion of imagining a world driven only by economic analysis, we have to resist to claim that there is no way out of growth or production as the leading notion running societies and ecosystems, and that resistance is not only a claim, but also a deep enactment of the alternative. And when we look it’s true that in our lives, there’s so many things that cannot be reduced and translated into the logics of growth, expansion, productivity, exploitation, destruction. There’s so many generosities in the daily life, that cannot be explained through capitalism, but also there’s other systems, there are systems of exchange, systems of service and systems of economies of mutual care that do not respond to financial models and that do not, and we see them all everywhere, everywhere, there is non-capitalism, everywhere, but of course, not pure, not disentangled with forces of capitalism, free trade, you know, like all of these. On the other hand, I must say that capitalism is cracking everywhere, everywhere. The very ideology of liberalism doesn’t work. It never worked. It never worked, like the idea of a free flow and circulation of people and rules was never true.  Bodies were demobilized, were actually retained and immobilized. Matters, borders were protected, you know. So, neoliberalism never worked. Capitalism, advanced capitalism, work, failing. Through cracks and through failure. And I think doubt those are the places where alternatives are growing.

Ana  49:58
Maybe we could end, or this, my last question could be about something that we spoke about before, which is, and you’ve really kind of already put it on the table today, but you spoke about the contemporary activist and dissident mandate for architecture and architects. And that sounded like a form of practice that necessarily implies types of materials, spatial and technological dissidents. And I thought it would be useful to expand on that for a moment, and then add whatever else you think we should add on the record.

Andrés  50:38
Definitely, if I walk from my home in Carroll Gardens to Columbia, as I did today, there’s two ways of doing it. If I want to do it in, let’s say, in the way that many people inspirationally think they should do it, I would be moving from an airconditioned lobby, to an airconditioned car, I could be, maybe stopping at the cafe where a corporate coffee would be poured into a plastic container, disposable, by people that we’re precariously hired. And then I could… basically, we would interrogate every single step, and could be a very narrow spectrum of what is possible. And in most cases, designed wrongly, right? And in every single thing wrongly designed, the economy as it was mobilized in the material world, the air conditioning, you know, whatever you looked at, even aesthetically, it could be not good, the car would be black, and not really exciting as a design and the graphic design of the cafe would be really reductive, and like, nothing good. But that’s kind of a tendency. And often, when people think of an architecturalized world, they think of kind of that on steroids, like, Oh, you go super, super comfortable, life served by others, and, you know, a style as this kind of succession. Succession! and you have that if you follow the Succession people. That’s it. But I think that there’s an alternative to that. And there’s many, many, there’s a huge space and terrain of alternatives, where there’s other ways of working, there’s other ways to make coffee, there’s other graphic designs, there’s ways to move around, that are different. There’s not necessarily cars, there’s vehicles that are much more exciting, and that is what design can provide, and what we desire, and we can make desirable. So, when I talk of architecture, to necessarily be in dissident to architecture itself, like any relevant practice is a form of dissidence. Because I believe that that initial move, to be an architect now is to really break the narrowness and make it possible for a much broader run of possibilities to be enacted on a daily basis, and to be the elements that connect us with others, and that shape our collectiveness and our togetherness. I think that that’s a fundamental moment of professional definition. I think that being an architect now, being a relevant architect, is being a dissident, to the narrowness, the inherited narrowness of architectural practices. And I think that’s what also unites all the exciting people working in architecture now. Somehow, they all have to go through the process of breaking the narrow walls in which architecture is often confined.

Ana  54:23
I think that’s a perfect place to end. It absolutely closes the loop with your opening set of statements. And so, thank you, Andrés, thank you for talking to me today. And listeners, thank you for listening to this episode of I Would Prefer Not To.