Architectural practice oscillates continuously between forward planning and ad-hoc completion. It combines a precise structural grid with loose infill, clarity in layout with free composition elements, careful planning with clever improvisation. It’s a constant balancing, spinning, and turning between the calculated effectiveness of the structural engineer and the artist’s plausible intuition. In the end, the essence of an architect’s work is not so much determined by a particular design solution or material application (this can change according to the program, location, client and mood), but by the method of work: by a procedural design methodology, by means of a structured design process, and with what was defined at the right moment.
Many architects are attracted and fascinated by the careful planning and careful preparation of the construction process. They believe in the essential rules of architectural plans, precise specifications and detailed drawings. They take pride and delight in the control and registration of proper spatial and material definitions.
Mies van der Rohe is perhaps a clear example. When someone tried to explain to him the beauty of jazz, he replied by saying canonically one should be careful and alert about improvisation. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Luis Barragán from Mexico comes to mind. He’s notorious for not providing the complete set of drawings, for thinking twice about construction sites and for being free to improvise while building. Maintaining an open design attitude, he developed a sensitive approach to location, thus adjusting composition, texture and color as manifested.
During the planning and construction of a project at Progressive Heritage, the architect and team had the opportunity to visit the building at a different moment with architect Alejandro Tapia. This project can be discussed from various angles. For example, it’s primarily designed as an Airbnb listing, and as such, it’s a relatively new typology within cities. But what struck them the most during the conversations was his rebellious attitude towards the normal way of working and his desire to completely rethink the design process as a normative system.
Alejandro would design and build the main structural partition in concrete. Only then he will begin to think about the finish, the proper position of the bedroom, even the plumbing.
“Wherever needed, I can perforate the concrete with a new core drill I just bought,” said Alejandro.
Something only he could do, be an architect and a contractor at a time.
In Progressive Heritage, the absolute violence and brutal clarity of a priori structural systems are combined with an intuitive imbalance in detail-after-fact completion.
Drawing boards can produce projects with details and solutions that are testimony to the generosity, involvement and presence of an architect on site: adventurous split-level solutions, fenestration details, light switch positions and curtain rails. On the whole, the different material ways are placed on top of the other: sometimes without clear logic, but in absolute harmony. And therein lies the beauty of architectural projects that go beyond the specific task of building.
A design attitude that is willing to rethink and challenge successive disciplinary methodologies, and look for openings, cracks and cracks in the system, to allow improvisation and spontaneity to infiltrate the building process. Just like Picasso said: “Once you already know exactly what you are going to make, it is no use making it anymore because it already exists in your head.”