The monochromatic imagery of Spanish practice Barozzi Veiga describes an architecture powerful with meaning, finds David Cohn
Fabrizio Barozzi and Alberto Veiga met when both were working in the Seville studio of architect Guillermo Vázquez Consuegra. Barozzi had arrived in Seville from Italy with an Erasmus scholarship. Veiga is a native of Galicia, Spain, and came to Seville from Pamplona, where he studied architecture. After winning a competition for a housing project (unrealised), the two opened their own office in Barcelona in 2004, focusing on competitions for public buildings. They have completed several projects, mostly in Spain, and were finalists last year in the competition for the Strand Quadrangle of King’s College in London.
David Cohn: Your drawings and renderings are interesting in the way that they represent the architectural idea. Though you often use photomontage, some of them almost have the quality of engravings. It makes me think of Boullée.
Alberto Veiga: We’ve gradually refined our drawings. We try to strip them down as much as possible, and to find our own language. In more recent competitions, we often simply work in black and white, for greater clarity and expressivity, and to emphasise the importance of the spaces. We bring renderings into the design process very early, trying to imagine the materials, colours and light. We do them ourselves. That’s the phase of the project that we enjoy most, when you have the greatest freedom. It takes us at least three months to do a competition, which gives you time for reflection.
DC: How did that working method inform your approach to the recent King’s College London quadrangle competition?
AV: Their brief called for a remodelling of the open space between the Strand and the river. It’s a terribly fractured and chaotic space, very Charles Dickens, without clear organisation. We always start a project with the public spaces, and organise the design accordingly. At King’s College, the campus needed a clear, potent and recognisable space that could organise its three buildings. We designed a plaza around a sort of monolith. It’s simply an entry with an escalator going down to the new hall. It’s small but rather powerful in attitude, to make it clear that the buildings are part of a whole. We didn’t want to create an icon, or impose anything on the existing image of the College. What was needed was simply an element of reference.
DC:You say the existing site conditions are very complex − but the way you show your project is very simple.
AV: Fabrizio and I try to synthesise all the problems that come up in the design process and condense them to their very essence. But we’re not minimalists. Often we are quite expressive in formal terms. But we try to be very clear about the ideas we wish to materialise. The best way to confront the complexity of things is often not to respond with more complexity, but rather by trying to resolve them simply.
DC: The impulse to carve things out appears in many of your projects. It’s like you’re sculpting a homogeneous mass. The monumentality and gestural qualities of the result are almost guaranteed.
AV: We really aren’t trying to create iconic buildings. It’s true that we often work in mono-materials, to underline the importance of this three-dimensional aspect of spaces, to make them clear and simple, and to work with the light in a very clear way.
DC: In your designs for sites with a more sombre, northern climate, such as the Neanderthal Museum in Asturias, you use the same sculptural process, but with different results, responding to the place and its ambience.
AV: In the Neanderthal Museum competition, we were able to develop this idea of condensing a concept to its essence, of becoming less exuberant. We wanted to transmit the idea of a primary form in the landscape. We imagined that it would at least provoke the curiosity of anyone approaching it.
DC: Your projects are often about public architecture, and the idea of working for a specific community, in a particular place. How does
the conversation around ‘representation’ fit into that?
AV: Representation is a problematic word these days, because everyone associates it with a certain kind of iconic architecture. We don’t avoid this discourse. Public architecture often has to be representational. This role allows you to organise a place, to create a reference point, something people can identify as part of their city. And such works must often be imposing. They shouldn’t necessarily avoid monumentality. You can’t design an auditorium as if it were a house.
DC: But your work is very different from the iconic architecture we’ve seen in the past 15 years.
AV: Though they may be relatively simple, buildings must emit a certain attitude or character. And that doesn’t necessarily mean making a design unique. Character is a difficult concept, which I think has got lost along the way. ‘Anything goes’ isn’t the right response for every situation. Nor is the generic, except perhaps for programmes like office buildings. For us, the identity of the architecture is more important than the personality of the architect. And I’d generally prefer the public space that generates a building to become an icon, rather than the building itself.