Architecture of the Everyday
Everyday life can be associated with pure beauty – such as the liveliness of a pulsating metropolis like São Paulo. At the same time, everyday life is always an expression of a social reality that can also mean inequality or political instability. This year's 12th Architecture Biennale Todo dia in São Paulo is dedicated to the architecture of everyday life. In a conversation with archithese, the three curators reflect on the ambivalence of the everyday and the political impact of architecture, which always plays a part in the construction of the everyday.
interview: Leonie Wagner – 18.11.2019
editing: Jørg Himmelreich
photos: André Scarpa, Ciro Miguel and Javier Augustín Rojas
archithese The three of you have curated the 12th International Architecture Biennale in São Paulo. How did you get this important assignment and how did you form as a team?
Vanessa Grossman: Ciro Miguel and I studied together at the University of São Paulo. We are friends and have collaborated several times before. Ciro and Charlotte were teaching at the chair of Marc Angélil at ETH. While we wrote the proposal, I was preparing an application to join ETH as a post-doctoral researcher at the Center for Advanced Studies in Architecture. In 2018, for the first time, there was an international public competition for the Biennale's curatorship organized by the São Paulo Department of the Institute of Architects of Brazil (IABsp).
The topic you chose is “Todo dia”.
Ciro Miguel Todo dia or Everyday derived from my teaching experience. Throughout the years the topic seemed to be recurrent in reviews, lectures, and projects’ presentations. This way of thinking or modus operandi is intriguing because it is the opposite of the modern megalomaniac approach.
VG The everyday allowed us to put together, as a common denominator, contemporary questions, experiences and strategies with which we came across through our academic and professional practices.
Charlotte Malterre-Barthes My research too deals with banal yet crucial matters such as food – an everyday vital element that fits naturally to the topic.
The Profane and the Vulnerability of Architecture
The “trivial, profane and everyday” have been popular topics in the architectural discourse for some years now. Did it find its way into practice and does it inform the way architects design?
CM Reflections on the “everyday” have had an influence on the practice for decades – and still have. The “everyday” is a topic that is deeply rooted in Brazilian architecture. Though the country’s approach of modernism is mostly read as “structural” and “formal”. The work of Paulo Mendes da Rocha, and of course, Lina Bo Bardi, have been envisioned to promote progress through the everyday. Besides being well-known for strong formal buildings, their projects operate with subtlety, constructing unexpected relationships in daily life.
VG Within the last decade Lina Bo Bardi’s work has been revisited in many exhibitions, journals, books, and even research projects. Also, her furniture is being re-released. We think this revival is related to the fact that thinking about the everyday is a motor for many architects worldwide these days.
From June to September 2019 the Architecture Museum of the Technische Universität München (TUM) showed an exhibition called Access for All in the Pinakothek der Moderne. It dealt with the social infrastructures of São Paulo. All photographs in the show were taken by you, Ciro. Is there any connection between the Biennale and the exhibition in Munich?
CM Initially, the museum director Andrés Lepik and the curator Daniel Talesnik were interested in my research on São Paulo’s architecture and in my photographs of Sesc 24 de Maio – a former department store converted into a mixed-use building in 2017 by Paulo Mendes da Rocha and MMBB Arquitetos. After a few conversations, they commissioned me to revisit and photograph 13 study cases (including the Biennale’s venues, Sesc 24 de Maio and Centro Cultural São Paulo), focusing on how people use them every day and how these projects manage to construct inclusiveness in such a harsh city. We later invited the curator Daniel Talesnik for a debate about “Access for all” at our opening week and to exhibit a module from the Munich’s exhibition at Centro Cultural São Paulo.
Is there a direct relation between the topic of the Biennale and the venue São Paulo?
VG We argue that in the last decade architects have recognized the vulnerability of their profession: there is less money for culture, for biennales and a growing political instability. So many things escape from the realm of architecture. In Brazil, this vulnerability is not new. It’s a country with a high inflation and it has faced several decades of political instability. There is no continuity. For example, public projects can come to an abrupt halt, when a new president or mayor is elected. When we talk about the everyday we are not only interested in the way people use architecture and the city in their daily life routines. It’s also about the framework within which architects operate. São Paulo, in particular, is an ideal venue to host an exhibition with this focus on the way in which the everyday there both impacts and empowers architecture.
CM The everyday is a resonant topic that contains many aspects that everybody can relate to, whether you are from São Paulo or elsewhere. But, of course, São Paulo has a rich everyday wilderness that was definitely very inspiring to us.
Three Curatorial Axes
But the everyday is at the same time a blurry term, which kind of addresses everything – from high to low culture, ugliness and beauty. What focus does it give for a debate about current architecture?
CM We asked ourselves the same question. How can you define something that escapes definition? Therefore, we developed three curatorial axes: “Everyday Stories”, “Everyday Resources” and “Everyday Maintenance”.
VG We tried to be very didactic in the description of each, exactly because the everyday is such an encompassing concept.
CM “Everyday Stories” relates not only to the banal and the ordinary but to increasing stories about gender, race, violence, queerness which opens up the debate to a myriad of ways to describe the everyday and the role of architecture in the production of the everyday.
VG The second axis “Everyday Resources” deals with basics elements like water- or food-supply. Though this might not be seen a topic for architecture in general, many architects start to work on this. There is a turn towards these basic needs and there are architectural projects trying to address and improve those issues. Governance is a topic, too: We want to show who owns the water, for example.
CMB The third axis is called “Everyday Maintenance”, which is a topic architects don’t like much, as it speaks of what happens when we have left the building. But why does a building leak? And who cleans your building, your home? How do janitors reach certain bizarre edges? It’s a topic that can be understand through scales of care: the body, the building, but also at larger scales, how and who maintains cities and their infrastructures.
CM The topic of maintenance or bad maintenance has hit the news often lately: The collapse of the Morandi bridge in Genova was initiated by the breaking of the cables in the southern stays. The Grenfell-Tower fire in London was started by a malfunctioning fridge-freezer. It spread rapidly due to the building’s cladding. And two years ago, a 24-storey high building in São Paulo downtown called Wilton Paes de Almeida, that was occupied by several families collapsed within a fire due to lack of maintenance. Also, Brazil’s National Museum in Rio de Janeiro burnt down last year and 90 percent of the collection was ruined– important pieces of art and rare indigenous artifacts were destroyed. It’s a growing problem in many countries. Notre-Dame is another prominent victim. Money for maintenance is cut everywhere.
VG Infrastructures crumble worldwide and the subsidies are getting constantly smaller. Donald Trump recently pointed this out, saying the infrastructure in the United States is collapsing. But he is not doing anything about it.
The question and problem of maintenance in architecture has gained attention in theoretical debates and current technological research in the whole world. Professionals have long overlooked this key dimension of architecture and other design, construction and planning disciplines. Daily rituals of maintaining objects, bodies and spaces, either manually or automated, are gradually, but insufficiently incorporated into architectural production. Hilary Sample from MOS architects, for example, published a book called Maintenance Architecture (2016). New materials and construction techniques are being developed and applied for this purpose, such as self-cleaning glass and self-healing concrete.
The B-side of the “Everyday”
Whilst working on architheses June-issue Rückzug we realized that many people living in cities feel an urge to escape the everyday. There is a longing for “other” places, which are not dominated by economy and politics. In this context the everyday has a rather negative connotation – associated with stress and an overload of information.
CM São Paulo is generally seen as a densely populated stressful city, suffering from car-traffic, an insufficient public health sector and other problems. However, if the scenario seems abysmal, the city remains quite an exciting place and a fascinating laboratory for architects. In general, people use the city and its buildings in unexpected ways, avid for carving public and leisure spaces: Collective appropriation transformed a highway into an urban beach. A big abandoned building became a resilient home for an activist housing movement. A fancy park turned into a popular meeting spot and a former site belonging to the subway was transformed into a multi-programmatic and inclusive cultural center.
VG Andrés Jaque did an installation in 2013 called Phantom. Mies as Rendered Society, in which he exposed the “hidden inside” of the Barcelona pavilion. That was an affront to many, as the building by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe is the most pristine space that you could think of. It is a reference for many “clean” architects worldwide. If you look at the sections of the pavilion that are published: In most of them the basement does not appear. But in fact, there is a huge cellar underneath, which is important to maintain that pristine building. Andrés unveiled everything that he found within the basement and exposed it in the pavilion: cleaning devices, broken stones and glass, and even a blind cat …
CMB He brought all the vices of the pavilion up. That wasn’t nice. But it tells you a lot about the effort, necessary to take care of this building.
VG There is a B-side to everything, even to things that are beautiful. But for us this is intrinsic too. Exposing this has a beauty on its own.
Could you describe some exhibits? Which one are your personal favorites?
VG The device conceived by Concreto Rosa, a Rio de Janeiro-based collective run by women to women, was for many an extremely poignant part of the Biennale at Sesc 24 de Maio. Entitled Home, it proclaimed design as a thread spanning from domestic environments towards a new network of cooperation, challenging a sector mostly dominated by men. Objects of different shapes, sizes and materiality, arising from both the domestic and work environments related to the activities of these professionals of architecture and construction, were presented through stories told in the voices of people these women have worked for and with whom they have established a mutual trust.
CM It was moving to witness the reaction of the general public of São Paulo downtown encountering and interacting with the devices installed at Sesc 24 de Maio. The swimming pool users and children enjoying Bruther’s Cloud’s Catcher, the bathroom’s conversations about the transparent sink of Elli Mosayebi in Water, the social debate around Hélio Menezes + Wollf Architect’s work called New Republic, the staring at Adamo-Faiden + Vão’s big mirror entitled What We See, What Looks at Us and the popularity of the Homo Urbanus by Bêka & Lemoine among passersby.
CMB I can tell you about one that people liked a lot. It is the very beautiful and seemingly modest bathroom extension done by Ester Carro, an architect operating in a favela of São Paulo, Jardim Colombo. Together with a family, she planned and executed a new bathroom, beautiful, well-lit and ventilated. This micro-intervention changed their lives forever. For me, this project exemplifies the topic of this Biennale: it’s about body maintenance and water resources, and shows that design can impact everyday life in the most powerful way. It’s also an architectural project that everyone understands, like something evident.
Encouraging Political Activism
So turning to the everyday, architects can change society?
VG One of the messages of this Biennale is that architects can or are already part of the construction of people's daily lives. Even in a country like Brazil, where problems resulting from the lack of urban planning proliferate, or the access to architecture is very limited.
CM But it is also about reflecting or challenging norms through architecture and the everyday. What happens for example if a family is something different than the formula “married with two children”? It’s in everyday situations that one realizes not to fit in the environments they are offered, designed generically for the majority of society. Architecture should embrace new possibilities, challenge the hegemonic visions and empower new actors in the production of space. It is a very practical debate that can influence how to think social housing or housing policies for example.
CMB In fact a floor plan is highly political – the presence or absence of a maid room, where and how big it is, or the size and the location of the kitchen, or the laundry room, this is where politics of the everyday touches upon labor division, gender, race, and class.
Considering politics: The news from Brazil has been completely negative for some months now – ranging from president Jair Bolsonaro supporting the transformation of large pieces of the Amazon into agricultural land, to him threatening indigenous groups with extinction and his homophobic statements. Also the economy runs bad: inflation is high.
VG It’s a both challenging and exciting moment to curate a Biennale in Brazil now. The country is facing a deep economic and political crisis. Worse yet, polarization reaches extremely dangerous levels and threatens the rule of law. The right-wing president speaks out against women rights and makes aggressive gestures against LGTB people, Afro-Brazilian and Indigenous populations. It would be irresponsible not to address those issues, and any cultural event within the current climate has the potential to become a political manifesto.
CMB When you look at the everyday closely, it reveals a lot about the mindset and attitudes of the people that created it. Though things seem at first glance “ordinary”, there are actors behind it which have taken decisions about what they consider to be “normal”. Once it’s revealed to be part of tendentious decisions, you can start to question, adapt or alter it.
CM At the moment important institutions like Sesc and public cultural centers like Centro Cultural São Paulo are being threatened to have their budgets cut. Another disaster. Therefore, as a statement, with our biennale, we wanted to reinforce their crucial role as cultural institutions, as places of resistance.
Emancipation in a Rightist Government
Charlotte, you said several entries deal with gender issues. In Switzerland these questions slowly enter this discourse, too. How is the broader situation in Brazil? There is a huge and successful exhibition in the São Paulo Museum of Modern Art about Feminism in Art right now. At the same time the president is increasingly antifeminist and homophobic. How do these two contradicting signs fit together?
VG In America this discourse is very developed. Queer architecture is an established term and is pretty much becoming an important part of the field. In Brazil it is very new, similar to Switzerland, but it is happening.
CM In Brazil there is a lot of strong activism and many architects are raising their voices for more inclusiveness and diversity on the debate. For instance, there is a collective of black female Brazilian architects called Arquitetas Negras. They design, write, teach and have just published a book with the same name. Concreto Rosa, who designed a device at Sesc 24 de Maio, is a successful construction company run by black women in a world that is generally male-dominated.
VG Though Jair Bolsonaro’s intentions are negative, he triggers the opposite and catalyzes several movements. People feel threatened, because he pushes for a setback. They are afraid that racism, misogyny and homophobia will rise again in Brazil, the reason why people are positioning themselves and raising their voices louder.
The question of how to deal with the Amazon has been debated a lot within the new government. There has been a lack of control in the region and the indigenous population feels threatened. At the same time the Amazon is one of the poorest regions in the country. Especially the federal states in Brazil’s south demand that the economy has to be developed there, because they are unwilling to keep giving high compensatory payments to the north. This kind of topics being considered questions within the architecture discourse is a new development. To think about a city like São Paulo in terms of the past and present living conditions of different racial groups is something new. When we address the “everyday”, it is our clear intention to boost this kind of discussions.
CMB We can see a shift in the perception of what the field of architecture is today. Though “building” is still at the core of the discipline, it moves beyond and towards other questions, about the production and maintenance of architecture for instance. Architecture is influenced by many other aspects, that shape and influence the world humans live in and that too is part of expanding our field as architects, gender and politics being one direction of expansion.
Informing new Trajectories
Are there architects in whose work these re-evaluations are visible?
VG We could mention the work of Andrés Jaque, Jan de Vylder, Atelier Bow-Wow and Lacaton Vassal.
CMB In terms of gender, muf architects operates as a self-declared feminist practice for instance. You can also think of the collective Rotor and how they employ re-used material.
CM: Basel-based office Baubüro in situ or the Brazilian collective from Salvador, Mouraria 53, also work with left-over material from demolitions and construction sites. This is an exciting new critical position, which transforms everyday waste into a coherent architectural project. In fact, Metro Architects designed the exhibition at Centro Cultural São Paulo re-using many pieces of furniture from previous biennales that were stored at the building’s basement.
We are also looking at Jan de Vylder and Momoyo Kaijima's works right now and are editing a transcribed version of a panel discussion, which Jørg Himmelreich organized with them in Basel some weeks ago. The conversation is going to be included in architheses December-issue called Kreis. We are interested how their focus on the everyday behavior of the people can give inputs on the question of form within design.
Have you been able to activate those observations within your own practice as architects and researchers?
VG One of my focuses are the Situationists. They were interested in the "revolution of everyday life”. My doctoral thesis investigates the way in which the group sought to negotiate new possibilities for architecture in the gaps of two of the most totalitarian and idealistic projects of the 20th century - Communism and Modernism. I am interested in today's conflict between localism versus globalism and everyday versus ideal.
CMB My dissertation has been dealing with bread. It started with a very banal observation that triggered a question: why was bread so present at the urban demonstrations across the Middle East – to become the Arab Spring? From there, I built up my entire dissertation hypothesis: how bread is a political instrument that impacts indirectly space and the built environment. I investigated the influence of financial markets, institutions, and the large infrastructure that transports grain from production zones to consumption areas. I think this is revealing of what we have called the ‘discreet power of the everyday’, how a basic thing, act or object reveals immensely complex questions and observations about urbanization processes, politics and so on.
CM As a practitioner and researcher, there is a reinforced awareness that the production of space inevitably speaks of the exploitation of resources as well as the form that these processes generate. In addition, any project should be attentive to everyday actors and tensions that somehow were always considered marginal or unimportant. To design a door or the entrance of a building could be a political act. As a photographer, I have always been interested in the frictions between iconic architecture and the, sometimes extraordinary, realities of everyday life, as one can recognize in the image that was used for the competition entry of the Biennale.
The IX. and X. Biennales have dealt with similar topics: “Architecture for All –Building Citizenship” and “Ways of Making, Ways of Using”.
CM The X. Biennale took a very radical stance. As a direct answer to what was happening in 2013 when people took the streets to protest. Instead of being in one building they decided to spread the exhibitions and events throughout the city.
VG The Art and Architecture Biennales of São Paulo used to take place inside the Ciccilo Matarazzo Pavilion in the Ibirapuera Park, which was designed by Oscar Niemeyer and Hélio Uchôa. However, in recent years, there was an institutional scission between the São Paulo Department of the Institute of Architects of Brazil, which runs the Architecture Biennale, and the Biennale Foundation responsible for the Art Biennale, and the architecture event had to leave the Pavilion, which triggered a certain conquest of the city and of new publics other than the specialized ones.
The 12th Biennale takes place at the CCSP, a multi-activity public building designed by Eurico Prado Lopes and Luiz Telles. Did you choose that location?
VG The brief for the competition didn’t mention a venue. We therefore decided to “program” one building. That turned out to be the better idea anyhow, because the small scale is more tangible to deal with the “everyday”. First, we thought only about the SESC 24. 15 000 people use it daily and it is in the center of São Paulo, connected to the subway. We also liked that it was a conversion project. There is a confluence of uses and people. There is a dentist, a swimming pool on the roof and they show movies. We also liked the fact that people would stumble over the biennale projects, who would normally not visit an architecture exhibition. The second building we show the other parts of the exhibit is the Centro Cultural São Paulo (CCSP). At SESC we invited participants to establish a close dialogue with the building. We commissioned site-specific works to different teams, some of which interdisciplinary, to establish a dialogue with the building's everyday. At CCSP it is a more conventional Biennale exhibition: a mapping of contemporary practices, researches and discourses.
CMB The show ‘Architectures of the Everyday’ at CCSP maps some 70 works of architects, planners, artists that deal with the topic. It’s a very rich picture of what architecture can do, in a very approachable way. It goes from showing the modus operandi of an office like Belgian office Boowenbow, and how to produce a ‘luxurious everyday’ with little means, to a replica of a German ice-cream parlor, a photographic work on bathrooms, and brooms connected to an Augmented Reality app.
Are there focal points within the architectural discourses that Switzerland and Brazil share?
CM Perhaps an obsession with concrete? Jokes aside, historically, both countries shared many moments. Le Corbusier went to Brazil several times and established a fruitful dialogue with leading figures in the Brazilian architectural scene like Lucio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer. Later on, Max Bill sat in the jury of the second art Biennale (1953) in São Paulo. His despise for Oscar Niemeyer’s projects started a heated debate on Eurocentrism and Brazilian identity. Paulo Mendes da Rocha shares many affinities with Luigi Snozzi, from politics to architecture. At least in São Paulo, Snozzi’s projects have been a strong reference on how to deal with context and landscape. At ETH, many chairs have ongoing research on contributions of Brazilian Architecture to the field, from paradigmatic examples of public architecture to urban processes in cities such as Rio and São Paulo.
VG The Swiss and Swiss-based presence is very strong at this Biennale, including: Edelaar Mosayebi Inderbitzin Architekten; Kosmos; Scanvision; the trio Cristina Bellucci, Janina Zollinger, Anouk Schepens; Veronika Spielerung; MaciverekChevroulet; the team composed by Rina Rolli, Noël Picco, David Moser, Oliver Burch; the trio Li Tavor, Martina Buzzi and Nicolas Buzzi; the Chair of Prof. Dr. Tom Avermaete (ETH Zurich) and Sascha Delz, Rainer Hehl, Patricia Ventura from the Chair of Prof. Dr. Marc Angélil (ETH Zurich).
What about your personal daily life while preparing the biennale? We heard you worked with Metro Arquitetos that organized things on the spot.
VG When setting up a huge show like this, everyday there is a new problem, a struggle, an issue. That’s the pain and joy of doing an exhibition of this scale and complexity –especially in a place like São Paulo. We had to find many quick creative solutions. The mess triggered many creative responses.
So far, the architecture biennales of São Paulo had always one or two curators.
VG And so far, they were all male. It’s for the first time, they chose a team of three people – including women.
CM Talking about the team: I want to direct your attention at the end of our conversation to the larger group of people who helped us to put everything together: Exhibition designers, graphic designers, the production team, interns from the Institute of architects of São Paulo and of course, all the contributors. The whole endeavor was a group effort. Everything is the result of debates with many people involved. And we see those as much as part of the Biennial as the exhibits are.
The 12th Biennale of Architecture São Paulo takes place in the SESC 24 (September 10 to 29, 2019 in the Rua 24 de Maio 109) and in the CCSP (September 13 to December 8, 2019 in Rua Vergueiro 100). The exhibitions are opened from Tuesday to Saturday 10 am to 6 pm.
Vanessa Grossman is an architect and historian of architecture who graduated from The Universities of São Paulo and Panthéon-Sorbonne in Paris. She holds a PhD from Princeton University. She is currently postdoctoral researcher at the Center for Advanced Studies in Architecture at ETH Zürich.
Charlotte Malterre-Barthes is an architect, urban planner and a researcher who graduated from ENSA-Marseille and holds a PhD from ETH Zurich where she worked at the chair of Marc Angélil.
Ciro Miguel is an architect, visual artist, and photographer who graduated from the University of São Paulo and Columbia. He worked as an assistant professor in architectural design at ETH Zurich at the departmental chair, Marc Angélil, since 2014.