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interview ISSN 2175-6708


O francês Antoine Picon, professor da Harvard Graduate School of Design e teórico preocupado com as múltiplas relações entre a arquitetura e a tecnologia digital, é entrevistado pela dupla de professores brasileiros Gabriela Celani e David Sperling.

Antoine Picon, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and a theorist who is concerned with the multiple relationships between architecture and digital technology, is interviewed by the Brazilian duo Gabriela Celani and David Sperling.

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CELANI, Gabriela; SPERLING, David. Architecture makes life meaningful. Interview with Antoine Picon. Entrevista, São Paulo, year 19, n. 074.02, Vitruvius, jun. 2018 <>.

Jean Nouvel em cena do documentário “The Competition”, dirigido por Angel Borrego Cubero em 2013
Foto divulgação

Gabriela Celani and David Sperling: In the AD issue on Digital Property (2016) you start the Introduction, with Wendy For, with this phrase: “Digital technology, and digital fabrication in particular, have profoundly changed the status of architectural design. While the design process has been accelerated, the results, generally in digital format, can be indefinitely circulated. (...) entire buildings can now be replicated with great fidelity or customized (...) BIM epitomizes that.”

This resembles Walter Benjamin's The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (1935), in which he said photography and film making not only caused a “profound change in their impact upon the public; [but] also captured a place of its own among the artistic processes.”

Do you see something similar going on in terms of the use of digital technologies in architecture? Has it “captured a place of its own” in architecture?

Antoine Picon: I think there are new forms of design, of cooperation, that the digital made possible. For example, a more networked kind of design instead of having the vertically integration. You have a tendency to have a more horizontal network. Part of the evolution of authorship has to do with that. I’m not sure if it’s comparable to the question of photography and film. I believe the digital is actually profoundly challenging the traditional structures of the profession. We all talk endlessly about how the digital is changing fabrication, changing form, etc. But very little things are said about it changing the profession, except with BIM. The rest is left unsaid, but I think the digital is transforming the way we organize the profession.

GC/DS: As projects become more and more complex, there is an intrinsic need to have more and more people collaborating in a project and thus the information needs to be shared. These super projects usually include dozens of consultants, contractors, etc. so the authorship is dissolved. But still the main architects – specially the star architects, as we could see from an ethnographic perspective in “The Competition” (2013), a documentary by Angel Borrego Cubero – get credit for these projects. And architectural education seems to teach students to claim authorship for their projects at the same time as they are encouraged to seek interdisciplinary work. In your text you talk about the “challenge of fair retribution”. Why do you think that authorship is still so important to architects?

AP: We’ll never get rid of authorship in architecture, because with authorship comes prestige, money. We’ve seen in the past 20 to 30 years an almost hyperbolic extreme form of authorship in a domain that is traditionally marked by relatively collective forms of production. I think that authorship is not going to disappear but it might be less determining compared to what it is today and we must also recognize that the digital enables new forms of authorship and new forms of layered authorship. What is missing very often is: firstly, the professional organization is evolving very quickly. It’s not only the discipline, but also the professional structuration. By the same token, the figure of the architect is not necessarily only either the heroic sole owner of a practice, larger or small, or the employee. There are multiple forms in between those two, today. There are modes of cooperation that are in the rise that are different. With computers you can have niches of expertise that did not exist before. And as they multiply today, they create an alternative ecology to the star architects system that reigned supreme for the past 20 years. But I think now there’s a greater interest in politics and justice by students, and we are heading towards a slightly more balanced world in which the role of architects is going to be more diverse. The star system and the web 2.0 has been “the winner takes it all” kind of logic. And it’s very much linked to the competition between cities. Every city wanted to have a signature building by his famous architect. If the city next to me already has Zaha Hadid I’d better have Herzog and De Meuron, to better differentiate myself from it. A more balanced way to envision the world would be probably to calm that. We cannot go on having only fancy signature buildings as the only thing the profession epitomizes. For example it is very striking for me that architects like Jeanne Gang are advocating a return to community values. There is a need to rediscover a more fundamental ethics to architecture. I’m not against star architects. Some of them are very talented. It’s more to re-diversify the criteria on which the profession functions. Students need to have an alternative to star system or nothing.

GC/DS: But maybe mayors will still be interested in that…

AP: Well, when Napoleon the 3rd commissioned Garnier to build the Opera in Paris, he definitely wanted a signature building. There will always be the need for giant monumental statements. We only have to realize that this is not the only way to be a successful architect. Success in architecture can be measured by various ways. I visited Casa Curutchet in Argentina, the only house that Le Corbusier built in Latin America. It’s a very small house but it’s admirable. It’s small but extremely complex. In some ways it’s a modest building. It’s a house with a medical practice. It’s a little world heritage, it’s not a gigantic museum. Le Corbusier dreamed of designing entire cities in Latin America and he ended up doing just this little thing, but it may have more meaning than so many big things. I think architecture is fundamentally not a quantitative thing, despite what Koolhaas tries to persuade us.

GC/DS: That’s a perfect example!

Casa Curutchet, La Plata, Argentina, 1948-1953. Arquiteto Le Corbusier
Foto Victor Hugo Mori


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original: português

outros: english




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