(E)StudioRO – (E)Studio Futur@ and Rodrigo Valenzuela Jerez Arquitectos Asociados (RVJAA) are three postmodern architecture-related practices founded and run by Rodrigo Valenzuela Jerez.
(E)StudioRO, designs houses and works as a platform for trans-disciplinary collaborations with an international network of partner studios.
(E)Studio Futur@ is an emerging and experimental practice concerned with disciplinary research. It specifically explores the ability or potential of architecture to produce unpredictable futures.
RVJAA is a serious and consolidated office mainly focused on extensions, planning permission and real estate speculations.
The studios sometimes form internal alliances to collaborate in different projects.
Architects and Oracles, a conversation with Rodrigo Valenzuela Jerez (2018)
How would you describe your approach to architecture?
It is always tricky to define an approach, because this will imply a definition of what I think architecture is (or should be). So I will do it the other way around, starting by the definition. It might sound cliché but I like a definition given by Rem Koolhaas (among many others): architecture is a form of thinking. I share this definition of architecture as being an intellectual activity that goes beyond designing buildings. Therefore I am principally interested in the practice of architecture as a series of rational decisions. Those decisions have to be communicable and to also successfully involve an array of interdisciplinary actors within the process (as does any intellectual activity). I distrust personal approaches, which usually tend to imply there is some kind of creative genius. (I would assert that most of the time, so called “geniuses” are either promoting sublime experiences or else trying to impose their own superior standards for living upon the rest of us). The definition of architecture which I previously alluded to, as well allows me to practice more broadly, not merely designing buildings. In a slightly ironic turn, I have ended up creating three coexisting studios: the “professional”, the collaborative and the speculative (…)
Currently I am also conducting an ongoing expanded research project called “the unpredictable”. I use the term ‘expanded’ because it involves several mediums and formats: University studios, articles, a video documentary, interviews and not to mention several built projects (houses) all coming together to form the whole. To begin with this project was funded by Columbia University and the idea at the end of it was to publish a small book of interviews. However, since this initial phasethe whole enterprise has grown and has eventually become a dominant interest of mine.
Why exactly is that interest? Can you elaborate?
I began to reflect and set forth upon a discourse on the anticipatory condition of architecture. The opening line of the interviews was: “remove from your mind for a moment, the idea of the architect as a mix between that of an artist and that of an engineer. Think instead about the architect as an oracle”. That small turnabout in perspective led to the posing of many questions and also ended up linking me to a lot of other people who were also working on the same area of concern; yet from different perspectives. For example, I started a conversation with a filmmaker trying to explore how to best represent indeterminacy in architecture. At the same time I also began talking with other people, trying to explore forecasting methods via the use of technology.
From there I began questioning some well established preconceptions, such as the generalized assumption that spaces need to be related to predetermined uses. I also came to realize that most architects tend towards being totally convinced that they can predict the future, and therefore are often frustrated when their prophecies are not fulfilled.
In response to this realization I now try to include as standard issue; a certain sense of uncertainty within the designs I work (especially when it comes to houses). This is in order that the people who end up living in these buildings may also take part in the definition/redefinition of the projects over the span of years. I don’t claim of course, that this approach is necessarily either new nor original. During the 60’s and 70’s this approach, was widespread for many architects as a response to functionalism. Nevertheless, for my own practiceI find that addressing uncertainty on a daily basis allows me to both discover new possibilities (since its an open ended process based on strategies and not on forms) as well as to also consciously and openly renounce the control, of which it is traditionally assumed that architects naturally possess (which of course they don’t).
Which specific aspect of control are you refereeing to? Do you mean a renouncement of formal control? I am asking this because in many ways it would seem to present a contradiction. When looking at your work it is obviously clear that forms are still very important to you.
The ‘control’ I’m referring to is a sense of control regarding future uses. The very same control of which Adolf Loos pokes fun at in his text “Little poor rich man”. Besides, I have never actually been at all interested in the sensations or effects which forms may produce. (Matters which would be relevant in a phenomenological approach.) Although I certainly do care about form. However Its main use for me is simply as a medium through which I can achieve other outcomes. Definitely not as an end in itself.
I feel a strong affinity to something Felix Gonzalez Torres once said, when he explained his work “Passport piece No.1”- This is a white stack, twenty-four by twenty four by six inches high, compiled purely from sheets of white paper that the public can take away with them. Torres said: “without a public, this work has no meaning, it’s just another fucking, boring minimalist sculpture sitting on the floor and that is not what this work is all about. This work is about an interaction with the public, or a large collaboration.”
To me, the BC house project can be read in the same way. Without the inherent existence of the occupier’s appropriation and creativity, the project would simply become just another boring minimalist house. Although I wouldn’t necessarily take the same license as Torres and call the house “a fucking house”, the idea however is the same. [laughs]
Just to clarify, there are two main ideas you have brought to the conversation: First is the notion of the architect as an oracle; working with unknown futures. The second idea is that of the active participation of the users. However, these two ideas do happen to complement each other. In summation, the user’s participation ends up working hand in hand with the intention of the architect, thus completing a binary strategy towards addressing the unpredictable…
Exactly! My mind tends to be led towards Jean Philippe Vassal, one of my first interviewees in “the unpredictable” who has been working with Anne Lacaton on these same concerns over a span of decades. During the interview he mentioned a key project by Frei Otto from the early 80’s called ‘The Ökohaus’, in which architecture works merely as a platform (both in the physical and theoretical sense) for occupiers to add to; and only then does it really become complete. Recently Jonathan Hill, in his book Actions of Architecture, unpacks the ideas of Roland Barthes when he presents the reader not simply as a passive participant, but as someone who (within the process of reading and interpreting the writer’s text), moreover completes and redefines that very same text. Hill transposes these same notions upon architecture and proposes “use” as a creative activity, whereby the inhabitants are constantly producing new spaces and hence; creating new meanings within already existing ones.
In summary, it is useful to understand users as not merely inhabiting the structure predetermined by the architect, but as: In a very real sense; producing their own “architectures”. These are all ideas I try to incorporate to the maximum extent in my design process.
Is there any other relevant idea or intention you include in your design process?
In answer to this question I will add something that I mentioned briefly earlier on in our conversation: I try to constantly defy the conviction that one room (or one space) is determined by one activity. It is so obvious that we perform multiple activities in each space and yet it is still almost impossible to think about houses without thinking about bedrooms, dinning rooms or living rooms. On the other hand flexibility has become an umbrella term. It means so many things that we don’t exactly know what we mean when we say flexibility. As it would happen, one of my primary goals for this upcoming year is to make a list of possible definitions which would include “flexibility” within architecture. I will be teaching a studio next semester that will address this very question. Anyhow, in answer to your question, I definitely do try to incorporate flexibility into my designs, even though, as you noticed; I still don’t know exactly what that is. [laughs]
Rodrigo Valenzuela Jerez, graduated in Architecture from Universidad de Chile (2003), received a Master of Fine Arts with a Major in Visual Arts from Universidad de Chile (2011), and a Master of Science in Advance Architectural Design from Columbia University (2014).
Rodrigo Valenzuela Jerez has been, adjunct professor at Columbia University (2014-2015) visiting professor at Universidad de Chile (2012&2019) and assistant teacher in Universidad Diego Portales (2008-2010) in Santiago, Chile. Currently he is an associate professor and studio coordinator at Universidad de Las Americas Santiago, Chile (2017-2020).
Diego de Almagro 2613