The Man Who Would Be Rome. Albert Uderzo (1927-2020)

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Today would have been Albert Uderzo’s 94th birthday, had it not been for the unfortunate heart attack that took his life in March 2020, at the ripe old age of 92. On this occasion, I thought it would be timely to recover this column from my section ‘Arquinoir’, published in Arquine magazine last Autumn, which was intended both as an homage to the artist and his oeuvre, which had a great influence on my fascination both with comics and with architecture. The text featured here is an extended version of the published one, also originally in Spanish.

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Perhaps the number has not been greater than in any other year, but the particular situation we are living in these months has possibly made us more aware of the losses that this fateful 2020 is leaving behind. In our particular corner of reality, there have been several of these that have orphaned us in one way or another, with some of them being particularly close to some of us for varying reasons. In my case, I will especially miss Vittorio Gregotti, who shaped some of my favorite corners in contemporary Venice, Michael McKinnell, whom I will always never be able to thank for creating the background for my strolls across the Boston City Hall plaza, and another Michael, Sorkin, passionate draftsman, brilliant creator of paper architecture, and, even more interestingly, architecture critic for The Village Voice in the 1980s.


Personally, however, there are two losses which, even if originating outside our airtight ecosystem, have affected me possibly even more, due to their foundational role in my life (and career). The latest, which took place in late April, was the decease of Marcos Mundstock, ‘the voice’ of comedy-musical Argentinian ensemble Les Luthiers, who stand at the top, either in a draw or even slightly above the Monty Python, in my personal Mount Olympus of humor. Marcos, whom I met through my TV set on a Summer late night while still a pre-teen opened my eyes to a world of double-entendres, word play, and obscure referents, whose comfort, for better or worse, I never managed to exit. The other one, which happened a month earlier, takes me even further back, to a time when this language that gives me so much satisfaction was still foreign to me in all its forms. By chance, the peculiar (lack of) judgment of a close relative -God bless her- made an Asterix album, Asterix and the Soothsayer (1972) reach the hands of my babysitter. In 2008, with the occasion of the Dan Dare and the Birth of Hi-Tech Britain exhibition at the Science Museum in London, Jonathan Glancey noted the extent to which Frank Hampson’s comic had helped shape the interests and careers of an entire generation, from Stephen Hawking and Ridley Scott to Nigel Coates, Laurie Chetwood or Norman Foster. It’s difficult to overstate how many not just passions, but vocations Albert Uderzo and René Goscinny contributed raise with their series about a tiny village of indomitable Gauls who still hold out against the invaders. Their seminal influence on several generations of comic authors from multiple latitudes is obvious, but the sorrowful reactions of a multitude of historians, art historians, archaeologists, and others to the death of Uderzo suggest that his capacity to inspire career paths might be, at the very least, comparable to that of the English Pilot of the Future.

Since his sad and premature death halfways through the making of the twenty-fourth adventure in the series, Astérix Chez Les Belges, there has been a unanimous agreement on the irreplaceable shadow that the enormous creative genius of the René Goscinny (1926-1977) had cast on the series would have over it, and the unsurmountable loss that his disappearance would mean. It would be banal to insist on the brilliance of the scripts that this Frenchman of Jewish descent produced for this series: except for the first album, which, while still funny, lacks some of the depth of later ones, the series’ stories are a lesson in writing in the broadest sense of the word. Goscinny’s stories were always impeccably constructed, holding the reader’s attention through a sense of suspense which is kept all the way through. Asterix’s adventures were always agile but also eventful, action-packed but also filled with witty dialogues full of irony, replete with interesting, perfectly constructed characters whose distinctive personalities were sometimes developed in the lapse of just a couple of panels… Goscinny’s genius became particularly apparent with his ability to create stories that worked on several levels: as a thrilling adventure, full with humor and empathy, for the kid, and as sharp social satire for the adult, who could find incisive comments on reality in them: the out-of-control development of the coast and the destruction of the landscape by tourist resorts in Le domaine des dieux (1971), the free market and the perils and absurdities of late capitalism in Obelix et Compagnie (1976) perhaps stand out amongst the multitude of allusions, explicit or veiled, to an endless list of historical events and contemporary trends. Asterix is a series that can be reread on numerous occasions over the years, and the reader will get something different each time. I cannot remember how many times I have reread my collection (the latest, right before writing this text), and every single one I discover something I hadn’t noticed before.

However, this should not outshadow Uderzo’s essential role in the shaping of all these virtues. Again, any praise for Uderzo’s drawing is unnecessary due to its redundancy. Of course, Asterix was not the first thing he drew; in fact, the Gaul’s adventures were the last in the rather extensive production of this cartoonist, who by 1961, when the first one started its serialization in the pages of Pilote, had already produced several series. One of his longest achievements was, actually, a pseudo-realistic comic series, Les Aventures de Tanguy et Laverdure (1959-1967), created together with Jean-Michel Charlier. Asterix, on the other hand, was the latest in a genealogy of humorous adventure comics by the Uderzo-Goscinny tandem that included Jehan Pistolet (1952-1956), Luc Junior (1954-1957), Benjamin et Benjamine (1957-1959), and, of course, Oumpah-Pah (1958-1962), a series that many of us outside France discovered with fascination later than Asterix, only to find out with horror that the success of the Gaul had forced the authors to abandon it after only five albums. Uderzo would ultimately be the main agent in making all the inherent qualities of Goscinny’s scripts shine on the comic page, with his precise and detailed drawing style, his ability to create distinctive characters and especially for caricature -what would have been of Le Domaine des Dieux without the character of Caius Saugrenus covered with the unmistakable features of Jacques Chirac?- and, last but not least, his ability to create fictional but credible historical backgrounds.

Combining a few morphological and structural elements of Celtic domestic architecture, such as the pitched roofs covered with hay, wood bearing structures and masonry or wooden board walls, Uderzo generated a well-stocked typological variety for his fictional Gaul villages and cities, ranging from the most basic one, simply covered with a gabled roof, or those one with a circular outline and an ellipsoid roof, to the open façade of Ordenalfabetix fish shop, Cetautomatix’s two-floor house/blacksmith’s workshop house-workshop, or the tree house of Assourancetourix, the bard (the tribe’s blackbird), standing somewhere in between a birdcage and a cuckoo clock. Still, it is perhaps on the urban scale that Uderzo’s mastery is truly overwhelming. It is a visual treat to behold the aerial views of the Gallic village, or some of its streets, in the half-page panels that usually open each episode, or in special pages, such as the diagram that illustrates ‘The Battle of the Village’ in La Zizanie (1970), as well as in all the variations on the Gaul village theme created by Uderzo. In this category belong fictional settlements such as the mountain village of Moralélastix in Asterix et le Chaudron (1969), or the ‘twin villages’ in Le Grand Fossé (1980), with its two halves separated by a sunken imitation of the Berlin Wall, but also the fictitious recreations of the Celtic ancestors of some present time cities. Here, the prime example would be Lutetia, in its original location in the present Île de la Cité in Paris, which Uderzo recreated with its bridges, streets and houses adapted to the language of his version of Gaul architecture. All of them vividly illustrate Uderzo’s ability both to design seductive historical speculations, and to visualize them in urban vistas that the reader could imagine him or herself strolling through.

Of course, the History and Architecture of antiquity had been prominently featured in the world of comics long before Asterix: there we have Prince Valiant (1937-), by Hal Foster (no, not the author of The Anti-Aesthetic: the original one), a paradigmatic example of the syncretic reconstruction of the past that Hollywood has accustomed us to. Postwar bande dessinée would correspond with series such as Les Timour (1953-1994), by Sirius (Max Mayeu), and especially Jacques Martin’s Alix (1948-), which would definitely kickstart the development of the historical genre in bande dessinée, a genre still in full force which would introduce an archaeological attitude in the representation of history. This is a tradition that Asterix would help to create, in which Uderzo would achieve the strange feat of making antiquity both more spectacular and more accessible at the same time. In a time with no Wikipedia, Google Images, or Movies on Demand, Asterix was the first window to classical times for many children, which they discovered through its meticulous reconstructions of great architectural ensembles: the Acropolis of Athens and the Altis in Olympia (Astérix aux Jeux Olympiques, 1968), the necropolis at Giza (Astérix et Cléopâtre, 1963-64), Jerusalem and the Temple of Solomon (L’Odyssée d’Astérix, 1981), and, first and foremost, Rome.

In the adventures of Asterix many of us discovered the Eternal City portrayed through its crowded and grimy streets, its tabernae, the Subura neighborhood (Le Cadeau de César, 1974), but also in impressive aerial views showing a historical center which, unbeknownst to us, was not that of the year 50 BC. Often presented to the reader through the buildings that stood on either side of the Palatine Hill, the Rome of Asterix introduced some of us, for the first time, to the Circus Maximus and the Flavian Palace (Le Domaine des Dieux, 1971). On the other side, we could see a crowded Roman Forum (Les Lauriers de César, 1972, Asterix chez Rahàzade, 1987), complete with the house of the Vestals and the Basilica of Maxentius -and Constantine, yes- at one end. On the other, the buildings on top of the Capitoline Hill stood in the background, with the tabularium and the three temples that complete the head of the Forum at its feet. In between these, the trained reader could identify the two basilicas, the Temple of Divus Iulius, ordered to be built by Augustus shortly after Caesar’s death, or the Arch of Septimius Severus, erected when good ol’ Julius had been dead and buried for almost two and a half centuries. On the right, behind the Curia Iulia, which César would never see finished due to some fatal health problems originated and concluded in the Curia Pompeia, one could glimpse a good chunk of the Imperial For a, of which César only knew, still under construction, the one that bears his name.

The reason behind these anachronisms is that Asterix’s Rome sprang from the most complete documentary source that Uderzo could have access to in an era -I insist- before infographic recreations, Mary Beard’s documentaries, and the History Channel: the impressive model of the Imperial Rome (Plastico di Roma Imperiale) commissioned by Benito Mussolini to archaeologist Italo Gismondi in 1933. Based in part on the Forma Urbis Romae drafted by Rodolfo Lanciani in 1901, Mussolini commissioned it for the 1942 EUR exhibition, which marked the two thousandth anniversary of the death of Augustus. Exhibited since 1950 in the Museo della Civiltà Romana, the model, which would be continuously expanded by Gismondi until 1971, showed the city as it would have been looked, approximately, in the times of Constantine at the beginning of the 4th century. Its appearance, as Frédéric Montmayeur points out, is less that of late-republican Rome than that of the Aelian-Antonine era (that of Hadrian) with all its surfaces covered in luxurious marble .

But this is, at the end of the day, irrelevant. On the one hand, because Asterix does is not intended as a treatise on classical architecture, but rather a work of fiction aimed at captivates the reader’s imagination. It is just because of the excellence of its workmanship that this has not only been achieved at a very high level, but also that it has managed to do so with several generations of them. On the other hand, because despite its historical inaccuracies, many of those (us) who today devote our working hours to teaching the architecture of this period first learnt of the configuration of a Roman Castrum, what insulae were and the fact that, apparently, they were prone to fall down, or the structure of a prototypical domus (incongruously presented, yes, as an exempt building), with its atrium, impluvium and peristyle, its cubiculae, triclinium and tablinum, in the pages of an Asterix album (Les Lauriers De Cesar, 1971, in the latter’s case). In them we saw, for the first time, the interior of a Roman theater, an amphitheater or a circus, as well as multiple and anachronistic architectural speculations: from the fictional palace of Julius Caesar (who we would later learn was never an emperor) to a ‘classical’ version of the Palace of Nations at Geneva (Asterix chez les Helvètes, 1970), archaic service areas overlooking the Roman roads, road motels, ‘drive-in’ amphitheaters… A fictional vista within a fiction, we were even presented with a glimpse of a possible but undesirable future of the Gaul village, fully surrounded by a touristic development in a beautifully terrible aerial view; well, actually two, since Uderzo took the time to draw both the ‘before’ and ‘after’ stages, shown in the comics as a spectacular but heartbreaking model. Reality itself.


Rest in peace, master.

“El Hombre que fue Roma. Albert Uderzo (1927-2000).” Arquine. Revista Internacional de Arquitectura. Campos de Juego. Autumn 2020. Nº 93, pp. 10-11.

Below is the shorter version of the text as originally published (in Spanish) in the magazine:

Happy 2021! (aka: UnTrumped!)

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At last! And about time, if you ask me (to wish you a Happy New Year, I mean). It’s been quite a while since I last drew a political and/or no-architectural cartoon. Well, it has the White House in it, so, what the heck! Paging the divine Monty Python: “…and there was much rejoicing”.

Have a great day.

The year(s) of living dangerously.

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Late as usual, but later than ever, here’s finally that cartoon I’d been teasing with (here) in the last days of 2020. In my defense, I have to say it was mostly ready in time for the December 31st deadline, but due to recent developments, I’ve been considering whether it would be timely or not. Back in early Summer, when the pandemic seemed to have been more or less successfully contained -at least in the part of the Globe where I live-, I thought this might be an image that reminded us of how we made it through tough times which were fortunately over. Numbers rapidly increasing since mid-December, and a slower vaccination process than we had hoped for made me reconsider it. But in the face of a, perhaps not imminent -but more likely as day goes by- lockdown, I finally decided to dig it up.

As someone who was on the receiving end of the 2008 crisis (2009 in my case), I can’t but be particularly aware that I’ve been amongst the lucky ones in this one we, unfortunately, just started. So far. Back in March, I ironized in my column for Arquine (in this issue; I’ll soon make it available online), titled ‘The Art of Living (Inside)’ that I, as many other cartoonists, hadn’t really noticed much of a change during the lockdown: spending the entire day at home, beholding the outside World through the computer screen and communicating with other people via social media is pretty much a regular day for most of us. Heck, endless hours of watching TV series, old films, and reading is a dream come true for us, nerds. We’ve been getting ready for this our entire life. Now, lame attempts at joking aside, I must admit that, together with my training, it helped that I lived through a not very severe lockdown: as an academic, my job was unaffected in a broad sense. Of course, changes had to be made, especially when you’re teaching a Film & Architecture course where part of the point is to watch and discuss films in the classroom. Certainly, the experience was not the same for my students, and I had to fill those hours with other materials that ended up taking a lot of my time.

However, that’s a really minor issue in the context of things: I was lucky enough to have few teaching hours and a small group of students, all of which made it more than feasible. In the end, I was able to go on with my teaching and get paid at the end of the month; none among my beloved ones were affected by the disease, and my two dogs, both the old one and the little Labrador we adopted a few weeks before everything exploded, kept me from sleeping all night through, but also allowed me to go for short walks that made those three months much easier. [I won’t comment on how soothing occasional empty streets are to irredeemable grumpy misanthropes like me]. My only quip, and I’m the only one to blame for it, is that I was less productive than most of my colleagues, who seemed to have used this prolonged time at their home offices to finally get to grips with some long-postponed personal projects, create brand new ones, or produce work to entertain others during lockdown. In my case, outside my usual collaborations with Arquine (this time making it on to the cover, though), which I plan to post here in the next few months, I just managed to finished a cartoon about Mextropoli 2018 (which had been in the works since March of that year), do a couple variations on the Coronamaison Challenge (here, and here, plus an unfinished third one), and respond to an invitation from the Architectural Review -that was a fun (and time consuming) one! I also made available my homage to Robert Crumb (and an article about his famous cartoon), but that had been produced in 2019, so it doesn’t count. Also, I gave a couple of conferences (here and here), was one of the speakers at an online course about architecture and drawing. And, together with a Happy New Year toon (ya see I have lowered my goals) , I was able to produce a Christmas cartoon again after many years without (and scratch an itch that had been there for a while). But again, those took place either before or after the lockdown. Oh, well. First World problems.

So, if you belong in my group, please, don’t complain, show some empathy for those who were less fortunate than you, be responsible, and enjoy what you have. This will be over, sooner or later, and you’ll be able to go on with your life more or less as it was before. Be glad about it.

Merry Sterrett Christmas!

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So, after recycling the same old drawings for a few years, on this ill-fated year I decided to take some time off and draw a proper Christmas card. As usual, it comes slightly late-ish (still on Christmas day, at least), and, also in typical Klaus fashion, it is an homage to (as in: blatant steal of) an all-time favorite piece by a superior artist that I’veen wanting to ape for a while. In this case, the 12-panel sequence has been modelled after a Christmas half-page of the comic strip ‘Polly and Her Pals’, drawn by Cliff Sterrett, only introducing a round-up of famous architects carrying the letters, which were transported by Pa and the family cat (see below) in the original strip. Of course, Sterrett’s strip was eminently legible, drawn with his distinctive synthetic style, while mine is as cumbersome as it gets. However, even if frustratingin the end, as usual, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I also enjoyed every minute. So don’t discard returning to this in the future. That’s next year.

In the meantime, Merry Christmas to you all!

HEre, Sterrett’s fantastic page.

¿Por qué la Arquitectura se sigue dibujando? / Why is Architecture still being drawn?

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Next Saturday, November 14, I will be giving a two-hour seminar in the course ‘¿Por qué la Arquitectura se sigue dibujando? – Ocho Experiencias de Dibujo Arquitectónico’ [Why is Architecture still being drawn? – Eight Experiences with architectural drawing] organized by Publishing House/Multimedia Emporium Arquine. This course is yet one more in the steady output of educational activities organized by Arquine, and its goal is to answer the titular question through eight encounters with different professionals from the field of architecture who will share their relationship with drawing.

The eight speakers will be Miquel Adriá, Editorial Director of Arquine, Carlos Bedoya, from PRODUCTORA, Tatiana Bilbao, architect, sketcher, and drawing educator Hector López, Rozana Montiel, Architect and Artist Alberto Odériz, Juan Carlos Tello, from Studio f304, and yours truly.

The course will be a good opportunity to engage in conversation with the speakers. In my case, the session will most probably bear the title ‘Why is KLAUS still drawing?’ (very humble, as usual), and I will offer a recount of my career as a cartoonist, but I will also dig into some of my latest work, offer insight on my creative process, and show some sketchbooks, originals, and preliminary drawings.

If you’re interested in attending either the whole course or one of the sessions, send an email to: posgrado@arquine.com

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Course Schedule:

Viernes 6 de noviembre – 16:00h a 18:00h – Héctor López

Sábado 7 de noviembre – 11:00h a 13:00h – Juan Carlos Tello 

Viernes 13 de noviembre – 16:00h a 18:00h – Tatiana Bilbao

Sábado 14 de noviembre – 11:00h a 13:00h (18:00h a 20:00h en España) – Klaus 

Viernes 20 de noviembre – 16:00h a 18:00h – Alberto Oderiz

Sábado 21 de noviembre – 11:00h a 13:00h – Carlos Bedoya

Viernes 27 de noviembre – 11:00h a 13:00h – Rozana Montiel

Sábado 28 de noviembre – 11:00h a 13:00h –Miquel Adrià

‘Letter to a Young Architect’ 2-page comic for the Architectural Review no. 1474

Click to enlarge. The cartoon as published in the magazine (in two facing pages) can be found below

Back in late July, Elly Beaumont, from the Architectural Review, contacted me regarding their -then- forthcoming issue, which would feature, in R.M. Rilke fashion, a series of ‘Letters to a Young Architect’ written by a selection of “architects, critics, teachers, artists and enthusiasts”, or “architects, critics, curators, writers, illustrators and editors”, depending on where you look for. Similarly, I guess I belong in a few of those categories or in none of them, depending on the day you ask me.

Cover/ back cover of ‘Letters to a Young Architect’. The Architectural Review issue 1474, October 2020

Anyway, as usual with me, I had a few ideas that I finally boiled down to two: one of them would more conventional, but safer, and also less-time consuming. The other one, I dreaded the amount of time it would take. So I presented them with both, and you can guess what happened (what always happens in these situations). The final result was this two-page pseudo/mini/comic story where you can find all my usual quirks and complaints about the profession, together with a kind of happy conclusion… before the inevitable, self-deprecatory twist ending. It ended up taking even (a lot) longer than I had expected, but I would lie if I said I didn’t have all kinds of fun doing it… or if I said I didn’t suffer all the way through, too. Thank you, Elly, and especially Manon (Mollard) for your patience waiting for my piece that never seemed to be going to arrive.

‘Letter to a Young Architect by Klaus’, 2020

Anyway: the issue has been out for over a month now, and it collects an impressive selection of collaborations by an assorted group of names including, among many others, Denise Scott Brown, Herman Hertzberger (who provided the best bio in recent memory), Balkrishna Doshi, Kate Macintosh, Alberto Campo Baeza, Charles Holland, Shigeru Ban, and Lars Müller (who, as I’ve commented somewhere else, is responsible for my Pritzker series), together with a couple of friends, too. It also features some inventive layouts -by the featured authors- which are really refreshing to look at. In my case, I was pleasantly surprised by the printing, which made the cartoon-letter look much better than on screen. The AR staff went with a non-glossy paper in my piece, which slightly muted the colors, making them less garish than the original drawing -all for the better.

‘Letters to a Young Architect’. List of Contributors (notice Hertzberger’s ‘bio’)

So, if you liked it, make sure to grab a copy for yourself before they run out of them! I would also strongly recommend buying the July/August issue, ‘Criticism’, and the June 2020 one, ‘Inside’, which are two favorites of mine from recent times. That way you will also help support the dean of English language architectural magazines in these harsh times, where we are seeing more and more fine representatives of architectural printed media disappear. The Architectural Review has been running for 125 years now, and, for those of us who deal with Theory and History of architecture, is the place where many of the seminal texts we quote every other day were published for the first time. The AR’s archive, big chunks of which are available online, is something you want to keep alive. Make your contribution!

P.S. I just discovered they made a behind-the-scenes featurette with my process drawings for this piece. You can check it here.

We don’t need no education (Happy World Architecture Day 2020)

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Earlier today I was getting ready to post about my contribution to the AR’s ‘Letters to a Young Architect’ special issue, which in my case, has quite a special focus on architects’ education, when I realized (as in: someone mentioned it in twitter) that today we celebrate (ha!) simultaneously the World Architecture Day and also the World Teachers Day. So, as both a part-time (that’s being very optimistic) architectural cartoonist and full-time architectural educator, I thought it might be worth a word or two about, well, architectural education.

Also, this finally gives me the opportunity to post this old cartoon I drew for Uncube’s 26th issue, ‘School’s Out’, back in September 2014 (!) (How’s that for a belated post?). More info about the cartoon at the end of the post.

If you’re been around here long enough, or have heard my ramblings in one of my trips here and there, you probably know I have some strong opinions both about architecture and architectural education. Basically, we architects move in an intermediate ground (may I call it a terrain vague to make it sound more poetic?) located inside a triangle whose three apexes would be Art, Technology, and Philosophy. And, as with anyone who practices an intermediate discipline, a discipline in between disciplines, I think most of us experience, at one point or another -or multiple times- the imposter’s syndrome. In extreme cases, such as mine, that pretty much defines our life. So, whenever someone attacks us, we retreat to the opposite side or corner. If we’re accused of being irresponsible wannabe artists who just design sculptures, we respond by remarking that we are actually technicians, experts in building technology. Depending on the country, we even have the knowledge and authorization to calculate structures. If someone attacks us by saying what we do is no art, we go back to the Enlightenment and the characterization of ‘Architecture as the Mother of All Arts’, while pointing out about how conceptual our designs are, and the deep philosophical roots of our discipline. If someone shows quite unimpressed by our pseudo-intellectual ramblings, we just note that we are, above all, creators, and we tend to express ourselves through a somewhat poetic theory. And so on.

As usual with human beings (we are, despite what we are told in architecture schools), we tend to navigate through all these contradictions by overcompensating, with this inherent inferiority complex showing on the outside quite often as a rather annoying superiority complex. As a quick read through any architectural magazine proves, we, architects, have quite a widespread habit to talk about anything with unequalled authority and complete self-confidence (or appearance of, at least), and this springs from the way we are shaped up in architecture schools. We usually complain (I know I have, multiple times) that often people’s image of architects is that of a man (typically, still), dressed up in a toga and wearing a laurel wreath on his head who enters a room and says things like ‘I see it all in red’, as if he was Edna Mode from ‘The Incredibles’. Unfortunately accurate as this may be, we cannot say it’s not our fault, and ‘we’, here, means both architects and architectural educators. Throughout our years as will-be architects, architecture schools teach us that, by becoming so, we will basically be demi-gods (this dates all the way back to Vitruvius, by the way): superior artists and thinkers sadly condemned to live amongst mere mortals who we must not just tolerate, but also educate, in order to build our designs. Such was the thinking back in the day and, to a great extent, it remains pretty much unaltered today.

After one and a half crisis since the turn of the century, after the exponential increase in architects and architecture schools in the last decades of the past century, architecture students are still being taught how to be Le Corbusier. Moreover, they’re still being taught that is the main goal, and the only acceptable path. Anything else is giving up. For a discipline that prides itself in offering a varied, holistic, all-encompassing education, the career choices it presents students with seem remarkably narrow. We are hammered with the notion that we are Renaissance men (and women, of course, as Eric Idle would gladly correct) who can excel at many disciplines, but by the nature of our job, usually become the thinking head and drawing hand in the collective that ends up producing the architectural artifact. Our buildings, you know. Years ago, a colleague of mine who is, on the other hand, an expert on his/her field (I’m not going to give any clues here) a seasoned and very capable professional, and an excellent educator, told me fascinated about this metaphor s/he had just heard: the architect as an orchestra conductor. Two (unspoken) questions came rapidly to my mind: firstly, and perhaps less importantly, how the hell was this the first time s/he heard of this hackneyed comparison. But also, where on Earth were all these orchestras waiting to be directed?

The world is constantly changing, and the architectural scene has certainly changed since Le Corbusier’s times. Don’t take me wrong. I love architecture, and I love that my students love architecture. And I certainly think design has to be the core of architectural education. I just don’t think it has to be all architectural education is about. We live at a time where architects do not necessarily belong to the social elite needed to, at least help them start building a successful career of the heroic kind. We are also at a point of History where we do not need many more Villa Savoyes, or Guggenheim museums; a point where we have built perhaps a little too much, and perhaps we should rethink our role as a collective. Again, this doesn’t mean we don’t need architects who keep practicing the profession the traditional way. It just means we also need architects who deal with all the other facets of the discipline, and schools need desperately to reflect that.

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The cartoon posted above, We Don’t Need No Education Not this one, no’, was originally published as the 19th entry in my ‘Numerus Klausus’ series, which still holds the title as my longest tenure in an architectural medium (in terms of published entries, of course. Time-wise, Arquine is going to be difficult to replace as my longest relationship). In typical Klaus fashion, it hides a few winks to other works, from Asterix and Obelix to Dire Straits’ ‘Money for nothing’ music video. The overall idea is, however, a nod to, possibly, my all-time favorite short animated film: Raoul Servais’s ‘Chromophobia’ (1966).

Looking backwards: Remembering Mextropoli 2018

From left to right: Aura Luz Melis, Petra Blaisse, Him, Alex Hernández, Pedro Hernández (not related), Miquel Adriá, Iñaqui Carnicero. (Click to enlarge)

As you may know, from September 5 until today, September 7 2020, Mextropoli, Festival de Arquitectura y Ciudad is celebrating its 7th edition, ‘(Un)sustainable City’ in Mexico City. As usual, this year the festival was meant to take place on March 20-23. However, the very particular situation we were living worldwide in those particular dates led to the decision to postpone it half a year.

A couple years ago, the festival followed its usual policy -well, at least date-wise, because its 5th Edition, ‘The Limits of Design’ took place on March 17-20. The organizers did break their rules, though, when they were selecting the guest speakers and, within an impressive group of first-class figures, they decided to call me as well. For some reason. (Perhaps they thought I was a great choice to show the limits of Design). I’m not kidding: the list of lecturers included RCR’s Rafael Aranda -fresh off his 2017 Pritzker Prize-, Martha Thorne -a member of the jury that awarded him the Pritzker-, Valerio Olgiatti, Guillermo Hevia, Go Hasegawa, Barozzi Veiga, Llatzer  Moix, Felipe Uribe, Inside Outside, Juan Herreros, Stefano Boeri, Johnston MarkLee, Iñaki Carnicero, and Mauricio Rocha + Gabriela Carrillo, among many others.

Introducing: that illustrious nobody…’

I’m no strange to speaking in public, and, reluctant as I am to talking about my work, I’ve gotten better at it as time goes by. Also, I thought I was used to audiences of any size, but speaking in front of 2,000 attendees at the Teatro Metropolitan in Mexico City was a different kind of experience, of which, as a seclusive introvert, I’m not sure I’ve fully recovered. If you were there at the time, I hope you will forgive me for delivering the whole lecture sitting at my table. Hope you had some laughs at least. On the brighter side, at several meters tall, I think my cartoons have never looked better (as in bigger) – neither have I looked tinier, which is kind of fitting, anyway. All the lectures are available online and easy to find, so go check them. (Skip the one with the architectural cartoonist, please).

Tiny Klaus speaking.

As usual, too, the lectures were just one amongst many other activities that happened during the festival, and I’m not just referring to all those great dinners and visits for the presenters. Together with the 3 days of lectures, Mextropoli organized a pavilion design competition (see here), several parallel conferences, events at architecture schools, book presentations, round tables, et al. In my case, the incredibly nice guys from Arquine set out to organize an exhibition on my work, ‘Arquinoir by Klaus’, at the CCEMex (Centro Cultural de España en México). The exhibition, which was open to the public from March 17 to June 24, 2018, ran parallel to Iñaqui Carnicero’s ‘Unfinished’, which had been awarded the Golden Lion two years earlier, in the Venice Biennale of 2016. (More on that in a later post).

Arquinoir by Klaus at the CCEMex

Again, this was not the only Klaus-related event that took place during my visit (those were some busy 5 days). Among other things -such as the niceties mentioned above- the people from Arquine, together with some other partners, kept me busy, organizing a workshop in the School of Architecture of LaSalle University, or an incredibly enjoyable drawing jam session together with Héctor López (@_thearchitector). More on this in that later post. Anyway, let this post be a big ‘thank you’ to all people involved.

Students from Gerardo Fernández’s course ‘Croquis y Maquetas’ at La Salle. I swear I had no idea they were doing these ‘Team Klaus’ T-Shirts.

P.S. Since this unfortunate situation we’re going through has also prolonged its life both globally and in Mexico, the physical activities of Mextropoli 7: (Un)sustainable city had been delayed till March 2021. However, the conferences will still be taking place online in a live marathon on September 7, 2020 (that is: today!). So make sure to register (free) here, and join the discussion. This year’s guest speakers will include, of course, many well-known names. Among them, and in no particular order: Beatriz Colomina, David Chipperfield, Dominique Perrault, Saskia Sassen (@SaskiaSassen), Frida Escobedo (@fridaescobedo), Iñaki Ábalos, Mimi Zeiger (@loudpaper), Iker Gil (@MASContext), Ethel Barahona (@ethel_baraona) & César Reyes (@cerreyes), Solano Benítez, Andrés Jaque (@OFFPOLINN), Tatiana Bilbao (@Tabilbao), Philippe Rahm, Hernán Díaz Alonso, Rozana Montiel (@rozanamontiel), Zaida Muxí (@zaidamuxim), Iñaki Alday (@inakialday), and many others. Subscribe and enjoy!

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