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Recently (meaning yesterday), Barozzi and Veiga were in the news due to the inclusion of one of their non-built designs, the Neanderthal Museum in Piloña, Spain (2010), in Blade Runner 2049. In a way. Somehow. Being the hardcore fan of the original film since I first watched it, a Friday night in September 1988, I’m going to avoid commentary on the new film. The inclusion is a big deal for them, anyway, and, since I’m partially responsible for bringing the news to the foreground, I thought it might be worth dusting off this interview (by Indira Van’t Klooster) and cartoon (by me) published in A10 exactly two years ago. Both the interview and the cartoon were published in the Forty and Famous book.
Since they founded Barozzi/Veiga in 2004 Fabrizio Barozzi and Alberto Veiga have finished two spectacular projects. Both the Headquarters of Ribera de Duero (2010) in Spain, and the Mies van der Rohe Award winning Philharmonic in Szczecin (2014) in Poland show a remarkable contextual originality and strength. With the Tanzhaus in Zürich (CH) and the School of Music in Brunico (IT) coming up we are eager to learn more about working in different European contexts. Alberto Veiga is on the phone but he also speaks for Fabrizio: “When designing we are basically the same persons, we fulfill the same role. We don’t work like where the technical one completes the conceptual one or that type of nonsense. We are full grown designing personalities that happen to be able to work very well together. We didn’t start out as friends either: we worked at the same office (which one?) and were winning a lot of competitions separately. That’s when we decided that we might start an office on our own. We have been discovering each other during the competitions we did together and still we are learning. What kind of architect is he? What type of person? The basic goal of doing competitions is to win them, obviously, but they are a good method to learn more about yourself and the other.”
Alberto Veiga and Fabrizio Barozzi were not student pals. They were not even friends when they started working together. ‘We worked at the same office, at Vázquez Consuegra, and after a competition win we decided to start an office on our own. The basic goal of doing competitions is to win them, obviously, but they are a good method for learning more about yourself and the other.’… ‘We don’t like work where the technical one completes the conceptual one or that type of nonsense. We are fully grown designing personalities that happen to be able to work very well together.’ So much for debunking a few myths on the romanticism of starting an office.
Almost all of your projects are from winning competitions. What’s the secret?
There are no secrets, we just try to do the competition the best we can. Even before asking ourselves about the brief, we think about the basic mainframe. Do we like the
country, the location, its food, etc.? It may sound banal, but when you win a competition, you have to be there very often for a very long time, so you’d better be sure you’re going to like it there. Then, it’s really important that you like the idea of working there, and this includes food. Polish food is far better than you would expect. In Switzerland, we… prefer the landscape [laughs].
Your office only does competitions, and you win one in every six. How do you proceed?
Select, find concept, develop concept, discover potential, introduce experts, criticize, manipulate, improve. In that particular order. But to win, I can give three tips. First: Dreams come first; you can sacrifice later. Second: Ask yourself, sincerely, ‘Can I be good? Can I be the best?’ We never pick hospitals, and we stopped doing housing. We mostly participate in competitions abroad. Then, you have to be really good and outsmart the local architects. Third: Check the small factors. Who is on the jury? How likely is it that it will get built? Is the process well-organized in time? Money? Procedures?
Your clients are municipalities, and almost all your works are public and cultural. Do you specifically aim to get such clients and buildings?
At first, we didn’t specifically choose cultural projects, but those happened to be the projects we won. The sad side is that we lost an awful lot of housing competitions and schools, but by winning – and building – the cultural projects, we gained a lot of experience in this typology. So now we are more picky. Maybe it also has to do with the fact that schools and social housing demand more in-depth knowledge of the location, the local regulations and laws, so those are easier for local architects to understand. Cultural buildings, in that sense, are a bit more free. Clients demand that they stand out in their surroundings, so for us as foreign architects, they are easier to tackle. (…)
Have you discovered differences in (building) culture between Poland, Spain, Italy, and Switzerland?
Yes, in regulations, procedures, mentality. In Switzerland, an architect is a person that manages a project from beginning to end, like in Spain. But in Switzerland there is always a contractor in between that has incredible control over the building process. In Spain, you are completely free, also to fail, and then you’re on your own. In Italy, the building process is much more controlled by politicians. The more South you go, the more local politicians take over. In the north of Europe, the separation between public and private is more strict. In Poland, it’s no disadvantage to be young – everybody is young there! The mayor of Szczecin is the same age as we are; you can’t believe how important that is for the process. To have a common ground, to go to the same concerts or festivals and to be done with the argument, ‘When I was your age’, or ‘When you’re as old as me, you’ll understand’. In Italy, mayors are usually older, and this is much more difficult to work with.
You have accomplished so much already. What are your ambitions for the future?
No plans. Every step so far has been the result of a desire or a feeling, but never of a plan. We try to find work and to have fun while trying to make a living of it. We meet new people all the time, which enriches our lives in a tremendous way. We want to go on like this for the next ten years.
Indira van ‘t Klooster: Barozzi / Veiga: Vagabond Architects. Interchange, A10 Magazine #65 September-October 2015, 18-19
Barozzi / Veiga was founded in Barcelona in 2004 by Fabrizio Barozzi and Alberto Veiga. The office has won numerous competitions, among them the refurbishment of the Palacio de Santa Clara in Úbeda, the Auditorium of Águilas, Musée de Beaux-arts in Lausanne, and the Bündner Kunstmuseum extension in Chur. Their work has gained wide international recognition for design excellence. In 2014, the studio was selected as one of ten firms in that year’s Design Vanguard by Architectural Record. You can check their website here.
You can also get a copy of Forty and Famous: 10 Interviews with Successful Young European Architects in A10’s website.