interview by BERLOGOS, a russian magazine about design and architecture. This was conducted by Tatyana Afonina, editor of BERLOGOS.
English version below
Interview with Alina Jerónimo Fernandes and Paulo Carneiro Fernandes for BERLOGOS, Russian magazine about architecture and design.
– Not so frequently we can see some projects in Africa. You have, for example, a project of primary school in Igbo-Ora, Nigeria or Manica community center.Could you tell us about the process, its dates, conditions, special features?
– The school in Nigeria was a first conceptual project that is still waiting for funding.
– Why the process itself takes so long time from the suggestion of concept to realization? Did this project have a customer or it was your own initiative?
– The customer was the NGO «United twins of the World», the director of the NGO David Adelaja Ods, and the local community. The project was not built yet because the NGO is a very young organization. But we knew this from the beginning and we contribute to them to evolve and gain more experience. Usually it’s not normal that it takes long time from concept to construction, but unfortunately it’s not in our power as architects to attain funding. Maybe if there is another NGO with more experience can help them to develop UTW and make it happen.
– Such projects it’s a powerful social message, instead of building one more commercial center – building a school in Africa. Why did you admit this project? What attracted you?
– It’s important to give an answer to a client that is in this case a community in need and to see its impact. Both projects are different. Nigeria attracted us because the NGO was very young and inexperienced and the community has a particular aspect: the world record in twins.
The existing school had no conditions for its students. Mozambique is a little bit different – much more organized and was a big and developed project funded by big organizations.
– Tell us more about Manica community center, please.
– Manica community centre in Mozambique was a project that was implemented in 2 years and was finished in 2013. This project was very much around the idea of proposing a sustainable one, with local materials and training local people and engaging them in the process from design to construction. This project was built in the middle of Mozambique 20 km from the border with Zimbabwe in a very rural area. This was a scarce area with almost no industry and it was fundamental to the project to use local materials such as earth (clay), bamboo and local crafts such as carpentry and ironsmiths.
– Was it difficult to adapt to the local materials (maybe its connection with climate, its behavior and so on), did you analyze them before applying?
– Not so difficult. After we were contacted to develop this project, we asked the local NGO to send us to Europe some samples of the soil to us to test in a laboratory and see if it was good. Then in our first visit to the site we checked all the local materials that were available and also that there were lots of buildings made with earth (vernacular architecture) in the surrounding so building with earth was a known technology.
The issue was that people in that region was burning the clay bricks and consuming firewood (leading to deforestation. So our idea was to adapt this technology to our time and to make it more sustainable, not using wood, not burning just compressing soil with a little amount of cement.
Yes, there is definitely a connection between materials, climate and behavior. That’s why people use these materials for a long time. We didn’t want to create a rupture with this knowledge, just to improve it. Earth is breathable. It balances humidity and the spaces turn to more comfortable ones. In summer is cooler and in winter it expels the moisture to the exterior. One of the main achievements was that the community changed a little bit their mindset and started to understand that using local materials and techniques could be as functional as contemporary buildings. They started to be more proud of their culture and knowledge.
– Can modern architecture make us be more proud of our culture or nowadays it’s almost impossible, because of globalization in architecture?
– It’s a great and hard question! I suppose it’s the BIG challenge everyone challenges at this moment. Globalization can be an opportunity and a possibility. Thanks to it we are having this interview. We suppose there are aspects common to every culture such as architecture archetypes but as you mention it before the adaptation to the local climate and materials changes this universalism. The issue is to try to adapt each technology to a specific culture. At this moment there are a lot of universities and laboratories researching on materials and technologies and it’s possible to spread and share this information around the world with internet. That’s the good aspect of globalization. But of course the less positive aspects are the process of loosing traditional knowledge, deforestation and huge use of natural resources in a very short period of time. It’s a difficult equation to solve.
– Every medal has its reverse. Besides projects you make researches in collaboration with Universities. Do you try to revive or just use traditional knowledge in this process, for example? And how much often such collaboration with Universities or High Schools happens there? Who is usually an initiator of collaboration?
– Usually we contact universities and propose our research that is related with some specific project we are doing at the moment. That allows us to certificate and test in a scientific way the practical work on site and in the project. For universities it’s good because they can implement and be part of a more practical side. This also allows students of being part of projects.
Yes, for example in Lisbon, there is an incredible amount of heritage buildings build centuries ago and made with traditional knowledge such as earth, lime and wood technology. Unfortunately there are few interventions that respect this traditional knowledge and renovations/rehabilitations are made as if they were new constructions.
Lots of new and contemporary materials are not compatible with ancient ones creating pathologies (cracks, humidity, fungus) and little quality and comfort. This destroys heritage and ancient interesting buildings in the long term.
– It seems everybody has the same problem. That’s pity. How can we cope with it? Or how can we stop or influence?
– Creating networks of professionals and knowledge, in the universities, enterprises, architecture magazines (such as yours), promoting good interventions and projects… It’s an opportunity to improve everywhere. Historic city centers have the capacity to be examples of the past knowledge.
– It’s more theoretical part, what’s about practical? Who is responsible for such «renovations», how the architects are chosen there for this? Is there any contest or tender process? I know that you made some renovations, what’s your method?
– In terms of public usually there are contests and tender processes. In our case until now, we have made houses renovation in historic areas. It’s a very interesting process to see how these houses were made. Some of them had several interventions during their life and arrived to the present in a very bad condition. This was due to wrong use of materials and technologies non compatible with wood, lime, etc…
By the other hand in a more general view I suppose everyone was attracted to a more modern lifestyle and because sustainability is a little bit more slow to attain.
– That’s an interesting connection between modern lifestyle and sustainability. How we can trace this interplay?
– The modern lifestyle definition is complex and diversified. We can assume that in general terms is the search for comfort. It’s very possible to relate this to sustainability. It’s very important at the present time and it will be in the future, to build and be more conscious of every material and technology used to avoid the destruction of the planet resources.
– Back to renovation, do you innovate some materials what better match to adjust, to renovate?
– We adapt ancient technologies to our contemporary time comfort requirements. It’s not a matter of using a specific material but the way of using it.
It’s not about copying the past but to use their knowledge to adapt to our time demanding (climatic comfort, space and program, etc…).
– Do you use all the materials from project to project, or it’s usually made for a special project? Do you patent them?
– When we collaborate with universities we try more to develop new technologies that can use abundant natural materials that can be reused or recycled in the future.
In partnership with the universities through writing scientific papers that is a way to patent them or make them public.
– Can you name some materials what you have invented, maybe something about their features?
– We developed a technology named REEDCOB in partnership with an enterprise (Fradical) and an university (Nova University of Lisbon), that is an improvement of an ancient one. But in this case it’s the use of an evasive vegetal species (reed) creating an agglomeration with earth, lime and reed fiber.
This is an anti seismic, thermal resistant and low carbon footprint technology.
We are trying to implement it in projects in developing countries.