MBIArch Notes: Pedro Gadanho

Pedro Gadanho

Pedro Gadanho is an architect, curator and writer based in Lisbon. After participating in last year’s Dialogues on Architecture Knowledge Formats, Gadanho has been a Visiting Lecturer at BIArch’s Theory, History & Criticism Department and also delivered a lecture titled“Critical Curatorial Practice: On Emergences and Emergencies” for the Institute’s Fall 2010 Open Seminar series, “Work in Progress: Contemporary Approaches to Architecture History, Theory, and Criticism”.

The following are fragments of a brief conversation held with Gadanho after his lecture, discussing curatorial practices, architectural training, and the margins of the profession.

Editors: You’ve said “curating is the new criticism”.

Pedro Gadanho: I think criticism has to be operative again, has to take positions, even if these positions are transitory and ephemeral. I do believe there is a space for curatorial practices as a sort of operative criticism that proposes positions, proposes trends of thought. Some people will want to track themes, others will want to curate debates, others will want to assume a more traditional role of curating, in terms of collections, readings of materials and production of exhibitions. At the same time, I think traditional criticism still needs to find a way to carry on the debate.

E: What do you think are the spaces where traditional criticism will survive?

PG: I think criticism is being reborn in the Internet. It’s strange seeing that, regardless of the problems magazines are facing today and their tendency to disappear, people who still write in magazines are criticizing bloggers, saying that their strand of criticism isn’t legitimate. This is ridiculous. It is a defense of a traditional system that is not only waning, but that is also many times corrupt in itself. What is interesting and democratic about the online world is that criticism will survive based only on the quality of the writing. If people get bored they stop reading; if they don’t see the logic of an argument they simply move on.

E: You’ve suggested that exhibitions seem to be a particularly effective format for exercising criticism.

PG: Well, yes and no. I did exhibitions for a number of years and at the same time I’m quite frustrated with the medium of exhibitions: it requires a lot of money, the exhibition only lasts a couple of weeks and then disappears again. What I like about the medium is that it combines visual elements, written elements and in this sense it seems more adequate for our times. But there are even better mediums available, to communicate with wider audiences and to carry messages very quickly. The basic question is, how do you carry a message, particularly one with critical content? I think writing is lagging behind, even though lots of people are reading online, but I do think text by itself has become somewhat ineffective. So I do believe in exploring formats that can be more effective in carrying the message.

E: It seems you’re concerned with reaching outside the field of architecture, with finding ways to reach a more general public, to communicate without resorting to architectural language per se.

PG: We have to learn to not only speak about architecture, but to use architecture as a platform to address more general concerns such as society, politics, or culture. I do think that as architects we have a particular capability to put different kinds of information together; but being able to produce and defend arguments is something that is usually lacking in architecture. I think that architectural training should focus more on how to construct narratives and arguments.

E: What skills remain useful and relevant even when architects venture beyond their traditional areas of practice?

PG: Well, now that I’m teaching design studio again, I do think there is one basic quality that I gained from my own training as an architect and I still find relevant: the notion of drawing as a mental process. Drawing is like a snapshot, it’s about understanding connections, proportions, relationships; and then interiorizing these connections and being able to produce a synthesis. This idea of the project as drawing, as design, as the capacity of putting different things together that you have interiorized: I think this is the basic, vital skill of the architect. You can translate that to building,  but also to writing, making a film, curating, or whatever. It might be a traditional source, but it is a source that is also reinvented constantly.

E: What do you think the responsibility of architectural institutions might be in this sense?

PG: I think being transparent is really important. Creating transparency, revealing the processes at work, so people are fit and ready to face different situations. I think this is essential: giving people the basic survival skills and preparing them for any situation. We need to stop throwing sand at people’s eyes, creating the illusion of a profession that rests on precepts that are not valid anymore. Transparency is the key notion, and it’s not easy. Particularly when professors are more concerned with creating disciples, with transmitting their own vision of the profession, rather than preparing people for reality.

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