The Mondadori Editorial Office, built between 1968 and 1975 by Oscar Niemeyer, holds the conversation between the architects Ángela García de Paredes and Ignacio García Pedrosa and the historian Francesco Dal Co, director of Casabella magazine and great connoisseur of their work.
Francesco Dal Co: You both studied at the Madrid School of Architecture, during what years?
Ángela García de Paredes: Yes, we started in 1975, a crucial year in Spain. Franco died in November, so the School was closed until January. We met because our last names went together on the class list. We were destined by alphabetical order.
FDC: What were the most interesting experiences during this period and what teachers influenced you the most?
Ignacio García Pedrosa: We were lucky to be students when three critical professors were still teaching: Francisco Javier Sáenz de Oiza, Javier Carvajal, and Antonio Fernández Alba. Three personalities that created around them three parallel schools within the ETSAM, so anyone who studied in their departments followed that branch throughout. Ángela and I coincided at Oiza’s course, with many other classmates with whom we have stayed friends.
AGP: Besides he gave us class himself, and directed my graduation project. Before him, Antonio Fernández Alba, who taught Composition Elements, was also a big influence. He was a crucial figure for me. First because of the theoretical reflection he added to projects (he gave long theory lessons of over an hour, without images, incomprehensible to me then, but that now come back to me all the time), and secondly because many exercises were about architectures of the past.
IGP: We did a very comprehensive study on the Alhambra, not only of the drawings, but a research on the relationship between the volumes and the interiors. This generates a very specific form of approximation to architecture: through the drawing and sizing of the spaces, very important in an architect’s training.
AGP: I would add that Fernández Alba, curiously very attentive to modernity, instilled in us the need to learn about the architecture of the past, and Oiza awoke our interest in the context of the project: the place, the people that live there, its function… Always relating it to literature and poetry. The continuous relationship with other disciplines was the most important thing in Oiza.
FDC: Did these professors also show examples of contemporary architecture?
IGP: Oiza mostly. But rather than showing examples of architecture of that time, he talked about modern architects: Wright, Le Corbusier… He understood that learning about architecture involved knowing what the modern masters had proposed.
FDC: Did they by any chance talk about the great Spanish architects of the 1930s?
IGP: It was rather an outward gaze. The introspective view began later when Rafael Moneo joined the School, and he rescued Spanish tradition without setting aside what was happening in the world.
AGP: We had the opportunity to meet the pre-war architects thanks to my father, José María García de Paredes, architect and friends with many of them. Outside the School we were close to José Luis Sert, who always encouraged us and taught us many things parallel to architecture – painting, music… Through Sert we met Miró, for example.
FDC: You graduated in 1982, but the office was set up in 1990. What happened during those years?
IGP: We started working with Ángela’s father, an architect at the height of his professional maturity. He had a small studio with a lot of prestige among colleagues. After studying in Madrid and his stay in Rome, where he met Carvajal, he began a brilliant career, with very interesting projects that earned him the National Architecture Award. He had always wanted to keep control of his work, so he was never really interested in expanding his office. When we had just completed our studies he received several important public commissions, this was right after opening the Manuel de Falla Auditorium in Granada – the first concert hall built in Spain after Barcelona’s Palau de la Música of 1908. The building had a major repercussion because it focused on the relationship with the place and with the constructive tradition of the materials. As a result he was commissioned to build the National Auditorium, and that is when we joined his studio. The collaboration lasted ten years and ended not by choice but by fate, with José María’s premature passing. We found ourselves in a strange situation: it was our moral and professional duty to finish his work, so we launched our own career later. We started out entering competitions. The first one was Europan, which we won; and that is when our independent work began.
FDC: Your Europan project is very specific. As young architects I think you drew inspiration from Alvar Aalto.
IGP: He is a constant in our work. There is a continuous presence of references that arise, not deliberately, but they’re there. In the case of the two housing developments, there is a clear relationship with Aalto’s project, but not a direct reference to him. There we extended the streets establishing an undulatory mechanism that gave the city the continuity we think it needs. Aalto’s project, however, is not an urban project but a landscaping one. Interestingly, landscaping is used to address an urban continuity issue.
FDC: When looking at works like the Valdemaqueda Town Hall, I think about Aalto and about your relationship with the Iberian world. Perhaps Aalto’s influence comes through Siza and Moneo.
IGP: I think we can talk about a special relationship between north and south. The relationship between the north and the Mediterranean is almost a matter of symmetry. Peripheral countries like the Nordic ones are drawn towards peripheral countries like Spain and Portugal and vice versa. Apparently there are no points of contact: not in terms of climate, not social, not even of cultural tradition. Perhaps that’s the reason for such strong attraction. However, Nordic and Mediterranean architectures do have something in common: the interest in the domestic and in comfort. Siza and Aalto’s houses are comfortable, in contrast to British or Central European ones where other values prevail over comfort, or even the relationship with nature.
AGP: We won quite early in our career the Valdemaqueda competition. We gained a lot of on-site and project management experience in the construction of large buildings. Our situation was the opposite of that of other young architects: without works of our own but with experience in developing and building projects at a studio. We knew how to build auditoriums and cultural buildings, but not town halls. We took a trip to northern Europe, traveling through Denmark and Finland mostly, to become familiar with Nordic town hall buildings. We almost did a PhD on town halls. I am glad to hear you notice that resemblance because it is surprising to see how such a small building can concentrate everything we took in during that trip.
FDC: Why the Nordic countries?
IGP: Probably because of the opportunity, and also because of Ángela’s personal history. When García de Paredes and Carvajal were in Rome in 1958, one of the conditions for residents was that they had to go on a journey through Europe. They went to Finland in a Seat 600 to see ordicarchitecture first-hand. Ángela says that the first time she went to Villa Mairea was before she was born, because her mother was pregnant during that visit. We wanted to see the house up close. I like it because it comes across as a livedin house. The Farnsworth or Villa Savoye are almost monuments of modernity. Villa Mairea is a house.
FDC: The interior of the auditorium of the Congress Center of Peñíscola seems to draw on Aalto, is this so?
IGP: No. Aalto never left reinforced concrete unpainted. In Valdemaqueda it is completely naked, as in Le Corbusier. Aalto didn’t make a concrete ceiling with such forms either; he did so with wood in Viipuri, but not in concrete. Utzon however did use concrete. There is a Utzonian, rather than Aaltian, reference. In Peñíscola it had a structural explanation: we couldn’t go higher than twelve meters, and there wasn’t room for the metallic structure and wood ceiling, so we proposed building a concrete slab that was both structure and acoustic ceiling.
FDC: The continuity of the skin, which is very often what characterizes buildings, is very important in your work. The formal expression of the structure becomes secondary, and the skin takes on a prominent role, dressing the building on one hand, and on the other revealing the activity inside.
IGP: Not long after the completion of the Centre Pompidou, which shows the structure and the installations, Oiza asked us: “And the skin? Where is the skin? We have skin to cover veins and bones.” Part of this probably still echoes in our minds. We think that structural clarity is necessary, but it shouldn’t play the main role.