In this interview we will introduce the architecture studio Harquitectes , established in Barcelona in the year 2000 by David Lorente Ibáñez, Josep Ricart Ulldemolins, Xavier Ros Majó and Roger Tudó Galí, who met during their architecture studies at the ETSAV Vallés School of Architecture in Sant Cugat del Vallès (Barcelona). Together as a studio they have been awarded the prize of ceramic architecture Fritz Höger Preis in 2014 (Berlin), Premio A+ for best project of sustainable architecture in 2013 and Premio A+ for most promising studio, among other awards.
Harquitectes is a studio where team work is as key in the creative process as being right on the spot when a project is being constructed. Here they tell us about their experience and evolution throughout all these years.
‘To construct is also part of our creative process’
How did the idea for Harquitectes originate?
In the final years of our studies we used to participate together in some competitions and make smaller projects. We would work in a 20-square-meter space that belonged to Xavi’s grandmother, located in the centre of Sabadell. Once we finished our studies (between 1998 and 2000) we got the first assignments, a fact that at the time was quite common even for arquitectes who had only recently graduated, and so we started our own studio. In 2000 we set up our business and named it Harquitectes, then we moved to a bigger place, around 140 square meters, not far from the original one, where we still work to this day. It is an open concept space, with an attic space for the meetings, and the whole team works here. This spatial circumstance is crucial in our work method.
The whole process was quite natural and it has progressively taken us to the moment we’re in. We keep growing little by little.
How do you complement each other as a team?
We think we complement each other well…
We have several teams, depending on the type of project, and always led by one of us partners. These teams obviously share the space with the rest of the studio team, so everyone is or can be aware of what is going on and can take part in the processes while still focusing on ‘their’ particular tasks, of course.
Among partners there are no systematized meetings… there are conversations, sometimes improvised, sometimes planned, about the issues each one of us has on the table, so we all are a bit into everything – with different levels of intensity, though.
Casa 712 located in Gualba Barcelona
Most of your projects have taken place in Barcelona and have been highly regarded internationally also. Do you get proposals to work somewhere else outside Barcelona? What made you decide to stay here and work locally?
Our action during the construction of buildings is very intense. It is a moment when we take crucial decisions – and not only concerning the ‘right’ execution of a project. To construct is also part of our creative process.
This attitude asks for a certain proximity to the site, or so we think. Our recent works wouldn’t be what they are if we hadn’t been constantly there on site.
It can be that, in the future, experience will keep us from having to be physically there.
We got some proposals to work outside our ‘natural’ geographical area and we are constantly considering it. But there’s still nothing planned, we will see…
Does your studio work under a set of principles? We would like to know about your sources of inspiration and your references in the designing process.
It can be that we have certain principles, or rather, certain common places that we all share. We always move forward in between projects, with little time and no specific motivation to theorize, always searching for objective arguments that can be discussed.
We had – probably still have – some references in architecture with a name (Lacaton & Vassal, Zumthor, some Japanese architects, etc) and architecture without a name that we consider to be more and more interesting. Processes in traditional and national architecture have had a special impact on us in these last years.
Casa 1014, a passive house in Granollers.
Which is your methodology when working on a project?
Working teams are specific for each project and we try to keep them like this throughout the whole process, though of course they adapt to the needs of each stage of the process. Again, one of us is always the team leader; there can be more than one of it’s a bigger project. We work intensely and are constantly discussing ideas with the rest of the office, with the partners and also with the rest of the team.
We don’t have a specific methodology, but in the end there is a certain pattern. For instance, for the presentations that we do for our clients, we make 1:20 scale prototypes with people, furniture, paintings, plants -inspired in the SANAA prototypes-… They are always huge and apart from becoming a very effective tool for our clients, they give the whole team a chance for discussion. All of us get to know or have access to what is being produced. This exchange is easier in the early stages (drafts, competitions, etc) than during the elaboration of the executive project, where the rythm is hectic and we must be overproductive, though there is always time and issues to discuss… and we don’t mind if looking for a better solution makes us slow down a bit – we are not very efficient in this sense…
Apart from the people in the office, and adapting to each project, we work with external specialist consultants -like almost everyone- still not willing to let others do our work; in the end, the decisions are always ours to take, and the experts have a knowledge (and a software) that we don’t, so we complement each other, even though it is only us who get to have a global vision…
‘Our method – no method could be more accurate –
forces us to keep improving, keep learning‘
Even though your studio works as a team, is there a possibility for the individual members to leave a more personal contribution in the projects?
It is possible -and maybe inevitable-, but in any case it is a matter of nuances, since the frequent meetings, discussions, the constant argumentations, etc., do not give much room for subjectivity.
After almost twenty years -counting university years-, we partners still basically go in the same direction, despite having very different personalities. We have built a shared ‘argumentatio’. We have common interests. We learn from each other -we work hand in hand.. literally-. Fortunately, there are many times when we don’t have the same opinion, and the effort we have to make when taking decisions forces us to move constantly forward.
Our method -no-method could be more accurate- forces us to keep improving, keep learning.
Which project makes you feel most proud? Why?
It may be that for a singer his best album is always the latest. It’s not very different for us: the projects we are most interested in, the ones that deal with everything we think of as important, are the ones we are currently making -the past ones always seem to us to be incomplete-. We are an action office. We move forward by projecting and constructing.
However, there have been turning points that led to new paths: Casa 205 and Gimnasio 704, with their total strategy in which every decision was directly related to the core discourse. Casa 712 turned necessity into an oportunity. The atmosphere of Casa 1101 and Casa 1014; and bigger works like Residence 912 or the Centre for Research ICTA-ICP 1102, designed in collaboration with dataAE involved a change of scale, etc. Lucklily enough, in the last 10 yeats, almost every step and every movement have been relevant in our career, with some false move in between too…-. We are extremely self-critical, maybe a little bit too much.
Our latest works and projects are strongly facing a new issue -something that was not present at any of the previous works we just mentioned-, and that is renovation. That’s where we are now, battling many ruins… (Lleialtat Santsenca, Cristalería Planells, Escola Sant Nicolau, Casal Tronada and several small houses).
Residence 912, university apartments
In your projects you mention the conditions and the wish of the client. How do you deal with this? How far do you think you have to go in order to meet the requirements of the client?
We are very respectful and pay much attention everything that the client tells us -though it is usually something imprecise and incomplete-.
Clients that work with us have to open their minds -and so have we!-, the cards can’t be marked beforehand. We all have to be prepared to do without things that were crystal clear for us in the beginning -the ‘common’ client, loaded with good intentions, has a lot of prejudices and ideas allegedly untouchable.
With private clients, every meeting that we have before the commission is official helps to clarify -for both sides- if we can actually work together. The promoter has to be sure that we can be their architect, and we must detect if we will be able to work the way we want to -the process is essential for us-. Without any of these two conditions there is no point in trying.
We know materials play a very important role in estimates, which are so important to clients. How do you decide on a particular material and which features are most important to you? How do deal with this in relation to the client?
There are many interpretations behind every material.
We always try to make the best decision. And it is always polyhedral, with several sustaining arguments: materiality, cost, structure, aesthetic, energy, etc. and also the intuition or even the wish of the client -while they’re accurate-. How the decision (on a material) is taken doesn’t matter, what is relevant is that it is the best possible decision -and this is something only we can do, even when the proposal comes from the client-.
Regarding materials -and all our latest works, since 2007, go in this direction-, we are interested in the concept space-structure: spaces defined by the structure itself; we don’t hide it, we keep iot visible whenever visible, and so we skip finishing touches and get a material expression that is honest and full of energy.
We think that this material honesty is recognisable in all of our projects, though not always using the same structural system.
‘We are interested in the concept space-structure:
spaces defined by the structure itself;
we don’t hide it, we keep it visible whenever visible’
In some of your projects we can see how aesthetic has a very strong visual presence within a certain context. Has this been a problem in your work?
Context is always relevant, but it is not always decisive. The right connection with the environment is not only mimicry. Again, our thinking processes put many parameters on the table from the beginning, and context is only one of them. It is important, but also only one of them. Every project eventually finds a way to connect with what was already there -and it can even be that architecture changes things in the end…
Which processes are crucial for you when planning the renovation of a building?
Always appreciate what was already there. Sometimes it has a value that’s already considered, like a patrimonial façade, etc, and sometimes it just physical -the fact that the ‘thing’ is there…
We work with preexistent matter as if it was another material, but a kind of material with features that go beyond the physical.
The relation between the old and the new, on every level, is what makes a difference in this kind of works.
We are very interested in these preexistent features -as we said, it has been the most recurring issue in the projects and works of the last 5 years…
Casa 1101 located in Sant Cugat del Vallès
Do you have some new project or plan for the future?
We have just finished a school, a renovation and an extension of a 1959 building, to be more specific.
At the moment we are building three renovations in Barcelona, but they’re very different from each other in terms of the preexistent buildings. We also have some houses in different stages of the project, and a project for wineries in Catalonian Priorat.
We would like to present a project for competition but there are really very few with the conditions we want -in fact, there are very few competitions in general…
Many young graduates want to have a work team and start a new studio, so it would be interesting to know, from your experience, which difficulties and strengths you had to deal with. Do you have any advice for the young entrepeneur?
We would tell them to be ready to make a huge effort, with results that will probablt come in the long term. To persevere and trust, but most of all we would tell them to work hard.
Residence 912, university apartments Casa 205 located in Vacarisses
Which books or authors should definitely be part of our personal library?
No ‘common places’ here… – to each his own.
Which documentary film is not to be missed?
For instance, not to be missed -for architects, of course-: ‘Habitations Légèrement Modifiées’, by Guillaume Meigneux, about the renovation of the social housing of the ‘Tour Bois le Prêtre’ in Paris, by Lacaton & Vassal – and exemplary project.
In your opinion, in which city are the latest trends in architecture to be found now? And where would you like to propose a project? Why this place?
There is no one single city. But definitely the latest relevant revolution in architecture, in our opinion, was Lacaton & Vassal -maybe trend is not the word, though.
Any place where there is a chance to work the way we like, though that depends more on the client than on the place -oh, and the moment, the closer, the better,… or maybe not…
‘To be efficient, to do more with less, implies
being able to do even more, and with a project
in mind we always strive for everything…’
How do you see architecture today? What should be different and how?
It’s impossible to give a brief answer without restrictions…
We are reasonably optimist. Our generation, and the ones after us, have grown up professionally in a very hard context of systemic crisis (in Spain), and we have learnt, without an alternative, to cope with this situation of precariousness, looking for opportunities even where there wasn’t supposed to be any, and there are new paths to take, for instance, with more social impact.
We have worked with no margin of error, having to prove our efficiency all the time. Frivolities are gone -at last-, society has also felt that. Crisis has reeducated us all -hopefully forever.
We have to be sensitive to (recent) social movements -that will change everything-, but not only to let us flow, we have to give something in return, specially in our fields of knowledge. It’s time to risk, staying still is the only error.
What does More with Less mean to you? Is it somehow related in what you do?
To solve more than one problem with one single actions lets us do more actions, make more. We don’t want to do without anything important; to be efficient, to do more with less, implies being able to do even more -and with a project in mind we always strive for everything…
Interview: Diana Hurtado
Translation: Laïa Argüelles