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Paulo Mendes da Rocha – a dash of philosophy for commenting on current events

07/02/2020

People feel that Paulo Mendes da Rocha avoids answering objective questions. One of Brazil’s most renowned architects and a UIA2021RIO Honour Committee member, this recent nonagenarian allows himself the luxury of not answering any questions objectively. With authority, he turns to history and even philosophy in order to underpin his thoughts, meandering through diverse abstractions and triggering deep reflection.

This was the path followed by his participation in the Crisis Talks – After the Future (Conversas na Crise – Depois do Futuro) cycle organised by the Institute of Advanced Studies (IdEA – Instituto de Estudos Avançados) at the University of Campos (UNICAMP), under a partnership with the UOL portal.

Interviewed by a group of journalists (Paulo Markun, Julio Moreno (do CAU/BR) and Liv Brandão) and Carlos Vogt, who chairs the IdEA Scientific Council, Paulo Mendes da Rocha unravelled trains of thought and preferred to outline prognoses, recall memories and meander along surprising byways, instead of making “irresponsible” statements.

To begin with, he reaffirmed his idea that architecture is a sphere of knowledge specific to human beings: “all of us humans, inhabitants of this planet, we are born architects. Through his condition of existence, man is an architect,” he said, then explaining that in ancient times, man acquired an “awareness that togetherness was needed for protection, as this would not be possible when alone, and this is the origin of the contemporary city.”

Starting out from this standpoint, he said that architects are called upon to rethink the types of urban occupancy, together with all their dwellers. In his reply to the question on whether the COVID-19 pandemic might trigger urban reform (submitted by Sérgio Magalhães, who chairs the Executive Committee of the 27th World Congress of Architects), Paulo Mendes da Rocha offered an incisive response: “no disaster is a necessary condition for urban reform. This is a matter of intelligence, rather than an emerging virulence. There’s no need for a virus to awaken intelligence.”

Still on the issue of the pandemic, Liv Brandão asked his opinion on possible changes in the relationship between people and their houses. Here, he confessed openly: “my idea of house is not the intimate home; I like to imagine that we are fine in the city, even if lacking the specific home… It’s not exactly envy that I feel, but rather a wish for street dwellers; I like the city so much that I would prefer to live in the street, if I could; the hypothesis of the city as the home of man is attractive; everything that we do, men, individuals, in history, has always been to explore the city as the fundamental objective of conversation; because what man was missing during primitive times was the gaze exchange with another, in order to know who they were; the city is the place of conversation; nobody lives in their home, we all live in the city.”

After this ode, commenting on the reality in major metropolises with poverty-stricken outskirts packed with small and unhealthy homes, he once again turned to history, but this time to a more recent time: the arrival of Europeans in the Americas. “This is an example of predatory occupation of a territory. With this cursed heritage, that colonialist policy, the city is a disaster. And it is a programmed disaster. On this issue, we can establish a political reason for fighting and struggling, we can battle to ensure that this is not repeated. The idea of profit, of building the city into a business, for profit, is a complete disaster.”

In order to watch the entire interview, access: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jvu6uW8vFEc



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