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Gustavo Penna | GPA&A


Interview with Gustavo Penna

How did you find out about Ítalo Calvino? How did Calvino get into your creative process, in the context of forming a poetics?
It was through Invisible Cities, which is of wonderful lucidity, wonderful insight. He pictures the cities as women, as entities that talk, they engage in dialogue, they have a character, a weave of personality. You’ll understand the city from a different approach. While today we usually understand the city from its dehumanized face, Ítalo Calvino reminds us that the cities are human. The city is poorly exercised when a dehumanized avenue is built, or a dehumanized viaduct, or buildings. All of them material gestures, all aimed at the real estate market, all for the traffic flow, the transposing of avenues, the road intersections, never contemplating the human eye, the human heart, the possibility for a kind relationship. If, by any chance, we, urbanists, remove the Architecture from the process of forming a city, we’ll be taking the human dimension away from the building process. We want to build human buildings, through which we can tell there is a huge difference between a beautiful construction and an architectural construction. Ada Louise Huxtable speaks of it with accuracy. She says she was tired of seeing really beautiful buildings with terrible architecture. I think this is a wonderful picture, a perfect example. Beautifulness is not the same as beauty. It goes like a person who is beautiful and rude, or cold, or mean. This person has no ability to show their inside, it’s only externality.
In his creative process, the author has always demonstrated the search for imagination as a means to reach extra-individual ou extra-subjective knowledge. Visibility would be the "ability to zoom into things eyes closed, conjure up the colours and shapes from the letter on the the white leaf, to think with images". In your architecture, how is this thought considered, inasmuch as it is connected to the concept of nature?
Architecture is something visible from the outside, from the inside, from inside looking in, from outside looking out. Visibility in Architecture is the fruit of its materiality. What concerns me in Architecture, however, is the visibility of the concept. The concept that guided the design of a building has to be visible. And it’s not only about the visibility of the connection between the building and its space, its surroundings. What I mean is the visibility of its connection with the ground. The ground is more than a geographical spot, it’s also an anthropologic ground, a cultural ground, a socioeconomic ground. Ours is the ground that involves our building in time and space.

And such time is Earth. I actually make an analogy between the architect and the journalist, in which both are somehow doomed to the ground: neither the journalist fabricates the fact, nor the architect fabricates the land. We can’t fabricate this principle. This is a principle of very strong materiality, it’s the fundamental condition. I can’t even fabricate its inexistence. This materiality, maybe returning to “navigating the air with the strength of the ground”, is exactly what leads us to transcendence. That’s from where art is found. Despite concreteness, rise creativity, interpretation, concept. And also visibility. I make your way home visible. I’ll tell you stories, I’ll present you shadows, I’ll show you plains. I have to make it visible so the connection between the person and the building will become visible. I believe a person will only take hold of their space in calm, unequivocal, unfearing fashion when everything is visible, when the intentions are visible.
Inspired by Mikhail Bakhtin, Ítalo Calvino devises the manifold text, which comes to substitute the uniqueness of an unsystematic thinking self and which proceeds through aphorisms, through punctiform and discontinuous lightnings. How would you situate Architecture and the challenges of the multiplicity frame in the simplicity frame?
Architecture is fantastic, because, through it, a building can talk to the world, to men. What sort of character does it have at night, during the day, in a sunny morning, at noon? How does it respond to a party day, to a sad day? The multiplicity of a house is interesting because it’s like a man. It’s not his negative, it lives too. That way, sometimes it means that, by visiting a house, you take a visit to the man. Bachelard discusses it – you pay a visit to the whole of the person.

When you go to some historic sites, it seems everything is working, people are living, the ways they interact with each other are there. Merleau-Ponty said something remarkable: “Everything is multiple because we assume the missteps make the course”. Things should not be faced one way only. On the opposite, they are multiple, made up of many shapes, this characteristic that makes the medium, how the medium interferes with the consistency of this volume – the house that may connect to it. The house was built on a hill where there was a rock and a tree, and those two elements come to be a part of the house. The house is comprised of many elements, not as if isolated into a lab and studied apart. It is truly contaminated by everything around it.

Excerpts from an interview by Celina Borges to the book Gustavo Penna, published in 2000.

Gustavo Penna

Graduated architect from the UFMG School of Architecture (1973)
Professor at the EA-UFMG (1977-2009)
Secretary of Planning for the city of Contagem, MG (1983-84).
Special Aide for the Ministério da Cultura, concerning Projecting of Cultural Centers (1985)
Special Projects Aide for the State of Minas Gerais (1987-89)
Honorary member of the ABCEM (Brazilian Association of Metallic Constructions) (since 1990)
Member of the EA-UFMG Congregation since May 2004

some of the main projects

Guignard School – BH, MG (1994)
Bandeirantes TV Network – BH and Morumbi, SP (1985 and 1992)
Rockwell Fumagalli Technological Center – Limeira, SP (1993)
Globo TV Network – BH, MG (1996)
Escola de Artes e Ofícios – Contagem, MG (1984)
Academia Mineira de Letras (annex) – BH, MG (1990)
Minas Gerais Fairs and Conventions Center – Expominas – BH, MG (2006) Free Press Monument – Brasília, DF (1996)

awards highlights

  • WAF 2010 – World Architecture Festival – CCIB – International Conventions Center (Project: Manacás Residence – Runner-up in the “House” category Barcelona, Spain – Aug 2010.
  • "Melhor da Arquitetura 2010" Award – Arquitetura & Construção magazine – “Residences” category – Finalist – Project: "Lagoa Santa Residence" – Aug 2010. "Residential Buildings" category – Finalist – Project: Zodíaco Building – BH, MG – Aug 2010.
  • "Ordem do Mérito Juscelino Kubitschek" Medal and Diploma. Apr 2010.
  • WAF 2009 – World Architecture Festival – CCIB – International Conventions Center – (Projetc: Japanese Immigration Monument) – Finalist "Display" category. Barcelona – Spain – Nov 2009.
  • "Melhor da Arquitetura 2009" Award – (Arquitetura & Construção magazine) – 1st place, "Residential Condominiums over 3,000 m2" category. Vila Gardner (Nova Lima, MG) – Nov 2009.
  • IBAC 2009 Award – Instituto Brasileiro de Arte e Cultura – 1st place, "Architecture" category – São Paulo – Nov 2009.

international exhibitions

WAF 2010 – World Architecture Festival – CCIB – International Conventions Center ("Manacás Residence" Project) – Finalist "House" category. Barcelona, Spain. Aug 2010.
WAF 2009 – World Architecture Festival – CCIB – International Conventions Center – ("Japanese Immigration Monument" project) – Finalist "Display" category. Barcelona, Spain. Nov 2009.
Panorama de La Arquitectura Brasileña – University of Los Angeles. Bogota, Colombia. Oct 2004.
Exhibition "Encore Moderne? Architecture Contemporaine au Brésil" – Institut Français d'Architecture – IFA – Palais de La Porte Dorée. Paris, France. Oct 2005.
The Eighth Belgrade Triennal of World Architecture. Serbia and Montenegro Embassy. June/July 2006.