Juan Herreros is one of the most influential Spanish architects practicing today. Executing a delicate balance between his role defining the practice of architecture with work in the academy, he has not only overseen the construction of significant built projects, but also teaches at School of Architecture of Madrid and is a Full Professor at GSAPP Columbia University in New York. It was recently announced that his winning proposal for the Munch Museum/Deichman Library competition was given the green light. The museum will house the world’s largest collection of Edvard Munch artworks and is scheduled to open in 2018.
Herreros strives to highlight architecture’s multi-faceted, multi-disciplinary nature by revealing the complex relationships that lie behind individual projects—undergirded by what Herreros identifies as a “technical culture” (see the exhibition Dialogue Architecture that he curated at the last Venice Biennale).
Together with Iñaki Abalos he founded Abalos&Herreros in 1984. In 1992 they founded the International Multimedia League (LMI), an organization that contributes to the simpliﬁcation and intensiﬁcation of artistic practice. Since 2006 he practices with the firm Herreros Arquitectos a collaborative office that has won numerous competitions and commissions. His projects can be found around the world and range from schemes for public spaces to designs for houses.
“Something unique about [our] studio is that, given the difficulties of doing research in architecture today and the usefulness of the “research applied to architecture” concept, we maintain two open, integrated lines of work: one line maintains small projects, very quick, very immediate; and the other is related to the large projects, generally the result of international competitions around the world.”
Check out a full transcript of our interview with Herreros after the break…
Juan Herreros: My name is Juan Herreros, architect, based in Madrid. I am the founding principal of Juan Herreros Arquitectos. I teach at the Polytechnic University of Madrid (UPM), a school that I’ve had a relationship with since I was 36, 37 years ago. I am also a teacher at Columbia GSAPP, and so I maintain a very close link to the academic and professional worlds, which I understand as two laboratories: one is a field of experimentation for what you want to accomplish in the other.
Herreros Arquitectos is an office with 20 people. We believe that it can be explained as a collaborative platform where people really contribute and participate in projects in a way that goes beyond the traditional hierarchy model, something that you can see in our proposal for the 2012 Venice Biennale.
Something unique about this studio is that, given the difficulties of doing research in architecture today and the usefulness of the “research applied to architecture” concept, we maintain two open, integrated lines of work: one line maintains small projects, very quick, very immediate; and the other is related to the large projects, generally the result of international competitions around the world.
ArchDaily: What is Architecture?
Juan Herreros: It is, I believe, a place where several situations, interests and desires come together, which have to do with the exploration of what it is that we want, what gives us pleasure, how we want to live. Architecture, really, can be many things, what is important is how each one lives it. In my case it is really the activity that a group of people develops so others can find the harmony between their desires and their environment.
I believe that today the role of the architect in society is to establish links between different worlds, which for historic reasons weren’t necessarily related; therefore, today, the architect has to be a tool for dialogue and an analyst during the conception of things, rather than a mere designer of buildings.
ArchDaily: What is the importance of innovation in your office?
Juan Herreros: The concept of innovation that I am interested in has to do with the progress of concepts and ideas and not with a fascination with new technologies or resources. The true innovation is the evolution of concepts; for example, to ask ourselves until what point can we simplify our complex world; until what point can we develop an architecture that reaches more people; until what point can we stick to apparently certain, immovable truths of the architecture practice that have turned into nothing and now barely have any significance?
I think that architecture must review all these concepts and free itself from the weights that have recently impeded it from moving fluidly.
ArchDaily: What is the importance of networking for your work?
Juan Herreros: I’m not very interested in concepts from the worlds of economics, philosophy or biology, probably because I have a technical background, so you could say there are things that I live with more naturally.
Networking seems to me as natural as the air we breathe, I mean, we cannot suddenly discover it, as if it were a novelty. Networking means we can utilize a place within a complex organization, an organization that’s outside us, and operate within it, giving it personality and a sense of purpose.
Networking can be understood in many ways, positive and also negative, but for me it is basically the construction of an architectural community, as it exists in the scientific community, for example, where the work of one architect can be useful for others.
ArchDaily: What is the importance of the Internet for your work?
Juan Herreros: We don’t do much beyond the usual on the Internet, but we perfectly understand that these common things are absolutely vital.
In my case, I am not as much in the office as I’d like to be, and to have simple and fluid communication is essential. But beyond this, the Internet is basically a reference archive and a place of constant confrontation between what we want to do and what other people have done. In this aspect, while not having a dependence on the Internet, we are constantly connected to certain places where we interact and maintain an open dialog, which gives our studio its personality.
ArchDaily: What would you recommend to someone who wants to study architecture?
Juan Herreros: When it comes to giving advice to an architecture student or someone who wants to study architecture, I can be exaggeratedly old-fashioned: I think that the most important thing an architecture student can have is culture – with the caveat that culture is not something that you find in books or that can be learned, but something that implies maintaining an open and interested attitude towards what is happening in the world. I think that there is no architect who doesn’t have a directed, intentioned, willing knowledge about what happens in our present. So, I would recommend to an architecture student, and maybe not just particularly architecture, to have an education as extraordinary as possible. And, if possible, to focus it in one direction, any, but with a certain specificity: I mean, with a unique focus, a personal focus that will let you, in the future, add something concrete or new that others don’t know.
ArchDaily: From your experience, what can you tell us about running an architecture office?
Juan Herreros: Well, to direct an architecture office today is no longer to have a workshop with apprentices and masters, it is really an enterprise, with strong ties to the pragmatic world - which is, I suppose, less exciting, but I think that it’s very important that studios maintain a certain personality, a character. A way that studios can be somehow identified, that makes them unique at a certain moment. In this sense I believe that the most exciting adventure in running your studio is generating this personal identity and being able to say “well, today our office has these characteristics - or we want it to have those characteristics”. This is a very important project in itself. I think that in the future it’s going to be harder to pursue your career and run your own studio as there will be so many figures and types of studios, but the ones who will be able to survive in this highly competitive environment will be those that have a unique identity.