Spanish architect Fran Silvestre is well known for his portfolio of nuanced, clean, and decidedly modern works. Each project is as stunning as the next, the type of home that shows up in Bond films and populates the Pinterest boards of aspiring homeowners.
Silvestre began his architectural career in earnest at the office of Alvaro Siza, an experience he cites as the foundation of his approach. "It was an incredible time, I learned all about architecture there," explains Silvestre. "I was impressed by his style of work....for me, he is a genius." Silvestre left Siza's office in the early 2000s to open his own practice, which itself took off in 2005.
Since then, he's continued to practice but has also built a career in teaching that he considers educational for him as well. Silvestre recently sat down with architect and researcher Can Ziyal to discuss his work, concerns about contemporary architectural education, and hopes for the future of the field. Their discussion, here:
Can Ziyal: Would you like to introduce yourself to our readers?
Fran Silvestre: We are not a very big architecture firm. We want to materialize the beauty with our work. We like to satisfy the owner of the project and everybody who takes part in the procedure - including our collaborators. Right now, there are 27 people working in our office.
CZ: What made you become an architect?
FS: Our family has a big tradition of engineers with more than 5 generations. My great-great grandfather designed the first car in the world. He was an inventor who never went to university and he designed a machine running with vapor that moves without rails. After him all the generations became engineers. I grew up next to a library with a great selection of engineering books. I realized that I liked the artistic side of design and decided to become an architect.
Of course, the Mediterranean also has a great influence on me. When I lived several years outside of here, I realized how much I missed the Spanish blue sky and the typical light.
CZ: What is architecture to you?
FS: Architecture is more than buildings. We build an identity for the people who live and work in our designs where people’s desires become the reality. Sometimes you can change the life of a person just by a design.
CZ: When you think about the word architecture, is there a building or architect comes to your mind instantly?
FS: I do not know why but it reminds me of very old architecture such as Baroque, Borromini, Alhambra. For me, Alhambra is one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. Also, it reminds me of the Roman church in the north of Spain, Santa Maria del Naranco. It is an incredible and beautiful small church.
[The most] iconic building for me is the Alhambra. In fact, it is not a building, it is a sequence of gardens and you cannot tell the exact shape of the Alhambra. The iconic architect for me might be Alvar Aalto.
CZ: Is there an iconic project that you say you would have done it differently?
FS: There are many iconic projects that I prefer to do it in a different way. The necessity of iconic buildings is a problem. In the last 10 years, we have been talking about the Guggenheim effect and there is too much of it in the world.
CZ: You have a distinct style and it is easy to tell that a project is designed by you after seeing a picture. Is that something you are proud of? Do you think every architect should have a distinct style? Is that something you had in mind before designing them?
FS: No. It is good that people can tell it is a Fran Silvestre Arquitectos project, but it is not something we look for. Maybe it is a question of method. It is a method that resolves at the end. When you look at our projects, you can see that the same method is used. For this, I use a comparison between calligraphy and text. You can have calligraphy and you can make a distinction of a letter. However, for us, calligraphy is not important. The meaning of the text is.
CZ: Which project of yours has most shaped your career?
FS: I think all of the projects in the beginning changed my career but Cliffside House (Casa Acantilada) had the biggest impact. It was very popular in the media and brought the attention on us. People thought if they could do this with a small budget house, they can easily do other projects.
CZ: We know that you have been teaching in the universities, how long have you been doing so? And how does it affect your professional career?
FS: I have been teaching since 2005. I started to teach at the same time that I established my office. When you teach your mind is always open. I am not a genius like Alvaro Siza so I need a great team to work with. The work of our office is only possible with the people in our team. I would have preferred to not to have my name in our office title to put more emphasis on their part but it happened that way. With the help of teaching, I have a great option to choose the team I need from my students.
CZ: You have started a series of programs called March. Would you like to talk about them?
FS: I teach at the Polytechnic University of Valencia and after several years I felt a frustration among students about what to do with their careers because they are not sure what to do. They are very good students but they feel like they need more guidance towards their futures. This could happen to a couple of students but if all of the students feel the same way then there is a problem. I asked myself how I find my way. I looked at how Alvaro Siza and Souta de Moura work.
During the five year education we promote and explore the individual talent but in the end, it does not work like that. We do not teach how to work as a team. The world has changed a lot, one person cannot have all the knowledge to do something special.
CZ: Since you are a professor and an architect, what is the difference between the architecture students back in your day and now?
FS: In fact, they have more information now compared to the past. But this not good in every case. There was less information but it had more quality. Now you have a lot of information and you do not know if it is good or bad. What happens is that the good students are better students but the average students are worse compared to past.
CZ: Which comes to first for you? Form or function?
FS: For [our office] they are equal. One is not more important than the other. There is a very interesting book by Peter Zumthor, that talks about the interaction between them. It is true that we start with the shape, the form. However, after we put the function we change the shape again. It is easier for us to start with the form.
It is interesting that the universities in Spain are somewhat academic and you cannot say that you start with the form. You have to say that you start with nothing, with an idea. This is more in trend now.
CZ: Less is more or more is more?
FS: It depends. Of course, more is more. The most important part of a project is to know where to stop. If you are doing a painting, you have to ask yourself where to stop. After a point, if you put more things, the project becomes worse. At that point, less is more.
CZ: How do you decide?
FS: At the end, you feel that it is not necessary to add more and it will not make the project better. There are two words we use, reductionism and holism. It’s important to have a heterogeneous totality.
CZ: The color white is very significant in your projects. Do you think colorless architecture is a better way of expressing yourself?
FS: We use white for three reasons. There is a strong contrast between blue and white. It is a symbol of culture. The second reason is scientific. When you have a white interior it makes it look more spacious. There is also the thermic question. You cannot have a big black box under the Spanish sun. And lastly, it is the subjective reasons about the perception of the beauty.
CZ: If you have to use one word to express your style what would it be? The word comes to my mind is clean.
FS: Yes, maybe clean. The word clean is important to me in relation to the previous question. Imagine we are only talking in terms of interior architecture. The possibility of cleaning a white interior is greater. There is a very good article of Beatriz Colomina, making a relation between architecture and tuberculosis. Because all of the modern architects grew in relation to tuberculosis and they discovered the need for bigger windows to have more light in their houses.
Also, white means clean in mind. When you walk into a white interior, your vision flows, you feel more comfortable.
CZ: Your projects look very different compared to day and night. Is that something you have been pursuing specifically?
FS: Yes, because during the day you have this white space that changes completely with the colors of the sun and at night we use warmer light, 3000K lights which is closer to the fire effect. In offices, we prefer whiter lights and in the houses, we prefer warmer lights.
CZ: What is your biggest motivation in life? What is the reason main reason for you to leave your bed and go to work in the mornings?
FS: For me, it is the curiosity. The possibility to grow and to see what will be the next thing we can do. One of the biggest motivations for me is the project of a project. I know that we can do good buildings now and we know how to do them. However, for me, the project of the team gives me more satisfaction. Just like a football team, I am like the manager now and I will be the team president in the future. To look at how a good team works is precious.
CZ: What advice would you give to young architects and architecture students?
FS: It is important to be yourself because everyone else is taken. It is important to do things in your own way. Of course, you have influence, but if you don’t find your position, at the end you cannot maintain yourself during the years.
CZ: What do you think about the future of architecture?
FS: I am very optimistic about that. Architecture will change completely in the next 10-20 years. The conception of what architecture is will completely change. What we do nowadays will be old-fashioned in the future. The relationship between the landscape, environment and the technology will change our vision that we are not citizens and we are Argonauts and we will need to optimize where we are.