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The Body and "Smart Comfort" in Architecture: A Conversation with Marcelo Ferraz

The Body and "Smart Comfort" in Architecture: A Conversation with Marcelo Ferraz

Understanding the relationship between body and space is fundamental to offer the many different experiences that architecture can provide. To reflect on the distinctive scales that encompass the work of an architect, from buildings to furniture, we interviewed Marcelo Ferraz, co-founder of Brasil Arquitetura and Marcenaria Baraúna. His outlook and experience illustrate how the body and its symbolism are crucial when designing a project regardless of its scale.

We asked the architect questions concerning comfort, the importance of respecting cultural differences, and the practice of architecture and furniture design. During his career, he has worked with many different scales - just like Lina Bo Bardi, with whom he collaborated from 1977 to 1992 - producing a whole range of designs with various approaches to the connection between the space and its users.

ArchDaily: Since working with both architecture (Brasil Arquitetura) and furniture design (Baraúna), do you think there is any difference between these two fields in terms of understanding and approaching the human scale?

Marcelo Ferraz: To us, everything is architecture. That's why our book, with the works of Marcenaria Baraúna, is entitled Móvel Como Arquitetura (Furniture as Architecture). Of course, there's the difference in scale and even in materials - joinery for instance is pure wood and complementary hardware, while architecture is a whole universe of possibilities. So there is no conflict, our approach to the demands of furniture or architecture - of buildings or cities - is the same: selection and behavior of materials and construction techniques, a minimum structure required, resource and material efficiency aiming for synthesis, thoroughness and, finally, the most important, pursuing the impact of our designs on the user's intellect and spirit. And this includes both cultural and physical, bodily aspects. Architecture is like an outfit that we wear, or that wears us.

Baraúna's Filó Armchair at Pepiguari House, by Brasil Arquitetura. © Nelson Kon
Baraúna's Filó Armchair at Pepiguari House, by Brasil Arquitetura. © Nelson Kon

How does furniture relate to the scale of the built environment? Or even, how does furniture define the relationship between body and space?

Furniture design has this fascinating process of working on a scale of 1:1, with prototypes that overpower and replace the first drawings and end up creating the - desired - designed object with the help of experimentation on the body at several stages. Plenty of testing, questioning, maturing, changing, and improving - often when the object is already in production. In the architecture of spaces or buildings, this becomes more difficult. But we can strongly assure that the experience of working in the scale of the object helps us a lot in understanding construction, and the so-called architectural detailing, which happens always in the built environment, on a scale of 1:1, when the materials meet one another.

Marcenaria Baraúna. © Bob Wolfenson
Marcenaria Baraúna. © Bob Wolfenson

But back to your question, furniture is our 'underwear', it has to be comfortable and serve - neither more nor less - its purpose. And it does indeed help, to a great extent, to define the spaces in which the moving body will live, interacting with other bodies, with other human beings with distinct desires, different ways of living and perceiving life, the world . . .

I like to say that it's important to think about architecture - on every scale - as meddling in people's lives. I say that to students and young architects so they can meditate a little on the responsibility they bear when designing.

Instituto Socioambiental – ISA / Brasil Arquitetura. © Daniel Ducci
Instituto Socioambiental – ISA / Brasil Arquitetura. © Daniel Ducci

A project can bring comfort, well being, happiness, or even misfortune in the lives of people and communities. After all, not only good projects, but also bad projects can be longlasting. This is a serious matter and must be rigorously handled.

Praça das Artes / Brasil Arquitetura. © Nelson Kon
Praça das Artes / Brasil Arquitetura. © Nelson Kon

Especially after modern architecture, there has been a standardization of the human body to think about the built environment as well as ergonomics, which is very disputed nowadays due to the alienation of several bodies that don't conform to the norm. What do you think about this attempt to create a universal body within the scope of the project?

Well, I think the human body is still basically the same in terms of its size, sometimes slightly bigger or smaller in different places of the world, but it is very similar. I don't see these differences that you mention. It's the issues of cultural differences that are really important and should be taken into account when designing.

Sketch - House at Lapa / Brasil Arquitetura
Sketch - House at Lapa / Brasil Arquitetura

The ways of living and interacting with others, of dwelling and having biological needs taken care of, eating habits or festivities - dating, singing, dancing, praying, etc. -, memories, symbolic values... these things are diverse, rich, and must be treated with respect and taken into account when designing.

Yet, always applying universal rules of hygiene, salubrity, promoting conviviality of different people and practicing tolerance, dignified life, in short, things that we dream for our cities.

Section AA - Girassol Pavilion / Brasil Arquitetura
Section AA - Girassol Pavilion / Brasil Arquitetura

People from different cultures have different traditions and aesthetic preferences. At the same time, there is a globalization of the language that ultimately results in somewhat homogeneous projects. How can one create a unique design that stays true to its roots? Actually, do you think it is important to stay true to your roots in terms of design?

In a way, I have already started to answer this in the previous question. We are becoming more and more aware of different lifestyles around the globe due to a large amount of sound and visual information available to us, which continues to grow. Does this globalization that you speak of overthrow some of our values, destroy cultures? Maybe so, certainly so. But culture is always in movement, in transformation, in an organic process of fusion, mixing, re-generation . . . it's alive. I know exactly what you mean, to find the same store, with the same architecture, the same objects, in hundreds of cities around the world, everything is the same, homogeneous, pasteurized. This is really very sad. But there is also another side, one that stands up and resists, that lies in the thousands of spoken tongues, professed religions, in the songs and dances, in the people's cuisine. We also look for diversity, uniqueness, originality, with either rigid or soft roots, it doesn't matter.

In fact, as to the need to remain true to one's roots, I don't see the point if they are rotten or infested. Good architecture is the one that's needed, that fulfills its purposes and meets the demands of its time. This jargon is very old and tiresome, but it still counts.

Instituto Socioambiental – ISA / Brasil Arquitetura. © Daniel Ducci
Instituto Socioambiental – ISA / Brasil Arquitetura. © Daniel Ducci

In História da Girafa e da Frei Egídio (The History of the Girafa and Frei Egídio Chairs) there is a reference to the idea of hard comfort as a central guideline in your career alongside Lina Bo Bardi, Francisco Fanucci, and Marcelo Suzuki. Could you tell us a little more about this concept?

I think it's super important and more relevant than it was a few years ago, or even decades. I say this because, in the face of the major environmental disasters that we are experiencing on a global scale, we must address the concept of comfort, the issues of the economy of means and materials, waste-free, and energy-efficient. And this is not cheap demagogy.

We cannot accept the idea of comfort as simply what seems to make people's lives easier or accommodates the needs of the human body, like upholstering everything or adding air-conditioning everywhere, without contemplating the consequences on our bodies, and the consumption of non-renewable resources to achieve a certain type of comfort, which Lina called pseudo-comfort.

Study for the Dom Viçoso Ecumenical Chapel (2019).
Study for the Dom Viçoso Ecumenical Chapel (2019).
Dom Viçoso Ecumenical Chapel (2019). Image Courtesy of Brasil Arquitetura
Dom Viçoso Ecumenical Chapel (2019). Image Courtesy of Brasil Arquitetura

Fully glazed buildings in tropical climates that become almost like greenhouses and are extremely energy consuming and produce harmful heat in cities are just one example of this. We have to rethink our architecture drastically. We must revisit the lessons of our pioneers from the modern movement like Lucio Costa and his group, that have themselves taken lessons from the vernacular and colonial architecture of the past, using elements to filter light and heat such as lattice panels, screen blocks, balconies, and thick walls with great insulating capacity. 

But what is most important is understanding that comfort is that which comforts. Often a stone under the shade of a tree on a hot day in the field provides more comfort than most soft armchairs out there, which can even cause back problems.

Comfort is also quite psychological. So I could translate the term hard comfort into smart comfort, meaning one that satisfies human desires in time and space, the desires of both body and soul. 

Dom Viçoso Ecumenical Chapel (2019). Image Courtesy of Brasil Arquitetura
Dom Viçoso Ecumenical Chapel (2019). Image Courtesy of Brasil Arquitetura

This article is part of the ArchDaily Topic: Human Scale. Every month we explore a topic in-depth through articles, interviews, news, and projects. Learn more about our monthly topics here. As always, at ArchDaily we welcome the contributions of our readers; if you want to submit an article or project, contact us.

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Cite: Delaqua, Victor. "The Body and "Smart Comfort" in Architecture: A Conversation with Marcelo Ferraz" [O corpo e o "conforto inteligente" na arquitetura: uma conversa com Marcelo Ferraz] 30 Oct 2020. ArchDaily. (Trans. Duduch, Tarsila) Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/950245/the-body-and-smart-comfort-in-architecture-a-conversation-with-marcelo-ferraz> ISSN 0719-8884

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