Josep Ferrando is an architect based in Barcelona. He is the Dean of the La Salle Higher Technical School of Architecture (ETSALS), as well as Director of the Obert d'Arquitectura Center of Barcelona and of the Department of Culture of the College of Architects of Catalonia (COAC). Combining his academic career and his frequent lectures, his office develops projects that explore different scales and materials, experimenting with constructive systems and innovative solutions. We talked with him about the importance of materials in architecture, and about the synergies he finds between practice and teaching.
Eduardo Souza (ES): Something that stands out about your work is the variety of materials, construction systems and scales in your projects. What defines the materials and the methods used in each of them?
Josep Ferrando (JF): Material is a double concept. On the one hand, it refers to a physical configuration of matter that is associated with a series of specific properties: resistance to various structural stresses, elastic modulus, moisture absorption coefficient, photosensitivity, and so on. All these characteristics make up the expression of the material and prepare it for the second key concept to understand it: technique. Materials can be shaped by joining various pieces or by molding. Each of these two concepts is associated with a series of techniques related to the optimal measurements of the resulting piece, the way of working its formwork in case they are molded, or the way of working the joints if they are produced by aggregation of small units, to the efficiency of these measurements and to the geometry that they are able to define. Beneath these material operations is the underlying geometry inherent to the basic piece.
Shaped materials tend to be stereotomic. Carvings. Casts. Sculpting. The basic space that results from this type of material is the cave. The cavern. The cavity. Aggregate materials tend to be tectonic. Braided. Aggregates. The basic space that results from this type of material is the nest. The lintel. The portico. The joint and the void are as important as the whole for the definition of the shell that makes up this type of space.
The choice of a material is a function of the available resources and, especially, of the desired spatial system.
The construction of a system indicates that the sum of the parts generates space. And its appeal is revealed in the simultaneous, indeterminate and controlled repetition of a new measure. In designing the rhythms and sequences that articulate the relationship between full and empty, between matter and air.
A system is flexible when it accumulates the maximum amount of algorithms generating complex spaces but without complications. These organizations, made up of several parties related at different levels by similarity and reiteration, make up a complex and constantly diverse group.
The relationships in the system can be: geometric, structural, perceptual, optical, constructive, energetic, etc. In fact, energetic connections also determine the rhythms of space. Heat, wind, temperature and humidity give rise to energetic communicating vessel systems and variable spatial comforts. The flexibility of the system allows its uses and its different forms. Temporality is built by the principle or logic of the system, that is, temporal spatial changes are systematically absorbed.
ES: A project that caught my attention was the Barcelona Building Construmat Ephemeral Space, in which only two materials were used that were later reused for construction purposes. Can you tell us about the decisions made in this project and how circular economy should be more integrated into the thinking of architects?
JF: The fair is a small town. The stands, with their noise and diversity, are the houses; while, due to its scale and monomateriality, common places are associated with the forum, representative of the monumental.
The BBC common spaces were designed with a logic of circular economy, zero cost and zero waste. This prevents more than 25,000m2 of material from becoming waste after 72 hours.
The use of two materials respecting their standard measures prioritized harnessing the maximum use of resources (cost 0, residue 0): the 150gr geotextile in rolls of 2.20m x 200m in length generates a sequence of catenaries that accommodates common uses, and after the fair it is rolled up to be used in construction. Beams from the collection of the Sagrada Familia are stacked in levels to configure furniture, returning to its original pieces after the fair.
A game of dualities intervenes: traction vs compression, stacking vs hanging, light vs heavy, transparent vs opaque, space vs furniture... Light cave and solid hut converse in a kind of dichotomy. Two ways of working - traction or compression - that have been historically present in architecture, from classical to contemporary buildings. Two ways of working in which lighter elements, such as textiles, are contrasted with heavy elements, such as steel. The dialectic between what is light versus what is heavy, what is transparent versus what is opaque... has always been present, and it is what this intervention also wanted to convey.
An original ephemeral architecture, responsible with the planet and that portrays the historical language of construction and, therefore, of architecture.
ES: How does teaching help in the practice of architecture and vice versa?
JF: Practice and academia feed off each other, build synergies.
In the academy there is an effort for didactics that sometimes is lacking in the profession, and sometimes something of the profession is lacking in didactics. I always make a pact with my students on the first day of school: we are not going to talk about taste, we are going to talk about things that are good and things that are not good. A student has to convey the why of things very well. What is "good" has more to do with coherence, with consistency.
Teaching helps in the didactics of the architectural office and this, in turn, helps in the teaching profession.
In accordance with a multifaceted vision of architecture, I combine practice with academia and cultural management. Under this approach and with the conviction that the real challenge lies in managing complexity, I position the method as an analysis tool capable of providing the process with the rigor and efficiency necessary to reformulate the model. Specifically, I am committed to establishing rules of the game governed by flexible systems, a context that allows the formulation of the maximum possible questions and, through a balanced mixture of research and discovery, to find out what is the synthetic and precise answer for all of them at the same time. With this methodology and considering monomateriality, geometry and efficiency as fundamental values, I attempt to create works that not only do not repeat forms, but that are also not predictable, thus achieving the most pertinent and ingenious architectural solution for each circumstance.
Check out part of Josep Ferrando's work on ArchDaily.