El Sindicato: “We Use Architecture as a Tool”

El Sindicato was born in 2014, when Xavier Duque, Maria Reinoso and Nicolás Viteri joined forces against the boss-employee way of working. They stop working for other people. They do their own thing. What they like the most inside and outside the profession. They affirm that it is not, and they do not want it to be, an architecture office, but a life project.

From Ecuador, their work is collaborative and experimental. They develop skills and general knowledge. They are practical and precise. The Parasite House is one of these. It focuses on solving the basic needs of habitability by ensuring all the comforts of a home in a reduced area of the terrace of a popular building in Quito. The Slope House is another. It seeks to resolve with a single architectural object the varied needs of a family, with a route that provides a solution to the steep slope of the terrain. First and foremost, they use architecture as a tool.

In the following interview with El Sindicato, they tell us in more detail about all their inspirations, motivations, work processes and upcoming projects.  

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Casa parásito / El Sindicato Arquitectura. Image © Andrés Villota
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Casa parásito / El Sindicato Arquitectura. Image © Andrés Villota

Fabian Dejtiar (FD): You present yourselves against the "boss-employee" way of working. You stopped working for other people and took the decision to form a collective and do your own thing. What is the story behind all this? What inspired you to follow this path? 

El Sindicato (ES): Behind it are all the experiences as students and interns in different architecture studios that brought us face to face with a professional environment that worships work and productivity, often to the detriment of personal wellbeing and development. We decided very early on, while still at university, that we didn't want to "kill ourselves" for offices or studios in which, for better or worse, you end up being just one more hand.

Even though we made the decision to start the union while still at university, we started out flawed. We still wanted to do a lot, to be super productive, to make a name for ourselves, to be an "office of good" and we ended up making ourselves live what we didn't want to live for others. Something that is probably a carry-over from what is inculcated in us from the universities where we normalise self-exploitation disguised as "success". Luckily, as El Sindicato is our own project, we were able to question ourselves and refocus. We realised that El Sindicato is not, nor do we want it to be, an architecture office, that it is a life project in which we unite specifically for the ideals that lie behind this denomination, the search for benefits on a personal level from collective action. We do architecture and we build but we focus a lot on our personal quests. Although the architectural production of our studio may seem small, we do projects that fill us with satisfaction and that address our personal quests from different angles.

FD: In this sense, how does all this translate into your work process?

ES: We still feel we are a fairly young project and we try to disassociate ourselves from the idea of a formal office, so our processes are constantly under construction and although having clear processes is very important and something to which we have dedicated a lot of time, we dilute our practice quite a lot by using architecture as a tool. So, for example, if you want to make a clothing line, you spend time designing and building a shelf or a display case, and if someone else wants to raise chickens, you spend time designing and building a chicken coop, even if our aim is not to be a clothing shop or a chicken farm. We always try to do projects related to our personal quests or at least we allow ourselves to have time to develop them on the outside using El Sindicato as this platform that gives you financial, emotional and creative support to have the freedom to do and keep learning.

We also respect and value our collaborators very highly and make sure that they have at least the same conditions as us according to their responsibilities, so if the economy of the office does not allow us we do not accept collaborations even though many offer to work without pay in order to "learn". We have missed out on the opportunity to collaborate with amazing people because of this but we feel that this is a practice that goes against our union ethos as it perpetuates the cycle of self-exploitation and devaluation of the individual, we believe that all work should be valued as we all have something to contribute.

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Casa en pendiente / El Sindicato Arquitectura. Image © Andrés Villota
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Casa en pendiente / El Sindicato Arquitectura. Image © Andrés Villota

FD: The Parasite House project you carried out in 2019 was the winner of the Small Scale and Interventions section of the Building of The Year 2020 Award. So far, what has this recognition and wide dissemination allowed you to achieve?

ES: The fact that Parasite House has won a prize like the BOTY 2020 has first of all restored our faith in what is consumed in the media of large-scale architecture. Especially because it is a project that is focused neither on aesthetics nor on being photogenic, but on pushing the idea of living with little by taking advantage of underused infrastructure. It is a project in which the architectural object takes a back seat to what we believe is a powerful urban strategy and so in the current environment in which the image takes precedence that a project like this wins a massive voting process is encouraging.

For example, it put us on the radar of Tadao Ando, who selected the project in his curatorial process for the 2021 DOMUS magazines, or in that of print and digital publishers, where we never imagined the project would be.
Also as a result of the importance given to casa parásito, opportunities have arisen and continue to arise, such as recognition, economic prizes, papers or the development of publications and manuals. Another great benefit of the great exposure that winning awards like Building of the Year gives you is that it puts you on the radar of big companies like the one that hired us to develop an online course on integral architectural design.

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Habitación en el cerro / El Sindicato Arquitectura. Image © Andrés Villota
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Habitación en el cerro / El Sindicato Arquitectura. Image © Andrés Villota

FD: You recently launched an online course in which you seek to disseminate your design methodology and where you give the example of this house. Could you tell us a bit more about what motivated you to disseminate all this on the internet?

ES: In the course, we talk about what we would have liked to have been told when we started. Although we see design and construction as trades that are learned by doing, it would have been very helpful to understand at the beginning that it is vital, in the process of learning by doing, to develop methodologies and processes that fit our way of working on projects. And although we started to develop this methodology almost in the first or second year, after 7 years of Sindicato and a lot of headaches, we are getting more clarity about how to approach our projects. We wanted to share this and make those who take the course aware that projects are not a matter of artistic inspiration and luck, the methodology and the processes we use are very important to us and serve us above all to facilitate processes without standardising results.

The Internet and, in this case, companies focused on the digital dissemination of content, are the ideal tools to disseminate this, as they allow access to this type of content from anywhere in the world at the times and times that everyone can afford, and at very low costs.

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Casa entre árboles / El Sindicato Arquitectura. Image © Andrés Villota
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Casa entre árboles / El Sindicato Arquitectura. Image © Andrés Villota

FD: You have recently finished and published your latest project Slope House. I would like to know now, what next projects are on the way?

ES: We are currently quite comfortable with the size of the office and we don't want it to change. From experience, we understand that to sustain ourselves financially we need to do a few "productive" projects a year, like building one or two client projects and designing three or four. We are not really looking to receive more work than that because we know that more work would limit us a lot in developing personal or office projects that give an extra motivation to what we do. For example, after receiving a financial award from the Holcim Awards for Sustainable Construction, we decided to build an El Sindicato house. Projects like this we love and they motivate us a lot because they give us the freedom to push the boundaries, do things as we think of them, and experiment with ourselves. We are also currently preparing a publication on the main issues that the Parasite House touches on from three aspects: economics, politics and philosophy, anchored to the publication of its construction manual and the sale of licenses for its reproduction worldwide.  

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Cite: Dejtiar, Fabian. "El Sindicato: “We Use Architecture as a Tool”" [El Sindicato: "Usamos a la arquitectura como una herramienta"] 01 Mar 2022. ArchDaily. (Trans. Pérez Bravo, Amelia) Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/977523/el-sindicato-we-use-architecture-as-a-tool> ISSN 0719-8884

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Casa parásito / El Sindicato Arquitectura. Image © Andrés Villota

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