“Designing Is Not Drawing, It Is Building”: Interview With messina | rivas

“Designing Is Not Drawing, It Is Building”: Interview With messina | rivas

The act of designing implies not only drawing, but building. It carries – or should carry – with it the same rigor and complexity as the execution on the construction site. That's what Francisco Rivas and Rodrigo Messina believe, partners at messina in | rivas, a São Paulo-based firm that has already gained national and international recognition, also selected among the best new practices of 2021 by ArchDaily.

Formed by a Brazilian and an Argentine who met in Paraguay while working at Gabinete de Arquitectura, the office is known for works such as The Chapel Ingá-Mirim, finalist for the Instituto Tomie Ohtake AkzoNobel Architecture Prize 2020 and the Oscar Niemeyer Prize 2020, and São Roque Sauna. More recently, it was elected the winner of the competition for the Maritime Museum of Brazil with the Argentine office Ben-Avid.

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We spoke with Rivas and Messina about their work at different scales, their vision of reusing resources and what can be learned from pre-existences. Read the full interview below.

Romullo Baratto (ArchDaily): The practice is formed by the partners Francisco Rivas, an Argentine who graduated in Córdoba, and Rodrigo Messina, who is Brazilian, from São Paulo, but studied in Rio de Janeiro. Both worked at Gabinete de Arquitectura of Solano Benitez and Gloria Cabral in Asunción, Paraguay. Was that when you first met? What led you to open an office in São Paulo?

Francisco Rivas: After I graduated in Córdoba, I made an appointment with Solano to visit Gabinete de Arquitectura in January 2015. I wanted to better understand what I had studied in college about their works. When I arrived in Asunción, some friends from the office Culata Jovai took me to see one of their first works, Casa Ilona, a refurbishment that used to work as a residential complex. It was there that I met Rô who, by coincidence, had just arrived in Asunción to work at the Gabinete.The scheduled visit to the office turned into a beer at the emblematic bar La Alemana, where I met the whole team and a group that ended up becoming great friends. After that, I started working in the Gabinete together with Gloria, Solanito, Solano, Rodri, among many other people who passed through the office in that beautiful year and a half that I stayed with them.

Rodrigo Messina: I remember I was cooking when Fran came to visit Casa Ilona. I had just arrived from Chile, where I had spent six months at the Catholic University of Valparaíso. On that occasion, I went to see a lecture by Carla Juaçaba, who was my teacher and from whom I learned a lot when I collaborated on some projects in Rio. She introduced me to Solano and encouraged me to work there when I finished the exchange. That's what I did, I dropped out of college and went to Asunción for six months.

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Sauna São Roque. Image © Federico Cairoli

FR: And we started the office in the middle of 2016. Ro had already returned to Brazil and called me saying that he had received a request to make a Sauna and asked if I would do it together. As I had been in Paraguay for some time, I was looking for another experience where I could make a mistake on my own, so I decided to go to São Paulo to face the project.

RM: The funny thing is that I called Fran out of desperation. I remember saying: “Fran, I don't know how to design, where do I start?” He replied, “Look, I don't know if I know either, but it's a good opportunity for us to make mistakes together” And we've been doing it ever since, making mistakes.

RB: Could you tell us a little about your experience working in Paraguay with Solano Benitez and Gloria Cabral? What were the greatest lessons from that time that you brought to the practice in messina | rivas?

FR: I can point out two important aspects that helped me to understand some things, which until now are still teaching me. The first is that it was there that I understood that in the act of designing, you don't draw, you build it. Be aware that between the design decisions in the office and the construction carried out by the team on site, there is a world. If the project is not conceived with the complexity and rigor it deserves at the beginning, it is very easy to lose the initial idea in the process.

The second is the narratives. I felt it was very important to know how to tell the project as if telling a story, to tell a whole with ease, without losing the technical specificity of what we were doing. This practice was a way of talking that went beyond the office, it happened at any time, even at the lunches we shared day by day with Abu, Solano's mother. Because the office operates in the middle of the basement of her house, we always had the opportunity and pleasure to have lunch together with Abu. In these banquets, in addition to having incredible food, there was also a lot of talk about the most varied topics, that is, the narratives did not stop.

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Reforma da Casa Nica. Image © Federico Cairoli

RM: In the last week before leaving Asunción, I wrote a short text, reporting the experience of working there. I read it at lunches with Abu, and then Solano and Glória invited me to publish it in the Argentine magazine 1:100, with the title semillas imaginarias [imaginary seeds]. There are many seeds that the experience in Asunción left and little by little we are seeing them blossom, but I think that a certain compliment to the courage I felt there was essential. Many of our friends were designing and building even before they graduated. And they were not afraid of making mistakes, on the contrary, making mistakes was a method. Hence the motto “learning by doing” that we always heard there, as if the concept arose after the finished work.

And aside from that, something that always intrigued me was the country's bilingual status. I keep asking myself, for example, how much the Guarani presence can affect the practice of projects there, given that this is the predominant language at the construction site.

RB: In the Sauna São Roque project, you describe that the project was thought of as an “essay between design and construction”, a way of thinking that takes into account the possible answers that the place can offer in the process of designing and executing a work. How do you see the relation between the project and the construction site?

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Sauna São Roque. Image © Federico Cairoli

FR: The Sauna was our first work, we were excited to better understand the construction process, communication, times, costs, unforeseen events, etc. At that moment, we understood that the most efficient thing for the project was to closely monitor the work of Lorivaldo and Seu Walter, the people working on the project.

Choosing the most efficient path always depends on the project, time, resources, technology, geography, etc. In this sense, we do not seek to be understood, we seek to make ourselves understood. Our communication cannot always be the same, because they are not always the same people, they do not always know how to interpret a constructive detail or are not always willing to trust local knowledge. That's why our communication is always in order to transmit, in the best possible way, the information necessary for the project to be built.

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Capela Ingá-Mirim. Processos. Image Cortesia de messina | Rivas

RM: Once we participated in Ser Urbano at PUC-Rio, and Otavio Leonídio made a comment that we liked. He said that some of our projects started already as if they were halfway there. I like this comment because it answers that first question: how to start a project? And it's a possible way to think that we've already started in the middle of the process, which avoids the embarrassment of having to invent something from scratch.

And I think that this idea of designing through the context ends up guiding some actions, because we understand the environment in its three senses: as a process, temporality, as an environment, circumstances, etc. and, finally, as procedures, design resources. In this sense, the construction site is a means and, sometimes, it is from there that we make certain decisions.

For example, in the sauna, we first talked to engineers, who had insisted that mortar was needed to tie the tiles together. But as we decided to do the work, with Lorivaldo and Seu Valter we built little by little and felt what was needed as we went along. In the end, with them, we did it without mortar, with a slab that compresses the wall and some iron profiles that articulate and stabilize them.

RB: The reuse of materials is a common practice in office projects, seen for example in the wide use of brick in your works. How would you describe the relationship between the partial or total dismantling of a building and the reinsertion of materials into a new project?

FR: We like to understand the idea of a resource in its broad sense, that is, a resource is not just the physical condition of a material, it is also the relationships involved in its environment. We can understand as resources the technical condition available for a work, the financial, political or geographical condition. Thus, in the resources we find a greater range of complexities that help to understand each project opportunity, as an example to think about and seek to respond to all these variables. That said, partial or total disassembly does not come from a “sustainable” choice or a moral attitude, it comes from seeking to understand the overall context of the project, where sometimes the act of disassembly responds to the context and sometimes it makes no sense at all. .

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Capela Ingá-Mirim. Processos. Image Cortesia de messina | Rivas

RM: Last year we were invited to participate in the Seoul Architecture Biennale, in South Korea, with an installation that presented the Chapel project. We named the installation Disarm to Continue and we tried to reflect on this subject. Disarming, first of all, is an action. An action that presupposes that a construction is made of reinforced materials, a weft, a fabric. If that's the case, the arming possibilities are many and we can disarm and arm endlessly.

The assembly and disassembly processes presuppose stable materials, disarming not necessarily, because a brick that was a wall can become a floor, a stone that was a floor, can become a wall, a tile that was a roof, can become a wall, and so on. The idea of disarming seeks to change the condition of the material and to think about the temporality of architectures that were made to last.

RB: O que um projeto de reforma pode aprender com a preexistência, de acordo com a experiência do escritório?

FR: Pre-existences talk, whether those violated by changes over time, made by different people, at different times, those who suffered abandonment, or those privileged who were always respected. The pre-existences are there, talking about what went right and what went wrong, what we learned the most and still continue to learn from them is simply listening to them.

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Capela Ingá-Mirim. Image © Federico Cairoli

RM: The other day we participated in the Ateliê Aberto da UFRJ, a conversation program in which professors and students analyze a project with the architects who designed that project as a listener. They were analyzing the chapel, and the curious thing is that one of the materials they needed for the analysis was our survey. We hadn't thought of that, but this attention to the survey is fundamental for us and, many times, it ends up being outsourced by the offices. But it seems to me that this is an opportune phase for us to make a fiction of the place, that is, to tell one of the multiple possibilities of stories of a place. In this sense, it's as if the pre-existences, the place, yes, we invent, but not the project.

RB: Together with the Argentinean office Ben-Avid, you won the competition for the Maritime Museum of Brazil, whose scale is radically larger than the other works in your portfolio. What lessons learned from the smaller, residential scale could be used in the development of the museum?

RM: I think it's cool to tell you that we met Martin in 2018 at a house party. Federico Cairoli, a great friend, architect and photographer, said that he was in São Paulo and that it would be nice to invite him to meet us. Since then, we have been exchanging ideas, until we got together to develop a path for the Contest of the Maritime Museum of Brazil. We agreed not only because we could design with a great friend, but also because of the quality of work that the team in Córdoba has been developing. And this is a working method in which a lot can be learned because it involves willingness of the parties to affect and be affected by differences, it opens the horizon of project possibilities.

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Proposta vencedora do concurso para o Museu Marítimo do Brasil. Cortesia de Cortesia de messina | rivas e Ben-Avid

We have been developing projects on larger scales that are still in process. And the curious thing is that the feeling it gives is that the level of responsibility does not change. And I think that a lot of this happens because the scale is an abstraction, that is, a resource created, precisely, to be able to master the measurement of things and be able to respond with a project. With that, I tend to think that, in a certain sense, we are somewhat pragmatic, that is, we analyze the conditions of a project, what are the relations involved, the participating actors, the material and project resources available, and we ask ourselves with which design procedures, with which actions, decisions, we will respond, imagining the possible effects without giving up the possible unforeseen. And that's all sort of independent of scale.

This article is part of the ArchDaily Topic: New Practices. Monthly, we explore a specific topic through articles, interviews, news and projects. Learn more about monthly topics. As always, ArchDaily is open to contributions from our readers; if you want to submit an article or project, please contact us.

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Cite: Baratto, Romullo. "“Designing Is Not Drawing, It Is Building”: Interview With messina | rivas" ["Projetar não é desenhar, é construir": entrevista com messina | rivas] 07 Mar 2022. ArchDaily. (Trans. Simões, Diogo) Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/977927/designing-is-not-drawing-it-is-building-interview-with-messina-rivas> ISSN 0719-8884

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Imagem de fundo: Capela Ingá-Mirim, foto de © Federico Cairoli

messina | rivas:“建筑师的工作不是画图,是建造”|ArchDaily年度青年建筑师专访

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