Martin Benavidez founded Ben-Avid in 2018, an architectural practice he runs from Córdoba, Argentina, where he develops national and international architectural projects of various scales and complexities.
His projects are commercial spaces, galleries and exhibition pavilions, urban and metropolitan transport infrastructure, among others. They are collaborative and tell stories. It is architecture that has a narrative. His Pavilion for Expo 2020 Dubai together with MMBB Arquitetos and JPG.ARQ is one of his most recent projects. Its protagonists are the waters of Brazil: its rivers and mangroves, a natural heritage that underlies the whole discourse on the sustainability of the planet.
Selected by ArchDaily as one of the Best New Practices of 2021, we conducted the following interview with Martin to tell us more in detail about all his inspirations, motivations, work processes and upcoming projects.
Fabian Dejtiar (FD): I understand that you studied Modern Literature before pursuing the path of Architecture, what inspired you to follow this new path? What does your literary knowledge allow you to do today?
Martin Benavidez (MB): I studied Modern Literature at the same time as the first years of my Architecture degree. I still don't understand why I left it to continue with Architecture. I suppose that desire is a dark space. But those years at the Faculty of Philosophy and Humanities of the UNC were a founding experience for me. They marked the way in which I went through not only the career of Architecture but also, later on, the practice of the project and also academic practice. During those years I came into contact with authors who radically changed my way of seeing the world, and who still accompany me everywhere I go. Nobody comes out of the study of literature and language unscathed.
On the other hand, a project is a conversation made of drawings, but also, fundamentally, of words. And somehow those initial studies highlighted the importance of the word as a structure of thinking and also of doing. In the office, we try to dwell on that. Writing and teaching are now inseparable parts of our practice, even if in many cases they involve fumbling. We cannot design without rehearsing possible stories of the space we wish to conceive. There is no architecture without narrative. Alexandre Delijaicov speaks of a "literature of architecture" as a condition of the project. I like this idea very much.
FD: You work with projects of different scales and complexities: commercial spaces, galleries and exhibition pavilions, urban and metropolitan transport infrastructure, urban-scale studies, among others. How do you manage to cover all this range? How do you choose what to dedicate more time to?
MB: This is largely due to years of working alongside my teacher, Milton Braga. During my time at his studio MMBB, in São Paulo, I had the opportunity to work on projects of a scope and complexity unimaginable to me before living in Brazil. It was a learning laboratory for which I am very grateful, which allows us today at Ben-Avid to take on projects of varied nature. At the moment, for example, we are developing in Rio de Janeiro, together with my friends Francisco Rivas and Rodrigo Messina, the Maritime Museum of Brazil, almost 300 metres long, and, in parallel, a small floor lamp with the industrial designer Agustín Barrionuevo. I like this tension of sizes and scopes. There is no specific scale of architecture.
FD: In this sense, can you tell us in more detail what your work process is like? What is your design process like?
MB: I would say I have a double fortune. On the one hand, that of working with a young team of architects without whom the office would not be possible. People with a capacity and commitment to their work that never cease to amaze me, with whom we build a collective work space, of permanent critical discussion about what we do. On the other hand, working almost always in association with other studios of friends and teachers with whom it is a privilege to work with. Once again, the idea of the project as a dialogue with a wide range of people appears here.
I recently visited an exhibition of Roberto Burle Marx in Rio de Janeiro where I found an idea of his that I loved: "I detest formulas, I like principles". The idea of invention interests us. I believe that our practice of the project refers to the idea of a craft learned from someone who "has been here before", of a set of working principles that nevertheless allow us to approach each project in a specific way. I understand the project as a way of continuing a discourse, of taking up a voice that reverberates around the blank page even before we pick up the pencil. To project then means to constantly study what has been done before, what has been said before. Bringing it back to the time of the present, perhaps in an unusual way. And this takes all day and a good part of the night. To project is to steal an image from the past but also from the future. There is also something of reverie in this second dimension of the work. Last night a great friend of mine, Gustavo Valsecchi, told me in the bar: "everything that has died can come back to life". I was moved by that idea.
FD: You were recently selected by ArchDaily among the Best New Practices of 2021. What kind of value do you see in this great diffusion? What future projections do you have?
MB: Being selected as one of ArchDaily's New Practices 2021 was a great joy. We only started the studio 3 years ago and I think it shows that our work can be relevant to others. It is a joy shared with all those we work with, and we hope that it will broaden the horizons of our practice.
FD: Finally, what new projects are you currently working on and what would you like to develop further?
MB: At the moment we are busy with projects of varying scope and complexity. As I was saying a moment ago, we are working on the Maritime Museum of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro, a project we recently won in a public competition together with Messina-Rivas. We are also studying the extension of a social club in São Paulo, together with my friends from Canoa Arquitetura. We are planning a building for a private art collection and also a workspace that will work in conjunction with a contemporary art gallery in Cordoba. These days we are also starting the development of a line of furniture that I am very excited about, as it is something we have never done before. All this is in parallel to the development of public architectural competitions, which we try to do frequently.
I don't think there is a project that we would not like to develop further. We have only just begun.