Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Barozzi Veiga: A Question of Character

Szczecin Philharmonic. Images courtesy Barozzi Veiga

New architectural talent tends to erupt quite suddenly on the international scene. Some may remember, back in 1983, when an unknown architect won an international competition with a design of impossibly abstract, sweeping volumes inspired in the revolutionary proposals of the Russian Suprematists. The project was The Peak, in Hong Kong, and the young architect was Zaha Hadid. Studying her painterly renderings at the time, one realized that nothing would ever be quite the same again in architecture.

This sense of generational renewal accompanied the news last year that the young, unknown Barcelona-based practice of Fabrizio Barozzi and Alberto Veiga had won the prestigious European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture, also known as the Mies van der Rohe Award, for their Philharmonic Hall in Szczecin, Poland. The commission is only their third finished building to date. But with its translucent profile of jagged glass gables, an expressive but hauntingly subdued echo of the steep peaked roofs of the city, the work announced a new voice in architecture, a new sensibility: intensely poetic, high-minded rather than playful, and with strains of a lofty, melancholy romanticism.

In the wake of the world-wide recession of 2008, the exuberant inventiveness of architects such as Hadid, Santiago Calatrava or Frank Gehry has come to seem dated and excessive, while new concerns such as sustainability and energy conservation have proved insufficient in themselves to inspire architectural renewal. Coming of age during the crisis –they founded their practice in 2004– Barozzi and Veiga have stepped in to fill this void at precisely the right moment.

Speaking from the partners' studio in Barcelona, Alberto Veiga explains their design method: "Fabrizio and I try to synthesize all the problems that come up in the design process and condense them to as much as possible. But we're not minimalists. Often we are quite expressive. But we try to be very clear about the ideas we wish to materialize. The best way to confront the complexity of things is often not to respond with more complexity, but rather by trying to resolve them simply. To reduce them to their essence."

This approach is reflected in the exquisite renderings the two prepare for each project. They earn their commissions entirely through competitions, and spend weeks elaborating these presentations, seeking to convey not only the essential idea of a design but a particular mood and atmosphere.

Rendering, Tanzhaus, Zürich

Veiga and Barozzi met in Seville, while working in the studio of the architect Guillermo Vázquez Consuegra. Barozzi, who is 39, is from northern Italy, and had arrived from the University of Venice on an Erasmus Scholarship. Born in Galicia, in northwestern Spain, 42 years ago, Veiga had studied in Pamplona, followed by a stint with local architect Francisco Mangado, before moving on to Seville. The two began collaborating on the side, and after winning a competition they decided to set up shop on their own. They moved to Barcelona –roughly halfway between Italy and Galicia, Veiga points out– and found a modest flat on a leafy street in the heart of L'Eixample, Ildefons Cerdà's magnificent 19th century expansion of the city, where they work with 13 architects and interns.

Águilas Congress Center

One of the first competitions they won was for an auditorium beside the sea in the town of Águilas, in the southern province of Murcia, Spain. A compact, monolithic cube finished in white stucco, it is subtly modeled like a sculpted piece of stone. "The building is intersected by two spheres and a cone," Veiga comments. "Being by the sea, its appearance changes constantly with the light, and its dynamic – your perception of the volume changes as you approach it."

Denomination Ribera de Duero Headqyarters, Roa, Spain

Their third built project to date focuses mainly on making public space rather than on the sculptural objecthood of the building itself. Located in the small rural town of Roa, Spain, and housing the headquarters for administering the "Ribera de Duero" wine denomination, the design is broken down into fragments, finished in stone like other important buildings of the town, and grouped around a small plaza framing a view of the countryside. A similar strategy informs the much larger Museum of Fine Arts in Lausanne, where the two architects have designed the building as a background to the new public space they make beside it. Projects currently under construction include a dance school in Zürich and a music conservatory in Brunico, Italy.

Rendering, Cantonal Museum, Lausanne
  Veiga maintains that what matters most in all these works is the question of character. "To be bigger or taller or use more colors or materials doesn't make a design stronger," he observes. "Buildings can be simpler, but what they have to emit is a certain attitude or character. What we bring to a project is to identify the character of its context, what matters most, and try to make it more intense, more potent."

Concepts: Barrozi - Veiga
Gaggenau New Spaces

Spring 2016, pages 14 - 21

Other blog entries on Barozzi Veiga:
Barozzi - Veiga: Building the Void
Dec. 3, 2014

New Kids on the Block: Estudio Barozzi Veiga
May 1, 2013

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