Alberto Campo Baeza is a Spanish architect who was born in Valladolid, where his grandfather was an architect, from the age of two he lived in CADIZ where he saw the LIGHT. From his father he inherited a spirit of ANALYSIS and from his mother the determination to be an architect. Alberto lives in Madrid, where he moved to study Architecture. He has taught at the ETH in Zurich, the EPFL in Lausanne, the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Dublin, Naples, Virginia, Copenhagen, the BAUHAUS in Weimar, and at Kansas State University. Alberto’s works have been widely recognized, he has been awarded the HEINRICH TESSENOW GOLD MEDAL in 2012. In April 2013, Alberto has been awarded BRUNNER PRIZE IN ARCHITECTURE. This last week, Arch2O had a chance to discuss with Alberto Campo Baeza his thoughts and views.
Coffee or Tea?
Coffee. I am more Moorish than English.
Is there one moment in your life that jumps to mind, which shaped who you have become as an architect?
I am aware I am beginning, I think the reason is the main instrument for an architect, as I feel Architecture is the most beautiful labor all over the world.
How and when do you start a design?
When a client makes me a commission. How? Thinking and thinking and thinking.
Olnick Spanu House, New York 2006 – Courtesy Estudio Arquitectura Campo Baeza
How would you describe your style to a stranger recently introduced to you?
I have not a style. I have ideas. I try to build ideas without preconceived forms.
How do you view your body of work? Is it an evolution, are there stages, has it been centered around one thing that you continue to seek?
I continue looking for the Beauty. Beauty is the splendor of the Truth, as Plato said. I try to be truth. ‘”Beauty is truth, truth Beauty”- that is all’, Keats prescribed on his Ode to an Grecian urn. He was right.
Is there any one project which you place above the others you’ve done, in your mind?
My projects are my sons. I cannot declare any preferences. I am very proud of all of my sons.
Do you have contemporaries or precedent individuals who you look to for inspiration in architecture?
I look to for inspiration in my memory. Memory is like a box full of treasures. I know I am an architect in the third millennium. Because I adore Bernini I´ll never copy Bernini and, because I adore Mies Van der Rohe I´ll never copy Mies Van der Rohe. Inspiration is never a copy.
Your architecture has certain tranquility to it, how do you see your works in conjuncture with the surrounding chaos?
I haven´t the truth in architecture because there is not a unique truth in architecture. But I prefer to be serene, calm, frugal rather than fashionable. W.Strunk and E.B. White prescribed in The Elements of Style : Omit needless words. And I agree.
Andalucia Museum of Memory, 2009 – Courtesy Estudio Arquitectura Campo Baeza
What do you read? Not just now, but do you have a methodology or theory behind what and how you read?
I read Poetry. Just now on my table is Seamus Heaney. Poetry is a very good fountain of knowledge for an architect. In my Library there are more books on Poetry than on Architecture.
The physicist Richard Feynman stated once that he felt teaching integral to his continuing innovation in physics and mathematics. He described Einstein’s failings in understanding Quantum Mechanics, while tucked away at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study, as coming from a lack unlearned questions. He didn’t have to explain things to those who weren’t already ‘in the know’ and thus never had to reexamine his thoughts.
My attempt is to make an architecture capable of being understood by people and making people happy. A learned creation but not incomprehensible. An architecture capable to remain in the memory and in the history. We are creating creations capable to transcend us, as Stefan Zweig proclaimed. To make the best architecture is not to make a vulgar architecture.
Caja Granada, 2001 – Courtesy Estudio Arquitectura Campo Baeza
But architecture is not a profession that is so inherently tied to teaching in its execution. Why is it, then, that you teach? What drives you to do this?
I don´t agree. Teaching is the best position for trying to do the best possible Architecture. It is indispensable for me. When you are teaching you need to have your scissors well sharped, like a surgeon. And with your so very well sharped scissors you can operate much better. Teaching is a gift. When you are teaching you are learning more than teaching. I couldn´t make my very tuned and precise architecture if I weren´t teaching.
Between Cathedrals, Cadiz, 2009 – Courtesy Estudio Arquitectura Campo Baeza
Who inspires you?
What kind of music do you listen to while you work?
What advice would you give your younger self?
If you wouldn’t be an architect what would you be?
What advice would you give to young architects?
Work a lot! Enjoy a lot! Be patient! If you are an architect you must know that Architecture is the most beautiful labor all over the world.
Courtesy Estudio Arquitectura Campo Baeza