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I once read an interview with Elizabeth Bishop, the great 20th century poet and traveler, in which she was asked why she traveled so much. She answered, without hesitating: “Essentially, architecture moves me. I travel to see buildings.” She impressed me with her answer because it is what I would want to respond (though I probably wouldn’t dare to do so) if someone were to ask me the same question.
Instead, it’s more fashionable to respond: “I travel to live new experiences, to sample other cuisines, to understand other cultures, to meet new friends.” Someone who answers that she travels mainly “to see buildings” would be considered detached, elitist, inhumane. I have argued a lot with fellow travelers who found my thirst to “see churches” incomprehensible and tiresome. And yet, the pleasure that we feel when seeing architecture (that verb is lame: better to say when visiting, occupying, incorporating it into us and incorporating ourselves into it), encompasses all those trivialities of experiences, culture, and even friendship.
The pleasure that architecture provides is total pleasure: it encompasses all five senses, the whole body, memory, imagination, our sense of space and time. Walking in silence and seeing the evolution of spaces, the gradual understanding through the eyes but also the feet and touch, is a blessing for the nervous and the impatient, for those of us who find it difficult to stand for a long time in front of a work, sit through a lecture or watch a long video (reading and cinema are different for that’s where the complex pleasure of fiction comes in, which would take at least another essay to explain).
I think that the four authors who contribute to this issue enjoy, as I do, the undaunted silence and mineral patience of architecture, its inalienable dignity, its solidity, its refusal to convert experience into banal and easily digestible merchandise (the Netflixification of reality that Miguel Ángel Hernández talks about in his text). I think these are not antisocial writers, but quite the contrary, they are deeply interested in everything human and enjoy life, as well. I admit I like writers who enjoy life more than tormented ones.
Architecture is, along with sex, the closest thing humans have invented as vehicles to enjoy pleasure trips through time: places and moments in which time expands, contracts, accumulates and overlaps. These are, I believe, the pre- or post-apocalyptic restaurants of Esther García Llovet, the always exquisitely problematic house-museums of Mercedes Cebrián, the perverse glass houses of Vicente Monroy, and the eroticized digital architectures of Miguel Ángel Hernández. Whoever is not interested in architecture is not interested in life or the pleasure of feeling alive. I have long considered this pleasure a touchstone and a measuring stick when choosing friends or books to read. Living life to live architecture is a fuller and more intense way of living, period.
[Front pic: Moragas building hall at Via Augusta in Barcelona. Photo: Salva López]
"A desk is a dangerous place from which to watch the world" (John Le Carré)