Interview with Sebastián Adamo and Marcelo Faiden

With its low houses, small shops and calm streets, Nuñez is a typical Buenos Aires neighbourhood. Its buildings reflect a particular blend of past and present – in Nuñez, vintage car-repair shops live together with carefully designed houses, many belonging to the young architects who have made their home here. It’s also an area halfway between the gated communities to the north, which have grown exponentially in recent decades, and the traditional city centre, where hundreds of thousands of people work. Nuñez is also where Sebastián Adamo and Marcelo Faiden established their office and where we meet to talk about their work, which is influenced by the ambiguous ambience of the firm’s location. Their architecture is fraught with complex situations that are a source of deliberately generated ‘friction’.

How did the two of you meet? 

MARCELO FAIDEN: We met at the University of Buenos Aires, where we worked together in the same group – right from the beginning. Later, after winning a competition for students in 2002, we went together to Spain to do our PhDs. That was a time when things in Argentina were not so good. It was an ideal moment to leave, to gain perspective and to see Buenos Aires from a different point of view.

SEBASTIÁN ADAMO: We had shared interests. We earned our doctoral degrees in Barcelona – Helio Piñon was our professor – but we wanted to work in Madrid. Plans for our stay in Spain revolved around both cities.

FAIDEN: Things in that country were at a boil. Spanish architecture was flourishing. The academic and professional worlds were closely linked and feeding off each other. The kind of architectural office that we were interested in – the model we wanted to take back to Argentina – was in Madrid. It combined intellectual speculation and material production.

Can you elaborate?

FAIDEN: Our examples were studios with a strong penetration into society. We were not interested, nor are we interested today, in a work environment based on a world of exceptions. We were not at all fascinated by projects with exorbitant budgets or by projects that were just a one-shot deal. We did not go to Europe to find exquisite projects that were well designed and well financed. The studios we liked were rooted in society. They made architecture that was contemporary and pertinent. Think of Mansilla + Tuñón, Urzáiz y Pérez Plá, Federico Soriano, and Eduardo Arroyo.

ADAMO: We also met younger people who were just entering the profession, as we were. Being in contact with two generations of Spanish architects gave us a better idea of the type of studio we wanted to develop – the idea of opening our own practice prompted our decision to return to Argentina, where there was so much work to be done.

FAIDEN: Distance gives you perspective. Viewing Buenos Aires from Madrid, we saw Argentina’s capital as a good environment in which to work. Had we not spent that time in Spain, we may not have felt the same way. On the other hand, in Madrid we had become part of a fairly stable system that was thriving thanks to exhibitions, competitions and publications. And the risk of that kind of closed systems is to repeat themselves. A similar network did not exist in Buenos Aires, and the city certainly had major problems that needed to be solved.

What have you been doing in Buenos Aires?

ADAMO: What’s most important is that we have avoided falling into the trap of specialization. We don’t want to become ‘museum architects’ or ‘social-housing architects’ or ‘publicspace architects’. We cherish diversity, because the value of architecture does not lie in the perfection of a speciality but in just the opposite. The distance we’ve created between our work and specificity gives us the freedom to look at projects without imposing restrictions on the possibilities.

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Full interview published in Mark #51, Aug-Sep 2014.