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Meet or Divide? How Materiality Becomes Political

Meet or Divide? How Materiality Becomes Political

BAAG (Buenos Aires Arquitectura Grupal) has been invited to the 17th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, curated by Hashim Sarkis. Although the theme, “How will we live together?” was proposed in 2019, the global health emergency made this question take on new meanings and implications. At the same time, the world’s population continues to grow, suggesting that we may have to get used to living closer together in the near future. The pandemic has made BAAG think about how bonds are made and collaborations pursued; as Hashim Sarkis said: “We need new spatial contracts to continue living together generously.” In the distances and physical limits that separate people from each other, BAAG finds spaces. These spaces are those which, according to their qualities, can bring people closer together or drive them apart, meet or divide them. In these transitions, the studio finds new spatial agreements.

In light of this scenario, BAAG reviewed their work and ongoing research in order to discuss how and with what materials architecture is being built. They set out to observe how architectural elements mediate between people and things, exterior and interior, the natural and the artificial, the human and the non-human. They ask: “how do material relationships involve interactions with the other?” 

BAAG installation on the 17th Bienal of Venice. Ph: Courtesy of BAAG

Architecture is a discipline that seeks out collaborations; it proposes entanglements between parts and connects actors from different species. BAAG likes to see their work as an agent that operates and articulates with multiple actors in changing scenarios. Thus, the Architecture of Transitions is the material support of social relations. They understand envelopes as the spaces that make collaborations possible and as meeting grounds between unknown agents. Envelopes are examples of this type of meeting spaces, they are places where spatial qualities determine the type of social relations that are generated. Envelopes delimit the degrees of closeness and remoteness, the degrees of approximation between sentient and non-sentient beings.

How can architecture promote better relations between people? Relationships that favor an equitable and respectful use of space? And at the same time, how can devices be designed to encourage new bonds with the non-human? It is the materialization of liminal spaces that BAAG is interested in exploring and the Architecture of Transitions is their field of exploration. By building envelopes they are playing with transparency, exploring the shifting roles between watching and being looked at, and performing connections in order to create new spaces. Each connection is specific and architecture provides different filters, which can be difficult to classify or determine but are nevertheless open to embrace new forms of living and appropriation. 

Detail of BAAG exhibition at La Biennale. Ph: Courtesy of BAAG

From their local South American context, BAAG investigates the ways in which these types of envelopes are constructed. What materials are they made of? Where do these materials come from? What degree of spatial identity does the use of these common and readily available materials develop? How does the local production system work? By following the resources they build with, the studio traces territorial and historical implications and discovers new lines of architectural research. BAAG investigates how technological innovations can be generated with available materials and ways of working through local knowledge in order to generate new agreements with different types of techniques and agents. By highlighting the elementary in traditional construction and articulating it with experimental, and improvisational building solutions, BAAG hopes to propose new forms of construction.

INSTALLATION FOR THE 17th INTERNATIONAL BIENAL EXHIBITION- LA BIENNALE DI VENEZIA

BAAG’s contribution to the 17th International Architectural Exhibition-La Binnale Di Venecia evokes the potential, availability, and technical possibilities of materials. As a result of these concerns, the installation becomes an Architecture of Transitions that consists of one device and five models, which portray fragments of the envelopes of five housing projects: Araoz, Casa Scout, Casa Rodney, Juana Azurduy and Una Casa.

The device aims to explore the spaces for an Architecture of Transitions, the term used for these new spatial agreements. It refers to how they are built, the degree of closeness or separation that they provoke and how their spatiality informs the social. The materials that make up the device are wood and iron, two elements that are typical of Argentine construction and are available in the region.

400 strapped wooden blocks serve as support for a series of iron bars that generate a transitional grid space, proposing different degrees of approach and visual contact. The installation explores these spaces reflecting on the types of links they produce.

BAAG’s project at La Biennale, installation process and models. Ph: Courtesy of BAAG

In the housing projects Araoz 967, Casa Scout, Juana Azurduy 1635, Casa Rodney and Una Casa BAAG set out to materially explore limits and transitions, to investigate how the material configures the spatial, and how the spatial generates new relationships and bonds. The five sections that they present in the models define different levels of approximations and appropriations for the users. Each one materializes through technological explorations designed to create certain conditions for encounters. BAAG is interested in rethinking the ways in which people inhabit their homes and how architectural agencies can promote better relationships between them. 

ARAOZ 967

858 m2

2017 – 2018

Aráoz 967 is a building located in Villa Crespo, City of Buenos Aires, in a low density area with a strong neighborhood character. The surrounding blocks are defined by containing a large number of ‘chorizo’ houses and housing in the form of ‘ph’ where human contact and the link with neighbors are commonplace. The project aims to develop this type of meetings and relationships. The building is organized in two volumes of houses separated by a patio.

All units have cross ventilation and visuals both towards the inner courtyard, as well as the outside. The private sector of the unit is related to the outside and the accesses and kitchens of the units look towards the patio, suggesting a space where it is possible to be seen and from where you can watch, greet, and interact.

Returning to the constructive traditions and materials present in the collective imagination, solid brick is the main material in the exterior and interior façades in relation to the patio.

The interiors are defined by slabs of exposed concrete, granite floors, smoothed cement and guatambu pine wood shaping the bathrooms and kitchens.

At the same time, the building consolidates its façade on the building line, without outgoing balconies or ingoing retreats. It shapes a front façade of contained balconies, brick walls and vertical slits. The alternation of these elements between the different levels generates a rhythm and a variation facing the city.

Araoz 967 by BAAG. Ph: Javier Agustin Rojas

CASA SCOUT

340 m2

2012 – 2014

Carrying out the project of a house for a group of Scouts required some previous research of the ways of living, educating, playing and organization these kinds of associations have. From the beginning, the project was focused on the search for an inclusive space that would allow both group work and respect for the environment and their surroundings.

The house is organized around a central area that includes yards and voids at double height and conforms the main inner space, a kind of hub that provides a common view and a sort of expansion to all the rooms… The scouts –organized by age groups– work on a series of slabs, in the shape of alternating trays that communicate by means of door-like panels or sliding wooden partitions, which encourage interaction and communication between the different parts of the house.

The ground floor is connected with the garden (backyard) by folding doors/windows that allow for a fluid connection. Every sector of the house has a unique identity with changing qualities that generate a playful, dynamic atmosphere, and encourage unlimited articulation and social participation.

Every room has large outward windows and wooden inward partition openings, with convenient cross ventilation in the summer and radiators below the windows that produce heat during the winter. Spaces have direct sunlight and overlook the street or the garden. The large skylight over the central space provides bright illumination inside the house.

A green screen covers the front, back, and roof of the building. It consists of the climbing plant St John’s worts, pink bignonias, hardy fuchsias and lucerne, among other plants, which are looked after by the Scouts; the plants grow from planters located on every floor, from the garden and the sidewalk. This screen operates both as thermal insulation and sunscreen, generating shade and brightness and providing a suitable setting for the Scouts’ activities. The metal mesh, which is made of welded iron bars, supports the plants and provides general protection. Placed on the wooden frames, it sometimes folds and turns into a pergola for the terrace or filters the sunlight from the skylight. It also acts as a sunscreen, brise soleil or thermal portiere that suggests a natural setting and recreates the spirit of the tree house.

Casa Scout by BAAG. Ph: Javier Agustin Rojas

JUANA AZURDUY 1635

910 m2

2014- 2016

Juana Azurduy 1635 is a residential building that consists of two four-story wings separated by an inner courtyard. It’s located on a low rise and residential Núñez neighborhood block, which stands out due to the fact that a public school, full of mature plantains and ash trees, takes up half of its surface. The building looks to provide an urban statement, making a point of considering the wall that divides it from the school a façade and not just a “blind” wall.

A series of 90-centimeter-high horizontal “strips” were carved out of the brick walls on all four sides of both wings. These strips serve as a brise-soleil, as well as window sills and screens for the openings. Each balcony, terrace, and window has a specific spatiality. There are double-height spaces, spatial expansions via brise-soleil, screens to ensure privacy and directed views: a series of unique features that help whoever lives there to make it his or her own space.

The building has one-bedroom and two-bedroom options, which alternate depending on the floor level. These units are articulated around a central core that houses the kitchen and bathroom spaces. This core has wooden sheathing and movable panels; by using them it becomes possible to modify the limits of each space, as well as allowing public and private spaces to switch places. Our goal was to create apartments that were capable of adapting to the resident’s needs, in line with his or her preferences.

Juana Azurduy 1635 by BAAG. Ph: Courtesy of BAAG

CASA RODNEY

120 m2

2017 

The Rodney house is located in the town of Villa Elisa, part of the city of La Plata, and 45 km away from the City of Buenos Aires. The house is located in a peripheral lot where the urban fabric is not consolidated and municipal services and infrastructures are quietly awaited.

The project is determined by two systems. The first corresponds to a series of light vaults that rest on Y-shaped reinforced concrete beams, designed to receive the curvatures of the vaults. The second system, composed of a structural plinth, resolves the relationship between the house and the ground.

The slight differences in ground level generates spaces for appropriation and contemplation mediating between the house and the landscape.

The modulation of the vaults delimits the rooms. The bedroom is located in the first vault next to an inner water courtyard. The next two vaults make up the living room and kitchen space in direct relation to the garden and access. Consecutively there are two vaults that make up the gallery space, where the roof is dematerialized to achieve differentiated shadows and filters. The last vaulted enclosure corresponds to the desk, which is separated from public use with a brick wall.

The project aims to mediate the spaces in their different scales. A series of brick walls configure the access, these generate a route that, accompanied by the existing lime trees, allows a gradual entrance by acting as transition elements. From the interior, the baseboards, the walls and the sequences of the vaults compose and configure the spaces, providing different degrees of use and privacy.

The house is developed between the horizontal mediations and the two formal systems, closing towards one of its sides and opening towards the north, generating a containment and an interior landscape of its own.

Casa Rodney by BAAG. Ph: Courtesy of BAAG

UNA CASA

145 m2

2017 

As part of “UNACASA competition,” an investigation was developed around industrialized housing and new ways of living; it found a need to project, not a house, but a system that allows for assembling a multiplicity of houses that adjusts to users and regions.

The concept of “fragmentation” was taken as an architectural and technical strategy. The technical task was focused on approaching the problem of industrialization of housing that involves classifying, separating, ordering and filtering its component parts in order to get the highest efficiency both in productive terms as well as performative ones. The architectural issue is meant to assume that the new ways of contemporary living require thinking about the fragmentation of the subject, its diversity, and the ability to adapt to change. Fragmentation, then, is the proposal that associates the need for an efficient system with the possibility of a variety of use configurations.

The functions of a dwelling are separated until their indivisible expression, they configure a series of pieces-modules. These compact the infrastructure components into slices of 33cm, 66cm, and 99cm. In this way, a catalog of “modules” sets an open and intentional system.

This system empathizes consistently with the productive processes of the current industry. Wood is obtained in a sustainable way by using certified forest plantations, it represents 90% of the raw material necessary for the construction of the final product. Furthermore, the configuration of the pieces allows them to be easily carried by occupying little space and being light enough.

Una Casa by BAAG. Ph: Courtesy of BAAG

ABOUT BAAG

BAAG, Buenos Aires Arquitectura Grupal, is an office that seeks to employ collective work to offer a contribution to the discipline, understanding architecture as a practice and an opportunity to build critical thinking.

The office is directed by Griselda Balian, Gabriel Monteleone and Gastón Noriega, architects from the Department of Architecture, Design and Urbanism at the University of Buenos Aires, where they work as professors.

The study has carried out institutional and housing projects, research projects, cultural facilities and public competitions, obtaining prizes and mentions, such as the first prize for preliminary projects for the re-functionalization of the 2021 Independencia de Bahia Blanca Park, the first SCA-CPAU award for work done 2014, the first national award for sustainable architecture 2015 by the SCA, the nomination for the Mies Crown Hall Arch Prize (MCHAP) from the Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago, the CA`ASI “Young Architects in Latin America” award Collateral Event of the 16th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, the first prize at the 2014 Armenian Architecture Biennial, and the Bonifacio del Carril Prize from the Academy of Fine Arts, among other mentions.

BAAG has been invited to give conferences, participate in panels and workshops in national and international institutions and universities.

BAAG team at their Buenos Aires studio

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