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Barclay & Crousse. Landscapes of Intimacy

Barclay & Crousse. Landscapes of Intimacy

Barclay & Crousse stand out in the landscape of Latin American architecture. Sandra Barclay (Lima, 1967) and Jean Pierre Crousse (Lima, 1963) initially set up their studio in Paris. In 2006, they relocated to Lima, where they have undertaken both private and public commissions that have showcased their bold ideas that go beyond the architectural program and its context. More than establishing relationships with the landscape, their architecture itself forms a landscape. Their buildings explore the potential of matter, with the depth of their façades eroding the boundaries between interior and exterior, creating sacred spaces of encounter where the extraordinary is a part of everyday life.

Landscapes of Intimacy brings together five essential aspects of their practice: landscapes and microcosms, ambiguous space, indoor exteriors, matter and the map, and the thickness of intimacy, explored through a selection of twelve projects that include the Place of Remembrance, a series of houses in Peru, and the University of Piura’s Edificio E, which won the Mies Crown Hall Americas Prize (MCHAP) in 2018.

The book’s introduction was written by Miquel Adrià. We are sharing the complete article below:

Barclay & Crousse: Networks and places

Miquel Adrià

Barclay & Crousse stand out in the landscape of Latin American architecture. Perhaps due to Peru’s challenging political situation, Sandra Barclay (Lima, 1967) and Jean Pierre Crousse (Lima, 1963) pursued an unusual career path that led them to complete their academic and professional training in Paris. They produced their first projects for Peru while still based in France, before eventually returning to their country of origin. Yet this distance afforded them a perspective to identify themselves as more fully Peruvian; while working from afar on their first three houses, they reflected on their home country’s exceptional conditions. After spending 16 years in Paris, they have lived and worked in Lima since 2006, where they have built a number of projects for private clients (beach houses, city apartments, restaurants, and more), as well as taking public commissions enabling them to propose some bold ideas that go beyond the architectural program. As a result, their architecture has not only been covered by specialist media; it has had a broader, cross-cutting impact on the national psyche. In this sense the Place of Remembrance is not merely the result of a program or a professional stubbornness to swim against the current, but instead shapes a new urban landscape that understands and completes Lima’s boundaries. No less important is the studio’s project for the University of Piura’s new lecture halls and faculty offices. This building is a departure from the layout of the original campus, serving a range of functions as a self-contained city inserted in the middle of northern Peru’s desert landscape. However, Barclay & Crousse do not just create architecture based on powerful concepts; their constructions are superbly crafted and reveal a well-trained eye for composition and proportions. They are also skilled in the use of light, color and materials for flat surfaces, and their structures are executed with scientific precision.[1]

Spreads of the book Landscapes of Intimacy

Working in Peru requires engaging in a constant dialogue with memory and the territory. Complexity is inherent in a country whose ancient pre-Hispanic culture is blended with a colonial legacy, overlaid with modernity and a developing economy. William Curtis wrote that “Latin American identity should be carefully analyzed for what it is: an ideological weave that has wrestled with integrating the new and the old, Hispanic and pre-Hispanic traditions, center and religion, city and countryside, cosmopolitan and indigenous worlds, modernity and mestizaje, domestic and international influences.” Latin American culture has evolved in this way throughout the 20th century, alternating between uncritical, internationalist modernity and the championing of local architecture, produced with a limited range of vernacular materials and eschewing the latest technologies. There has  been a tendency to over-generalize by boiling down certain attributes to original, national conditions: in Mexico architecture is monumental, in Colombia it’s all about material qualities, in Brazil it focuses on structural formalism, in Chile it dwells on the landscape, and so on. When visiting Barclay & Crousse’s buildings, where the surrounding territory provides a constant reference point, we need to ask what makes it unique, or what reveals its Peruvian origin. This shows us that their architecture does not stand out for its monumentality or its connection to the landscape; it is a landscape in itself. This quality is evident in their beach houses at La Escondida Beach, and particularly in the Place of Remembrance. Their work also explores the potential of matter, the depth of their façades blurring the boundaries between interior and exterior space, and holding sacred some of their shared public spaces, as in the Piura university building, for example, where the extraordinary forms part of everyday life.

For Iñaki Ábalos, the consolidation of “modernist Latin American architecture had a heroic and identity-based dimension well into the 1980s, following four principal vectors: Latin America’s territorial specificities and its pre-Columbian heritage; its present, with its cultural ties to Europe and the Americas; vernacular techniques and a specific natural and climactic environment; and a social milieu that aspired to become more visible to the outside world. What is interesting,” continues Ábalos, “in now seeing the architecture produced in the last decade in cities like Medellín, Santiago, Lima, Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Mexico City, and so many others in Latin America, is not only that these vectors have decisively contributed to the creation of magnificent architecture, but also that today they are all appearing on the same playing field… It is at once multifaceted and universal, complex and simple, capable of producing works and projects that are interesting as genuine expressions of what architecture can produce in contemporary culture.”[2]

In line with Ábalos’s upbeat reading, as Peru has flourished economically in recent decades several architecture and a number of two-member architectural teams have formed: Ruth Alvarado and Óscar Borasino, Patricia Llosa and Rodolfo Cortegana, Alfredo Benavides and Cynthia Watmough, and Jean Pierre Crousse and Sandra Barclay, who have developed a refined and self-contained approach, echoing contemporary trends and the prevailing ideas in the European and US schools where they trained.[3] Whereas some of these duos (such as Alvarado and Borasino) achieve a serene modernity to match their place of origin and era,[4] and others (for example Llosa and Cortegana) dive deeper into the variations in domestic typologies in connection to program, context and construction systems,[5] Barclay & Crousse start out with the concept to be developed before tackling the space itself. Alejandro de la Sota proposed keeping a distance from outward appearances and underscored the central importance of the idea: “…like an initiation ritual, it becomes necessary to get rid of accessories and phenomenological elements in order to drill down to the essence, the idea.”[6] 

In common with this remarkable 20th century Spanish architect, Barclay & Crousse have a passion for what is essential, the strictly necessary, and their work is increasingly stripped down as they became more rooted in the Peruvian context, letting go of the more fanciful French influence of their early years. They share De la Sota’s fascination with extended volumes, which they excavate to create continuous planar movements that qualify and define space, in the tradition of Guiseppe Terragni’s façades, notable in De la Sota’s city council building in Tarragona and in Barclay & Crousse’s M6 House, where the planes converge along their edges in a virtual manner. Displaying a kinship with the late-modern language of the Five Architects or the post-Corbusianism of Henri Ciriani, with whom Jean Pierre worked in his Paris office, some projects inherit compositional axes not only in their façades’ planes but also in defining the volume enclosed by them, such as in the interior volume of Murisis House. Their beach houses, meanwhile, use topographical sections to blend into the desert landscape of the Pacific coastline, inserting concrete sheets perpendicular to the coast as perimeter walls with openings to ventilate and illuminate the interiors. The Kahnian notion of “served” and “servant” spaces is another constant in many of their works, in which the thickness of the walls (in the Museum of Paracas, or the un Park Apartments, for example) are used to house servant and circulation spaces. Given the opportunity for working in a country with an extremely mild climate and where it never rains, they use the ambiguity between interior and exterior in the ambivalence of the spaces, the architectural route through them, and cross-ventilation. It is no coincidence that, upon graduating, Jean Pierre Crousse worked as an assistant lecturer in Environmental Studies. 

After many trials and tribulations (competition entries, buildings, political troubles, and so on) Barclay & Crousse incorporated the landscape as an iconic feature based on the Corbusian fretted section in the Paracas Museum, and subsequently at the University of Piura they put into practice their well-honed intuitions. The new university building that houses lecture halls for teaching a range of subjects is a small urban center in the middle of the semi-desert landscape, and has apertures both on its vertical planes that are otherwise almost blind, as well as in its roof. One section that interprets an imaginary forest creates a first floor of tree trunks and a second floor of canopies, allowing sunlight to filter through, marking the time of day on the floor in one direction, and the seasons of the year in the other. The expressive power of the structures and painted communal spaces, along with the corridors and ramps crossing the interior pathways, are another example of Corbusian influence. A legacy that subtly emerges once again in the skylights of the building’s façades opposite the United Nations park in Lima, and in the structural prisms of their house in Huayoccari, mirroring the outline of the mountains to frame the best views of the spectacular surroundings. Yet Barclay & Crousse’s work is not just the result of territorial legacies; it is a complex interweaving of connections mutually enriched by other cultures and locations. Sandra and Jean Pierre are part of a generation that includes Angelo Bucci from São Paulo, Mauricio Rocha from Mexico City, Solano Benítez from Asunción, Sebastián Irarrázaval and Smiljan Radic from Santiago de Chile, Daniel Bonilla from Bogotá, Mónica Bertolino and Carlos Barrado from Córdoba, and of course Fernando Viegas and Alvaro Puntoni, also from São Paulo. In fact their relation began on their return from Paris, and it was in Lima where they began to develop shared interests, while they maintained their connection to Laurent and Emmanuelle Beaudouin, a former partner for various projects with their collaborators and partners from Atelier Nord Sud, and with the uno group directed by their mentor, Ciriani, in Paris-Belleville. Curiously, the connection with Chicago’s IIT—which awarded them the prestigious Mies Crown Hall Americas Prize in 2018—developed later, after a period of academic involvement at GSD, with Felipe Correa and Rahul Mehrotra.

This professional and personal relationship helps contextualize the work of Sandra Barclay and Jean Pierre Crousse, not only in the Peruvian milieu but across an entire continent where they work today, in their practice (that began in Paris and continued in Lima) and intheir teaching work at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design (GSD), Yale and at the PUCP (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Perú). There is no doubt that Barclay & Crousse are among the brightest stars in the Latin American architectural universe today.

[1] William Curtis, “Lo general y lo local. Casa del arquitecto Enrique del Moral en la calle Francisco Ramírez, 5, Ciudad de México, 1948”, in Modernidad y arquitectura en México, Edward Burian (ed.), Barcelona: Gustavo Gili, 1997, p. 120.

[2]Iñaki Ábalos, “Latin American Architecture Today,” Harvard Design Magazine 34, 2011. Cited in my text for the book Radical: 50 arquitecturas de América Latina, Mexico City: Arquine, 2016, p. 9.

[3] Miquel Adrià, “Arquitecturas entrecruzadas,” in OB+RA, Mexico City: Arquine, 2016, p. 209

[4] Idem

[5] Miquel Adrià, “Llosa Cortegana: la arquitectura está en la sección,” in La casa es una idea, Mexico City: Arquine, 2019, p. 9.

[6] Josep Lluís Mateo, “Sentiment i raó,” Quaderns d’Arquitectura i Urbanismo 152, 1982, p. 9.

Landscapes of Intimacy” / AUTHOR: Sandra Barclay, Jean Pierre Crousse / EDITOR: Arquine / TEXTS: Mario Vargas Llosa, Dirk Denison, Miquel Adrià / Case binding, section sewn, fully cased with cloth over board / SIZE: 18 x 24 cm / PAGES: 2320 / ENGLISH & SPANISH EDITIONS

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