Javier García-Germán interviews Roger Tudó, founding partner of H Architects with his colleagues David Lorente, Josep Ricart and Xavi Ros.
Roger Tudó has been guest lecturer of the specialty Energy & Sustainability at MCH'2017. Together with Servando Álvarez, professor at the Sevilla University, he participated in the first seminar day of the specialty, titled "Material atmospheres or the opportunity architecture has to engage dissipating climatic energy flows". His lecture was one of the best rated by students and he will come again to Madrid in 2018 to lecture at MCH.
In Roger's own words, it can be said that they are still a young office, based in Sabadell, a city close to Barcelona.
JGG: Most of your work is located around Sabadell. How does the context of the regional urban belt around Barcelona influence your work? Obviously it is connected to your climatic approach, but how does it affect to other variables such as architectural strategies, building systems, cliental network, etc.?
RT: I think that for us, the context is always important, but I think that what makes our architecture specific, different from other architectures in the same context is our interpretation, the way we understand the context. So it is not specifically related to the context, it could be any other context, but right now we have the advantage that we are building in our natural, original context, so maybe it is easier for us to understand it. It is our personal approach, of how we understand clients, how we understand constructive systems and how we understand climate conditions. I think It has to deal with our particular point of view.
JGG: Bioclimatic architecture has usually championed climatic control and energy performance over architecture quality, overlooking a wide variety of architectural parameters. This is one of the reasons why bioclimatic architecture has been despised in academic environments. However your architecture —especially your last buildings— are exploring architecture in a holistic manner integrating thermodynamic questions with other architectural values. Can you explain your design process and how are these questions overlaid?
RT: I think this is just our reality. We try to have a look to the complexity and we don’t want to be specialised in one topic. In this case, maybe, it’s true that we have a special interest on things related to thermodynamics, or climatic issues, or sustainability, but it is not that. One of our characteristics is that we are not specialised on this, we still mix this with a lot of other things, we are opened to all the realms of architecture, so in the design process, we don’t have a specific order or things that are more important than others. We move from one issue to the other and we mix everything. It is true, that compared to maybe other kind of offices or maybe other generations of architects, we are introducing a kind of software which is specifically useful for thermodynamics, but we are doing the same with other aspects, such as constructive systems. We are trying to use different approaches, sometimes the approach is really scientific, sometimes it is more artistic, sometimes it is more aesthetic, it depends. But everything together.
JGG: Recently your architecture has been labeled as neo-vernacular, arguing that it reduces architecture to the bare minimum, to its essence. What do you think about this question?
RT: We are really interested on vernacular, we used to be even much more interested than now. I think that Josep, my partner, introduced the term ”contemporary vernacular”, so the idea of trying to look for a new vernacular architecture, so it is true that for us it is interesting, but maybe I don’t agree in the idea that this is something essential, a simplification of this complexity. I think that maybe at the beginning we were closer to this definition, but now we are using a lot of aspects that are not specially focused in the vernacular, which for us is still a real reference, however this scientific approach, this aesthetic approach, etc.. is not exactly what you found in vernacular architecture.
JGG: As an alternative to the mainstream mechanical climate control which deploys homogeneous climatic conditions across buildings, your architecture offers users a variety of climatic situations, giving them an active role in the production of atmospheres. Does this enrich the experience of inhabitation? Does it provide a delightful experience? Can you please expand on this question.
RT: In our buildings we started to realize that climatic conditions are really one of the original problems of architecture, which is a common approach with vernacular architecture. We also detected that in buildings it is more interesting not to have just one climatic condition, usually you find lots of climatic conditions, specially if you are trying to balance the architectural and climatic strategies. If you try to use as less mechanical systems as possible, then you start to discover the real potential of architecture and its relation with thermodynamics. For us the users’ experiences are much better when they are closer to real climatic sensations. We are really interested on this kind of spaces, bioclimatic spaces or spaces in between, between indoor and outdoor, where you can feel reality, you are closer to the real climate, a little bit further to the domestic and a little closer to wilder conditions. These are spaces conformed only by architecture, there are no mechanical systems, so it is probably about using the less architecture as possible, this is how we feel users can reach the maximum comfort and the find the best architectural experiences.
JGG: Your architecture responds to different contexts with a variety of technologies, spanning from a low-tech economical approach to sophisticated digitally-driven solutions. What is the use you make of technology? Can you please expand on the meaning of using different technologies and its connection to the particularities of each commission?
RT: For us, there are not good or bad technologies, being high or low technology, nor good or bad materials. Every time you have to adapt the project to the real demands, and the demands to the possibilities available. It is necessary to do this exercise of mixing both realities. In some buildings we have used very sophisticated systems, controlling a lot of information and trying to create an artificial performance of the building so that it is closer to natural conditions, but some other times we are using something, which could be called low-tech, that doesn’t require this sophisticated electronic technology, done mostly with traditional constructive systems. Probably, our personal evolution is going to a mixture of this two extremes, something with a little bit of artificial control and an extensive use of passive strategies: to reach an autonomous performance. We use to call it “the building does itself”, so it has the capacity of performing mostly alone.
JGG: Since the 1950s passive architecture —borrowing air-conditioning’s technical apparatus— has been interested in matching built structure with physiological processes, connecting the modern movement’s interest in medicine with the creation of comfortable environments. However, this physiological dimension should be expanded to include the psychological realm, opening climatic architecture to its sensorial dimension. What do you think of this question and what opportunities it offers to architecture?
RT: This is a very difficult and specific question, but I’m lucky because I have read Javier’s PhD. I think that when you are working with design and comfort, you have to go over this simplistic idea of “this is temperature”, because this is temperature, this is humidity, this is about lots of other things like radiant temperature, like other kind of perceptions, more emotional or psychological: colours, lights, textures, materiality… We’ve been working on this, specially on how the materials surrounding you can have a better performance regarding humidity regulation, or radiant temperature. We try to avoid a lot finishing materials to let the real materiality express itself and to create psychological connections with this “being indoor”, or “being outdoor”, or “being in between”, or to have a perception of the heaviness of the structure…
JGG: What does Collective Housing mean in your work?
RT: For me, collective housing it is something that needs to be worked our in terms of dimension. There is a big problem, usually in housing blocks, which is the scale relation between one room and the rest of the building, and between one room and the public space. There is no gradient of anything. It could be a climatic gradient, it could be just a gradient of different qualities and dimensions of spaces, but usually it goes from a 10m2 room to “the everything”, there are no intermediate spaces in between. We are currently working on a collective housing project, where we are researching on this variety of dimensions and climatic qualities that goes from one room to a big plot, or to a big city or to a big avenue.
JGG: How can you help MCH participants improve their skills in this field?
RT: Maybe be showing my architecture, with the hope that it can be useful for them.