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Researxting

Martin Huberman conceives a virtual conversation about the intimate nature of the metamorphosis of the architect turned developer

Researxting, Martin Huberman texting with Fernán Goldín
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Martin Huberman texting with Fernán Goldín, architect from Estudio Dumont, 27 January 2021. Produced by CCA in the context of the CCA c/o Buenos Aires project, 2021

How to investigate the human characteristics that shape a discipline at a time when humanity itself poses a risk to our lives? When distance is the norm and the digital world has enveloped even the most physical of interactions, how do we investigate the intimacy of the stories that forged a moment?

In the period that followed the Argentine economic crisis of 2001-2003 the discipline grew, expanded, and acquired new languages and knowledge not from academia, theory, or scholarship, but from the level of practice. That process meant rebuilding from the rubble as a professional, self-management as a movement stands out, it is perhaps until today one of the most outstanding features of contemporary Buenos Aires architecture. Architects had to distance themselves, in record time, from a production model that renders the architect dependent on client requests in order to become saviours of friends and acquaintances encapsulated under the broadest definition of the concept of refuge, sheltering the savings rescued from the banking debacle in the form of residential ventures.

But where did that knowledge come from? What kinds of strategies were carried out in order to arrive at a professional trait that is still present today?

Where sexting becomes flesh, researxting is born: an essay on intimate investigations in a chat format. A series of digital conversations with architects of different genders, ages, and backgrounds who went through this common period.

Extract 1: The Craft

The research is inspired by a list of simple questions that explore concepts that are too intimate to be generalized. In an era governed by “everyone for themselves”, and with a crisis that affected the entire national socioeconomic spectrum, completely paralyzing professional activity as a result of brutal inflation, architects began to develop buildings on their own without formal preparation besides than their own willpower. But how did they learn to do it? How was the fideicomiso perceived as a tool to confront the void? The following excerpts from interviews highlight the more malleable nature of the discipline, which comes together and blends with the artisanal aspects of architecture. A new kind of knowledge surfaced for many architects, which was absent from academic and professional institutions, and was based on the liveliness of ancestral oral exchange where the classic dichotomy of teacher and apprentice persists. The stories of Ana Smud, Ana Rascovsky, and Pablo Ferreiro establish the origin of it all, far from books, classrooms, and academia but within a level of trust that, for some, can only come from family.

Texting conversation with Ana Smud
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Martin Huberman, architect and curator of the CCA c/o Buenos Aires program, texting with Ana Smud, architect from El Estudio de arquitectura Ana Smud, 25 August 2020

Ana Smud

MH:
OK, next question…
MH:
When was the first time you heard about the fideicomiso?
AS:
Oh I don’t remember… but it was a long time ago.
MH:
Give me a date
AS:
Both my parents are architects and work as developers
AS:
I remember that from when I was a student
AS:
In my dad’s first development project
AS:
I don’t know what year
MH:
2004–2005?
AS:
Yes, probably
MH:
So, the first time you heard about the fideicomiso was from your old man?
AS :
Yes
MH:
OK. Is there something about that which you learned at university, or has it all been passed on to you as part of the process of craft, by word of mouth…?
AS:
I don’t think I learned any of this at university


Ana Rascovsky

MH:
How many units does it have?
AR:
Ten
MH:
How many of those units were for family or acquaintances?
AR:
One for ourselves. one for Irene. three for family. two for a friend. one for the development partner. The rest we later sold.
MH:
Eight for people you know and two for sale.
AR:
Yes
MH:
Of those eight, did they buy to live or as an investment?
AR:
Ours was to live, two for a friend, for herself and her daughter. The rest were for investment. But you know at the beginning it’s hard to know for sure.... for example my brother may end up living in my mother’s unit…
MH:
That’s true. Is there any difference in terms of design between the ones that were for living and the ones for investment?
AR:
At Vilela, hardly any difference. Because the owners were asking questions and voicing their opinion and participating (my brother-in-law bought two, which at first was one large one and he asked to divide it into two). They all participated. The only one where there wasn’t participation was the one for my aunt and uncle in Spain, because they weren’t here. It came out shoddy…in the end we bought it (it’s my studio now).
AR:
It was a family event, part of Sunday conversations, etc.
AR:
Comparable with Simona, who was born that same year. Two babies.
MH:
I like it, the building as a family cooperative.
MH:
In other words, the ones that were for a client benefited from the process?
AR:
Without a doubt. “The watchful eye of the owner fattens the calf.”
MH:
Ha!
AR:
Yes. That’s how it was
AR:
And for the closest family members we made it with the most love😊
MH:
Of course!


Pablo Ferreiro

MH:
I ask because I remember hearing about AFRA’s work as an intersection between typology and financial structure. As a type of housing, grouped housing, and a financing model with a trust format. I am referring to the post-crisis period of 2001. Around 2005-2006, when I was finishing university, you guys developed an architectural brand that was in high demand. Very few firms have achieved that.
PF:
Well, that’s connected to what I was telling you at the beginning. Post 2001, the great cultural, social, and economic crisis of our country, brought us to this point, without considering leaving like many others, and faced with the possibility of rebuilding, with the advantage of what was capitalized during the experience of hyperinflation in 1989. We were young, we were eager and, with that little bit of added experience, in addition to an obvious rebound after hitting the bottom, we found ourselves building on top of a growing city, on the new circuit created by the new highways, in two types of operations: the new neighborhoods of the eje norte (northern axis) (single-family housing for a wealthy and young middle class, the possibility of living in their own homes in “nature”), and the stock of land that became available after old and traditional production programs were displaced (nurseries, factories, stables connected to the San Isidro racecourse), which, due to the increase in the price of the land, moved 20 or 30 km further away, leaving potential territory vacant with unusual dimensions in the logic of 8.66, where we, as architects, were able to carry out a series of atypical projects, with new types of grouped housing that, on the one hand, generated new formats not previously contemplated, that were later incorporated into the San Isidro code, which created a kind of brand, which I think is what you are referring to.

All of us at the firm became sort of experts in financial structures, taxation, legal models, and that made us very reliable, and we were recipients of the trust of many small (and some not so small) savers who financed each building, and in some way they became developers, since we don’t have that figure of the developer: each investor was a developer; and we, although we were the point of reference, we convened and in some way administered, we used the format to generate work and control the projects from the architectural point of view, but we had nothing to do with the added value of the rent, if there was one, which was always left to the investors. And as I think I mentioned already, although each member of the firm became a kind of expert in the multiplicity of dimensions that give rise to a building (project, construction, purchasing, accounting, taxes, banks, finance, economy, etc.), the support of my sister Liliana, an economist, was very valuable to understand the mind of an investor, for whom dividends and profits are measured over time, and in comparison with other possible investments, of greater or lesser risk. In other words, understanding or trying to understand that mental matrix was very valuable to develop a position.
MH:
Were those savers/investors family or acquaintances?
PF:
It was like that with the first two or three projects. Very quickly that network expanded, in a very natural way. If I were to do the math today, we are close to forty group housing projects that were built that way, and of those almost forty, maybe three or five were made for a single client. The rest was for people who placed their trust in us and who allowed us to test, verify, experiment and, ultimately, gave us a lot of freedom to design during all those years. We were never able, in that state of autonomy, to become linked with the system of developers and real estate companies that have developed a good part of what has been built in these last three decades. We don’t belong to that category.
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