Martin Fourcade

Interview with principal architect of AFT Arquitectos.
Tell us where you were born and where you live.

I was born in Cordoba, Argentina, and have been living in Buenos Aires since the year 2000.

How old were you when you first realized you wanted to be an architect?

I think I always wanted to be an architect. It was totally natural for me to be surrounded by plans, models, and construction on a daily basis, as both of my parents were architects.

What school did you attend, and how did it influence your view of the world and architecture?

I went to the National University of Cordoba, an institution with a long tradition; it was founded in 1613 and is in fact the second oldest university in South America. It has always been very diverse, bringing together students with very different visions from different provinces, always very active in the debate of ideas. I think this was the most influential factor for me, the opportunity to share ideas and understand the profession more broadly, and to have a positive impact on people’s lives.

What was the funniest thing that happened to you while in school?

If I had to choose one thing only, it would be perhaps in the fourth grade, when I had my mother as a teacher and she insisted that they fail me, going against the views of the other teachers. Now it’s funny. It was not at the time.
What was the first successful project that your office worked on?

The first and most significant of our lives, as it represented a big leap in quality and quantity, was the fact that we won the competition to build the Latin American Art Museum of Buenos Aires (MALBA) in 1997. It was a major international competition with 450 entrants from 35 countries, and a judging panel of incredible architects including Norman Foster, Miralles, Pelli, and Kleihues…This definitely was the first big step forward in our careers.

How is architecture different in Argentina than in other parts of the world?

I don’t think there is such a thing as Argentine architecture. This opens up a historical debate, that of our cultural identity. Argentina brings together indigenous, colonizing and immigrant cultures, none of which is dominant. Our building tradition is based on our Italian and Spanish heritage. It is an unbalanced country, with a disproportionate burden on Buenos Aires at the expense of regional production. For this reason, unlike other Latin American countries, Argentina has always been heavily influenced by Europe. This has given us some schizophrenia, and slowed down both the incorporation of any local memory into architectural thinking and the integration of a recognizable Argentine architecture. This is just my theory, obviously it´s debatable.

What are some challenges that architects face while trying to make their visions possible in this country?

I can only speak from our own experience. The challenges come in cycles, probably based on fluctuations in the economy. In the 90s the challenge was information, with the world’s technologies and resources at our disposal, and an exchange model that was advantageous for the import of goods and services. As a consequence, the country immediately closed itself off to the world and we began to focus only on local resources, with a dominant vision posed by economic policies that favored the export of ideas and products. In turn, these unpredictable scenarios provide us with the constant challenge of remaining adaptable and resilient. There are times when we have plenty of time to think and put forward ideas, and there are times when the only thing to do is mobilize.

In your experience, how has architecture changed over the past 20 years?

In terms of methods and resources, I think a key element has been the incorporation of computer programs. This has allowed us to bring the two processes of design and construction together in a much more malleable way. The conception and verification of ideas has become incredibly fluid, with more precise results.

Regarding work philosophy, and through a natural process of professional development, I think the objectives of satisfaction have become less superficial and pretentious. The world, I believe, is evolving towards something more human, rethinking the old dichotomies of Fountainhead and bit by bit doing away with the individualistic ideal that has nurtured pure capitalism while irreversibly destroying the planet. The dogmatic thoughts and paradigms of faith and science are also on the verge of a drastic rethinking.
What other cultural and artistic themes influence the way you approach architecture?

I don’t believe I have a unique approach, an admirable way of thinking, or even a process to brag about. Perhaps my colleagues do! I believe in curiosity and in incorporating every area that could possibly be integrated. I think they all define our reality; a special meaning in reading the energy of a place, its past and its historical importance, the people and their way of life, poetry and technology, dreams and aspirations, everything that excites and moves people. This includes music, art, culture in the broadest sense, from Patoruzu and the Simpsons to Borges, Fangio, Messi and Steve Jobs, tango, folk and electronic music, the Vedas way of arranging knowledge, Hindu ideas, meditation, Kriyas and Pranayamas. It’s about understanding that we are a tiny particle in an infinite and eternal web, and trying to act in harmony with these energies.

Tell us how spirituality has played an important role in your life and your architecture.

I think just through being open to all dimensions of life, from the material to the more intangible – it´s all part of a basic need to learn, a dynamic, ongoing process. The more awareness we have, the more fluidity, in any area. We´re always prepared to work hard, to achieve and to gain recognition - this is how we fuel our egos. I believe that humanity as a diverse whole, a hyperculture, is moving towards a real evolution, more aware and tolerant, more empathetic and inclusive; at least this is what I choose to believe.