Conversation with Fernando Pino
Interview & Illustrations by Naomi Njonjo
Transcript by Cyrile Vanthournout
Have you ever wondered what professors are up to when they were not advising us on the needed square footage for artist residencies in New York, criticizing our choice of green, or questioning the chosen interface between our design and the public?
As students we tend to, unconsciously, dissociate professors from being normal people like us. We acknowledge their important role and impact in our academical journey but rarely do we get to relate with them outside of the environment in which they teach.
Through this conversation with Fernando Pino, Design professor at IE University and the Polytechnic University in Madrid and Co Founder of Paredes Pino Architects, we were able to dig a little bit into his life and many roles as husband, father, professor, advisor, architect, designer, coordinator, etc... and it was fascinating to be allowed into the intimate narrative of his day to day life.
What was the most striking was Fernando's energy and passion for life, his family and problem(s) solving design.
Fernando, we know that you have a crazy work ethic and schedule, that you are very intense about work but that you somehow still find time to do other things. Can you tell us a little bit more about this?
Yes, I think this is something that started when I was a student. Instead of having the type of internship programs like you have here, I made my own internship program. I was studying in the public school in Madrid and I saw that I could not find the things that for me are related to capital-A architecture. In our university program we used to study math, physics, all these type of technical conditions on a high level, so until third year you could not touch anything that had to do with design. At that moment, I needed to do something that was more in connection with the real profession, so I started to work at the same time as I was studying, In the mornings I was working and in the afternoon I was attending classes. This was the first moment in which I started to combine.
You mean working in an architecture studio?
Yeah, working in a studio with now well known architects, at the time, it was a very small studio. Emilio Tuñón was still working with Rafael Moneo, in the afternoons so he was leading the same type of double life. Around that time, I realised the people with more time on their hands got less things done.
"I organized my life in a very efficient way, so each time I was trying to design or study I knew I only had one hour, or half an hour, so I needed to do everything in a very useful way cause I had no more time to do it."
If you are using your time in a very precise way this helps because you can modulate and organise your agenda to have time for everything, for family, for sports. For example, nowadays, I don't have time to go to the gym, but I’m using a bike to get around Madrid. So it’s a way to do exercise even though there is no time to exercise. I use the time to move around the city to do exercise. And, I try to follow this same efficiency in my architecture practice.
"I'm always repeating, time and time again, to students that they need to propose responses to one specific issue, solving several ones with the same gesture."
So what is a typical day for Fernando Pino?
A typical day starts at 6 o'clock in the morning. For me, this is the moment where I can do research and read, without WhatsApp and all these tools of communication (also tools of disturbance). It is a way to say: this is my time, this is the time before I go to my office. I have my time to research, to think about certain types of strategies, to see what the next step is. I work in various research teams and now. I’m involved in the organization of things like: congresses, articles for publishings, etc... so this is my time. Then, I start my office work at 10 o'clock.
I have breakfast with my wife, and if I can, also with my son and my daughter. Now it is more difficult because they are growing up and they are making their own thing.
They have their own rituals?
(laughs) Yeah, they have their own rituals that are not crossing mine but it’s something that is completely normal. Then I go to my office. There is this type of bike moment going to my office and in my office I’m either working on a project with my partner, visiting the building site, attending a conference or a meeting, the things that are the normal day to day life of an office.
We have a double head office, an architecture office that designs urban plans or buildings, etc., and we also make competitions on architecture or commissions, etc. We are also involved in industrial design of offices, so designing and producing objects such as chairs, or tweezers for cooking. We try to do different things related to design because we are in love with all those type of objects, which are the smaller part of the architecture. That means the one that is in contact with your body. It is more related with texture; it’s very precise. It’s not something that we measure in centimetres, it’s smaller than millimetres. In Spanish we call them “micras”, it’s similar in English, it’s the tenth part of a millimetre. Sometimes the design of these type of curvatures, texture or the steps are related to this measurement.
When I can, I have lunch with my wife, other times I have lunch in the office with my partner or we go out. That’s another two hours, depending on the day.
Some days I have to come here, to the university to teach on Tuesdays or Fridays depending on the semester. Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays I’m teaching in the School of architecture, the polytechnic one, in Madrid. I can be in a group from 7:00pm till 9:00pm. I’m teaching a master seminar now that is related with how the spaces can be transformed by pieces of furniture. How the architecture is completely transformed by the position of the furniture and the furniture itself. It is something that is light architecture and the furniture is a trigger to the spaces.
I'm also the coordinator for the people that are starting their doctoral thesis. They are writing research documents and I’m in charge of one special event that is to collect all these texts and to produce different tables to discuss themes or topics related to the research in the university. I’m the coordinator of the other teachers.
A final thing this year, I am a coordinator and curator with 3 other professors of a series of lectures with people coming from abroad, explaining dual practices. This refers to someone who is working as an architect in an office with a very successful career in this sector and who is also teaching at the university with a very powerful position in it. We are inviting people from Norway, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, and Paris, for example. They are sharing with us their knowledge of the professional life and how sometimes the more theoretical things you are proposing in the academic world are the things that you are applying to the professional world at the same time.
So in the end, when I return at home, I share with the family these things and we talk. This is one of the advantages of dinner in Spain, it’s a very late one.
"We gather with the family, talk about our day and the things we are making."
Then, the weekend is sacred. It is something that is for me and my family.
So no work at all? No research either?
If it is possible, yes. We are trying this type of thing where every Saturday morning we take our bikes to have a very big route, my wife and I. These are things we need to do, because it’s a way to maintain the other intense part; the other part of life that is with other activities and another intensity in another sector. I think that an architect needs to say, for example: this is the moment to visit exhibitions in Madrid etc, to see paintings or to see movies. It’s a way to be in contact with other things that are part of another world that exists.
It seems like something that is hard, at least when you are studying architecture, is to keep in mind that you can do other things than architecture. We are so ingrained in this culture that tends to be a 24/7 architecture and design affair. So even when you are not working on architecture and design, you are going to see exhibitions that have to do with architecture and design, watching movies that were recommended by professors in relation to architecture, etc...
Yes, I know but, on the other side I think an architect needs to be in contact with reality and people. To see that people are going out to the disco or to have a beer is something that is also cultural. We are designing these spaces, these flows, these movements for people, for all of us. We are making these actions.
"If you are only making these beautiful, pure, stupid things you are not making architecture."
You are making something that is very refined, sometimes you end up making things that are closer to sculptures or very stylistic pieces more than friction pieces that are in contact with people. It is taking out all these type of randomness of the life, all these types of readjustments of things. I always use this as an example: The way you are using the beach is completely different from the way that I am using it. Someone could say, "I would like to be close to the bar and drinks", so the way to put the towel would be completely different than someone sunbathing. It would also be completely different for someone that is an obsessive swimmer and needs to be close to the water. The beach is a single field that is absorbed with a lot of different types of people using it.
The way we can deal with architecture is more or less similar to these type of decisions. You need to be alert to these other big ranges of possible behaviours.
"We need to do something that is capable to absorb all the different possible types of people inside our buildings."
That needs to be affordable or useful for the maximum amount of people possible, not only for the creators of the exhibitions on architecture.
There is this notion when talking about urban spaces, about how good public space is based on how well it can "absorb" all kinds of behaviour even the unexpected ones. Do you think you are able to grasp this in the context of Spain because you know and understand the culture? Do you think it’s harder to design something in a culture where the routines are completely different? Let’s say you have a competition in Switzerland or like Brussels. What is your approach to understanding all of that complexity of human behaviours?
I think it’s something completely different to design here or in England or in Asia for example. Sometimes we use the same words to define certain things but the concept behind these words are not exactly the same.
"When we are saying public space, the thing that we are understanding here in Spain or what they are understanding in Turkey or in Norway or Finland is completely different. Because of how the circles of intimacy are also different depending on the cultures."
The proximity with other people is really diverse; the way to use the public spaces, if you have the feeling that you are bothering someone or not.
I’m really interested in the invisible things; those that I feel are like an aura. If someone is crossing this type of limit, this type of boundary, you feel uncomfortable and these are completely different, depending on the culture. This is the first circle, but there are other circles that are group circles or gathering ones that are compressing part of this intimacy circle and are creating a new type of limit, a new dynamic of moving, a new dynamic of use or the way people colonize the space. These are things you need to detect.
For instance, we are making an addition on top of an existing house. It's a house overlapped on top of an existing one. They need to share a single plot with the same swimming pool and the same trees but being two independent houses. I was saying this because, when you are working in this type of new circle, you are dealing with the intimacy of people in their homes or their habitat. They have certain type of common rituals. For example, in one of them, we have conversations, previous to make any type of line of design, to understand the things they are trying to explain to us. They'll tell us: we need this thing and this thing in terms of program, in a very formal way of "we need this/we love this" but in the end when you are in a conversation with them, they are saying in the “in-between lines” what the things are they actually need.
"You need to detect these things that aren’t the very obvious ones, the invisible ones."
So for example: "we need to maintain our unity as a family, but the toilets are something completely split, we cannot share the toilets. This is crucial for us, because otherwise the thing we are splitting is our marriage."
Oooooh so you mean between husband and wife!
Yes, so instead of making this type of suite with this hotel experience, with a fancy toilet, they need their own one but with different type of requirements. "I would like mine with natural sunlight, no I prefer one that is smaller." I need to have the shower in a small space because I’m naked and I feel vulnerable so I feel better if I’m in a smaller space. But, the guy is two meters tall and says: "I need the shower as high as possible and I like to sing in the shower." In the end, they are asking for things that are just the opposite. And you know this is just a very funny example but there are other things that talk about more normal rituals and behaviours related to the weekend and friends and parties.
Related to spaces? Like, where you receive guests, where you work, where you have breakfast, etc?
Yes, like what are the movements I make in the house? How important is vegetation for me? All this information is only the last minutes of a long conversation so you need to detect them.
"You have to see, that this part of the sentence is the crucial one to understand what kind of atmosphere they are trying to obtain through our work as architects."
The house is a program that for us is not so complicated, somewhere to put a bed, somewhere to put a kitchen, somewhere to put a table, somewhere to put a couch and watch TV. It’s something that apparently is not so complicated with a lot of available information about it.
But, to do something that is like a glove for their hands you need to do something that is more connected with the way they live and I think that this contact with the reality is something that at some point in the past the architects lost. They were so involved with the need to build the theoretical aspects that are maintaining their direction as an architect... They needed to build their own internal/inner laws to produce their work.
This is a quote by Mies van der Rohe: "It is impossible to invent the world every morning". You need to repeat certain things but in fact, in the last century we feel like if we are not creating something and we are repeating things from other architects, we are making something that is not valuable. We feel the need to invent our way, our own path.
We see it everyday in design studio, when we think we have this brilliant idea it only takes one moment of research to find that somebody has already done it? So when do you think that changed? When do you think the architect stopped being in that role of applying the theory of what they found directly?
I think this aspect that you need to do something completely new, starting from scratch, is something that belongs to the starting point of the last century, with the avant-garde. In the past, people were making these renaissance palaces very comfortable repeating certain things but with certain kind of variations. For example, when you read a text or you read the commentaries of Rem Koolhaas talking about their office. They are producing a range of interpretations of things because it is part of their brand. It is like a collage but in a very smart and very intelligent way. They apply things with a lot of risks but doing it through a very systematic way of working, that is producing buildings that are very different each time. So the system is the same, or the way to cook is the same but every dish is different because it is combining different ingredients at different moments and different types of fire and different types of pots etc. In the end the final dish is always different.
Well, this was super interesting, thank you Pino! I just wanted to finish with one question tying it back to the overall theme. If you were to strip down your schedule of the week and just keep one thing that you do repetitively and can’t let go of? What would it be? What is the most meaningful for you.
The family for sure! Because the other things are things that of course in the field of architecture are really important because I love design but that I can do when I’m with my family. My wife is also an interior designer, so sometimes we are sitting designing/redesigning how we can modify the house; but we don’t have the time...
At this point in time, we are visiting exhibitions, etc. which for us is also family time since we are sharing a common interest. On the other hand we are also visiting more things to relax, with really good food etc.
"Those are very quiet moments and if you start renouncing these things you are losing your life."