Interview with José Vela on his new book

Written on June 11, 2010 by Roberto Arribas in Architecture, Highlights

El Dr. José Vela Castillo, profesor de IE School of Architecture, acaba de publicar un libro sobre el Pabellón de Barcelona de Mies van der Rohe, la fotografía y la deconstrucción.

What is your research and book about? 

In fact, the book is part of a much ambitious research, focused in the relationships between architecture and philosophy. In this particular text, the main point is architecture (and the Barcelona Pavilion designed by architect Mies van der Rohe) as seen from the lens of photography and the lens of deconstruction, mainly through Derrida’s work, but also including Roland Barthes on photography and the recent work of Jean-Luc Nancy. 

Why a book on the Barcelona Pavilion? 

 Mies van der Rohe Barcelona Pavilion of 1929 offers a vantage point from which elaborate on the mentioned topics. It is one of the canonic buildings of the XX century, one of the best icons on Modern Movement in Europe, but one that, historically, was mainly known only through photographs. The Pavilion was part of the German contribution to the International Exhibition of 1929 in Barcelona, and was dismantled at the end of the exhibition. Therefore, only the pictures taken in 1929 allowed architects to know the building until 1986, when the building was rebuilt as the original. In addition, the whole process of reconstruction was based mainly in the pictures from 1929 as there no detailed plans survived. 

Why now? 

All the circumstances above mentioned and many more highlight the Pavilion as one of the most important works of architecture of the past century, but one that still deserves much more interpretation. The thoroughly comprehensive book on Barcelona Pavilion, despite the many books written, is still in the future, or more precisely, is in constant re-writing. The contribution I made is but one step, one that in the present, offers a rather innovative point of view, but still one more in this unending process. Re-enacting the architecture of the past as our own architecture is nothing but doing justice to it, and I think Mies van der Rohe’s work deserves it. 

What other research areas are possible on this subject? 

As mentioned above, this book is only a part of an ongoing research on philosophy and architecture, or in what I venture to name an architecture of philosophy (rather than a philosophy of architecture). It tries to state architecture as powerful species of thinking as philosophy. From this point of view, I am rather at the beginning of the investigation than at its closure: the book is the beginning or the opening of a path rather than its exhaustion. Deconstruction and Derrida’s thinking still has a lot to offer to this architectural thought. 

How would you link this book to your professional career? 

Research is a very important part of my professional career, as much as teaching and architectural practice. I understand me working as an architect as a comprehensive effort that is necessarily rooted in this three parts. These parts belong to a much broader horizon, that of Architecture, with a capital “A”. With all that being said, I have to add that publishing this book right now with a publisher as good as as Abada makes me real happy. I hope that it will contribute to the ongoing architectural debate in many different ways. 

And what about your teaching experience? 

I think that research in general is a kind of condition for teaching. Teaching cannot be only transmitting knowledge, as it must open itself to a broader field. With this in mind, I think some of the analysis that the book, and in special the main philosophical points stated in it, offer an innovative approach to architecture, to its interpretation, to its design and to the acknowledgement of  its value as a way of understanding reality that, at the end, forms the intellectual bases of my teaching.


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