Matter Made from Tradition

Eduardo Castillo

Translated for Media-N journal by Gustavo Crembil and Pat Badani from the original Spanish text, “Desde una tradición hecha material”

Animita (roadside shrine). Puerto Montt, Chile. Photo: Smiljan Radic, used with permission.

Animita (roadside shrine). Puerto Montt, Chile. Photo: Smiljan Radic, used with permission.

1.
Grayness dulled all colors; it was a dense and solid layer. Furthermore, there was a forlorn air about that construction, as if it could not bear its destiny. Everything fell to pieces at mere sight, a pitiful time tirelessly resting over it.

2.
Fragile structures without ambition, without hope, without repair. As if their useful lifespans had come to an end, discarded out of fatigue; worthless, embodying the weight of their own exhausted memory. Such fragility, such beauty, is all I search for.

3.
A mantle of roof-tiles deformed by the passage of time, roadside scenery of our abandoned silos, fantastic barns devoid of interest, popular animitas (roadside shrines) dripped with candle wax. . . . Those are the only structures that attract me; the only ones I stop to contemplate.

4.
In the periphery, in the rural, in the margins, buildings are erected without qualms, without masking their execution, without extraneous intentions other than the particular manner in which they are made. Those structures are the ones I most appreciate, where materiality and time have filtered into their own bodies, where their fragility is their beauty—their eternal present.

5.
Only concrete, only wood, only metal. . . . Building at the margins with only one material does not point to the only way of building; rather it means: building the only way possible.

6.
Concrete exposing its crude framework, the worn-out orange of brick, the tragic red of rusted metal, the gray of time-aged wood, all this appears marvelous to me—a dramatic sensation. Materials placed with obstinacy, driven by the pleasure of building a body that, at every instance, involves the whims and weaknesses of its materials.

Eduardo Castillo, Gallinero House, 2000-2007, 110m2. Florida, Concepción, Chile. Interior, pine, and cedar wood. Photo: Cristobal Palma, used with permission.

Eduardo Castillo, Gallinero House, 2000-2007. Florida, Concepción, Chile. Interior, pine, and cedar wood, 110m2. Photo: Cristobal Palma, used with permission.

Eduardo Castillo, L’Animita Chapel, 1997-2000, 55m2. Florida, Concepción, Chile. Entrance, interior view. Photo: Jessica Ramirez, used with permission.

Eduardo Castillo, L’Animita Chapel, 1997-2000. Florida, Concepción, Chile. Entrance, interior view, 55m2 . Photo: Jessica Ramirez, used with permission.

7.
In the end, one is what one sees—well, at least partly. All that I have observed with affect and intention has contributed to building my political gaze, and it arises from a way of seeing architecture through the range of the opacity of materials—these reveal a silence that builds interiority within its own skin.

8.
Pleasurably sinking into such interiority would allow a serene beauty, awaking to our own poverty, without pain, without remedy, without solution, relieved beyond recall.

9.
Something I read by filmmaker Wim Wenders reminded me of that particular moment: “The ‘broken’ buries itself deeper into memory than the ‘whole.’ The ‘broken’ has a kind of brittle surface, which one’s memory can grab hold of. On the clean surface of the ‘whole,’ memory slips away. . .” [1] There is something in Wenders’ words that may be compared to architecture. It may well be time’s imprint, settling itself on matter and materials. We could say that they are a written memory, an engraving; or, more accurately, a texture that affects rotting bodies—or more optimistically, bodies being cleansed. An infiltrated time, “holding on,” as Wenders puts it, and decanting everything that may bear memory.

10.
In a beautiful poem Joseph Brodsky says, “Apart from death / all that relates / to space is indispensible / our body, in essence.” [2]

11.
Yet, how to define that which body surfaces respond to, bodies infected on a daily basis by time, in a process that every so often seems not to discriminate? Be them lively or inert bodies, artificial or natural, discrete or flamboyant, all of them must resist, to a greater or lesser extent, the assault that results from exposure, from care, or lack of care; in a nutshell: the years which relentlessly go through their lives. Paradox lies in the life that springs through such a state of calamity. This is the image that represents a great part of the architecture I so desire to find: “an authentic construction,” just as a vast part of the photographic records of Bernd & Hilla Becher who, since the 1950s, have extracted with fascination from the world of big industrial objects an unending variety of grays, which, armed with an exceptional charm, tell us without objections about their knackered story. [3]

Eduardo Castillo and Ma. Francisca Navarro, Color & Shade, 2010-2011. Santiago, Chile. YAP - Constructo. Canopy, Ega203p, envirogrid membrane, 1500m2. Photos: Guy Wenborne (left) and Cristobal Palma (right), used with permission.

Eduardo Castillo and Ma. Francisca Navarro, Color & Shade, 2010-2011. Santiago, Chile. YAP – Constructo. Canopy, Ega203p, envirogrid membrane, 1500m2. Photos: Guy Wenborne (left) and Cristobal Palma (right), used with permission.

Eduardo Castillo and Ma. Francisca Navarro, Color & Shade, 2010-2011, 1500m2. YAP - Constructo, Santiago, Chile. Canopy, Ega203p envirogrid membrane.  Photos: Guy Wenborne (Fig5) and Cristobal Palma (Fig6), used with permission.

Eduardo Castillo and Ma. Francisca Navarro, Color & Shade, 2010-2011. YAP – Constructo, Santiago, Chile. Canopy, Ega203p envirogrid membrane, 1500m2. Photos: Guy Wenborne (Fig5) and Cristobal Palma (Fig6), used with permission.12.

12.
I could affirm without doubt that the construction (process) does not disappear into the architecture—no matter the expertise of the makeup stylist—since richness appears in this continuous state of resistance.

13.
However, if we understand that the method of building bodies does not only allow fabrication—to erect or to bury an architecture—but also to cue the decanting of what life holds on to, the tension between execution and permanence in architecture (whatever this may be) shall always have to confront an elliptical narrative of successive events that take place from the moment foundations are traced on the soil until time itself removes the effort.

14.
“Things are as they are,” claims an advertisement campaign for a soda drink. This affirmation, often used in a trivial manner, bears the preoccupation or, better said, the interest that nothing appears or looks out of its condition, nature, or quality. The architecture that interests me encompasses this assertion as an ethics of reparation, or translated from Latin: “a moral of correction.” This means that even when things may have multiple meanings, what should not happen is that they be or represent that which they are not, both physically and materially. Possibly, one refers to the other, in some sort of succession, proper to its manipulation.

15.
To build without appearance, as if “naked,” seems perhaps the correct thing to do, even though not central; but devoid of allegories, devoid of explanations, privileging only its attributes, its effort, its resistance. That should be its first expression upon which to load everything else as may be wished.

16.
Something symptomatic in architectural construction is the capacity to discern and arbitrate means and resources “fairly.” Let’s pause for a moment on León Battista Alberti’s thoughts in this regard. “Him I consider the architect, who by sure and wonderful reason and method, knows how to devise through his mind and energy, and to realize by construction, whatever can be most beautifully fitted out for the noble needs of man, by the movement of weights and the joining and massing of bodies.” [4] In sum, architecture requires the resolution of physical-material problems; loading and unloading, movement and permanence, storage and absence, and so on. . . .

Eduardo Castillo, Pantalón House, 2003-2007. Exterior, pine, and electrolytic cooper (LEC), 140m2. San Felipe, Chile. Photo: Cristobal Palma, used with permission.

Eduardo Castillo, Pantalón House, 2003-2007. Exterior, pine, and electrolytic cooper (LEC), 140m2. San Felipe, Chile. Photo: Cristobal Palma, used with permission.

Eduardo Castillo, Pantalón House, 2003-2007. San Felipe, Chile. Exterior, pine, and electrolytic cooper (LEC), 140m2. Photo: Cristobal Palma, used with permission.

Eduardo Castillo, Pantalón House, 2003-2007. San Felipe, Chile. Exterior, pine, and electrolytic cooper (LEC), 140m2. Photo: Cristobal Palma, used with permission.

Eduardo Castillo, Pantalón House, 2003-2007, 140m2. San Felipe, Chile. Exterior, pine, and electrolytic cooper (LEC). Photo: Cristobal Palma, used with permission.

Eduardo Castillo, Pantalón House, 2003-2007. San Felipe, Chile. Exterior, pine, and electrolytic cooper (LEC), 140m2. Photo: Cristobal Palma, used with permission.

17.
Mathematician Manuel Corrada claimed that technology is a type of knowledge coupled with discourse—with some sort of theorization. He says that the materials and associated technologies will bring with them—whether we like it or not—small deposits of discourse. [5] Every choice of material and accompanying technology is political and inscribed within a specific cultural sphere through which it attains validity. Knowing the techniques for constructing with nobleness so that these may be manipulated, will always help in shaping the clarity of (place and) remembrance, and in this way, yield constructions in synchronicity with the cultural territory in which the building is erected. Austerity, absence of ornament, basic geometries—at the foundation as much as in the built volume—affirm a search for an elemental architecture reconciled with its tradition. But this is not to be taken as an instance of “regionalism,” rather the contrary—an instance of architecture for a Global Periphery.

18.
Octavio Paz once said, “In order to become really modern we must first reconcile with our tradition.” [6] There is something quite significant in his thoughts, and I would like to believe that the architecture that I am interested in practicing fully complies with them—drawing and erasing figures, objects, and constructive technologies that are not always inscribed in the great history of architecture, but are rather everyday acts happening around us—part of traditions installed as a “conciliatory” language.

19.
In his 1935 manifesto, “Towards an Impure Poetry,” Pablo Neruda underscored the importance of “[looking] closely at the world of objects at rest” to perceive in them “the confused impurity of the human condition…footprints and fingerprints, the abiding presence of the human engulfing all artifacts, inside and out.”[7]

Eduardo Castillo, Gallinero House, 2000-2007, 110m2. Florida, Concepción, Chile. Exterior, pine, and corrugated PVC. Photo: Cristobal Palma, used with permission.

Eduardo Castillo, Gallinero House, 2000-2007. Florida, Concepción, Chile. Exterior, pine, and corrugated PVC, 110m2. Photo: Cristobal Palma, used with permission.

Eduardo Castillo, Gallinero House, 2000-2007, 110m2. Florida, Concepción, Chile. Exterior, pine, and corrugated PVC. Photo: Cristobal Palma, used with permission.

Eduardo Castillo, Gallinero House, 2000-2007. Florida, Concepción, Chile. Exterior, pine, and corrugated PVC, 110m2 . Photo: Cristobal Palma, used with permission.

Eduardo Castillo, Gallinero House, 2000-2007, 110m2. Florida, Concepción, Chile. Exterior, pine, and corrugated PVC. Photo: Cristobal Palma, used with permission.

Eduardo Castillo, Gallinero House, 2000-2007. Florida, Concepción, Chile. Exterior, pine, and corrugated PVC, 110m2. Photo: Cristobal Palma, used with permission.

20.
Let us imagine the Central Valley in Chile, an untilled field, peasants clearing stones while the fresh dawn dissolves in their breath. After converting the soil into prairieland, they take those stones, they prepare the mud and straw-made mortar, and in a single borderline they construct a pirca—a dumb, monotonous exercise. They apply undeviating improvements dictated by utility, with the single ambition of building the limits around what is being protected. Perhaps that pirca is the best example of an architecture that receives what is offered as a gift, without wishing for what is lacking, but rather revealing the opportunities that might be hidden in the problems presented.

21.
I remember some sculptures by Anthony Caro that physically and conceptually embody everything I am trying to name: constructions as fruit of an elemental culture, where parts are put together as required by the need to support material weakness and to reveal the dignity of human life, even in its worst conditions. Delicately improvised constructions whose makeshift repairs manage to hold the weight that sinks them in misery. Such a state of punishment will no doubt highlight their more beautiful present. [8]

22.
It seems that poverty’s detailing is what allows the acceptance of clumsiness, there where dreams remove what is superficial and aches heal what is apparent.

23.
In one of his celebrated books, Bruce Chatwin reminds us that Japanese peoples used the word wabi to designate “poverty”; or better said, “voluntary poverty”—in the sense that Zen recognizes “lack of possessions” as a way to own the world. [9] Both in China and Japan, the ascetic search for poverty derives from the teachings of Buddha. A man weighted down by his possessions, Buddha said, is like a ship that takes water: its only hope of salvation is to drop all its cargo.

Eduardo Castillo and Ma. Francisca Navarro, Shed for a Carpenter, 2014. Concepción, Chile. Model, wood. Photo: Ma. Francisca Navarro, used with permission.

Eduardo Castillo and Ma. Francisca Navarro, Shed for a Carpenter, 2014. Concepción, Chile. Model, wood. Photo: Ma. Francisca Navarro, used with permission.

Eduardo Castillo and Ma. Francisca Navarro, Three Chestnuts House, 2009-2010. Talca, Chile. Model, wood,150m2 . Photo: Ma. Francisca Navarro, used with permission.

Eduardo Castillo and Ma. Francisca Navarro, Three Chestnuts House, 2009-2010. Talca, Chile. Model, wood,150m2 . Photo: Ma. Francisca Navarro, used with permission.

24.
To rest on an architecture that is both elementary and extremely tangible implies that something within matter survives thought. Thus, my tastes veer towards mass density where the material is incorporated—not just as a structural contributor of physical loads, but also for the possible readings that the end piece might spawn. This search for modeled materiality seeks to decant a discipline that explores the natural predisposition of the technique towards the reduction and simplification of the constructive essentials, considering the structure not as an aesthetic-constructive device, but rather as in Martin Puryear’s and Tony Cragg’s sculptures, as skeletons submerged in their material density—a density that allows for no resolutions other than those that embody maximum accuracy. [10] Indeed, there is the simple act of an execution driven by its own constructive logic. Maybe this is why we encounter so much beauty in pottery, or in a craftsman’s weaving, because these have been fashioned with all the cultural care recorded in their memory.

25.
To return to the beginning of things, with steadfastness, with a gaze that appraises with wonderment what is found and contained, may be a beautiful excuse to roam about in search of an architecture capable of matching Jorge Teillier thoughts: “What’s relevant is not the light we turn on day in and day out / but that which we every so often turn off / to save light’s secret memory.” [11]

26.
To build from a referential image enmeshed in memories in an attempt to convey the tensions concentrated in basic gestures will enable us to broaden and strengthen an idealized simplicity that, precisely due to its extreme and marginal condition, shall awaken “a contained architecture”—the fruit of its culture—as Junichiro Tanizaki wrote, back in the day. [12]

Eduardo Castillo, L’Animita Chapel, 1997-2000, 55m2. Florida, Concepción, Chile. Pine wood. Paraffin model. Photo: Jessica Ramirez, used with permission.

Eduardo Castillo, L’Animita Chapel, 1997-2000. Florida, Concepción, Chile. Pine wood. Paraffin model, 55m2. Photo: Jessica Ramirez, used with permission.

Eduardo Castillo, L’Animita Chapel, 1997-2000, 55m2. Florida, Concepción, Chile. Pine wood. Paraffin model. Photo: Jessica Ramirez, used with permission.

Eduardo Castillo, L’Animita Chapel, 1997-2000. Florida, Concepción, Chile. Pine wood, Paraffin model, 55m2 . Photo: Jessica Ramirez, used with permission.

27.
“Señor Arquitecto,” he asked me, “What could we build in our country where history remits to what happened yesterday and religion is built upon animitas (roadside shrines) in an infinite highway of dots that mark their oblivion?” Abandoned, lost, disappeared, such seems our fate? Perhaps there is only hope left, just hope. . . .

References and Notes

  1. Wim Wenders, “The City: A Conversation Between Wim Wenders and Hans Kollhoff,” in Revista Quaderns, no. 177, (1988): 44-79.
  2. Joseph Brodsky, “Romancero Mexicano” in No Vendrá El Diluvio Tras Nosotros, ed., trans. Joseph Brodsky (Galaxia Gutenberg, 2000), 94-98; Brodsky translated the poem to English as “Mexican Divertimento,” but not completely—some paragraphs were eliminated.
  3. Bernd and Hilla Becher (Germany 1931-2007 and 1934-2015, respectively) were an influential conceptualist duo known for their photographs of industrial buildings and structures.
  4. León Battista Alberti, The Art of Building in Ten Books, trans. J. Rykwert, N. Leach, and R. Tavernor (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1988), 3; A translation of Alberti’s classical architecture treatise, De Re Aedificatoria was written between 1443 and 1452.
  5. Manuel Corrada is currently a professor in the mathematics department of the Pontificia Universidad de Chile.
  6. Octavio Paz, “Talking About Luis Barragán” in Luis Barragán, 1902-1988: Obra Construida, ed. Jose Alvarez Checa and Manuel Ramos Guerra (Sevilla: Junta de Andalucía, 1989), 12; Originally published in Vuelta issue 43, June 1980.
  7. Pablo Neruda, “Towards an Impure Poetry” in Five Decades: Poems 1925-1970, ed., trans. Ben Belitt (New York: Grove Press Inc., 1974), xxi-xxii.
  8. Anthony Caro (England, 1924-2013) created sculptures characterized by the use of found industrial objects.
  9. Bruce Chatwin, “Wabi,” in John Pawson (Barcelona: Gustavo Gilli, 1992), 9-10.
  10. Martin Puryear (USA, 1941) is a sculptor known for his love of traditional crafts. His approach challenged the physical and poetic boundaries of his materials. Tony Cragg (England, 1949) is known for his early assemblages of mixed materials and for his later works,where he explored the possibilities of manipulating familiar, everyday containers.
  11. Jorge Teillier, Los Dominios Perdidos (Fondo de Cultura Económica USA, 1992), 48-49.
  12. Junichiro Tanizaki, In Praise of Shadows (New Haven: Leete’s Island Books, 1977). Originally published in 1933.

Bio

Eduardo Castillo was born in Chile in 1972. He trained as a carpenter with his father and studied architecture at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, where he graduated with a degree in Architecture in 2000. In 2005 he pursued doctoral studies in Architecture and Urban Studies. His work has been published and exhibited widely: in Germany, China, Spain, the UK, Italy, Portugal, Japan, and Mexico, to name a few. He has been invited to participate in worldwide events such as lectures and workshops by universities and professional colleges devoted to architectural studies. He has worked with some of the most prestigious Chilean architects such as: Smiljan Radic (10 years), the National Prize’s German del Sol (3 years), and Teodoro González (3 years). Currently he teaches at the reputed Escuela de Talca (Universidad de Talca, Chile Central Valley). His independent studio practice is based in Santiago de Chile.