Tile of Spain consultant Ryan Fasan recently had the opportunity to sit down with renowned Spanish architect Francisco Mangado. The two shared a conversation at the AIA National Convention and Expo in Denver where Mangado was awarded an Honorary AIA Fellowship.
Ryan Fasan (Tile of Spain): Congratulations on the Fellowship. What an honor!
Francisco Mangado: Oh fantastic. For me it is an honor. Because I feel very very close to American architects. In some way they are my colleagues. So many here have been my students at Harvard and Yale.
Fasan: You’ve been doing a lot of work with students, teaching at Harvard and Yale in the U.S.
Mangado: Yes, I’ve taught at Harvard and Yale universities. Every 3 or 4 years I like to teach here [in the U.S.] for a semester. I need to look for fresh activities. It is very useful because if you stay and continue teaching in the same place you will repeat yourself continually. You need to contrast.
The way of teaching students in other ways is very helpful, very fresh. Next year I will come to the Graduate School of Design at Harvard. I received an invitation to teach at Cornell University and I will spend a semester teaching here.
Fasan: What do you think are the biggest challenges for students in America in the field of architecture?
Mangado: America is very different in the way of training than Europe. With America, the trouble is that the way of teaching has to do also with the way the profession is organized. So many here are organized in the way the companies they work for are organized. However in Europe, particularly in Spain, we are artisans. Our offices are small, only 15 workers. 15 workers here [in the U.S.] is nothing. So also we are very … we phase the question of working in a very personal way.
So that is a problem especially for many different reasons. In Spain, for instance, during the last 20 years the most important provider of important works of architecture was the government, public assistance and the regional government. Thanks to this system the youngest architects would just get to do important jobs. So in some ways good architecture in Europe, or in Spain, was an animal of public works. That was promoted by the public.
In the U.S. it is completely different. Here, work is promoted by private institutions and businesses. So what happens in the U.S. is that the majority of work is promoted by different private institutions and they require this kind of fee companies, or big corporations in architecture. In Spain the individual role is different. However in universities, it is different. Probably because it is the last opportunity for investigating. The American universities are continually encouraging speculation. The personal attitudes and they pay attention to developing personal capacities, and they are always trying to challenge ways of thinking. It is very important.
However in Europe it is different. What happens is that what you are learning in school is closer to what you will be doing when you are practicing the profession.
Fasan: You mentioned public buildings. A lot of those happen in Spain, like the Municipal Auditorium in Teulada (Alicante, Spain), you did with fish scale ceramic cladding.
Mangado: By the way, the auditorium in Teulada. I received news recently that the project won a 2013 RIBA National European Award from the Royal Institute of British Architects in the U.K. It is very nice. It is a very important distinction in Europe.
Fasan: That’s great news! The use of ceramics, is it fairly typical for your buildings around the world?
Mangado: Yes, I am now working in France and I am also using special pieces of ceramic that are following the study that we started with the Spanish pavilion. What happened with the ceramic is that it is a material that is very fruitful; it is very generous in some way. I like to use ceramic in the most natural way, like terracotta. I don’t want a big sophisticated system. I appreciate ceramic in this natural way because I like the different values, the richness, that this material offers in terms of quality of surface, in terms of texture.
I like to work with natural materials, not only ceramic, but natural wood, iron, glass because these materials have lasted for thousands of years and even now they can be absolutely contemporary. These kind of materials are claiming to use they are saying to you “Architect, come and work with me. Play with me because I am working to offer you new ways of working, new possibilities that never you could have in mind.”
This doesn’t happen with the other more modern materials. So they are much more poetical, these traditional materials. The only thing required is that the architect has to have a little more sensibility, or imagination, that usually they have to look for something that is hiding behind the material. For the material is the same. We have different devices and tools, and we have to manipulate these materials with different tools. But they are completely new. It doesn’t matter how old they [materials such as ceramic] are, they are new. For this reason, natural materials are so important. The traditional never is something that is past, traditional is more than something that is old – it is the basis for reimagining more powerful.
Fasan: Most of your ceramic work has been in collaboration with Toni Cumella. We went to visit his studio.
Mangado: Toni is an artist.
Fasan: Standing in his studio it spoke to my soul.
Fasan: What would you say to encourage North American architects to encourage them to use ceramics more? Would a partnership like that be beneficial?
Mangado: In general, American architects that teach at colleges and universities like to investigate. They love that. So I will encourage them to use this kind of material, to use ceramic in general, and but in different ways. Not only thinking about a material they can find that is completely finished, that is completely possible to change, no. Thinking that ceramic as an open material that they can manipulate. It doesn’t matter what has been done in the past. Even they can find this kind of new expressions. So I think this [ceramic] is a kind of material that can be very convenient for the way of thinking, and the way of working that is done in the universities and with the American architect. Absolutely.