A conversation between PRÁCTICA and The Canvas
Please briefly share the formation of PRÁCTICA.
The three of us met at Harvard Graduate School of Design where we quickly discovered we shared similar backgrounds since we all grew up in Spain. However, we had varied professional experiences from different architectural firms between Spain, Switzerland, UK and the USA. While at the GSD, we formed this idea of a collaborative practice that started as an open, global idea, but then started to get more solid and tangible a few years after GSD.
Do each of you bring a different skill set? -- Maybe one's more technical or conceptual?
We have quite similar backgrounds and skillsets. In many offices, a partner will focus more on projects, and another may focus on the operations of the firm. In our case, we all collaborate in different areas. Additionally, we split the work by project, not so much by task.
So each of you are project architects where you each lead a project from schematic design all the way through to construction administration?
Right, that's a good way to put it. Each of us is a project manager. We have weekly meetings and project reviews, where we receive one another’s feedback from a conceptual or design standpoint.
PRÁCTICA is broken into three arms: research, education, and projects. Could you elaborate on this composition of the firm?
All three are intrinsically connected, not separate from one another. For example, all three of us have been teaching studio courses at The Academy of Arts University in San Francisco, and we enjoy the interesting dialogue formed in the academic studio while getting a chance to learn from the students.
The Academy of Arts was one of the first schools to hold online education with the master's program. So it was one of the pioneers with testing how to teach design virtually. Most of the teaching is held online, although we travel there because of lectures, workshops and pin-ups at the end of the semester.
We explore research through exhibitions and publications, and in a very speculative realm that allows us to test concepts and ideas in different ways than with projects involving clients. We actively give lectures and work on design exhibitions, which provides visibility to the design community. This exposure is a way for us to interact with the community and share our perspective with the world.
And that's actually how the name PRÁCTICA came to be. We received quite technical education in Spain before the GSD, where we encountered a lot more of a theoretical framework. People emphasize a lot more theory and history at school in the US. We were really drawn to this, but we didn't want to forget the practical sense of architecture and design. That is how we see the three arms inherently coming together within the Office, because we always want to keep an interest on the theoretical side of architecture, but also trying to see how we implement it into practice.
Within PRÁCTICA’s research and theory -- what is an area you’re currently exploring?
We are currently working on a project for the next Venice Biennale, that will start in May 2021. For the Biennale, we’re developing a very large, 20 meters long model. The idea behind this model is how to connect or engage society with large scale projects, which in this case is a 20-kilometer Riverside development. We are experimenting with digital projection from above, which will interact with the public as they move around the model. We are exploring new methods for how to build the model as well, in terms of construction and 3D modeling.
What is one area that you would improve most within architecture in the Europe market?
So I find that interesting. How competitions are conducted in Europe and could be improved. Most competitions we had experienced in the US are either restricted to selected firms, or there’s some form of compensation for the work submitted to the competition, while open calls can sometimes be a huge investment of time and work that can be unseen or not productive.
How about the actual practice of architecture. From your experience, what is the greatest variance between practicing architecture in the United States versus Europe?
First, in Spain, you finish school with a license to practice architecture. So there aren’t license fees, additional exams, or hours of professional practice before you're able to sign a project. A second difference would be the cost of education. In Spain, most universities are financed by the Government with low costs for the student as opposed to schools in the US where you graduate with large debts, and then you have to take a job that pays well in order to pay off that debt. Unfortunately, both of these variances make it much more challenging to start a young practice in the US.
Those are some of the reasons we returned to Spain because we believe that we have a higher chance of success, starting a new practice and quickly evolving and growing as architects.
I would also add that it’s easier to build projects because there is more public investment [in architecture] than in the US. In my opinion, as an architect, you have a bit more freedom on public projects than if your client is a private investor who wants to insert their thoughts or vision.
Here's the final question for each of you, if PRÁCTICA could collaborate with one brand, who would it be?
I would love to collaborate between some other creative agency of any sort; could be fashion design, graphic design, cinema, some creative people that want to put together exciting work.
It would be someone with whom we could have an open and productive conversation; a creative client who is deeply interested in testing for new ideas.