White house, red soil
Maicon Rodrigo @ Rugeri University of Latin American Integration UNILA, in Brazil
The work was an investigation which lasted one year and a half. It was first presented at the I International Gathering of MALOCA (Grupo de Estudos Multidisciplinares em Urbanismo e Arquitetura do Sul, in English: Multidisciplinary Study Group in Urbanism and Architecture of the Global South), and later presented in late 2017 as the final thesis for the bachelor in Architecture and Urbanism. This work is a critical analysis of the typologies of rural housing in countryside Paraná, in Brazil; an architectural analysis of the transformation in the construction materials, of the spatial distribution, of the territorial occupancy and the implication these transformations have in housekeeping, which are carried out by the female residentes; and it is also an analysis of the use of interior and exterior spaces, and landscaping.
The urban housing models pervade the imagination of the rural workers: an ideological narrative of progress and development of the Western modernity, whose discourse subjugates Latin-American peripheral and rural spaces and also our traditional architectures in benefit of the urban areas, the “civilisation”. In this sense, rural and peripheral architectures are considered backward, primitive, ugly, precarious and need to be “civilised”. When built in rural areas, these urban housing models are rarely adapted to the local context, to the distinct needs of the countryside and its people, and they erase popular and vernacular construction traditions — traditions of use of materials, of spatial configurations, of cultural organisation of spaces and of the way of inhabiting and relating to the territory. Deep down, it’s the discourse of power which dates back to the colonisation of the Americas, and which lasts to this very day in the shape of coloniality.
The houses were traditionally built by the residents themselves with local natural resources (wood, stone), they were adapted to the agricultural activity context and the local needs, but today they are being replaced by houses which are inadequate to this context of land, and thus making the women’s housekeeping activities harder — who, according to the sexist division of labour, are responsible for the organisation of the home. Hence the title, “casa branca, terra roxa” (in English: white house, red soil), for the urban houses built in rural areas are usually white, with light-coloured construction materials of modernist heritage, and which conflict with the red soil of this area’s rural territory.Since the soil is red, the dirt is visibly harder to clean in a white house. Other architectural choices, like number of rooms, their size, the facing on the walls, colours, flooring types, furniture, in short: every architectural choice affects housework. The interior of the home becomes a sort of confinement to the women, who carry out a long haul of exhaustive housework, solitary and without remuneration (I developed a series of statistical graphics which show the amount of hours worked by the women in each of the houses and how in the white house the amount of hours worked rises). The work is made invisible and is not valued by family members, which in turn takes its toll physically and also emotionally.
However, a different situation is found in the gardens, vegetable gardens and clearings, in the landscaping of these houses. The green spaces are also spaces of housework and therefore equally a woman’s responsibility. Nevertheless, this work holds a cultural, affective, poetical dimension, where the vegetation, more than an ornamental accessory distanced from the people (a criticism to the conventional urban landscaping, an ornamental and solely contemplative form of landscaping), is integrated to the routine of the female residents, and flows through their lifelong way of being and inhabiting. In other words, the relationship with the landscape is identitary and creates various significances to the life of the female rural worker. This landscaping is envisioned, produced and maintained daily by work and interaction with soil, by the understanding of the germination, growth, harvesting, drought and rainfall cycles and by the emotional, cultural, symbolic and subjective importance of these plants to the people. This relationship with nature is culturally defining to the quotidian, seeing as it produces nourishment, medicine, raw material to the constructions, and it is related to beliefs, spirituality and myths; it produces emotions and feelings of identity and of belonging; it creates and strengthens networks of affection and exchange; creates creative expressions and poetic freedoms — which are inherently related to the subjectivities of these individuals. For that reason, I have named it as subjective landscaping.
The work is presented and based as a theoretical corpus in a trajectory of works of art, mainly by female artists, who discuss in their paintings, installations, films and performances the themes brought up in the work. Art is a field of knowledge, as much as academically written theories. I also present a trajectory of space representation references, which offer alternatives to conventional technical drawings in architecture, and which inspired me.
What prompted the research and speculative project?
I believe it is part of my personal path, part of my life: I was born and raised in the countryside, and I’ve lived since I was a kid in these spaces of soil, gardens, and women’s work, like my mother’s. I felt, in college, that I needed to bring these things to the academic space, to give voice to these places, these architectures and these women, and talk about them. Academia usually produces and reproduces a logic of knowledge construction which is elitist, sexist and colonialist, and which leaves many things and lives out of it — in this case, for instance, women, peasants and the rural spaces.
At a time when half of mankind lives and work in the city, what brought to reflect and look at the countryside?
First of all, as I said, my own connection with these spaces. But also, as a professional and thinker, I’ve had the curiosity to understand the borders which divide urban and rural: why is it that in urbanised cities rural practices still remain and can be seen? And vice versa, how does the urban also occupies the land in the countryside? I believe these spaces aren’t finely defined and opposite categories, as modernity has, up to a certain point, made us believe, but they are permeated by one another and interconnected. In the 21st there is rural in the urban, and urban in the rural, and the hierarchy no longer fits. Finally, I also believe that by looking at other spaces, with other perspectives, by displacing oneself from an unilateral position of the profession which focus most of the debates in the urban, and by thinking through other points of view, we can converse and learn a lot from silenced and erased knowledges and other ways of making architecture. Through that, we can also create the spaces and the meanings of people’s lives.
Where do you see the future of the countryside (eg that of Parana) and the role of the architect in relation to this?
Maybe I am not that much of an optimist when it comes to this, because the rural space is currently going through a strongly capital dispute in Brazil. The neoliberal economy focuses in the strengthening of agribusiness and the monoculture plantations for export, laws about the inadequate use of pesticides forbidden in other parts of the world are being passed in the Federal Congress, favouring powerful oligarchic landowners and poisoning the land workers and consumers. Another piece of data which causes a great deal of discomfort to me is the suicide rate amongst small farmers, which is very high, and it is second only to the suicide rate of native people — suicides which are also caused by land conflicts. Despite this expressively sad scene, human beings keep moving and reinventing themselves, thing are built and destroyed. Incidentally, it is in this limit that the role of the architect resonates, in the destroying and mainly in the building of things. We have had, since always, examples of architects committed to these challenges, and who are simultaneously working and fighting, proposing new projects, building places where people can bloom, and perhaps these professionals are simply not often featured in magazines (we could also talk about some environmental and sustainability concerns, which are also present in this century). Moreover, I believe architects and schools of architecture need to ever more epistemologically revise the theory and design field, abandoning certain projecting mannerisms, and embracing current and serious issues, about lives, urban and rural spaces, and the challenges these present.
How and to what extent did you immerse yourself into the context of Parana? How instrumental was this first hand analysis and experience in understanding the specific condition to this to respond to?
I was born and I lived for the majority of my life in this territory, so I believe my immersion has happened since I came into existence. Of course, I only had the analytical tools and awareness to comprehend these matters after I studied at a higher education institution, but I like to think that some things walk alongside us for a long time, and are only waiting for the right moment to present themselves. The objects of the research are sometimes our own lives. In this sense, my movement was not so much one of approach to the object, because I was already immerse in it for the bigger part of my life, as it was one of distancing myself from it. Analysing things from other points of view, constructing other meanings, other ways of thinking about that place and at the same time, about my own life, were all instrumental to that end.
How important was the drawing as tool through which to reveal and explore the speculation?
The drawing is an incredible tool for architects (and to other people as well). We envision, design, and draw all the time. The drawing helped, in this project, not only to reveal matters about the space, the architecture and the people, but it also helped in thinking possibilities to solve these matters. If on the one hand the technical, mathematical, Cartesian drawing in architecture intends to make the communication between architect and builder easier, using a language which is supposedly universal, on the other hand it negates other ways of drawing with other reasonings and characteristics, other ways of seeing and feeling the world. And that is where I want to focus on now, it is important to think of the drawing critically. The drawing, having all the importance that it has, as I was saying, can’t be reproduced without self-criticism, without suspicion and without questioning. In a political world, each stroke is a political decision.
How were classic and conventional architecture representation methods challenged and explored to fulfil the purpose of the project?
First of all, I explored the understanding that the classical and conventional drawing is one of the possible languages in which to speak of architecture, but not the only one. In fact, if we create a genealogy of the drawing, we will see that the architectural drawing is a Renaissance methodology, which served a specific place of the globe, and later became universal, replacing other ways of thinking about space. If each culture possesses their own singular way of constructing space, why do we believe that there is only one right way of thinking this space? Taking this discomfort as a starting point, I started to realise that the classical drawing didn’t sufficiently answer all the complexities and relations which exist and are part of architecture. The mathematical and Cartesian mannerism of the conventional drawings are part of a specific way of seeing the world, based in rationality, and which isn’t universal. For instance, I sometimes see technical drawings in which there isn’t so much as one person, just numbers. I wonder: how is it possible to make architecture without people, or with people as secondary “things”?
To what extent do you agree with the notion of the medium is the message?
If the medium were not the message, it would for sure at least be a great part of it. It has, in any case, significance in the communication process, and that’s why I believe that the medium we choose to express ourselves is already part of the cluster of the transmitted message. They are interdependent.
What lead you to present the work as a theoretical corpus in a trajectory of works of art? Can we talk about a collaborative project?
Art is a curious thing, because it usually goes to the limits and lives in them, inside them, talking about them. It is as if it were a disquieted thought that provokes us. That’s why I noticed that the artistic experiences are part of a field of knowledge that can, oftentimes, answer, point to and talk about unanswered gaps and voids left by other fields. Besides that, the artistic field as of knowledge possesses other ways of knowing and learning that surpass the Western habit of the written text, and proposes theoretical approaches through other senses, through the visual, the plastic, sensory experiences, sound, body, emotion. It’s a way of valuing and bringing visibility to other ways of relating to the world, which are important and make us think as much as academic texts do. Yes, we can indeed talk of a collaborative project, I don’t believe in individual authorship, because we learn from others and the world all the time; knowledge is always amassed. Besides this, this intelectual collaboration from the women artists and their works of art and the analysis theories, in a practical sense I had the support and the collaboration of the professorial adviser Andreia Moassab, as well as many other professors, my friends, my family, people I got to know and who got to know me. And also here, for this interview, the translated answers are thanks to Carolina Simionato, a very close friend who helped me with this border between the languages.
What is your take on the threshold between art and architecture?
I consider art and architecture as “limit professions”. These fields are hybrid, overlapped, ambiguous, sometimes one thing and sometimes the very same thing. I think I have to clarify here that there are sets of historical understandings about what art is. To me, a museum, curiously enough an architectonic project, is not the place where art is, it is the place where art was placed. I believe art, or rather poetics, as I like to call it (in order not to confuse it with the museum-system art), is out there, and it’s in people’s experiences all the time. People create aesthetic significances every day, people create poetic streams which escape their own hands, they are touched and touch other people. The architecture, in this sense, enters the scene as the place in which these poetic actions occur, not only as spatial support, but also as medium, as a provoking agent, as the very meaning of the experience, as the very flow which enables life.
What would you say is the architects most important tool?
To think sensitively. I can’t say it is the drawing, because there is in human history millions of architects and buildings which were never drawn, and they are nevertheless stunning works. That being so, more than the tool that the drawing is, more important is the pondering, the awareness that we live in a world of temporal and spatial senses.
Maicon rodrigo rugeri is an architect and urbanist who graduated from unila (federal university for Latin-American integration, in Brazil), currently enrolled in ufba’s (federal university of Bahia, Brazil) multidisciplinary master’s programme in culture and society. he also takes part in maloca — multidisciplinary study group in urbanism and architecture of the global south. he works mainly in the following subjects: visual arts, landscaping, culture, architecture and gender.