liberty

http://goo.gl/Qjku9MWhile my country is sinking slowly into a black hole that seems to be consuming all of us and making us disappear in its relentless darkness, I try to stay positive in hopes that my cheerful spirit can rescue me from this madness.

My body and my mind pore over an internal struggle between my reality and the life I want for me and my family; I close my eyes and I find myself sailing through countless memories that transport me from one place to another, going through all those spaces that once saw me go by and filled me with energy.

http://goo.gl/wwGZWRLost in my dream, I open my eyes and find myself walking the streets of New York. I feel the freedom passing through my body; it slips through my fingers and then goes to produce the same effect on someone else. Suddenly I find myself in a street flanked by tall buildings that shelter me and make me feel safe; I have the impression that the content space gives me a sense of peace, the kind of peace that I´ve been anxiously chasing for months in a frustrated search because of the great amount of uncertainty present in my life. I walk a little more, and a small open space appears before my eyes; a beautiful glow blinds me for a moment. The excess of light gradually begins to disappear and my eyes revel in the freedom of this area that, even though it´s contained between buildings, seems to escape every few seconds to fill this place with a delicious sense of grandeur.

I stop for a few minutes to appreciate this gift and try to absorb all the freedom of the space with every fiber of my being. I want it to fill my body; I want to take it back with me to my country which needs it so much.

http://goo.gl/Zoa2RxDarkness… it comes back to my mind quickly subjugating all traces of light that I had managed to get… I open my eyes and find myself back in the same place that wanted to escape from. But something has changed… My perception of it is different. Now I´m able to appreciate it for what it really is and not for what my emotions make me perceive it.

I direct my gaze to the right and find a leafy tree; then I look up and discover that a vast blue sky is protecting me from the unknown. Nothing separates us; not even a delicate cloud is between us; this huge bright and colorful blanket climbs over me highlighting the organic forms of vegetation and the incorruptible straight lines of the buildings. I hear some birds passing over my head and a gentle breeze blows my hair clouding my sight for a few seconds.

I take a breath and everything starts to make sense. I wake up to my reality. I must be here; there is a greater purpose directing the lives of those who are still here.

I cannot surrender. My energy has to regain its luster, color and strength. I must recover my smile, the one that was left hidden behind some door in a sad and dark place.

I close my eyes again; take a deep breath and open them again. It’s back! My lost smile has returned; and with it, my energy. I feel like I slowly regain my strength and begin to believe again, to have faith again. Everything will be fine. There is a bright future ahead of me, waiting for me, anxious for my arrival.

I walk towards it, to that ideal place where my designs are more than just sculptures contained behind bars. That place where the skyline can be seen in its entirety as we walk down any street. That place in which an architect can be a visionary without limitations beyond those imposed by the client or urban planning; where the environment adds to the project instead of subtracting from it; where life flows through buildings without bumping with cold locks.

I know that place is near; I feel it deep inside me, and I also know that I am an important part of this process of change; that’s why I’m here.

I won´t close my eyes to the reality that surrounds me; I won´t be going with the flow any more. Starting today, my life and the way I live it will be vital elements of a major change. Because, as Mandela said: “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others…”

http://goo.gl/0pgW5X

spinning cities

http://goo.gl/zb14iWhen I think about the concept of time and its ramifications, I find myself observing pieces of memories which are connected with each other and, as when using scraps of fabric to create a quilt, I begin weaving stories to assemble a lifetime.

Every memory takes me to another memory; every story, every character, unleashes a wealth of emotions, feelings and desires lost in time, in search of their path, their course, their hope to become real and current again.

Sometimes those memories are better hidden away in some dark and lost place, because their untimely sudden appearance can alter the natural order of things producing unintended consequences. But often, reuniting with memories, with our past, helps us understand our present and even plan for a better future.

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http://goo.gl/8E4Y4In cities, each architectural creation of our ancestors has at least a small part in the great work of today’s cities, every great building of the past is a piece of sand of each and every one of the buildings from our time. Every room, every space once built is the father of many other spaces.

Architecture is our stage, our environment, the perfect backdrop for every memory. When we walk through a building in which we have been previously, our sensors become activated and endless sensations come to mind. Each memory is perfect because it happened in a perfect setting for this event. If it had happened elsewhere, the memory would be completely different.

When we start a creative process, we must be aware of what is the story we want to develop in that place, or if, on the contrary, we want to leave the options open for its inhabitants to take ownership of it, transforming it to suit them as it happens, for example, in kinetic architecture.

But in any case, the process must begin with a vision, with a story to be developed in the time that this building exists and there should be as meaningful as possible so that this story can become larger than time itself.

Our history/story is eternal, just as architecture, because even if we or our buildings perish, the ramifications product of that history/story will live on forever creating more and more connections…

the city without excuses

Excuse: Reason or pretext to avoid an obligation or justify any omissions.

City making is much more than drawing lines in specific directions that surround solids and voids. It is more than gathering a group of people in a planned environment and providing them with services, education and health. City making means living, breathing and feeling through a certain space; means to adapt to it and reach an agreement between the two so that both, space and its inhabitants will benefit.

To be able to form cities we must begin by being honest with ourselves; assuming our strengths and weaknesses, analyzing our habits and exposing them. But above all things, to achieve the real city making we must erase the excuses from our minds. Each country has its own: climate, overpopulation, politics… excuses, excuses, EXCUSES. And Venezuela is no exception, our excuse is insecurity. And it has become the perfect justification for anyone to do anything… literally. Thousands of people decide day by day, more and more, to stay home so we can avoid being victims of crime. We reduce one by one the activities we do every day, becoming more sedentary, shrinking as people and damaging our health by lack of physical activity.

And of course, if people living in cities do nothing, then it makes no sense that specialists do something/anything in terms of urban planning: Why strive if people are not going to go out? Why build if others are going to destroy?

The country seems to be frozen pending the much-waited change. We accumulate reasons for doing nothing, and meanwhile, we all live the consequences of such inactivity.

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But the absence of the concept city making is not only present in Venezuela. In many countries, cities continue to grow as simple random groups of people, without order, control or intention. We keep searching for anything that simplifies our lives and in the way, we leave aside all that is good for us, that makes us happy and helps us become better people.

Walking, dancing, riding bikes, sharing common interests without a screen in between… all of those activities are being left behind as the memories of past generations.

And every day we choose to isolate rather than do something about it, we are missing a myriad of sensations; sounds, textures, glows, aromas…

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We must begin to change; we need to start the process of city making. But  every culture is different, therefore the rules don´t always apply in the same way in all cases. That is why it is so important that city making does not become just about sitting in front of a computer and, once again, becoming inactive. We need to reverse the process, think of the creation through physical activity. Go to the streets to analyze what is happening outside so we can improve what already exists; the idea is not to simply say it does not work and  discard it, or cover it with flowers and a few billboards and advertisements. The change must start from the needs of the people, their daily routines, their activities and desires.

If anything we should have learned by now is that the future cannot be only about flying machines and telepathic messages. Our planet is clamoring for a return to origins, to basics; that does not mean that we will go back in time and erase centuries of evolution and progress; which means is that thanks to all those years and the knowledge we have accumulated during that time, we have now more and better capabilities to turn the basics into something better, more integral, more effective.

And if we just think about the destination and not about the journey, which is basically what we do when we create hiding behind a computer, we will miss the surprises and experiences that are there waiting for us.

But each city must find their own path; and each of us must start with a small change: we must put aside the excuses and start moving towards that point of convergence between the simplicity of the past and the knowledge of the future.

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All images belong to the great artist / architect Cristina Bergoglio.

almost all my thoughts about architecture

A few days ago, About.com: Women in Bussiness posted an interview I gave to @HefferonJoe about my thoughts on architecture.

Since the interview could only be posted in two pages and Joe had to include his own and very interesting opinions about what I had to say, some of the answers I gave him were not posted.

So I asked him if he would mind if I published all the questions he asked and answers I gave and, lucky for me, he said yes.

So here they are:

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(1) Please provide me with some background information first such as:

How long have you been an architect?

I graduated in 2001, so I´ve been an architect for a little more than ten years.

Education

I studied architecture at Simon Bolivar University in Caracas, Venezuela from 1995 to 2001.

After graduating I did a few professional courses such as Marketing for executives from other disciplines, Graphic Design Advertising, and a few other design software courses.

At the moment I´m evaluating options to start an online Master in interior architecture and design.

Do you work for a firm or by yourself?

I used to work for a firm up until 5 years ago, that´s when I decided to be my own boss so I concentrated all my efforts on designing and creating my own ideas.

I think it´s very important for every newly graduated from architecture school to work for someone else for a while, someone with experience, who can teach you what is not in the books. But then you get to a point in which you have to go on your own, so you don´t rely on other people´s knowledge and the decisions you make are only yours, for better or for worse. That´s when the challenge really begins.

Some of the projects you are proud of

The project that I´m most proud of is my academic degree thesis. I designed a prison for pregnant women and/or with children. This is a project really close to my heart. I spent almost one year thinking, on a daily basis, on how to make the life of this kids a little less hard, which would also help the mothers to become better persons and facilitate their transition from prison to society.

Now, thinking about the projects I´ve done since I graduated, those that I´m most proud of are the houses I´ve designed. Maybe because residential design is the area of architecture I like the most, maybe because I like pretending I´m a physiologist. I´ve said before that “it is in the dream house of every person, where all their hidden desires are immersed. And in order to be able to decipher the mysteries in people´s psyches we must think in terms of dreams, desires and feelings, and not only in architecture terms such as walls, ceilings and spaces.

This is key to any residential project. And in my case, it´s what makes every house I´ve designed “a unique and unrepeatable translation of the particular language of the client”.

But the truth is that I really LOVE each and every one of my projects and I give myself in all of them.

Some of the large companies you have done work for

I´ve worked with Kraft Foods in two opportunities; first to remodel the entrance hall of the plant located in Valencia, Venezuela, and then to design a recreational area for their employees. I also worked with Chrysler in a small but very fulfilling project, a coffee area and POP display to be placed at a Dealer in Valencia, Venezuela.

I was also a collaborator in a few mayor projects for Carabobo University in Venezuela, such as the Library, Sports Center, Faculty of Engineering; all of them I did while working on an architecture firm. With that firm, I also had the opportunity to help on the design of shopping malls, big residential complexes and many other projects that gave me a lot of experience and helped me to develop my architectural style and my way of thinking about my profession.

Languages you speak

I speak Spanish (which is my native language) and fluent English.

Your websites

English version

Portfolio

Blog

Spanish version

Portafolio

Blog

Writing projects

At the moment, I´m focused on my every day work and also on my blog (which I don´t update as often as I´d like). But I´d really like to write a book sometime.

What happens with the book is that I haven´t narrowed the topics I want to write about to a single one. Actually, that´s how my blog was born; every time I had a couple of hours to spear, I sat down and began to write a book. I always began, but every time I had to interrupt the writing process I was invaded with a new idea, so I began to write a book again. After a while, I had a bunch of nicely begun books so I decided to post all these beginnings in the form of a blog. So my blog is kind of my book.

Maybe sometime I´ll decide to choose just one idea and stick to it for as long as it takes to make an ending.

(2) Were you raised to pursue this type of career (For example - Dr Berebichez was raised in a conservative community in Mexico where women were not encouraged to become involved in the sciences. She acquired the degree because she felt a passion for math and science. It was fun for her.)

Are other members of your family architects, designers, writers/

There are no other architects in my family. My mom and dad are chemical engineers, so imagine their faces when I told them I wanted to go to architecture school. But they were very supportive with me and helped me to overcome the difficulties of starting a career like architecture of which many people have so many different opinions and on which there are a lot of preconceived ideas, such as the fact that it´s a career of tradition or that it´s a career for men.

I’ve never really given much thought to the fact that it´s a men´s career, or of how difficult can it be for a woman to succeed in an environment dominated by men.

I believe that when you think too much about the limitations of the environment, you get stuck and are not able to move forward.

But I must admit that it took me a little time to overcome the fact that it´s a career of tradition; many of my colleagues, because they always had been in contact with architecture, managed concepts I had never heard mentioned; that made me feel a little unsure of myself, but once I understood that I only should strive a bit more than the rest so I could catch up with them, everything became easier and more simple.

With the writing the story is different; this career path is in my blood. My grandfather was a historian of Carabobo State in Venezuela (where I live) and wrote several books of history and poetry. I only had about 12 years with him in my life, but it was enough to make me fall in love with books. He had the most special library I´ve ever entered to; it was a space of about 3.5 x 10 meters with as many books as my grandfather could squeeze in. I think that, if the books had not been so special to him, he would have put some of them on the floor forming corridors of knowledge only so he could be able to use the smallest possible space to hold his precious life partners. Thanks to him I love writing even more than I love architecture.

(3) How many women did you go to architecture school with? Did you ever get together with them and discuss the fact that you are a minority in your profession? I ask because the primary reason for writing this series is to encourage young women to pursue whichever career they want and not to let their gender stop them, and also just to make them aware that jobs like architect are available to them.

I actually went to school with many women; I even think there were more women than men in my group, and maybe that´s why I didn´t really pay much attention to the fact that it´s a men’s career nor talk about it. But it´s true, people think this is a men´s career, especially architects.

I´ve always said that the worst enemy of architects and architecture are the architects themselves. We often hardly criticize each other rather than to support and encourage each other to improve.

(4) Have you ever walked into a meeting, or conference or other gathering of architects and feel as though you may not be looked upon as an equal? If so, how does that make you feel and how much of that is based upon something that was specifically said to you or about you that made you feel this way?  If you’ve never had these feelings – could it be because there is a pervasive and mutual respect within your profession? (That would be a good thing of course.)

As I said in the last question, I think there´s not enough respect between architects. I have felt before that I´m not being treated as an equal, but it goes beyond gender; it has to do with the fact that in this profession, if you don´t have 30 years of experience and haven´t won lots of contests, you have no value.

In my case, I don´t believe in contests. I´ve never participated in one of them; first because I have no time to join one of them because, fortunately, I´ve always been active in my profession, and second because, in most cases, the contests have become a business and, at least in my country, there are often more contest projects that are not constructed than the ones that actually are. So the contests end up being an exercise to stay active in the profession and in contact with other architects.

I think that if I heard of a contest in pro of something, to help a disadvantaged social group (and if I had the time, of course) I´d be more than willing to do it.

And as to the fact that I have to have 30 years of experience in order to gain the respect of other architects, well, I can only wait… wait another 20 years. And this will happen someday. But for now, I´m not worried about that.

(5) Why do you think more women did not get involved in architecture in the past? Only about 25% of architects in the US are female and less worldwide.

I think the main reason there are not all that many women in architecture is because it´s a tough career, not only at school but also after graduating, while actually being a working architect. Women usually give more importance to family than men, that´s a fact, and a profession like this which is very time consuming can be a challenge for a woman.

Being able to manage both family and a job like this can be overwhelming, and I can relate. I have two kids, the older is 9 years old and the younger is 5, and if you don´t organize yourself well enough it can get messy.

But I´ve came to discover the wonders of TO-DO lists and prioritizing. These are the most important tools for a mom/architect such as me; that and being able to put an end to projects; setting a deadline and sticking to itArchitects tend to be perfectionists and because of that, we have a hard time letting go of our projects (which we have to do eventually). It feels like we´re giving up on them. But ending projects is as necessary as beginning them. I´ve realized that, in order to be successful, you have to be able to finish something so you can start something else. That way you can begin a new journey that can take you to nicer and better places.

(6) What is your advice to young women deciding upon a career path?

I´d say love what you do; if you put your heart and soul in everything you do you have already assured success. And in order to be able to do that, you have to be sure of the decision you are going to make, so get informed… Imagine yourself doing what the professional you want to become would do on a daily basis, go to Universities, speak to the people in the halls, ask the right questions, go deep, and really listen to what they have to say. And then research a little more.

Choosing a career path is a life time decision. I get surprised whenever I meet new people and ask them what they studied. Most people work in fields not even related to what they studied, or work on a field related to what they studied but don´t even like what they do for a living, and I think that´s sad. I mean, I believe in the importance of making mistakes and discovering your own path along the way, but I also think that since life is not eternal, we should make the best of it. And making as many right decisions as we can is always helpful.

I got lucky; I didn´t research but chose a profession I love. And I´m sure I wouldn´t be able to be successful in any other career.

The second thing I´d say is try to picture you in 10 years. Think of all the things you want in your life 10 years from now. Not only careerwise. Think of them as connected elements forming a net; a net that should be able to hold you, to support you and make you feel safe and happy.

If all of those things you want are able to hold you safely while working together, then go for them, go for all of them. If they don´t make you feel secure, maybe you should rethink your plan.

(7) Why do you love your job?

Here´s why…

(8) What worries you? What makes you cry at night when you are alone?

This is a hard question because I try not to think about my fears so much. I feel that if you give too much weight to them then they really gain importance.

I guess that my worries might be related to my kids, to being a good parent; I suppose that´s a constant between parents; there´s no manual on how to do it so you always fear you´re not doing it right.

What makes me cry is injustice, children without parents, lonely and without any kind of guidance; it´s so sad and so common that it frightens.

(9) What makes you spectacular? and don’t be shy

Spectacular is a BIG word, but I guess we all have something spectacular that makes us special. In my case, I´ve always thought that the thing that makes me special and which has also helped me be a better architect is empathy.

Because I´m an empathic person, I can understand people better and by doing that, I can deliver better projects to my clients; projects that really reflect people´s needs, desires and dreams; projects they can feel like belong to them because they seem to be taken out of their own minds.

(10) What does the future hold for Ana Manzo? – the upcoming projects and the big dream

At the moment I´m in charge of the construction of a residential project I designed a couple of months ago; I´m also designing a residential building, an office and a house.

I hope big things are waiting for me in the future. I hope to be able to do big and important projects; projects that change people´s lives, projects that bring people closer. I want to be able to create new ways of doing things so I can reduce costs, waste and carbon footprint. I hope I can make a difference…

For now, I´ll just keep doing what I´m doing and loving it while I do it.

my thoughts on architecture

Want to know what I think about architecture? Go to this link and you´ll know…

I was recently interviewed by Joe Hefferon and the interview was published on About.com: Women in Business

Here‘s the idea behind the interview.

emotional processes

A few months ago I wrote an essay about emotional architecture. It was initially posted here on Building Moxie´s blog, and then here on my own blog.

This is one of those essays that has remained resonating in my mind in an eternal connection of situations and elements. There´s no moment in life, after having written this essay that I don´t relate every emotion that I experience with the project I´m working on at the time.

But this network of connections has gone even further; I´ve started to compare or connect my emotions with the way I approach to projects.

For instance, I´ve come to realize that if I´m feeling happy, I tend to let my imagination loose, which usually makes me start the design process using a 3D modeling software. Each volume that manages to get raised above the ground plane reinforces my joy and makes me keep going.

If instead I´m feeling stressed or worried, technology becomes my enemy (or maybe I´m just not able to connect with it), so I usually go back to my origins and grab a pencil and a piece of paper and sink myself in a visceral process of straight and/or curved lines that seem to be trying, through the tracing of each of them, to release and take away all the stress and worries. It almost becomes a therapeutic procedure to relieve tensions.

Now, if the emotion invading me is sadness, I can only function through mechanical work, the one that begins when I press the start button of my laptop and which makes me travel through a series of programed or pre-thought movements that make me slowly enter my psyche, helping me find design intentions and concepts hidden in the most profound places.

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There are so many emotions and each of them affects us in distinct ways. Besides, each person is different; every design process is unique and particular but, have you thought about how emotions influence your processes? Have you analyzed the ability of emotions to bring us closer to our most honest, visceral and creative being?…

the ideal home

Many of us, humans, mortals, live our lives with an eternal fantasy in mind. Yes, it´s true, life seems more beautiful in our dreams, but what is the point of dreaming about the perfect place or the perfect life if we are unable to enjoy the life we ​​already have?

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The same thing happens with architects and design. We try over and over again, always striving to create the ideal space in which everything works in perfect harmony, but as soon as we introduce the human factor into the equation, failures begin to appear.

Architects spent our entire life dreaming about designing the perfect place, the perfect space, the perfect home. But humans are imperfect beings. So, wouldn´t it be logical to start the process by taking these imperfections, this reality, and designing according to them?

Consider what happens with minimalism in the field of residential projects: we depurate, empty spaces in search of spacial cleanness, which is basically the same as the pursuit of perfection. Imagine a minimalist home: empty, impeccable, flawless… perfect! Now, place a human being in our imaginary house; one which, as all, eats, sleeps, bathes, messes up… the house doesn´t seems so perfect now, right?

Now do the reverse process: Imagine a human being, one who eats, sleeps, bathes, messes up… Follow his/her steps while he/she performs the daily activities. Accompany him/her during day and night. Analyze his/her customs, habits. Discover his/her imperfections…

Now think of how to reduce these imperfections, or better yet, how to make these imperfections a little less obvious, more livable; think of how to make him/her feel at least a little less imperfect.

That’s the ideal house! A house that fits its inhabitants like a glove; one that is capable of molding, adapting according to the needs of those who live it, experience it day after day. One that allows them not having to think, with every step taken, in their flaws and how to correct them; one that allows them to just relax and be. Perhaps for many, this one may not be the perfect house, but for those who make it their refuge, that’s definitely the ideal home.

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