A Brazilian refuge in London

Brazilian architect Carlos Teixeira named his practice Vazio or 'void'. Here he explains how his new V&A refuge draws its inspiration from the chaos of his native Belo Horizonte

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Video Transcript

I am from Brazil, I studied architecture there. It’s very divided amongst traditions. One is called Carioca School, the school from Rio De Janeiro it’s very plastic and formalist and the other one is the Paulista School it’s very rational, very rigorous. I’m not part of any of these schools.

I wrote a book ten years ago, History Of The Void and the book was about how important the void spaces are in urban planning and how these white spaces were invented by architecture because of lack of planning.

I had an opportunity to work with very clear consideration of the text of this book when a theatre group invited me to imagine where they could present their next play. We chose a void space between concrete pillars. It is underneath some residential buildings in the city.

The first idea I had was a kind of spiral staircase with some booths along the stairs. The idea was to use the visitors themselves as the performance. They are going to be squeezed together because of the dimension of the architecture. I had in mind used architecture as a way to invent spontaneous performance amongst the visitors. I am curious to know what Rural Studio is going to build in the Porter Gallery. I am told their object is quite horizontal and mine is kind of a vertical box so I am curious to see what is going to happen.

I think the main way in which the structure has evolved since the concept design stage is that we’ve asked Carlos to rationalise and simplify the structure so instead of having a rather complicated spiral arrangement of these booths around the staircase we’ve asked for Carlos to look at a slightly more square based footprint and this simplification creates a much greater level of clarity.

The broad concept behind the structure is the idea of having a series of performance spaces set around this staircase and we’ve commissioned a number of theatre companies, dance companies to devise brand new pieces of work specifically for this structure.

This is an exhibition so you don’t normally expect to have a live element to that. When performances are going on, the actors, the dancers, the musicians, they’ll be a living element of it. We’re going to have six weekends of performances, one performance company on each weekend, so it ends up almost becoming an open workshop so someone coming on a Friday night to watch the first performance will then see that evolve throughout the six performances so by the time we get to Sunday afternoon.

When visitors enter the Porter Gallery they’ll be faced with this lantern-like effect. The whole structure will be lit from within and there’ll be a very delicate lighting design from the ambient space, the gallery, so that from the outside you get a sense of how the booths relate to each other and there are different levels of transparency around the structure.

The real challenge with this structure is to explore the creative potential of the very narrow, intimate, claustrophobic spaces and this is something that comes back to what Vazio and Carlos have been exploring before in Brazil where they’ve worked with theatre companies who have appropriated these subterranean spaces under their traditional Palafitte buildings on stilts.

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The V&A staged a contemporary architecture exhibition which opened on 15th June 2010, exploring the power of small spaces. From a shortlist of nineteen, seven international architects were selected to design structures which explore notions of refuge and retreat. These buildings which examine themes such as play, work, performance and study will be built at full-scale in various spaces within the V&A. 

The V&A has commissioned seven short films which look at  the architects and their projects. These combine filmed interviews with the architects about their design philosophy and their retreat concept for the V&A with self-shot video footage.

 

Brazilian architect Carlos Teixeira explains his fascination with the urban 'voids' of Belo Horizonte. Teixeira named his practice Vazio - void in Portuguese - and he continually returns to notions of the void in his work. The film combines an interview shot when the architect visited the museum last year in which he talks about the performance space he is designing for the museum with self-shot video footage of his home town.