ARQUITECTURA-G

ESCRITOS-G “LA CASA”

Posted in ESCRITOS-G by ARQUITECTURA-G on noviembre 10, 2017

Conversation between Andrea Bocco Guarneri and ARQUITECTURA-G about Bernard’s Rudosky’s house in Málaga

Published in Apartamento Magazine #18

Photography courtesy of the Bernard Rudofsky Estate Vienna

Intro:

Bernard Rudofsky (1905–1988) and his wife, Berta, constructed La Casa, a home in the small town of Frigiliana, Málaga, Spain, towards the end of the ‘70s. Rudofsky was a multifaceted character—architect, theorist, designer, curator, professor, entrepreneur—who generated an influential discourse based on his observations of the way human beings inhabit and satisfy their vital necessities. He defended the value of popular wisdom and vernacular architecture (as shown in his book Architecture without Architects) and revolutionised the world of fashion with his brand of sandals, Bernardo Sandals. After a long search, he found the place he had spent years looking for on the Spanish Costa del Sol. It was here that he would build a house to spend his summers in. La Casa beautifully links the rural landscape that descends towards the Mediterranean Sea with a fragmented architecture of distinct volumes and patios.

We had the opportunity to meet with Andrea Bocco Guarneri to discuss the dwelling. Andrea—architect, professor, and scholar of Rudofsky’s work— spent several summers at La Casa, where he not only experienced its spaces first hand, but indeed the very way of life that existed at the house.

ARQUITECTURA-G:

La Casa was built at a time when Spain was still under Franco’s regime, and the house is located in a small village called Frigiliana. How did the project come about, and why was Spain chosen?

Andrea Bocco Guarneri:

Why Spain? In fact, it was a coincidence. Bernard and Berta liked the Mediterranean weather, the sun, hot climates. Bernard used to say the primitive man doesn’t privilege functional needs, and that’s why he naturally inhabits tropical or subtropical climates—so he doesn’t have to focus on basic necessities and can enjoy the pleasures of life. They could have built the house in Portugal, for instance, but not in Greece because they wanted to understand the local language. The house was eventually built in Frigiliana by mere chance; it was a question of finding a property they could afford, where construction costs were also within reach. They met in or around Naples in 1934 and lived in the south of Italy during the ‘30s. They were always looking for a place that was similar to a house that Bernard had built for Berta on Procida—a small island close to Naples—in 1935. They’d lived in Japan, the US, Brazil, but they never found a place they liked and that was cheap enough to be able to build such a house. Italy wasn’t an option, because it had changed a lot after World War II and was no longer the Italy they had lived in during the ‘30s. As you may know, Bernard travelled around Europe in the ‘60s gathering documentation and taking photographs for his exhibition ‘Architecture without Architects’, and that’s why he spent so much time in Spain. In fact, it was the country where he’d spent the most amount of time between 1963 and 1964, looking for good examples of vernacular architecture. By that time he had already met José Guerrero and José Antonio Coderch, with whom he had a good relationship all his life.

ARQUITECTURA-G:

How was that relationship?

Andrea Bocco Guarneri:

Even though Coderch was a fascist— a supporter of Franco—and Bernard wasn’t— he was a democrat—they had a lot of common interests and this made them develop what I think could be called a friendship. Guerrero introduced him to a community of artists and intellectuals living in Nerja, Málaga, at the end of the ‘60s, and it was also thanks to Guerrero that they stumbled upon the Cortijo de San Rafael, which at the time was being divided into plots. Bernard soon understood he had found the right place for a house. He was already around 64. For him and Berta it was very important for the house to be close to the sea, and they also wanted enough land around it to give them privacy—they were both nudists. For that reason they bought several plots of land instead of just one. When they bought the property there was almost nothing there, but in the past few years the landscape has changed a great deal. I went back in 2014, and so many houses had been built since the first time I was there that I could barely recognise the place. It took me half an hour to find the right street!

ARQUITECTURA-G:

Apart from signing the architecture project to build the house, Coderch also drew the blueprints. What was this collaboration process like? How did they communicate, through letters?

Andrea Bocco Guarneri:

They collaborated, yes, but La Casa was 100 percent a Rudofsky project. Even though Bernard was an architect, his qualifications weren’t recognised in Spain. This meant he couldn’t legally build under his own name, so he asked his friend Coderch to sign the work instead. They mainly communicated by letter, but I know that when Rudofsky travelled each year he stopped in Barcelona for a while and met up with Coderch and his wife. It was quite a long relationship; it lasted until Coderch’s death.

ARQUITECTURA-G:

In the last recorded interview with Coderch, he was asked to name an architect he respected or admired. He said he admired no one, except for one person—referring to Rudofsky. It’s funny that a person like Coderch, who had a complicated personality and issues with everyone, respected Rudofsky so much.

Andrea Bocco Guarneri:

Yes, it’s funny, but at the same time it’s quite logical. Rudofsky’s character was also impossible, so in that sense they were equals.

ARQUITECTURA-G:

It seems the intellectual ‘scene’ to which Coderch introduced Rudofsky coexisted with an interesting mix of the rural, a fishing community, and touristic exploitation. As far as we know, their main meeting point was the house of the painter José Guerrero. Even though the Rudofskys were friends with Guerrero and other artists, we can’t see many paintings or sculptures in photos of La Casa’s interior. What was their approach to art?

Andrea Bocco Guarneri:

The truth is there were many works of art at La Casa, and except for the Mexican terracottas, the pieces were all gifted by friends. They had works by Josef Albers, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, a coloured Alexander Calder dedicated to them, designs by Saul Steinberg. But these were very discreet and didn’t make much noise. Some were hidden in a junk room, because Bernard thought people got too easily accustomed to the presence of art and to preserve our fascination we shouldn’t permanently display it. So they kept hiding the art and then showing it again. As for the community you mention, Guerrero was undoubtedly the key character. They met when Rudofsky lived in New York, and Guerrero introduced Bernard to even more people in this international community of intellectuals and artists.

ARQUITECTURA-G:

Let’s talk about La Casa. According to Bernard’s writings, he was interested in the transformation of the landscape, in particular when its architecture was a consequence of its use. When the Rudofskys arrived in Frigiliana, they found a terrain that had been terraced in order to facilitate agricultural production. They carried out a thorough analysis of the place, documenting each tree and taking note of each detail. After this, they built La Casaand established the whole project on a grid system—both inside and outside the house. We’ve noticed in the rest of his work, and especially in the realm of clothing, that he also used a grid format. The contrast makes you more conscious of the existing organic base, and ends up highlighting it. We’ve also observed a consistent relationship between his architecture and certain other aspects of his work, like when he references the beauty in contrasting a rectangular pattern over the organic base in Japanese clothing made from rectangular pieces of fabric that cover the body in a very concrete way. At La Casa, the superposition of the rectangular artefact, in this case a building, on the organic base, in this case the terrain, is executed in the same way.

Andrea Bocco Guarneri:

This was a crucial part of Bernard’s discourse. He thought that human artefacts, like clothing or buildings, shouldn’t copy organic forms, like landscapes or bodies. Rudofsky was somehow opposed to Frank Lloyd Wright; he was a European modernist and believed in a formal logic based on geometry, but he also had a formal sensibility that not many modernists possessed. At the end of the day, he was very close to Le Corbusier, who was sensitive to some aspects of architecture that other modernists didn’t consider or even want to consider. That’s why Rudofsky built the Villa Oro in Posillipo, or La Casa in Frigiliana, always imposing a very clear geometry on the plot. The contrast between the free and exuberant form of nature and the artefact was very important to him. Costantino Nivola’s garden wall in the Hamptons is probably the best example of this; it’s a wall with a windowshaped hole and the branch of an apple tree passing through it.

ARQUITECTURA-G:

That image and many other aspects of La Casa bring to mind the concept of ruins. The house has a magnificent sequence of columns on the outside, which is an extension of the grid we mentioned earlier, and with time the columns have been eaten up by vegetation. There’s almost a construction of artificial ruins.

Andrea Bocco Guarneri:

The concept of ruins wasn’t a central theme in Bernard’s work. He did like the effect of nature devouring the columns, but it happened much more casually. He initially thought the columns would hold vines; in fact, the original name of the house was La Parra, which means ‘grapevine’ in Spanish. But they didn’t live there all year—and the gardener only went every now and then—so it didn’t turn out to be feasible.

ARQUITECTURA-G:

They only lived in the house during the summer?

Andrea Bocco Guarneri:

Yes. La Casa was conceived as a summerhouse, a house for long vacations. They only spent one winter in Frigiliana. Each year they would spend six months in Europe, using Frigiliana as their base. They would stay there for a month or two and then travel to Morocco, Italy, or wherever, and then they went back to Frigiliana for a few more months.

ARQUITECTURA-G:

This leads us to the interior organisation of the house. Several things surprise us. First, it’s a holiday home in which to spend time with family and friends, yet there’s only one bedroom. And, second, even though the day area and the bedroom are connected by an external porch, the study is completely separate. In order to access it you need to leave the house. It feels like a house made for them, and only for them.

Andrea Bocco Guarneri:

Absolutely. Bernard designed many different versions of the house before coming up with the final plan, and he always paid close attention to where he was building. He didn’t cut down a single tree, and he respected the original unevenness of the ground—there are different levels and steps between the different spaces of the house. They didn’t build a compact and unitary volume, a house made out of a single block, but a more fragmented collection of spaces. It’s perhaps comparable to a spontaneous aggregation of volumes that are built over several years, which in turn might be related to the aesthetics of vernacular architecture. At the same time, this layout was very practical for the way they lived. The house is functionally divided into three parts. The first is the most public one, where they received friends for meals. It also includes the porch, which  connects the public area to the private area. Second, the bedroom and bathroom have their own patio, which, like in an Arab-style house, is completely protected from external eyes. It’s a sunbathing patio, but they didn’t use it much because it was too hot. The original idea was to be able to sunbathe at any time of the year. Lastly, there’s the study, which was Bernard’s private kingdom. Berta never used to go into the study. Berta called Bernard with a bell, for instance, when their meal was ready, and he would leave what he was doing and go to the dining room. When I entered his study in 1992, everything was the way he had left it.

ARQUITECTURA-G:

There’s an evident desire for isolation in the house. Apart from the absence of a guest area, there was no radio or TV set, not even a post box. Is this because it was a house in which to rest, to disconnect? Or did they live in the same way in their other houses?

Andrea Bocco Guarneri:

The post box situation was born ofpragmatism. Bernard was very pernickety with correspondence. He received a great deal of it and didn’t want to risk losing something or receiving it too late. They had a post box at the post office in Nerja, and when Berta went to buy groceries she picked up any correspondence. The other elements, like the phone, radio, or TV, weren’t present in their New York apartment either. This was an integral part of their lifestyle. Bernard also didn’t like recorded music or any kind of sound reproduction.

ARQUITECTURA-G:

We’d like to know more about dayto- day life in the house. Reading Bernard’s writings, we understand they had a series of rituals when it came to inhabiting the house, or at least very clear habits. We also sense that Berta was very important, and we’d like to know how she contributed to the development of the house.

Andrea Bocco Guarneri:

Berta’s presence was very important, Vboth in their life as a couple and for Bernard as a person. Having said that, there were very concrete ways of doing things in the everyday life of the house. All the gestures, the daily actions, were somehow regulated. There was no written law, but, like in Japan, each action was ritualised and there was a right way of doing it. There was a right place to put this, a right moment to do that. For example, there was a big counter in the kitchen, and this was because Berta never put one dish on top of another, because when they’re used you need  to clean both sides, whereas if you put them next to each other you only need to wash the top. The amount of water coming out of the tap was also controlled with high precision depending on the activity undertaken. When I was staying there, Berta and I would jump into her car, an old Renault 6, and we would go down to Nerja every two days. She would buy tomatoes, vegetables, and whatever she needed, and she knew exactly where to go to get each thing. She didn’t go to the market, but to private residences. Everyone knew her, and they all gave her hugs and kisses and all that. There was a place to buy each thing, but also a time to do it. She never explained to me how it worked exactly, but she needed to have finished her chores within a certain time, and then she had to be back at La Casa. During the first summer I spent at the house I was there with my then partner. Berta wasn’t comfortable talking to me about these rituals, but she felt more at ease talking about them with another woman. Through my partner I found out how incredibly observed, analysed, and considered everything was. The way of doing something was totally defined, and Berta had no intention whatsoever of changing this, because there was simply no other way of doing things.

ARQUITECTURA-G:

Berta was in charge of anything to do with food, which is one of the vital topics in Bernard’s work. You’ve said before that food was never cut on the table, that all the food was served in small enough sizes so there was no need for a knife. Also, that no electrical appliances were used for cooking. Could you please talk to us about their meal-time rituals?

Andrea Bocco Guarneri:

All preparation was manual, without electrical appliances. Both in New York and Frigiliana. This meant that meals took a long time—around four hours from the start of preparations to the time the washing up was done. The act of eating itself also took a long time, because Berta was very strict with this; one should never eat quickly because it’s bad for your health. A dish would be put on the table, and that dish was eaten. Then another thing was served, and that would be eaten as well. There was always a cereal, like rice, a raw green-leaf vegetable, another vegetable, usually cooked in a slow way, and either chicken or fish. It was always served in bitesized portions, as is typical of Chinese and Japanese cuisine, so people didn’t need to use weapons while they ate; they used chopsticks. I found it all very interesting; it was the first time I’d come into contact with the macrobiotic diet. But the flavours were very basic: fish tasted like fish and nothing else. Boiled vegetables were pure boiled vegetables. Elaboration was very simple, and the rhythm of the process was very slow. After a month, I sometimes felt like going out to eat something less healthy! I think they partly chose Andalusia because you could still find genuine, nonindustrialised food there.

ARQUITECTURA-G:

We’re also very attracted to the bath culture they adopted. They trace a clear division between the bathtub and the toilet, which in most houses today are just two elements in the same room. We see a big connection between Rudofsky and César Manrique, who we had the pleasure of talking about a few issues ago. Manrique placed the strictly sanitary function in the background, focusing more on the sensuality of bathing. Seeing the configuration of the bathroom at La Casa, the bathtub seems almost like a sacred object. Could you tell us more about this?

Andrea Bocco Guarneri:

Yes, the toilet and bathtub had to be separate. As Bernard had already theorised, especially in Behind the Picture Window, these two elements have nothing to do with each other; they respond to two very different necessities. They’re often placed together to facilitate the installation of a water system, and also because our culture doesn’t prioritise daily domestic pleasures. The toilet is separate in Frigiliana but also directly linked to the bathing area, alongside another space containing the shower, which has no door. The bathroom is a very stark space with white tiles—and in my own experience, it’s very empty, even more so than other rooms in the house. This approach was not the same as Manrique’s hedonism; if such a thing existed in Frigiliana it would be the swimming pool, but even that was more austere. It wasn’t the sensuality of a Japanese bath either, or of the shared bath that Rudofsky proposed in his book Sparta/ Sybaris. The bathtub in Frigiliana is for one person only. I always found it a bit sad, but to Bernard the act of bathing was sacred—a very physical and earthly kind of sacred.

ARQUITECTURA-G:

There’s an outdoor swimming pool in the lowest part of the terrain, while the house is up top. There’s no direct access to the pool; you perform a kind of ritual to get there, moving through a ‘slalom’ of shadows created by the pillars. How were these spaces lived?

Andrea Bocco Guarneri:

It was a natural swimming pool, with no chemical water treatment. The house is on a hill above the sea, so there’s a certain logic to moving down towards the water. It’s true that there’s something of a ritual in the path that leads towards it. There are a couple of minimal and architectonic spaces along the path, and Bernard was a master of these— a paved platform, a wall, a pergola. They were very pleasant spaces. Bathing was, to Rudofsky, a basic necessity of life.

ARQUITECTURA-G:

What exactly were these basic necessities of life for Rudofsky?

Andrea Bocco Guarneri:

Sleeping well. Taking a bath. Being out in the sun. Eating simple and healthy food, with a bit of wine. Domestic privacy. Sex, too, obviously, although out of modesty Bernard would rarely write about it. Travelling to warm places. Studying. Studying was very important to him. In New York he used to spend several hours each day at the Public Library. The content of that library was one of the the main reasons to go and live in New York. Bernard didn’t own many books. When he was in Frigiliana he used to write using the notes he’d taken in New York.

ARQUITECTURA-G:

It seems they didn’t have many material possessions. The interior of the house was very bare, and they also went about naked or with almost no clothes on. We’ve heard you say that for Rudofsky, the idea that an architectonic space could have erotic qualities was important, and he thought that skin was the erogenous organ par excellence. Could you talk to us about how Bernard drew upon the sensorial faculties when it came to living in the house and the texture of the materials? We know that bodily contact with the floor was very important to him.

Andrea Bocco Guarneri:

It’s certainly a house for the senses: the heat on the skin, the food being savoured over a long period of time, the singing of the cicadas, the sight of the shadows shifting over the white walls, the smell of dampness from the small pond, the touch of the bare feet on the terracotta tiles. These are all very basic things, and readily achievable.

ARQUITECTURA-G:

Chairs and tables separate us from the floor, and Bernard thought it was only necessary to move away from the floor in cultures that consider it to be something dirty. He also said, ‘The commodity of a chair is an accepted convention’. What was the couple’s relationship with furniture in general? In the photographs we can mostly see a lot of cattail stools.

Andrea Bocco Guarneri:

Tables and chairs are always a separation from the ground, and Bernard condemned them for this, for being uncivilised. But he didn’t often sit on the floor. He worked sitting on a stool at La Casa, behind an almost monastic desk. You could say his study looked like a monk’s cell. Around the house they sat on stools of different heights, though in their New York apartment they sat on Plia chairs— but they hardly ever leaned back on them. Furniture was scarce, apart from the cattail stools. There were some built-in wardrobes and other storage spaces, but the main exceptions were the dining room table and the bed. The bed contradicts Bernard’s theories, but we should also take into account that this was the house of an old couple.

ARQUITECTURA-G:

The house is formed by different volumes, as you mentioned earlier. In vernacular architecture this aggregation of volumes is something that happens spontaneously. Do I need a bigger space for animals? I will build something next to my house. We’ve had more children? I can add another volume. That type of architecture depends on the passing of time and changing necessities. But La Casa was organised in different volumes from the start. We could argue that there’s an element of folklorism in that approach. The house also differs from the type of structure that could be deduced from the blueprints or that is typical of traditional architecture, which uses load-bearing walls. Instead of walls, he used concrete pillars and beams, and bricks were only used to close it in. We see a great contradiction there.

Andrea Bocco Guarneri:

Well, who doesn’t contradict themselves? But it’s a good point. Bernard really wanted to understand the processes of spontaneous or vernacular architecture. In practical terms, however, this architecture was impossible to reproduce at the time, within their culture. Instead, they had the intention of building a small house that would go unnoticed. Not a house that was camouflaged in the landscape, but one that somehow disappeared. That’s the reason behind certain decisions, such as the house only being developed over one floor. As for the actual construction, Rudofsky used local know-how, and it was built using the techniques that individual builders were good at. It was very important for Bernard that the house be constructed simply, in the way that local builders usually worked. He thought it would help avoid technical issues, as well.

ARQUITECTURA-G:

Did he ever talk about what he considered modern, contemporary, or avant-garde?

Andrea Bocco Guarneri:

Not in his last decades. He only made a few references to modernism in architecture, though he’d been a direct witness and coprotagonist of the movement. Bernard’s relationship with modernism was complex and full of contradictions. I still think that up until the ‘50s he wouldn’t have rejected the ‘modernist’ label. When he was older, disappointments and defeats gave him a much more negative vision of the modernist movement, which he’d mostly gravitated towards because of generational and geographic reasons. Bernard showed little interest in innovation or the concept of the avant-garde. He tackled questions he considered fundamental or immutable. Although this doesn’t mean he didn’t meet up with celebrated artists at the time, such as Christo, or that he didn’t consider Yona Friedman a radical or avant-garde architect.

ARQUITECTURA-G:

He said that fashion could only exist in a world with different social classes. Even though his sandals were an extension of his way of thinking and of his theories on clothing, he turned them into a commercial product and he appeared in the best-known fashion magazines, shaking up the world of footwear. How did he live this relationship with the industry?

Andrea Bocco Guarneri:

Apart from the Bernardo sandals, produced by the company of the same name in which Berta also played an important role, Rudofsky designed several things to be industrially manufactured: furniture, integrated kitchens, sitting systems, lamps, dresses, fabrics. But none of them had the extraordinary success achieved by his sandals. Bernard wasn’t a very good businessman though. He was cheated several times because he trusted people and didn’t know how to protect his rights. He would never have been comfortable presenting a project of his own. He tried on one occasion, when he went to New York with his proposal for the Managetta sandals, but he overslept and never managed to make the meeting! Who knows if his sandals would have been produced in the ‘30s already! Rudofsky had nothing against industrial manufacturing per se, as long as it was used to produce useful and well-made products.

ARQUITECTURA-G:

We suspect that, apart from personal preference, Bernard had such clear habits in life because he was applying the different conclusions he’d reached while travelling. It was as though he and Berta had developed a kind of syncretic religion for the right way of living, gathering all these teachings from different parts of the world. And in opposition to a cosmopolitan view of life, or precisely because of it, they developed a house that was very local, responding to a very traditional architecture. It seems as though he were a misfit, badly adjusted to his times, since he had a real nostalgia for a past of popular wisdom, classicism, or the ancient Mediterranean. But he also generated a discourse that was very powerful and unique, and which compiled all this acquired knowledge. In our opinion, this is very contemporary. How much of this lifestyle was down to individualism, and how much was nostalgia?

Andrea Bocco Guarneri:

I wouldn’t say it was nostalgia. In his unpublished writings, especially the later ones, there’s a sense of longing for the Vienna of his youth, for the simplicity he experienced in Turkey or Italy. But the basis of his opinions, both personal and theoretical, was the affirmation of the individual right to live the way we want, at least at home, freely combining elements taken from different cultures in different spaces and times. All this is the fruit of decades of cultivation. Consequently, I’d say there was 100 percent individualism and 0 percent nostalgia. This doesn’t mean that, as with any other older person, he felt completely at ease with the times he lived in—but that’s another topic of conversation.

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