camarim arquitectos studio visit and interview in lisbon

Camarim Arquitectos
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camarim arquitectos is a lisbon-based architectural practice founded in 2007 by vasco matias correia and patrícia sousa. the portuguese duo — who won first prize in the architecture category of the 13th ascer tile of spain awards for their ‘casa no principe real’ project in 2014 — pride themselves on delivering a contextual and concept-driven approach towards each brief. this approach is also reflected in the design of ‘casa na gateira’, a zigzagging property embedded into the portuguese landsca

on a recent trip to lisbon, designboom visited camarim’s studio, which is located close to the shore as well as the main square ‘praça do comércio’. during the visit, the architects guided us around their office space, where they shared with us their recent projects, influences, and interests outside of architecture.camarim arquitectos studio visit interview lisbon designboom 01

designboom: what projects are you currently working on at the moment?

patrícia sousa: at the moment we are working on a family house. it was once an urban building that has been transformed into a home with a garden and backyard. the interesting part of the project is the integration into the city as it is protected by national heritage.

vasco matias correia: we are also working on a house south of lisbon, and a mexican restaurant as well as a japanese restaurant which are both in the city center.camarim arquitectos studio visit interview lisbon designboom 02

small models and materiel samples line the studio’s walls

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DB: how important is it to you to maintain a sense of identity when renovating a property?

PS: we think that is interesting to construct a building from our time rather than emulate something from the past, but when you are operating in a historical neighborhood you have to do it in a wise way. we always try to create a sense of continuity to maintain the spirit of the place. it’s important to respect the heritage, show that the building is from this time, and respond to the necessities and needs of its own time in society today.

VC: I think it’s about identifying the fundamental aspects and the permanent aspects of architecture or a given area by making it authentically from your time. it’s a critical view of what was there and what was around you. making something that is completely testimonial of your time, but what is in line with what is already there. that’s what we try to do. our hope is that it will last, that it will gain legitimacy with time which I think is more important than authorship. I think it is important to do something that goes beyond your individual limitations and desires.camarim arquitectos studio visit interview lisbon designboom 03

shelves contain small artifacts and tools for work

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DB: how would you describe your architectural approach?

PS: the context is always very important, we always spend a lot of time in the space investigating and trying to see how things work and what people do there. we work with clients in a close process by bringing them to the office many times. we devise a lot of concepts which are all very different and then discuss the advantages and the disadvantages of each solution. after that, we go to the next step with one favorite solution which might be a mix of all five solutions.

VC: we take this interaction very seriously, not just in terms of service to the client, but in terms of creating a design process that is complex and rewarding. this is more interesting than having a sketch or model. we understand the merits in this but to us it is better to open it up so that the final work is something that we would never have imagined. of course we have our personal tastes and emotions, but that’s on the second layer that is filtered into the work and put against different challenges.

camarim arquitectos studio visit interview lisbon designboom 04

camarim arquitectos was founded ten years ago in 2007

image © designboom

DB: now that computer generated visualizations are so commonplace, is there still a place for physical model making?

PS: yes the models are a tool for us. we sometimes take the models to the place we are working on to see what it looks like with the proper light and everything in context.

VC: physical models are a direct experience of things. I think the good thing about them is that they always give you a greater sense of the whole especially when you show them to clients.

previous and ongoing projects are visible on large printouts

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DB: what are you interested in outside of architecture?

PS: we visit a lot of galleries when we are at the beginning of a project. we always come back to artists and artworks that we appreciate — they give us the tools which we can implement into our process, and they allow us to arrive at a sensation or feeling that we experience when we see art. dan flavin is an example. the way he uses fluorescent lamps to illuminate a neutral space can create an emotional perspective. something as simple as color and light can help model the space, which is something we try to do within our work.

VC: I always had this love for art, which is something that we always try to bring to architecture. art helps to look at things in a very free but also very focused and precise way. we always have these constraints, it has to work, it has to have a purpose, it has technical requirements that it has to comply with, but with art you don’t have these, so artists can explore things in a very clear way.

additional shelving includes many of the firm’s scale models

image © designboom

DB: who or what has been the biggest influence on your work?

VC: I would say one, the movie maker andrei tarkovsky. I like his films for many reasons, but one thing that he focuses on is time — how time passes, and how things change with time. sometimes it could just be a small pond that he is filming but the way that it fits into a certain narrative is incredible, and even this specific aspect that can be so meaningless can become so spiritual. it comes back to my mind many, many times.

the practice often takes cardboard models to site with them

image © designboom

DB: do you have any advice that would you give to young architects and designers?

VC: I think that whatever job or activity that you are in, it is important that you really like what you do. without that it’s always a pain. it makes sense to question what you are doing. we see it in our friends who are financial consultants that make a lot of money. some of them are actually very unhappy and are in search of alternatives or escapes for their lives, so I think this is really important.

PS: I would definitely say that it is very important to have experiences outside of architecture, you should always enjoy life on several levels. even if it is reading and listening to music, visiting museums or feeling the roughness of the sand or smoothness of the sea, whatever can be pleasurable. its about life and the things that matters to us. if you have all of these experiences they will feed back into your work.

‘they always give you a greater sense of the whole’ — vasco matias correia on physical models

image © designboom

DB: do you have a personal motto that you live by?

PS: I tend to be optimistic. in architecture sometimes you have things that are pushing you the wrong way. there are so many bureaucratic things, so many constraints, so you need to push forward. I always tend to look at the things we have to deal with, and try not to stay attached to them, but instead work with them to reach another level. if you always look at the positive points you are able to move faster to another level and evolve with the process (laughs). my motto would be go ahead!

camarim arquitectos studio visit and interview in lisbon