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Carlos Guimarães

Magazine Architecture | 01 Mar 2016

THE DIRECTIVES OF THE SCHOOL OF OPORTO

Internationally recognised for the quality of the teaching it provides and for the excellence of the professionals it trains, the Architecture Faculty of the University of Oporto [FAUP] offers students an educational foundation that sets it apart from its European and world counterpart institutions.
Carlos Guimarães, director of the School of Oporto, explains the meaning behind project exercises, atelier style teaching, the importance of drawing and knowledge of the theory and the history of architecture that contribute to FAUP being a benchmark institution on a world level, which strives to achieve “the rationalisation of what is thought and what is done”.

The teaching of architecture has been shrouded in theorising, practices and controversy. How do you teach architecture, given that this is both a practice and an eclectic series of theoretical insights?

Architecture is clearly in an area that intersects technical and scientific knowledge and conceptual, artistic ability. Architecture has this constant challenge of combining scientific knowhow with creativity to find the form and the expression of buildings that fit the circumstances.
In teaching, this relationship implies a lot of time experimenting, of knowing how this is rendered in the exercises that are set and for which people have to find solutions. It is a long process. For this reason, when the Bologna Process was under discussion, it was claimed that architecture, just like medicine, should have a six-year degree course and not five, as they are areas that involve a great deal of material and a large cross-over of knowledge.

 

The Architecture Faculty of Oporto [FAUP] has been considered one of the best architecture schools in Europe. What led to this distinction?

The School of Oporto is known for various reasons, which work together and which have a very close relationship between each other. The quality of many professionals that have studied here and who, as professionals, produce works of architecture of recognised importance is inestimable.

A very important reason has to do with our kind of teaching, given that it is highly consolidated; it has a great deal behind it. There are four aspects of particular interest in this consolidation. One of them is the matter of the project. The project is the backbone of teaching architecture here at FAUP. Every year, every student has project exercises, which are the prevailing exercises, and highly demanding in how they are answered. This is a factor that isn’t always found in many European schools. Another aspect of our teaching is that it is almost the same as atelier style teaching. The teacher is in contact with a class for 12 hours during the week and, during this week, he sits down and permanently discusses the project with the students. As such, every teacher has a keen awareness of the line of reasoning a student uses to make his solutions evolve. Yet another aspect has to do with the use of drawing. We still teach the students how to draw. The idea is to use drawing as an instrument for analysing, representing problems and drawing the solutions. Another very important aspect is acquiring knowledge of matters to do with the history of architecture, which also here in our school are taught in an unusual way for Europe.

 

Characterised by minimalism, by the interplay of volumes and by restraint, School of Oporto projects currently rub shoulders with architectural structures of many formal contortions and of various scenic acrobatics. How is this coexistence? Peaceful?

The School of Oporto doesn’t have one style. Restraint should be considered as an important facet of architecture down through the ages – finding the proper response to problems. One of the major exercises involves knowing how to distinguish between an appropriate amount and exaggeration or insufficiency. In the exercises we set our students, we always strive to get them to question their proposals, the way in which they see architecture, how they interpret it and to know where getting the right balance lies.

This architecture you mention, of excess, is in many cases the subject of setting. For example, the Guggenheim Museum, in Bilbao, by Frank Gehry – is, without doubt, an exceptional work. But imagine a student, who, with regard to some small scale programme, wanted to do something similar – this is an inappropriate response. And this is what students have to be able to grasp.

The needs of societies have to find responses in another kind of architecture. We cannot forget that architecture is an activity that has a very powerful social and public purpose; it has to be habitable and it has to be suitable and make the most of the potential of the site. The School of Oporto strives to rationalise what is thought and what is done. There’s not much space for everything that can be seen as flashy superficiality. (…)

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Text: Paula Monteiro
Photos: Orlando Fonseca

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