ARCHITECTURE IS MORE than the materials it's made of. It's more than the bricks and mortar, cast concrete, or sliding glass doors that enclose an environment. It is the accumulation of the patterns of life that shape how we feel and act in a space. Through his films, Pablo Casals-Aguirre proves himself to be aware of the miniscule processes that, together, shape the feel of a work of architecture. He provides the viewer with an intimate knowledge that extends beyond the construction of buildings and brings us into contact with the lives of the inhabitants themselves.
Casals' conception of people in relation to architecture goes against the grain in the contemporary professional setting. Most architects view buildings as containers of human activity, a viewpoint that gives weight to the building itself and places people as the objects within a designed framework. The term 'entourage', which architects use to describe human figures added to images, embodies the hierarchy adopted by most architects in which the importance of people is subverted by the image of the building.
RATHER THAN CONSIDERING the buildings themselves as the primary objects in a scene, he prefers to view them as a backdrop, saying, "Architecture is the scenery in which people's actions are brought to life." This philosophy sets itself apart from the image-driven ideas of architecture of today, and aligns itself more closely with the human-centric philosophies of architects like Christopher Alexander. In "The Timeless Way of Building", Alexander proposes that the life and soul of a building are based on "all of our experiences there, [and] depend not simply on the physical environment, but on the patterns of events which we experience there." All of these patterns in combination with one another, he contends, define a certain quality in buildings and in people – the feeling of being alive. The quality "cannot be made, but only generated, indirectly, by the ordinary actions of people."
In his short films, Casals captures the quality of being alive. By focusing on the ordinary actions of people, he reveals the patterns of life that take place in buildings and allows us to understand the fundamental human qualities of the architecture, which are beyond the mere image of the building.
In "Library for Blind and Visually Impaired People", he captures the experience of someone who might use the building, relying heavily on sounds and at times blurring, or even completely obscuring the camera lens. The film opens to complete darkness and, for almost a minute, we are left to interpret the sounds we hear, like a blind person would. It continues without a soundtrack and we become aware of the scraping of canes against the pavement, murmurs of conversation and the sound of footsteps on the hardwood floors. The image of the building is blurred, literally, shifting the focus of the film to the experience of a blind person at the library.
CASALS SHOWS THE SAME ATTENTION TO HUMAN BEHAVIOR in "Wicker Metamorphosis". Here, the architecture itself is transient, a result of the annual manufacturing patterns of wicker. Its shape is determined directly by the work done by the community, and varies depending on the time of year and stage of the manufacturing process. Again, he turns the camera to human activity. We see workers carrying bundles of wicker through the fields, rough hands splitting and debarking the reeds, and the careful, skilled basket weavers at work. Through Casals' lens, we experience a sensation of the community as a whole and begin to understand their changing relationship with the wicker architecture they construct themselves.
In "Work in Progress", he documents the construction of HDJ86, a single-family home designed by T38 Studio. However, the house is far from the object of the film. Instead, we observe the workers at the site, their habits, methods and interactions with one another. The observation extends beyond the scope of their engagement with the architecture, and includes the routine actions that happen during the course of a day, like breaks at the water cooler and games of pick up soccer. The completed house barely appears in the film at all, making a quiet appearance in the background of the final scenes. The final shot shows the construction team with a soccer ball standing in an empty lot next to the project, alluding to the idea that the community itself is also a work in progress.
Pablo Casals-Aguirre reveals the patterns of human behavior that characterize the architecture around which they develop. His focus on the ordinary actions of people, instead of the image of a building, allows us to understand how the life of a building relates to the physical space it occupies. His ability to describe the life of architectural projects will only become more refined as he continues "breathing, watching, observing, drawing, writing… asking questions about the way life is, about human behavior, and translating it all into short films and photos with soul."
CASALS graduated from the Universidad Andrés Bello in 2006, and has been involved with a number of architects including Edward Rojas in Chiloe Island at Chilean Patagonia and at Felipe Assadi + Francisca Pulido Architects. In 2009, he opened his own office dedicated to architecture, film and photography, where he works nationally and internationally in association with T38 Studio. He currently teaches at the architecture school of Creative Campus, UNAB and Universidad Finis Terrae at Santiago, Chile.
Pablo Casals-Aguirre's intimate narration about the Library for the Blind and Visually Impaired in the Ciudad de los Libros (Plaza de la Ciudadela, Mexico City) perfectly outlines the main idea of the design to house not only blind people, but the community at large.
The short film on the "Biblioteca para Ciegos y Débiles Visuales" mostly focuses on the interior spaces of the building designed by Mauricio Rocha y Gabriela Carrillo (Taller de Arquitectura). The camera lingers on the perception of the different subtle sounds that characterizes the users' everyday routine. The visual exploration is partly eclipsed and blurred in order to focus on the acoustic comprehension of spaces by means of a continuous and wise combination of out of focus perspectives and black frames. The short film also narrates how the project is conceived to enhance spatial perception through the use of the five senses by means of varying light intensity and weight of materials (concrete, bricks, steel and glass), while horizontal and vertical lines in the concrete offer tactile clues to identify each room.
Conceived as part of a program by the Mexico City government to provide services to the district of Iztapalapa - one of the most disadvantaged areas of the city and the one with the largest visually impaired population in the Mexican capital - , the project became a benchmark for the life of the community and gained the Medalla de Plata, categoría Diseño de Interiores during the XIII Bienal Nacional de Arquitectura Mexicana (2014).