In Conversation With Leading Brazilian Architect Marcio Kogan

Among Brazil’s leading contemporary architects, São Paulo-based Marcio Kogan approaches his craft with the eye of a filmmaker.

Tell me about your parents and what your childhood was like growing up in São Paulo. Where does your love of architecture stem from?

My father, Aron Kogan, was an architectural engineer who designed and constructed some incredible modernist buildings in São Paulo. When I was seven, I moved into a super-modernist house. I guess Jacques Tati copied our house in his movie Mon Oncle and named it “Villa Arpel”. My father died one year later and what remained in my memory was the day we went up a building under construction: while I grabbed his hand really tightly, I looked over São Paulo as if I were flying. On that day, I became an architect.

Describe the driving force and principles of your approach to architecture and what criteria you use to decide which projects to take on or to enter into competition for.

It is important to point out that since the end of the 1930’s, Brazil had already been producing high-quality modernist architecture. These principles have marked my career in architecture and possibly all the generations that have followed. As for our criteria, the projects that present a bit of radicality are eligible.

What is your relationship with cinema? Why did you stop working as a movie director to become an architect? How does film inform your work today?

I was greatly influenced by movies. When I was 15 years old, I was cutting class one day in São Paulo and suddenly it began to rain. I ran into a movie theater to protect myself. I went inside and they were showing The Silence by Ingmar Bergman. I had no idea what I was watching and the film was restricted for minors under 18. I guess, at the time, they weren’t worried about it, they just wanted one more customer. In a matter of seconds, this moment would change my life. An epiphany. All of those years, my life had been in black and white, and this black-and-white movie made me see life in color. I saw myself in the boy Johan with all his Bergmanian complexities. In that instance, I understood the broad meaning of the word “art”.

Until 1988, when I directed my first feature film, Fire and Passion, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be an architect or a moviemaker. Until that point, I’d had a successful career, producing 13 short films, and this feature was a total failure. It consumed all the money I had saved and also needed for my architecture office, which was at its beginning stages. So, as it had to be, I reset, fully focusing on architecture. In the end, after the trauma, I was happy with what had happened, and I think I brought the baggage of moviemaking to my career as an architect: from the elongated proportions of a widescreen to the importance of light, the importance of teamwork, the moment-to-moment emotions, which to me are always parts of the process of drafting a movie script.

I am quite cinematic in the early stages of a project: I always create the person who will live in the space in question. They have a life story: sometimes a man and sometimes a woman, or perhaps some kind of mixture of both. They constantly walk around the space. They feel the proportions, lower the height of the ceiling, push walls, look through the window or simply remove a window from that place. They don’t like doors. They go up and down the stairs and experiment with numerous alternatives. They haven’t yet decided if the stairs will be straight-run or spiral. They go to the garden, which as of yet does not exist, look at the façade and decide to modify everything again. They plant a beautiful tree. It’s nighttime, two moons and some shooting stars can be seen crossing the royal blue sky. Four dwarves are playing a sad Romanian song on their violins, sitting on the stones that will be the surface of the wall that borders the, as yet, non-existent garden. A beautiful, very beautiful and elegant young lady stops, stares at nothing and continues to walk to I don’t know where. At the end, the character is reasonably content with what he has created and falls asleep on an enormous bed, which he pushes slightly to the right.

Describe Brazilian modern architecture and why you reference it in your projects.

The Brazilian modernist architecture that emerged in the late 1930s, highly influenced by Le Corbusier, was absolutely sensational. In the late 1930s, Le Corbusier came to Brazil to curate the Ministry of Education and Health project, alongside Lucio Costa and a team of architects that included Ernani Vasconcellos, Carlos Leão, Jorge Machado and the intern Oscar Niemeyer. As well as these, dozens of incredible architects emerged, such as Rino Levi, Lina Bo Bardi, Vilanova Artigas and, more recently, Paulo Mendes da Rocha. It is not only interesting but also difficult to understand how a country like Brazil, at a time when the flow of information was practically non-existent, had so many architects producing a repertoire of this magnitude. My work humbly revisits this magical moment.

Take me through your design process – from the initial idea to the end result – and how you work as a team.

Sometimes, when we start a special project, we conduct an internal “charrete” – a creative process akin to visual brainstorming – in which the teams are divided into three or four, without my participation, with the objective of perceiving a greater spectrum of solutions, thereby avoiding solutions that are habit-bound. All of the architects effectively participate in the projects, and this is fundamental for the trajectories to be retraced at every moment. I like this kind of work because it’s not a common thing to see in an office. It’s not like I’m the boss and they are the architects: it’s a real team, a sort of think tank.

Studio MK27 has a profound culture centered around designing and overseeing the project, which borders on sick perfectionism. I suffer from OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), which makes us work ad eternum on every project and in every little detail of the project in order for the final result to be as close to the beginning of it as possible. We actively participate in the entire building process, collaborating with suppliers in the development of products. The total lack of an industrialized building culture has created many highly-skilled craftsmen in Brazil. We draw or design what we want and “voilà”, it appears in the project. The result is of a quality that is almost unbeatable.

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