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Sunday, July 3, 2022

Margarita Jover: “I resist letting capital decide the shape of the world”

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With one foot in architecture and the other in landscape, Margarita Jover (Paris, 53 years old) has just been appointed professor (full teacher) from Tulane University in New Orleans, a landmark with very few precedents for a Spanish architect (only Beatriz Colomina, who has been at Princeton since 2000). “The step from associate professor to professor is a difficult path, but not impossible,” says Colomina. This is decided by an anonymous court. And Jover has achieved it with his defense of systems thinking that relates water, landscape and architecture. This position for life also includes recognition as an international expert and academic freedom to teach.

Questions. It has achieved recognition and freedom limited to a very few.

Answer. The numbers don’t matter. I’m interested in ideas, their novelty and the opportunity to share them during training. At Tulane University, I was assigned to lead a new program that combines landscape and engineering sciences that doesn’t exist in the United States.

P She’s a professor who hasn’t stopped building with her Alday/Jover studio.

R In order to teach, it is important to know how things work. We believe that design must be at the service of social, environmental and contemporary ambitions. It’s about relearning how to inhabit the planet.

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P His curriculum relates to transformative projects on river banks.

R Exactly. With the water park we built in Zaragoza, we were finalists at the Barcelona Biennial of Landscape. We gave a conference. Elizabeth A. Meyer, professor of landscape design at the University of Virginia, listened and invited us to apply to head the architecture department. We decided that Iñaki would do it [Alday, su socio y pareja] because I couldn’t speak English.

Water Park, Zaragoza, 2008. exactly

P Not a word?

R He spoke French, Spanish and Catalan. My father was a Catholic missionary from Barcelona. After studying theology in Burgos, he went to Cameroon in the 1960s. He served as a priest for eight years. Then he met my mother, who had a son, but when her husband decided to be polygamous, he told her: “You stay there”.

P what a couple

R They married and went to Paris to study.

P Why?

R My mother spoke French and Spain was governed by Franco. And that my father’s family had a textile factory in Tarrasa. My father studied economics in Paris, they had my three brothers and me, and then we went to Africa.

P What education!

R We lived like settlers who are mulattoes. That shaped me. In Africa she was white and when we came (after Franco’s death) she was black.

P He has learned that everything is relative.

R I think I built identity with my father’s values ​​trying to make the world a better place; and strength from my mother who was like a tractor. When we came to Barcelona in Sarrià, we were the only black family in the neighborhood.

Pedestrian street in the historic center of Ibiza (Paseo Vara de Rey, Plaza del Parque and Sotamuralla), 2017.
Pedestrian street in the historic center of Ibiza (Paseo Vara de Rey, Plaza del Parque and Sotamuralla), 2017.German llama

P He arrived when he was nine and didn’t speak Spanish.

R I learned right away. And Catalan too.

P He went to Virginia at 40 and spoke no English.

R In the mornings I went to English classes with Burmese immigrants and in the afternoons I designed the largest park in Barcelona because we won a competition.

P It is unusual for someone with a distinguished academic career to have maintained such an active study.

R I’m trying to teach design. To do this, learning through trial and error is essential.

Cultural Center El Molino, Utebo, 2004.
Cultural Center El Molino, Utebo, 2004.Jordy Bernardo

P His water park in Zaragoza is affected by flooding.

R We have worked a lot on coexistence with the tide. Flood-prone riverside parks that function as public spaces. But in the Ebro we have improved the water quality so that people can bathe.

P As?

R Just before reaching the park, a tank collects water and oxygenates it, ridding it of sediment.

P Mechanically?

R Yes, and by gravity. It’s a natural process that cleans the water as it passes through the park. It’s not done with a machine, it’s done with this public space. This is our contribution: that the infrastructures they clean become part of the public space.

P Not that they are distant or made up.

R That means: Let it be the park itself that cleans. Our innovation is not to design and hide a single-use machine, but an artifact that is used for many more things and is part of the landscape.

P His park was the first international competition of the Zaragoza Expo.

R We won. And people like Enric Batlle, who had been my teacher, had entered the campus competition. I learned systems thinking from him. Just as the nervous system and blood circulation coexist and are related in the body, vegetation, spaces and installations are related in architecture. This connection of systems is taught by landscapers rather than architects.

P In Zuera, next to the Gállego River, they built a submersible bullring.

R We knew the mayor wanted to build one next to the river and we gave him the sheet he couldn’t use to lift it into the only gap between the city and the river. We did a preliminary project to restore the riverbanks and designed an amphitheater open to the landscape that can be flooded and drained and is for the people as well as the river. The infrastructures of the 21st century must fulfill several functions in order not to be harmful. We didn’t want to commit a project, we wanted to avoid mistakes. We don’t always know what to do, but we are aware of what not to do.

Restoration of the banks of the Gallego river in Zuera, 2001.
Restoration of the banks of the Gallego river in Zuera, 2001.alldayjover

P Do you teach this to your students?

R Yes, this amphitheater has been awarded the European Prize for Public Space. But I also explain to the students that when we won the water park, the big engineering companies made us a hostile takeover bid to take our lead and demand a higher percentage. We forced them to honor the contract and they said they weren’t interested. We wanted to use the budget to make the project as good as possible, not to get rich. It was a struggle. We defended the permeability of the park – to make it resilient to flooding – and the engineers wanted to compact and waterproof it. We had to show them that the tide coming under the slabs pushes and lifts the ground.

P The engineers didn’t know and you did?

R We felt it because Iñaki specializes in building and calculating structures. But we saw it in action.

P With everything you’ve done, why did you spend two years trying to become a professor?

R While it sounds grandiose, I am interested in educating citizens of the planet. It’s not enough to get rid of the garbage, you have to start from that and not send it to another continent. No one wants a sewage treatment plant near their home. In the 20th century they were taken out of town and decorated. In the XXI we have to create infrastructures that do not have to be covered. They will be more efficient, smaller, closer and more expensive, but they will serve more than one purpose and not hide. We have run out of time to do so there is an urgent need to teach people to do it. I resist the capital that determines the shape of the world. Since there are no independent thinkers in the university, we are worldless.

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