Interview with Francisco Mangado

Francisco Mangado. Photograph by Javier Ederra
Interview with Francisco Mangado
[Pamplona] Spain
Francisco Mangado. Photograph by Javier Ederra
The last interview conducted by Valerie Steenhaut, for Metrovacesa, with the spanish architect Patxi Mangado, author of the Pamplona Congress and Auditorium Palace, allows us to better understand what is his way of projecting and what architecture supposes for him.
If you ask him what defines his architecture, he answers: technique, beauty, the answer to a problem. Navarre architect Francisco Mangado is a professor and the list of prizes won is quite long. Some of his projects were presented at the MOMA, Museum of Modern Art in New York. With it, you can discover new ways of understanding an office building, where to find poetics in architecture, and what a global architect does in a city like Pamplona.

Architecture gives answers
Valerie Steenhaut, question. Is architecture about creating an experience?

Francisco Mangado, answer. Above all, architecture tries to observe and provide answers to situations and circumstanceshappening in reality. It searches for answers,trying to go beyond and offer something more through architectural tools. That’s the goal of our work. We ultimately try to create something that is capable of moving people and suggesting something new, based on a situation. In that sense, a lotof experiences are generated through architecture, some which might not even have been anticipated by the architect when designing the project. 
What’s the new Spanish architecture like?

For me architecture is always born from a certain time, and so it tries to offer answers to the problems of that particular time. Good architecture is an architecture born out of certain needs and a certain reality. Its objective is to create quality spaces where people can live and feel at ease, somewhere they can develop their activities in the most comfortable way possible. Not only physically speaking, but also spiritually. In that sense, the aim of architecture is always the same, even though different circumstances willcreate different means of producingarchitecture. 

Sketch by Francisco Mangado

Poetic architecture
Philosopher Karel Kosik said contemporary cities are undergoing a crisis because they lost their poetry. What does poetic architecture mean to you?

I like to say that architecture startsfroma specific problem, but if we settle for a type of architecture that only offers immediate and obvious answers, we will be creatingarchitecture that is correct, but nothing more. Poetic architecture is architecture that moves. It’s architecture that wants to transgress, aiming to offer an answer that goes beyond. A good architect is able to elevate one reality into another. In the past I’ve said we can be like magicians. It’s true that we need to solve problems, but we should do so with a bit of magic. 

When we find ourselves in front of a landscape for example, we can createa piece of architecture that looks at that landscape, but we can also make something that makes us look at the landscape in a very special way. Poetic architecture offers something we hadn’t imagined before. It’s able to go beyond what’s obvious and immediate: it moves us, and it makes us think that buildings can suggest another world. 
If we need to feel comfortable and well represented in a space, beauty and reality have to coexist. How do you find a balance between the two?

Sometimes I’m asked what kind of architecture I create: Is it an architecture that concentrates on what’s possible and on solving problems. Or is it architecture that inspires beauty? It is an arguable concept. It really needs to be both at the same time. There can be no architectural beauty without offering an answer to real problems. Construction in itself for example, is an excellent resource to create beauty, as is the use of materials. Materiality as a concept is a brilliant tool to be able to move people,and to adapt architecture to an environment. Architecture doesn’t search for a balance between efficiency and beauty:both are part of the same thing. A good construction includes both in one single goal. And a good architect thinks about both simultaneously as part of the same problem. 

Sketch by Francisco Mangado

 What materials do you like working with?

For me materiality is one of the most important values in architecture. One can refer to architecture from different points of view but it’s undeniable that it’s something physical and sensory. You can see architecture but you can also touch it, hear it, even smell it. In general, I believe natural materials are the most fantastic ones. They’re timeless, and sometimes wrongfully called traditional. Natural materials respond to a tradition, but not in the sense of stagnation. They are absolutely contemporary. Natural materials ask to be worked with, to be inspired by them, to let yourself be moved by them. Ceramics, wood, minerals, iron, glass… they are constantly asking you to interact with them. Other materials, maybe newer ones, don’t interest me as much because they don’t accept that productive, intense, and profoundly contemporary dialogue with the architect. 

A global architect in Pamplona
In 2012, Pamplona was officially named the best Spanish city to live in. Do you share this opinion? What makes Pamplona so appealing?

Pamplona is a great city to live in. There are a lot of public spaces and it has the highest proportion of green spaces per citizen in Spain. They are well maintainedand well located in the city, and that’s something which generates quality of life. Pamplona is a well-balanced city where public spaces have an essential value. I live very comfortably in Pamplona, although given my condition and my work it would make more sense to live in Madrid or somewhere else in Europe. I’m constantly traveling from Pamplona, but even though it might be an extra effort, it’s worth it for me. It’s hereI recharge my batteries. 
How has living and working in Pamplona shaped you?

Not that much really. I don’t think there’s a direct connection withthe architecture I create. There’s definitely an influence in terms of attitude though, the ways in whichI face a project. Something quite distinct in the culture in Navarre, for example, is the relationship between means and ends. We have a sense of economy that is not economic. And this relation is very important, especially in terms of ideological value in architecture. 
And vice-versa, has your work influenced the city?

Honestly, and without false modesty, I would say it has. My biggest influence has been my 30 years of lecturing at the School of Architecture in Pamplona. Although I don’t think the influence was only mine. In the end, it’s the students who understand reality in their own way. And that has to do with their culture, their personality, and not only with the lecturers’ opinions –even thoughthey are an important part of it. I’m not sure I’m the right person to answer this question, maybe someone more impartial should answer it. 

Sketch by Francisco Mangado

Multidisciplinary work
In Pamplona you’re building houses, while in Madrid you have an office building project on Josefa ValcárcelStreet. What distinguishesthem? 

When you’re doing houses, you need to think about comfort. In general, this concept is important, but a lot more so when we’re talking about residential architecture, not only in functional terms, but also in terms of space, views, lighting, all the aspects that contribute to people living comfortably. This has been the main idea behind the Metrovacesahousing project in Pamplona. In my opinion, comfort is synonymous to great residential architecture. 

Even though offices and houses are two different types of architecture, with different requirements and needs, to me the architectural problems remain the same: it’s about how to place a building in its context in an intelligent way, how to create beautiful spaces, how to resolve functional programs, and how to create experiences. As always, the substance of architecture doesn’t change.
What was the context like in the case of Madrid?

In Madrid the context was different. In recent years the evolution of office buildings has been conceived in a strictly functionalist way, ignoring some of itsmost characteristic architecturalvalues. Nowadays, the office building has become some kind of opaque glass box where people work; an almost autistic building without any relation to the outside. It’s as if we’ve forgotten that during the 20th century, office buildings were really the most significant and representative buildings in the context of a city. In Madrid we’ve tried to give back the importance the office building has had in modern architecture, using simple language and simple operations. 

From past to the future
You say the housing crisis has made you richer in terms of thinking and that it has given you the time to do other things. What did you learn?

You can look at the crisis in two different ways. The first one involves a pessimistic approach, for example when we think of the architects who’ve had to emigrate or give up their jobs to do other things. But the crisis has also brought positive aspects. When we look at it from a historic perspective, it has really made us reflect on the type of architecture we were doing at the time, and how we could adapt it to the current times. That same crisis gave us time and therefore relieved us in a way from tensions and short-sightedness. Throughout history, it’s the crises which have generated turning points for us, and they enabled us to look at the past, to learn from it, and to project it into the future. 
Francisco Mangado. Photograph by Javier EderraSketch by Francisco Mangado.Francisco Mangado. Photograph by Javier EderraSketch by Francisco Mangado. Francisco Mangado. Photograph by Javier EderraSketch by Francisco Mangado.


Francisco Mangado, (Navarra, 1957) graduated from the University of Navarra School of Architecture in 1982, and has taught there since. He has also been a Visiting Professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, an Eero Saarinen Visiting Professor at the Yale School of Architecture, a Guest Lecturer at the EPF of Lausanne, a Baird and Gensler Visiting Professor at Cornell, and more