Q&A: PAX.ARQ on Starting a Young Practice
The Brazilian architects are gaining a reputation not just for their unique sensibilities of space and place, but also the openness of their own office.
Paula Sertório & Victor Paixao, founding partners of PAX.ARQ, Sao Paulo, Brazil
Courtesy Paul Clemence
The challenges facing a young architecture firm the world over can range from how to structure your office to how to get clients, and every detail in between. I met Paula Sertório and Victor Paixao, founding partners of PAX.ARQ in Sao Paulo and engaged them in conversation about how their office deals with these issues in the bustling Brazilian megalopolis. Here is what Paula, speaking for the firm, told me:
Paul Clemence: What’s it like for young firm working in one of the biggest cities in the world? How can you stand out in this frenetic, competitive market?
Paula Sertorio: A great advantage to being in a big and competitive city is that we also have, in the same proportion, the best means to accomplish the work we believe in. It is in big cities that we find opportunities to start, even if it is a small project – after all if a project is good, it will stand out regardless of the scale. And if you get good results, new and bigger opportunities will come.
PC: São Paulo being such a congested megalopolis, how does that play with your architecture design principles?
PS: We try to achieve the specific needs of each project by which I don’t mean to imply the principles of our architecture. Anyway, we relate with the intensity of the city we live in, and these characteristics directly reflect on the choices for the project (flows, materials, etc). We tend to work with materials like concrete and steel that, by their own nature, express urbanity. And even when we use more rustic elements, we seek to challenge traditional applications. In a big and constantly expanding city like Sao Paulo, flexible space is a fundamental quality and so we always try to enable our projects with a certain degree of potential for use transformation, making for a building that could have longevity beyond its original purpose.
PC: Brazil has been experiencing big growth and maturing of its presence in the global stage, but as far as architects, what do you feel the country still lacks? What do you think would help architecture here that is still not being done?
PS: The importance of and respect for architecture and the architect is recent in Brazil, and it is growing along as the country develops. Even so, we still have a long way to reach our ideal. An important recent development was the creation of the Conselho de Arquitetura e Urbanismo (Architecture and Urbanism Council). This professional regulating institution was previously connected to engineering. Now it will have its own architecture chapter and we believe this will be a very efficient move in affirming the value of the architecture professional. But we also need a deeper awareness by the architects themselves of their profession, standing their ground on defense of their practice. And, of course, the city needs more projects and initiatives for its development, not just geared towards financial gains from this development.
PC: Both of you are very well travelled. What do you think differentiates an office in Brazil from what you have seen abroad?
PS: We believe that the ability to overcome the handicaps resulting from the apparent lack of resources is one of the main qualities of Brazilians, and is directly reflected on our creative production, be it design or art.
PC: For a new office you seem to be getting very interesting new projects. What has been your strategy in pursuing jobs?
PS: We believe in the potential of collaborative work; what motivates us are the new challenges. We accept multiple program demands – trying not to limit ourselves to a specific area – which benefits capturing new projects. Our main strategy is to go above and beyond our client’s expectations, so he himself brings us new customers. Furthermore, development of projects for high-profile competitions (with some wins), has brought us national and international visibility and that is always a welcome help.
PC: PAX.ARQ has a very interesting mixed-use single family residential project (Tecnomec) going up. It’s quite an unusual client, a sophisticated, high-end car mechanic who works from home and also teaches his craft. How did this project come about?
PS: Like I said, referrals are a most efficient ways to get new clients when you’re starting in this profession; a friend and some collaborators recommended us to him. The project is very much a response to life in Sao Paulo, where public transportation still offers many challenges and the sheer scale of the urban sprawl can mean many hours are spent commuting. The client, a specialty car mechanic, wanted a house where he could live, work, and teach his craft.
PC: Describe a little bit your thought process approaching this project and then the design itself.
PS: The tight setbacks and proximity to the street and these two very different program requirements (dwelling and mechanic workshop) were the main issues when developing the project. Located on a corner meant that if we made windows and openings directly facing the street privacy would be lost. So we tried to combine a creative system of openings and blind walls that create a private environment in the workshop space and intimacy in the residential area, while also allowing natural light and ventilation in both areas.
PC: Your office has successfully participated in some very high profile architectural competitions. What is the value of these types of experiences for your practice?
PS: We have been participating in competitions since our student days and the process always teaches us something. When we work on an entry we tend to work in groups, bringing together people with distinct areas of expertise so the project has a varied and rich input. We believe in collaborative work, between us and external partners, all agents sharing in their experience making that particular project unlike any other. These competition projects give us a chance to articulate our ideas and ideals on an international scale.
Paul Clemence is an award-winning photographer whose work is part of many collections, including the Mies van der Rohe’s Archives and house by MoMa, New York. He exhibits both in the US and on the international fine art circuit, from classic B & W prints to large scale photo installations. A published author, his work can also be seen in major design and lifestyle publications. His “Architecture Photography” Facebook page (www.facebook.com/archi.photo) receives over half a million hits monthly.