Deceiving perception: PRODUCTORA’s Specific Objects

by Kersten Geers


Published in PRODUCTORA 1., the first monograph on the studio. (Texts by Mauricio Pezo, Kersten Geers and Miquel Adrià, ARQUINE, Mexico City, 2012, ISBN: 978-607-7784-26-5)

There are people who claim that architecture should be contemporary. That contemporary architecture is new. That new architecture deals with new technology and should embrace any stimulus from the outside. That this is a modernist tradition. That any other architecture is old-fashioned. Implicit in that argument is an almost dazzling belief that communication about architecture simulates architecture. Architecture—in this case—does not need any materiality, it exist in the virtuality of its communication, in its promises. From the moment it is presented, it anticipates its—often disappointing—emulation in the real world as a self fulfilling prophecy, as a magical trick. Unfortunately, any ‘rappel a l’ordre’ feels like a retrograde manifesto for an architecture that never was. People interested in the friction between real and virtual as a design problem, often stay with their hunger—unsatisfied with the proliferation of the virtual; but equally unsatisfied with the attempts to do things simply the old way.

PRODUCTORA makes contemporary architecture that challenges in a very direct way the contemporary practice of representation. Their architecture is radical but does not avoid being fashionable. The objects they construct seem comprehensible. Yet, in the discrepancy of how the work appears, and how it is finally experienced, lays the real virtue. In many cases their work seems to be a slick and simple answer to contemporary needs, another contribution even, to the quickly growing collection of “new” architectural shapes and ideas at everybody’s disposal; PRODUCTORA makes cubes, rings, boxes, zigzags; a catalogue of minimal architectonic possibilities. Still, one would be led up the garden path, believing what one sees. PRODUCTORA’s constructions are intentionally fake. In each of the occasions the simple volumetric object deceives the viewer. The strategy used, is as straightforward as it is intelligent. The simple forms are deceivingly pleasing. We think we see what we get… but we get something else in fact. Each of the projects secretly tweaks the boundaries of the ordinary, of the proper. The slick projects are always slightly subversive, testing the physical and visual boundaries of the toolbox of architecture. This approach expresses a great belief in the qualities of the appearance (of a work) and the pure and confusing force of a precise spatial project. Space and appearance successfully explore the gap between representation and reality.

There are many examples of this strategy in their work. But maybe it suffices for now to put attention to the second project shown in this book. It is a very small project, a transformation of a room in a house in Virreyes into an invisible bathroom. The added walls make an oblique empty space with a view. The intervention creates and simultaneously hides an intricate set of small spaces containing toilet, sink etc. The walls resolve a puzzle obviously, but only while pretending effortlessness. They are there with no other reason than to make the geometrical space one perceives at first sight.

Most if not all projects of PRODUCTORA show this wit. Each of them drops simple gestures one understands, only to undermine this perception upon closer inspection. A small house extension in Mixcoac pretends to be longer (and bigger) than it is, holding a strange volume in the air. A hotel pretends to be a set of lost empty boxes in the palm tree forest of Tulum. A white tower in Caracas has no windows. A museum without end and without facade has either imposing spaces all round, or, from the other side, a seemingly endless set of columns. A minimalist square-like house in Inner Mongolia in fact creates a fitting nightmare of completely interiorized spaces with windows in slits. A circular office building in Madrid is upon closer inspection a tight collection of slabs…

The smaller projects—like the aforementioned transformation of the house—are often key to the strategies: they show the trick. Maybe because they are more graphical and in your face, maybe because one can only see them from very close by. Fact is that they unmask what PRODUCTORA is really after: to construct an architectural uncanny in a seemingly smooth context. The two restaurant projects with the shifted horizon of tiles and a hypnotic graphical pattern are emblematic for this. Each of them show the same trick and—especially on the picture—suggest a parallel existence of the commercial space of the venue together with another space, representing a more abstract idea of an architecture disconnected from commercial requirements. Their coexistence is what matters. The graphics do the job.

In 1965, the exposition The Responsive Eye jettisoned a wide range of artists that made related work, later known as Op Art. The response to the exhibition at the time was mixed. As each of the works was playing consciously with the optical illusions their applied graphics were creating, it was very successful with the public—it was, after all, accessible. For its supposed lack of deeper content, critics were skeptical. Most of the work was a graphical trick, an intelligent deception. In the same year Donald Judd wrote a text called “Specific Objects”, a text related to his first solo show with only objects a year earlier. In the text he argued that the spatial qualities of all of the recent works he considered relevant pointed towards another art deeply engaged in the space it inhabited. Judd’s argument has become core to what one considers today ‘minimal art.’ An art that implies the space in which it is positioned. If, however, Minimal pretends to be honest, Op art is most decisively not. PRODUCTORA’s architecture is not art, but perhaps it does combine the graphical ‘trickery’ of deceiving so related to Op to transcend their apparent Minimalism into something else. Judd wrote (in 1965) “ half or more of the best new work in the last years has been neither painting or sculpture.” Maybe one could say the same of PRODUCTORA: their best work is neither object nor image, but an erratic construction of both.