Encounter with Juan Muñoz
The origin of thinking about certain 'encounters' and labelling them with this term, may well lie in a correspondence with artist Juan Muñoz (1953-2001). The term ‘encounter’ was a key element in the letter “Estimado Amigo...” that Juan Muñoz addressed to Robbrecht en Daem in reaction to the design of the Garden Pavilion. The letter contains an imagined exchange between the architect and the writer of the letter, who personifies an imaginary client and future user. The conversation covers the memories, concerns and desires evoked by buildings, as well as the linguistic tangle that any discussion of architecture entails. The idea that architecture does not exist in a vacuum, but rather has its raison d’être in fleeting, yet concrete encounters of this type, has since then become a guiding principle at the practice.
Several years before this correspondence, a collaboration took place between Juan Muñoz and Robbrecht en Daem for the realization of House Where It Always Rains. The project, a pavilion on the occasion of the Barcelona Olympics, depicts a stripped-down cage that excludes the viewer, while just enclosing an enigmatic group of five bronze figures by Muñoz. The setup embodied tension. 'This is a stage set that seduces our gaze; we can occupy the space imaginatively, but we cannot actually enter it. Locked outside its diaphanous yet rigid structure, we are poised, like the figures inside, on the threshold of desire,' Iwona Blazwick wrote about the project.
The authorship of this project can be called ambiguous. The design that Robbrecht en Daem architecten made for Juan Muñoz is certainly indebted to the way of thinking of the visual artist who gave them such an unusual, poetic commission. The very fact that the building is art releases the architects from their duty to pursue usefulness. The architecture that has become a work of art can symbolise its own role, demonstrate and speak about that of which it is capable or not. It can therefore also question its own purpose.
The realization of House Where It Always Rains was also preceded by a journey during which Juan Muñoz, Paul Robbrecht and Hilde Daem searched together for the right location for the actual pavilion, but also visited the Barcelona Pavilion by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. It was a journey that, for Robbrecht and Daem, generated a myriad of lasting, special memories.
"I remember reading in some book now long forgotten that the most memorable places do not refer back to themselves, nor do they represent anything outside themselves, but they are seeking an encounter with some other individual entity." ¹
1 Original Publication: Juan Muñoz, “My Dear Friend”, in Steven Jacobs, ed., Works in Architecture: Paul Robbrecht & Hilde Daem (Ghent, 1998), pp. 138–9; Other Literature: Juan Muñoz, Louise Neri and James Lingwood, eds, Silence Please! Stories after the Works of Juan Muñoz (Berlin, 1996).
I would very much appreciate it if you would modify the original project and build me an encounter. Call it a pavilion, a house, a building, a dwelling, a presence, an encounter, whatever you like.