Interview with Mario Corea to the spanish newspaper El País. Mario Corea, Architect “We mustn’t pursue originality” J.M. Martí Font Published in the Spanish newspaper, El País, July 5, 2012 Translation: Richard Lewis Rees There are architects who seek refuge in the elegance of pure lines, who prefer to leave a mark on the public sphere, at the service of the deeper needs of societies that build hospitals, schools and sports centers, rather than create spectacular buildings for famous clients. Mario Corea (Rosario, Argentina, 1939) is one of these. The Professional Association of Architects of Catalonia (Col·legi d’Arquitectes de Catalunya - COAC) paid him homage last month with the magnificent exhibition El quadern dels inicis. Mario Corea (The Notebook of Beginnings. Mario Corea), and a documentary has just been finished entitled El valor de la idea (The Value of the Idea), produced by Nihao Films, which will soon be shown on television. Corea’s architectural concepts are marked by his life experience. He came to Barcelona in 1976, fleeing from the Argentinean military dictatorship. He had obtained his master’s degree from the Graduate School of Design GSD at Harvard University and, in 1970, a diploma in Architecture from the Architectural Association School of London. Everything was going full speed ahead. He lived and practiced as an architect in the United States for six years and worked at the studios of Josep Lluís Sert –who had been one of his mentors— and Paul Rudolph. In the mid-70s he returned to Argentina, where he secured a teaching post at the Architecture School of the Universidad Nacional del Litoral, in Rosario, from which he had graduated in 1962. They were years of intense work and inevitable commitment: Corea had never made any secret of his left-wing convictions. Then came the military coup, and one day he learned that he had been ‘liquidated’ –this is literally the bureaucratic term used— as a teacher. In the knowledge that he would soon be ‘collared’ by the milicos*, he boarded a plane bound for Spain, where Sert had assured him he would find work at the former’s Barcelona studio. “I fled from Argentina as best I could, and I was afraid that when I made the compulsory stopover in Brazil, they’d send me back”, he recalls. “And when I got to Barcelona, Sert wasn’t there. But I was lucky. Oriol Bohigas and Manuel de Solà-Morales lent me a hand and before long I was giving classes at the School of Architecture”. It was at this time that Corea began working on his notebooks, compulsively jotting down the ideas and projects that he wasn’t yet able to execute. And it is these recently recovered notebooks that constitute the backbone to the exhibition held at the COAC a few weeks ago, an exhibition that Corea dedicates to his five masters: Louis Khan, whose question during a review at the GSD, to which Corea didn’t know the answer, left him thinking for a long time; Fumihiko Maki, his teacher when he was studying for the GSD master’s degree, who went to fetch him personally from his home on the day of the final review, because he had overslept; Frank Lloyd Wright, who deeply influenced his work; Mies van der Rohe, whose reconstructed Barcelona Pavilion has had a powerful effect on his design thinking; and of course Sert, whom he quotes as having said the key phrase, “The Parthenon is merely the best example of many similar types of building. It’s not innovation that made it immortal”. The relationship with Sert came about by chance when Corea was living in Cambridge and working for an Argentine architect. “One day, at the neighborhood laundry, a fellow I knew who was a job captain in Sert’s office asked me if I was any good at making models. I applied and got the job. It’s from Sert that I learned practically everything I know, above all that we mustn’t pursue originality, it’s much more important to do our work well”. Drawings and models are still Corea’s working tools. He himself never uses a computer for his projects; this he leaves to his collaborators at the studio when he has finished working out the plans. This is why he sticks so staunchly to his notebooks, which he fills compulsively with whatever ideas occur to him, wherever he may be. It needn’t surprise us that he also engages in painting, as a safety valve. He tells us that once a gallery owner organized an exhibition for him, at which he sold a number of canvases. “Later”, he says, “someone asked me what you have to do to be successful as a painter. I said I really didn’t know, that the reason I paint is because it’s a genre that has none of the conditioning factors of architecture”. Corea’s professional career, as befitting his political and social philosophy, has invariably revolved around public works. Lately he has become a hospital architect, a specialty, he tells us, that he hadn’t initially contemplated. However, the success of the Burn Unit at the Vall d’Hebron Hospital in Barcelona, his extension of the Verge de la Cinta Hospital in Tortosa, the Sant Joan University Hospital in Reus and the General Hospital in Maó have established him as a prominent name in the field. If he left Argentina without a penny to his name and fearing for his life, Mario Corea has now made a triumphal return to his home country. He spends several months a year there and teaches once again at his former university. Furthermore, he works for a local authority. His old friend Hermes Binner, Governor of Santa Fe Province and the first Socialist in the history of Argentina to occupy a post of such importance, hired him as a consultant on the construction of public buildings such as schools and cultural centers. Deeply moved, Corea recalls that at the opening ceremony of a small school, which also works as a community center, in a village that had no public buildings, an elderly local resident showed him just what that small-scale work meant to the villagers. In the last few years, he built the HECA Hospital in Rosario (2007) and he’s also been consultant for the Unidad de Proyectos Especiales (Special Projects Unit) of the Ministry of Public Works and Housing of the Government of Santa Fe Province. Corea continues to pursue his activities as guest professor and lecturer at universities and schools of architecture and urban planning in Spain, Argentina and the US. The Recycled Stadium Reality is obstinate. Mario Corea was commissioned to design the Baseball Stadium for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, to be built in L’Hospitalet de Llobregat with a capacity for 8,000 spectators. Conscious as he was that this sport has few followers in Spain, Corea proposed that instead of remaining true to the characteristic shape of baseball stadiums, he should construct a circular one, which could subsequently be recycled as a football stadium once the Games had come to an end. However, the federation of this sport, which was making its debut as an Olympic event, fearing that baseball would be ousted by soccer demanded that the stadium retain the classic diamond shape. Nonetheless, Corea’s prediction came true. Now soccer is played at the stadium, despite its thoroughly incongruous grandstand. Corea also designed and built the Athletics Stadium in Sabadell and recently, in Santa Fe (Argentina), he has transformed an old mill into a cultural center. __ * A derogatory term for the military.
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Article on the outcome of the competition for the Italian Cultural Centre in Mar del Plata, in lacapitalmpd.com. Read article here.