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The search for efficiency in beauty - a conversation with Fran Silvestre

06 of September '21

Justina: Do you always manage to achieve the intended effect? Did it happen that the technical and construction side limited the project?

Fran:To be honest, since I started working as an architect, I've changed my perspective on what perfection is. Basically, we never try to look for perfect projects; what I expect is to be satisfied with the execution of the object. We look for solutions that are realistic and possible, so I have never felt negatively surprised by the execution. There have been times when I have been surprised by the result, but that surprise was related to satisfaction. Looking more broadly, I can say that we always manage to get a result that we are proud of and satisfied with.

Justyna: Your realizations are characterized by uncompromising minimalism. Not everyone is a fan of this style. How do you manage to convince investors of such solutions?

Fran:At the beginning of our careers, working with clients was very difficult. To tell the truth, sometimes I got the impression that they didn't understand what we were actually talking about. However, by not standing up to them, but by having a dialogue, we achieved a certain result. I think that with clients who approach us, we come to a mutual understanding. Although sometimes it may seem that the effect is very minimalistic, it is created in cooperation with the clients. However, I have to confess that the photos shown at the presentation and today's lecture [the lecture took place on May 13 this year - editor's note], were taken right after the realization of the projects, most of which were not yet inhabited.

Casa Hoffmann, 2017

Photo credit: FG + SG. Ultimas Reportagens. Fernando Guerra

Justyna: After the construction of the house is finished, do you happen to return to it to see what the life of the residents is like?

Fran:We always come back to them and I have to say that sometimes they work better than we expected, especially when it comes to the atmosphere that the residents have created in them. We are very pleased when we hear that they feel calm, safe and comfortable in these spaces. When we at Fran Silvestre Arquitectos start working on a new house or residence, I tell the architects on the team to design the building as if they themselves were going to spend a day out of their lives in it. This allows you to understand the building much better from the inside. I myself live in a building designed by our studio, so I know from a user's point of view what worked well and what can be improved in future projects.

Casa Hoffmann, 2017

Photo credit: FG + SG. Ultimas Reportagens. Fernando Guerra

Justyna: And what does the design process itself look like? Do clients participate in it, or do they rely entirely on your taste?

Fran:Customer participation in the creation of projects is key. We try to listen to their needs so that we understand why they are asking for this and not something else. Dialogue and empathy are extremely important from the very beginning of the design process, so that the completed home can later turn out to be a success.

Wojciech: Let's go back to your book for a moment. Before our conversation, you sent us several copies, and on each of them, in addition to your signature, you also left a handwritten sketch. What is the importance of drawing in architecture for you?

Fran:Drawing is nothing more than a way of presenting your ideas. We live in an age where computer technology allows us to create impressive visualizations, but they often distort reality. Hand-drawing is more spontaneous, and the relationship between the idea and what is materialized becomes more direct. When we create something on a computer, we are limited by our ability to use the programs. When drawing, these limitations disappear, and the communication of thoughts becomes faster and more intuitive, which is why I consider drawing a very important element in the work of an architect.

When I sign my books, I recall some of the ideas behind the realization of the buildings. The sketch I left on the first page summarizes the design presented in the later pages of the book.

Pati Blau, 2020

Photo: Diego Opazo

Justyna: Have you always wanted to become an architect? Or is there something else in your life that you could devote yourself to with equal passion?

Fran:I have the attitude to always strive for excellence in whatever one does. I could, of course, go into something other than architecture, and then I would make every effort to do it to the best of my ability. For example, if I were to open an ice cream store, I would want to learn everything I could about existing flavors or the formula for making them. However, I come from a family of engineers and the transition from engineering to architecture was natural for me.

Wojciech: Your great-grandfather [Valentín Silvestre Fombuena - ed. note] is the creator of the world's first steam-powered car. Have you never been drawn to follow in his footsteps?

Fran:My great-grandfather is an extremely interesting character. The more things I discover about him, the more he fascinates me. He was typically self-taught. Although he never studied at university, in the second half of the 19th century he earned the largest number of patents in Europe.

As a child, I lived surrounded by books on engineering, which my father collected over the years. However, in our environment there were not only engineers, but also people involved in the fine arts. I think it was this combination that made me do exactly what I do, which is to seek efficiency in beauty. This is precisely the main principle of our architecture.

Pati Blau, 2020

Photo: Diego Opazo

Justyna: This is perfectly evident in your realizations - they are an amazing combination of art and construction. What influenced your distinctive style the most?

Fran:I wouldn't describe what we do as style. I associate that word with calligraphy, where everyone has a certain way of writing, but it's not as important as the content conveyed in the text. I believe that what a person does in his life is a kind of fusion of the influences of the people and places he passes on his path. This has been the case for me, and among the people who have most strongly influenced what I do, I would like to mention Emilio Giménez from Valencia or the Portuguese architect Álvaro Siza. Another equally important factor is that our studio is located in a former sculptor's studio [Espai Alfaro building in Godella near Valencia - editor's note]. To this day, there are sculptures there by the prominent artist Andreu Alfaro, and we pass them as we enter the studio. All these seemingly insignificant elements, in fact, have a huge impact on us.

Justyna: And what advice would you yourself give to young architects?

Fran:Do what you like, and believe in yourself. It doesn't matter at all how many projects you create. Focus on one and do it to the best of your ability, whether it's a house, an apartment or some other project entirely. This will pave the way for you to get more assignments and result in new projects.

Justyna, Wojciech: Thank you for the interview.

interviewed: Justyna Boduch
Wojciech FUDALA

Illustrations provided courtesy of Fran Silvestre Arquitectos.

- Spanish architect, graduate of Valencia University of Technology and Eindhoven University of Technology. He holds the title of professor at the UPV Design Department and the European University of Valencia. Since 2005, he has run his own studio, Fran Silvestre Arquitectos, in Valencia. He has won numerous awards, including - among others - the German Design Award 2020 for the design of the Casa Hofmann house, an award at the 13th Spanish Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism for his Blay collection of furniture and lamps, or the Red Dot Design Award 2013 for the design of a minimalist cliff house (Casa del acantilado).

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