The most important aspect of the unique work of Aires Mateus is the relationship between mass and void. The studio’s projects are characterized by numerous distinctive elements, always with an emphasis on detail and a purity and simplicity of shapes in which solid forms come together with emptiness – which itself becomes space. The studio’s architects pay great attention to the choice of materials, their buildings are dominated by the color white, and one typical characteristic is an articulation of space in which “sensitive incisions” into the building’s mass help to achieve a highly impressive (functional) architectural expression. In many cases, the resulting openings form “gateways” for the incoming light.
“Aires Mateus – The Archive”
– 17 Novemeber
Gallery of Contemporary Art and Architecture – House of Art of the City of České Budějovice
náměstí Přemysla Otakara II. 38, České Budějovice
The Aires Mateus studio was founded in Lisbon in 1988 by brothers Manuel (1963) and Francisco (1964) Aires Mateus, both of whom studied architecture at Lisbon’s Technical University, from which they graduated in 1986 and 1987, respectively. The high quality of their projects led to increased interest in both brothers’ work, along with numerous teaching offers from, among other places, Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design and the Accademia di Architettura in the Swiss town of Mendrisio. They have realized countless projects, for which they have earned numerous prestigious awards.
By continuously searching for and experimenting with subtle yet conscious timelessness, Aires Mateus construct a story that can be seen as their way of looking at the world. Using light and mass, they work to innovate in a highly sensitive – one is tempted to say, poetic – manner. They are capable of communicating with the past, both when incorporating their new projects into the existing contest or when working on renovations or additions. Although their buildings are often of a sculptural nature, they are always founded on the elegance of pure shapes and natural functionality. A typical feature of their approach is respect for the landscape and the location, as well as an ability to keep “contradictions” in a state of mutual co-existence. As a result, monumentality exists in harmony with the human scale, boldness with quietude, and abstraction with robustness. Last but not least, we should mention one of the main characteristics that Aires Mateus ascribe to architecture, and that is beauty. On this, they say, “Beauty seems to be the added value of an architect and actually the reason why we are even hired.”
We should also remember that, in recent years, beauty in architecture has been the subject of frequent criticism. The fault, however, lies with those architects who have banalized beauty by over-aestheticizing buildings and spaces in order to hide a lack of content, or who have abused it as a synonym for spectacle. With Aires Mateus, beauty is not an added layer of good taste; instead, it possesses the ability to capture and express human desires. The studio’s search for beauty is rooted in ancient archetypes; in their works, beauty overcomes banality and, in its silence, becomes an ineffable certainty. One way of looking at it is through the words of Finnish architect Erik Bryggman (1891–1955): “Beauty is not a mysterious veil thrown over a building, but a logical result of having everything in the right place.”
The exhibition at which Aires Mateus is presenting its work in České Budějovice has been especially prepared for the gallery’s spaces and offers a specific view into the studio’s work, its approach to architecture, and its way of thinking. Speaking about The Archive, the architects state:
“Freud speculates that the organization of memory is like an engraving process, a chalk slate where you write and erase, always leaving a trace, a collection of etched traces which are themselves the archive.
A project rises from a seed, from a meeting with a problem. It is born without history, or better yet, without a clear history, creating its own. The project is, in its realization, a new trace, a new experience of itself and of its process. A trace whose prevailing memory is its own path.
Organizing the memory of these traces means evoking relationships with the work of architecture, not looking for a chronological, typological or geographical organization but rather leaving traces in the air, which one way or another can help reflections or memories emerge in a future problem of a creator.”