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Michel Rojkind, TED Talk

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Contagious Risk Well, first of all: Thank you very much! I can't stop smiling from the presentations we've just seen. It´s a pleasure to be here and I think the topic of this conference could not have been better: Contagious Risk We have always feared... (Where do I point? There? Oh, the green one, sorry, I was going backwards) We have always feared contact, contagion from others, from the unknown, from that which poses a potential threat, but especially during the last century and a half where a certain Puritanism disguised as Hygienism has brought about a particular control. Just like everyone else, I thought I had to protect myself from contagion, from illness, but most of all from the unknown. I come from Mexico City, a place where it is impossible to try to avoid contagion; Twenty Two million people. It´s a crazy city. And it is precisely this H1N1 that made me reflect about how we allow ourselves to come into contact with the positive and negative things in life. In a society where Mexicans are used to hugging, shaking hands, kissing, and then comes the H1N1 virus and suddenly you couldn't touch anyone, it was like being a robot. And I realized what the lack of contact did to me personally, when I wanted to hug my friends, my mate, even my daughter... who was playing with her doll putting a face mask on it. That became part of the games that children played at the time. Mexico City (Can we turn it down a bit? There, perfect!) a place that I couldn’t be any prouder to live in, where nothing works as it should. A city that brings you to constant reflection, you step down from the sidewalk and you can get run over by a minibus, there is not enough infrastructure, public spaces are not what I'd like, but I realize, that it´s a place that not only invites me to think, or to be constantly conscious of my surroundings as an architect. It makes me think as a user, as a person who came to this planet to find out what is happening around him and to experience it as a father, a son, an architect, as all those things, but mainly as an explorer. I began to reflect about where I come from, my father; an award winning scientist, my mother; goes off to India in search of her Guru. Then I start with this question of: Whose footsteps do I follow? My father's or my mother's? Because society always tells us: “Do one thing at a time, focus on this one thing and dive into the moment.” So I would ask: “Why can't I do a bit of both? Why can't I be more of a scientist like my father and more spiritual like my mother? Whom we love very much. And also having two professions; I was a drummer for Alex Syntek y la Gente Normal. Don´t laugh at this image, please. I played professionally for eleven years. We made four albums, we went on tour, and did it while simultaneously studying architecture. Another thing is that I didn't understand why society was beating me down with a stick; They would tell me: "If you are a musician, you can't study." I would go to school and my professors at the time would say: "Don't waste my time, I saw your video on MTV, I see you have a new album, and you come here and waste my time. You will never be an architect. This only increased my willpower to keep going. It made me... want it more, I wasn't angry at life, but I couldn't understand why so many people around me would say: “You can't do it, you can't do it, you can't do it.” And through all that, well, here we are. These are projects I developed when I began working as an architect after I started on my own, as a partner with two older architects: Isaac Broid and Miquel Adria. We worked on residential projects, then some work for the government, like the National Educational Library, some apartment buildings, and even some interiors for friends in the music business. But I realized after 3 years of working with these architects, who are very good friends of mine, I wanted to experiment a little more. I wanted to understand my own path. I wanted something that... every time I had new feeling like I could take a risk. I felt that I was in a comfort zone, and I particularly hate comfort zones, in all aspects, not just professionally. When something is too comfortable then there is something wrong, for me it means you have stopped growing. I wanted to escape from this plasticized being that didn't want to be infected with anything in life. I decide to break this partnership with Isaac and Miquel and open my own office, not with the idea of becoming an isolated architect, I open my office in order to keep experimenting, to keep in contagion with ideas, with plenty of ideas. In the case of this project that we won recently, the Tamayo Museum in Mexico City, where I invite a great friend: Bjarke Ingels, of BIG architecture in Denmark and we worked on the project for two weeks. I also want to talk about the risk of technological contagion: He was in Denmark; I was in Mexico, Skype 24 hours a day. We had two weeks to work on the contest, but we really worked a full month's worth: Because we finished in Mexico, sent the files. They worked on it, sent it back... in the end we created a very dynamic relationship with a great friend. It is a museum located in Atizapan, and there are also curious things in architecture: They invited us to do this contest and these diagrams that you see here are what we received from the client, together with a very big file, a bit neurotic, and they also gave us these architectural drawings with furniture. So they invite us to a contest where they were almost saying: "This is exactly what we want". Then we thought: "Why do they invite us to the contest? They would be better off just finding a contractor to build it." After working on many options, we came back to the original idea of: “Why don't we just give the client exactly what they want?” In which one of the most interesting proposals was that we opened this box. The program basically had an exhibition area, and the rest was storage. Then we thought: "Why don't we, or rather why should the user, the spectator arriving at the museum see only the exhibit area?" Why can't he watch as the truck arrives with the art as this is unloaded, unpacked and documented And finally, we made a project that is in progress today, with a skin, an exterior brick finish so that it could outwardly express a more interesting idea. This is a bit of how it works in place, and well, these images speak more about what we are expecting to see from the project as it is built for next year. This is obviously the entrance to Atizapan, in the State of Mexico. A large stage where the artists can also exhibit their work. And maybe also... create some shade so that the library, or workshops, can be covered. After these projects I begin to understand how important the client contagion is. There are some architects that sometimes just start to doodle or sketch when they are "listening" to the client, except they are not listening. It is as if the client is moving his lips but the architect already has an obsessed idea and is already sketching what he wants to do in a napkin. It is with this project in particular, that I began to understand, it was a house for a ballerina, that the architectural program almost doesn't change. In a particular house, it can have a larger bathroom, a smaller one, a bigger bedroom, a closer or farther kitchen. And the interesting part here was to sit down and understand the passion of this girl who was 19 at the time, well, I made the house for my client, a renovation and then he requested and extension upstairs. What you see here, in red, is the extension. My client said that he wanted his daughter to be independent upstairs, which to me was quite ironic so I told him: "If you want her to be independent, don't make her live upstairs from you, send her somewhere else in the world, not upstairs!" But anyway, talking to her I found out that she had a scholarship to study in Russia and I understood that the house had to express what she really wanted or where she really wanted to live. And we began a sort of dance, a choreography of two bodies. A house where, one of the wonderful benefits of living in Mexico, even though we sometimes complain that we don't have these super companies to work with like in other countries, it is very important for me to create a digital design and translate it to local manufacturing. So we took some sheet metal workers, that do crash repair on vehicles and don't have anything to do with architecture and we contaminated, through contagion, one profession with another profession for the finishing that I wanted for this house in particular. I talk about our office being more of a CSI in Mexico City than an architect's office, since we research enough to have the walls plastered with the information that we need, in order for us to understand exactly what the important elements are in order for the project to be justified, for it to have substance and not be just an idea, we don't accept a plain "I like it" or "I don't like it" or "the client likes it or not". These contagion strategies have paved the way for our office as it is today. As in the case of a project we did for Nestle, where the client invited us to make a tunnel, so that school children could arrive by bus and visit the chocolate factory, with some glass paneling so that nothing would fall on the production lines. And as we are invited to this project and we visit the factory, we realize that they had fallen short, that there was much more potential. And since we always work with an interdisciplinary team: sociologists, finance, graphic designers, industrial designers, We realized that there is no such thing as a chocolate museum in Mexico. And we proposed it to the client, who hadn't even invited us to propose anything outside their contest. We said: "Hey, Mexico doesn't have a chocolate museum, and Mexico invented the chocolate, The Aztecs invented it, the Spanish took it with them and gave it back to us as we know it." It was a great opportunity for Nestle to do a cultural cross-over. We showed them the project, in a very important part of Mexico City, connecting with Toluca. And the company's vice-president went to Switzerland, presented it and came back with both good and bad news: The good news is we where going to do the project! The bad news is that we had two and a half months to build it! So we went from "this" scale, to "this" scale, directly to "this" scale. We completed the project in two and a half months; I think we even beat the Chinese! And construction went sort of according to Murphy's law, everything that could go wrong, did, it even rained in the dry season. But we made it! Here is a sequence of images. Here the workers are happy celebrating the end of the project. And I can say that I virtually moved my office to the site to be able to finish on time. This is one of the projects I could take my daughter to, and being a neurotic dad. I was explaining: "Look honey, the detail in the stairs, look at everything.” And I proudly stepped out and asked my daughter: "What did you like the most?" She had some plastic cups in her hand and as we walked through the gift shop she had stuffed her cups full of chocolate and she said: "The gift shop, daddy!" She didn't even notice the architecture, just the chocolate! But anyway, this is what I imagined would happen as the children arrived in their school buses, to walk out and be immersed in a world of chocolate. I imagined that the children would think of Willy Wonka, or something like that. I thought: An entrance that would suggest a fantasy, something interesting. And not just for kids, but also recapitulating on how we have lost our sensibility; as we grow up and become adults, we become very boring. We lose lots of important and essential things of life. And I don't like to talk only about risks, I think that there is a lot to learn along the way. We have participated in contests and projects outside our country and I like to talk about when taking a risk is not enough, like this x-ray of a clavicle I broke trying to learn how to snowboard in Austria, I got a titanium screw. It doesn't mean that I never want to do Snowboarding again, I will keep on trying. What do we learn from all these life lessons? This is a project that I am very happy and grateful to have been invited to work on, we went to Ordos, China. There were 100 architects in Mongolia, imagine 100 men in black in the desert... each of us going to see our site... and even though there are particularly interesting projects, because there are 100 very talented architects, suddenly, the situation in Mongolia felt like being in a market: We had one table, with the work of 100 architects and our client would walk by with his friends, as saying: "Well, which project do you like? I can introduce you to the architect." So we were sitting there, on one hand happy to be in another part of the world, experimenting with architecture and on the other hand, feeling terrible because we were almost asked to stand up and talk about our project to see if one of the developer's friends would buy it. The result speaks for itself, as I was saying, I think that there are projects that are individually good, but that trouble me as a whole. And in the end, when you learn from these mistakes; you get the Contagious Pleasures, when you try to assemble the best possible team. We are a small office with around 20 architects, but we collaborate with several teams making a total of around 60 to 80 people, so we are able to give our client the best of these Contagious Pleasures and say: "We have a financial expert, a graphic designer and a sociologist looking over your project." And we can really create projects for different places in the world, understanding their geography, understanding their economic situation. About towers we have worked on, particularly skyscrapers, we have some pending contests. I am very proud because I finally come back to my country, to Mexico, to do the first two projects: a tower that we are doing in Monterrey, and in particular, this one in Paseo de la Reforma. Paseo de la Reforma is one of the most important avenues in Mexico City, an incredible zone that just changed the land use and we are creating a 52-storey, mixed use, skyscraper. One of the things I am most proud of is that we are changing a dead end street into a pedestrian street. So, for me, today it is not about what architecture can do for itself, it is about what architecture can do for society. This is how the tower will look. We start construction in May…here with some reflections of the City. What I was saying about the pedestrian access to the commercial area, always giving something in return. And finally, as an exercise for un-restraining the mind, for not stopping, even when we are not working. I like to think about things to come. I never got over the age of asking questions. I am 40 years old and still asking: Why doesn't this happen? Why don't we change that? We created a new company in which we are working on products and this is the first: a clear soccer ball, a see-through soccer ball. With the idea of expanding again or contaminating these ideas inside our minds, we are an architect, an industrial designer and a couple of clients from a project, who are now partners. And the idea was a ball that changes color if it goes out of bounds. It feels exactly like a ball with air, but this one has no air. I was preoccupied with the fact that soccer balls haven't changed, only the seams and the outer graphics have changed. And we wanted to do something out of polymers, a very interesting structure; it could have a GPS system, a pager, some cameras... it is technology that we are working on with some companies so that you can have the viewpoint of the ball. So that when you get the instant playback, you can see a point of view that you have never seen from the field. And I do this because I don't want to work in isolation, I don't believe in isolation, I don't believe in people who want to be alone, there might be some good examples, but in my case it doesn't work, I don't like isolation, I want to collaborate, I want to open myself up to the world as much as possible. I want to break more bones. I don't care about ending up in the hospital. I simply think that if you don't risk, you don't live. And finally, I want to close by saying that without contact or a certain contagion risk, living things don't last, they don't grow, they don't change in short: they don't live. Thank you very much.

Video Details

Duration: 19 minutes and 10 seconds
Country: Costa Rica
Language: Spanish (Spain)
Genre: None
Views: 414
Posted by: isaacsmeke on Jun 29, 2010

Michel Rojkind's lecture at TEDxpuravida 2010

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