Hidden Anthropology Gems IV: a conversation with Hidden Architecture

Welcome to the fourth post of the series. On this occasion, Ricardo R. Ontillera Sánchez, curator of Hidden Anthropology Gems, has gone far from the silo of social anthropologists to have an interdisciplinary conversation about the concept of ‘hidden’ with the editors of the journal Hidden Architecture. Hidden Architecture was created in February 2015 between Madrid and Liverpool by Alberto Martínez García and Héctor Rivera Bajo. In its manifesto, Hidden Architecture ‘could claim undoubtedly that Media has determined over the last decades what is interesting in Architecture and what is not, tracing the main inclinations beyond technical, urban or social affairs’. As an opposition and resistance movement, Hidden Architecture is ‘an attempt to make visible the difference in architectural practice and provide a deserved value to certain projects and concepts subtracted from the academic narrative’.

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1) Ricardo: Let’s start with the name of your blog, Hidden Architecture. To be honest, for our series of Hidden Anthropology Gems we came up with an original idea, but your blog gave us a hint to name it…When and why did you come up with the idea of the blog? Why Hidden?

Alberto and Héctor: We started with the blog over five years ago. We had talked previously about the boredom with most of the digital publications on architecture, which replicated the same content at almost the same time without any critical sense. Starting Hidden Architecture was our way of expressing resistance to these mainstream aims, first in an almost intimate way among us, and then little by little as we were able to reach more people through the different social networks we started working with.

It is disturbing to realize to what extent the media determine the knowledge that reaches the masses. In our discipline, architecture, publications decide in a very deep way what kind of practices are valid and accepted and which are not. All this without developing a real exercise of criticism. We do not know very well whose interests this serves, but it is obvious that beyond the official discourse there are many practices at least as valid as those that construct the occidentalist historiography of architecture. Our work as editors of Hidden Architecture is to try to give visibility to works or architects that have been displaced to the periphery in order to complete the academic discourse.

Hidden Architecture home page (https://hiddenarchitecture.net/) © Hidden Architecture 2021

2) Ricardo: One of the aims of our anthropological series is to show the huge amount of non-English literature to our students and how to cope with this diversity of languages when doing fieldwork abroad. Not only do we face translation issues but also with the contradictions of promoting these works while writing our blog mainly in English. We always include non-English literature to help the reader find and read those works. What is your view on this issue? Do you face similar problems?

Alberto and Héctor: We understand this issue quite differently to you. We want to reach as many people as possible, whether they speak English or not and within our possibilities trying to shift mainstream architectural opinion towards a different conversation, less based in visual aspects and more related with the city, the public space and domesticity. To achieve these goals, we usually work with the same strategies as the main architectural magazines to engage readers with the projects we want to show. And we use English as well as Spanish as the main communication tool. Rejecting English would shoot ourselves in the foot.

On the other hand, we constantly work with the notion of ‘periphery’ as an ideological concept. Geographical periphery, gender periphery, ideological periphery. That could be our analogy to your problems with non-English literature. Sometimes we find it extraordinarily difficult to get information about projects that are located in areas or fields that have not been absorbed by mainstream media and our access to some information is limited. This might be our contradiction with Hidden Architecture since, many times when the architect has already passed away, we need someone before us to have researched and collected some information. In that case, our goal is to broaden the audience for these projects.

Furthermore, the concept of “hidden” sometimes generates contradictory situations. Each one of us perceives the world, in this case the architectural discipline, from social and cultural structures that have been inculcated in us since we were born. This obviously causes a partial and very relative perception of reality. Some facts may be very evident and well-known to a certain social group, but remain veiled for another. Sometimes, to determine what architect or work can be the object of our study is a very complex starting point, because it confronts us with our own preconceived idea about what surrounds us, and also with what we do not know, always thinking that any other person could have totally different or opposite perceptions concerning their own cultural base.

Global view of the Project Atlas developed by Hidden Architecture (https://hiddenarchitecture.net/atlas/map/) © Hidden Architecture 2021

3) Ricardo: Talking about different perceptions and the difficulties to find some resources, there are occasions in which we, as anthropologist doing fieldwork, find local materials that are vital for our research. Sometimes these books, but also videos and other audio-visual resources, have been hidden from the mainstream view because they were done by an unknown author or by someone without “formal” qualifications. Is this happening in architecture as well? Is there any kind of traditional or historical architecture with similar issues regarding the authorship?

Alberto and Héctor: As far as we know, and if we look at the “modern” period of humanity, that is, from the Renaissance onwards, we believe authorship, both in architectural projects and history or theory books, is well documented and we almost always know their author, or at least, the movement they belong to. A different question would be the one about vernacular architecture, or even the “academic” of pre-Renaissance periods, where in most cases the concepts of authorship and work are much more blurred, and the practice of building architecture used to be a deeply collective process.

What seems problematic to us in terms of architectural criticism and history is the fact that writers decide what to include or exclude. On many occasions, the critics themselves are architects who carry out work and use architectural analysis to reaffirm their own work. This is logical and legitimate, but it makes architects with dissenting practices or those more difficult to classify disappear from the original historiography, or even the practices of authors who, for whatever reason, align themselves on different fronts.

On occasion, very talented architects with a brilliant work have been completely erased from official accounts precisely because of their failure to adhere to the predominant trends. As in the rest of the human disciplines, the “official” history, that is, the one that is taught and learned as ideological indoctrination, is always the history of the victors. The works of architecture that are more difficult to classify into a particular style, at least in those that dominate in their physical and temporal context, normally disappear from the discourse without giving the option of remaining present in the work of later generations.

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