Filipe Magalhães, Ana Luisa Soares, and Ahmed Belkhodja are the architects behind the ‘naïve’ architecture practice Fala Atelier. Meaning ‘informal conversation’ in Portuguese, the practice is known for translating architectural ideas into captivating images: carefully articulated tools which generate and shape the spaces they work in.
Anna Rowell spoke to Fala Atelier about their imaginative and intelligent young practice.
Anna Rowell: You define yourself as a ‘naïve architecture practice’. What does ‘naivety’ mean in your practice and your physical and visual outputs?
FA: We believe naivety is a state of mind. We love architecture, mostly whimsical architecture, and we like to take risks. We are not fighting to do something right or wrong, we just enjoy what we do.
AR: As an emerging architecture practice founded less than five years ago, did you set out with a specific kind of identity you wanted to create for yourself?
FA: Not really. We do what we do because we’ve always been doing it, and not with a hidden agenda. Now that our production is more consistent, we are trying to understand where we come from and where we are heading, but it was never planned in a laboratory. We are in the process of producing our first publication and it has been quite interesting to “study” our own work as editors and to understand how to present it as a small oeuvre. We are looking back at everything we produced so far. I think in a few months we might be able to answer your question more comprehensively…
Our “visual style” is the way we best express our ideas. This can be defined as dry black and white line drawings alongside intuitive scenarios of inhabited spaces. Possible lifestyles inside abstract rooms. They are bold and precise. They also have a certain sex-appeal. It happens quite naturally.
This gives us an identity but it mostly helps us to communicate. At the end of the day, what we really care about are the spaces we produce, the realisation of our architectural ideas. Plans and images are a means to an end. We know that many people now tend to identify us through our collages and plans, and that might be a distraction sometimes, but we don’t mind: quid pro quo.
AR: Many of your images rely on collage to convey spatial ideas. How does this stitching of fragments and references within an image become a tool to stimulate physical interventions in the built environment: an assembled collage of inhabitation, narratives, physical built form, context, and site?
FA: Our architecture is fragmented yet absolute. As a start, we define a very clear narrative for each project, even in small scale renovations. These ideas can be about unity or fragmentation, but they are always complex additive systems.
The way we produce architecture informs the images we create, and in the same way, the images we create sculpts the architecture we produce. The books on our shelves fuel new narratives: stimulating creativity, forms, details, colours. Artistic references are merged into generic irrelevant spaces in our projects. Rousseau was purely naïve, and Hockney depicted, in a vague and intriguing way, a certain human condition via the LA lifestyle. Everything has already been invented -- what we do is mix a new cocktail of existing ingredients.
AR: Collages are inherently abstracted layers of information, yet it is possible to infer scale, materiality and spatial hierarchies from your illustrations…
FA: We don’t like the word “illustration”, or even the word “image”, to describe our collages. We would prefer, maybe, “portraits”. Images and drawings complement and contradict one another. Together they unfold each project as a series of visual metaphors. Collages are impressionist expressions, drawings are frozen rhetoric: rational and unbearable sometimes in their seriousness.
AR: Precise renderings often communicate resolved ideas explicitly with no room for interpretation, whereas different audiences will inevitably read your images in different ways. Do you use these playful images as a tool to push certain boundaries, stimulate new ideas and take risks — a reaction to the current trajectory of architectural visualisation?
FA: Indeed. These images are somehow disconnected from reality. They show more than a room or an elevation. They are speculative, because most of the time we don’t even know who will inhabit the spaces we propose. They are also far from reality, since their geometry is not accurate and their textures and materials are imperfect representations. In this way they contain less resolved information than a render, but actually express more information by not merely representing the space, but conveying the ideas behind the space. In this way they push the project forward on an architectural level, not on a “finishings and photoshop filters” level.
Imprecise and speculative images are stronger tools than closed, photorealistic representations. Their uncertainties generate a necessary limbo: they create a distance from reality. Collages quote, steal and combine references while searching for beauty in a blunt and naive way. Fascination arises from this process of visual construction: the manipulation of fragments in a world dense with references. Intellectual in intention, the collages are a fragile and humble representational exercise, the marriage of architecture’s rationality with the inconsistent beauties of reality.
AR: Your images often depict inhabitation and occupation, which seem to anticipate certain narratives. Have you had any surprises with how people end up using the spaces you create in way you hadn’t intended?
FA: Yes, sometimes. Some are much more interesting than we imagined, others the opposite. The speculations allow us to anticipate certain scenarios and test space with representations of its form, finishes, elements, etc. Nevertheless, the idea is the same: we defined a canvas, and the users are now the actors of their own play…
To see more of Fala Atelier's work, click here.