Full interview at: RADDAR Revue Annuelle de Design / Design Annual Review no. 2 (2020), 192-213
Teaching Interior Design: A dialogue between Graeme Brooker and Javier Fernández Contreras, interviewed by Marco Costantini and Claire Favre Maxwell. Lausanne, December 17, 2019
Marco Costantini (MC): How do you define your practice to your first year students? How do you put words on this practice?
Javier Fernández Contreras (JFC): Our work focuses on repositioning the role of Interior Architecture in the construction of contemporaneity. In that sense, there are recurrent mantras that we repeat to our students at HEAD – Genève. These are critical times for the profession, its epistemology and agency. Nowadays interior spaces are laboratories of modernity: whether it is through renovation projects, temporary scenography or artistic installations, interiors have become an endless arena for the exploration of cultural, environmental and political agendas that transform the contemporary condition from within. In the early 20th century, a significant production of architectural discourse was related to urban planning and the territorial expansion of cities, a process that has left its mark on contemporary societies. Parallel to the institutionalisation of modern interiors by means of new department stores, international exhibitions and mass media, it was urban planning, associated with ideas of order and functionalism, which used to construct architectural discourse. Today, especially in the West, most buildings and urban environments have already been developed, and often have a heritage listing. Hence, the laboratory for architectural experimentation has shifted towards the transformation of interior spaces, both permanent and temporary. Whether in airports, museums, domestic spaces or retail facilities, all transformations in contemporary societies are linked to constantly changing interior spaces, while the facades of the buildings remain the same. Interiors are way more flexible and deregulated, changing much more rapidly according to mutations in contemporary societies. When it comes to practice, our agenda for interiors has always been public and explicit. Our department regularly engages in life-size projects that enable our students to transfer their ideas from speculation to reality. This is a pedagogy of action. With students on the BA and MA programmes, we have developed new concepts through real projects, always seeking to address, explore and circulate the agendas that articulate physical and mediated interiors. Projects recently developed by the Interior Architecture Department, in teams consisting of students, teachers and assistants, have included proposals presented at Designers’ Saturday in Langenthal, the Design Parade in Toulon and the Salone del Mobile in Milan, as well as collaborations with brand names such as Aesop, Bucherer and USM, and NGOs such as Hospice General and Caritas Geneva. This constant interaction with reality does not diminish its speculative condition, but rather creates a context of opportunity for teachers and students. We are a small team of around one hundred students on BA and MA programmes, plus thirty teachers and assistants, all practitioners in various fields from architecture to interior design, product design, cinema, digital media, theory, journalism, photography and ecology, to name a few. Our organisation is the institutional expression of the tension between academia and practice, between discourse and agency.
Graeme Brooker (GB): We are only a postgraduate institution. Our students, when they come to us, already have an undergraduate experience. When we first meet with them, we explore the range of the interior. The work that we will undertake with them is, at one end of this spectrum, about thinking very pragmatically, for instance the subject, the profession, about what it means to be called an interior designer or an interior architect. And on the other end of that bandwidth, we will talk to them about ideas, esoteric aspects such as the smell of a building and so on. We’ll explore intangible things that they may never have considered before. Then we talk to them about things like the room, about gender, about history, about theory, and about essentially how they might combine this work and develop their own voice. In the first year, we make this explicit through three phases of work: Proximities, Inhabitations and Identities. Proximities is all about learning from what’s around us, it’s about the buildings we reuse, it’s about understanding site and its physical and immaterial properties. Inhabitations is about social dimensions, humans, people. The third phase of year one is Identities: effectively surfaces and people. There we work specifically with material identities but also in what constitutes human behaviour, what it means to be a person in space, etc. In the first year we deal with the broad range of the interior because we always describe it as something that is very open. At the same time it has the capacity to be narrow and focused but it also has this propensity to open itself up to all kinds of areas and disciplines. In the second year the students undertake their thesis in a specifically situated platform of their choice in order to make explicit their research and practice.
Claire Favre Maxwell (CFM): Can you tell us more about this relationship between the outside and the inside? Your teaching seems to confine you to the inside and yet both are so intimately linked. How do you deal with this notion with your students?
BOOKS /// Javier F. Contreras. Manifesto of Interiors: Thinking in the Expanded Media [Geneva: HEAD – Publishing, 2021] /// Javier F. Contreras. The Miralles Projection: Thinking and Representation in the Architecture of Enric Miralles. [New York: Applied Research + Design Publishing, 2020] /// Javier F. Contreras, Youri Kravtchenko, Arjen Oosterman, and Lilet Breddels, eds. Herbarium of Interiors. HEAD – Genève & India Mahdavi. [Amsterdam: Archis-Volume, 2020] /// Javier F. Contreras. Fragmentos de Planta y Espacio. Sistema Diédrico en Enric Miralles [Madrid: Ediciones Asimétricas, 2018] /// INTERVIEWS /// “Depuis Rue Las Cases. A Conversation with India Mahdavi.” Interview by Javier F. Contreras. In India Mahdavi, edited by Chronicle Chroma [Los Angeles: Chronicle Books, 2021] /// Javier F. Contreras, and Graeme Brooker. “The Future is Interior and Interiorised.” Interview by Marco Costantini, and Claire Favre Maxwell. RADDAR no. 2 (2020), 192-213. /// Irma Boom. “Within Pages, Beyond Books.” Interview by Javier F. Contreras, and Lilet Breddels. In Herbarium of Interiors, edited by J. F. Contreras, Y. Kravtchenko, A. Oosterman, L. Breddels [Amsterdam: Archis-Volume, 2020], 42-47. /// Javier F. Contreras. “Architecture d’intérieur. Espace et Communication.” Interview by Nic Ulmi. In IN MY HEAD, edited by Julie E. Julliard [Geneva: HEAD – Genève, 2020], 240-243. /// Jean-Pierre Greff, and Javier F. Contreras. “Dialogue sur l’enseignement de l’architecture d’intérieur.” Interview by Roberto Zancan. In L’architecture par l’intérieur, edited by Roberto Zancan [Geneva: MetisPresses, 2018], 185-205. /// ESSAYS /// Javier F. Contreras. “El Croquis Night: Excursus into Nocturnal Obliteration in Architectural Media.” Interiority. Vol 4 No. 2 (2021): 181-190. /// Javier F. Contreras. “Tactile and Reflective Conditions in the Architecture of Marie-José Van Hee.” In Marie-José Van Hee Architecten: More Home, More Garden, edited by Hilde Peleman, and Katrien Vandermarliere [Ghent: Copyright Slow Publishing, 2019], 217-229. /// Javier F. Contreras. “Différences de Perception: Le Chablais Lémanique.” In Prises de vue. Un paradigme pour l’observation du paysage, edited by Michael Jakob [Geneva: Métis Presses, 2019], 129-146. /// Javier F. Contreras. “Tactile and Reflective Conditions: Marie-José Van Hee’s House Declercq.” BITACORA Arquitectura no. 39 (2018): 134-139. /// Javier F. Contreras. “Dibujo y Repetición: Presencia Manual de Enric Miralles en la Planta del Ayuntamiento de Utrecht.” RA Revista de Arquitectura no. 19 (2017): 97-104. /// Javier F. Contreras, and José María Sánchez García. “Concentration as Program, Emptiness as Flexibility: an Idea of Space.” In Passion for the Built Environment (Perspectives in Metropolitan Research no. 2), edited by Gesa Ziemer [Berlin: Jovis Verlag, 2016], 98-106. /// Javier F. Contreras. “La Tectónica de lo Aéreo: Enric Miralles y la Vicisitud de lo Climático.” ZARCH: Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies in Architecture and Urbanism no. 4 (2015): 22-35. /// Javier F. Contreras. “Plan Libre vs. Plan Miralles.” In Massilia 2011. Annuaire d’études Corbuséennes, edited by Josep Quetglas [Paris-Marseille: Fondation Le Corbusier, Editions Imbernon, 2011], 82-91. /// Javier F. Contreras. “Océanos de Arena, Ciudades del Petróleo.” Revista Arquitectura no. 361 (Autumn 2010): 88-91. /// Javier F. Contreras. “El Organicismo Expandido.” CIRCO no. 153. Madrid: M.R.T. Coop, 2009. /// Javier F. Contreras, Gabriel N. Duarte, and Roberto Gª Caballero. “It’s Not Just Grass! Subverting Legal Planning and the Reinvention of the Dutch Process-Landscape Agenda 2000 & the C2751.” In 306090 vol.8, Autonomous Urbanism, edited by Alex Duval, and Kjersti Monson [New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2005], 21-30.
Javier Fernández Contreras (Granada, 1982) is an architect, critic and the dean of the Department of Interior Architecture at HEAD – Genève. His work explores the relationship between architecture, representation and media, with a specific focus on the role of interiors in the construction of contemporaneity. Contreras studied architecture at TU Delft and ETSA Madrid, where he graduated with a Master’s degree in 2006, and completed a PhD in architectural theory in 2013, summa cum laude. In 2015 he was a finalist in the 10th arquia/tesis competition with his PhD thesis The Miralles Projection: Thinking and Representation in the Architecture of Enric Miralles. He has taught architectural design at different institutions, including ETSAM in Spain, XJTLU in China and ETH Zurich in Switzerland. Contreras is the author of the books Fragmentos de Planta y Espacio (Ediciones Asimétricas, 2018), The Miralles Projection (Applied Research + Design Publishing, 2020), Manifest of Interiors: Thinking in the Expanded Media (HEAD – Publishing, 2021), and co-editor of Herbarium of Interiors (Archis-Volume, 2020), a special collaboration between HEAD – Genève, India Mahdavi, and Volume magazine. His critical essays have been published in various books and specialised journals, including Massilia Annuaire des Études Corbuséennes, Marie-José Van Hee Architecten, Perspectives in Metropolitan Research, 306090, CIRCO, Drawing Matter, Bitácora, RA Revista de Arquitectura.
This website is an index of selected writings.