Rafael Viñoly, about architecture


When Mr. Viñoly designs a building, he first looks at its function. Then he tries to create a plan that fits the needs of the users, with innovative elements added in. “The product is really the experience itself,” he says. “It’s not fancy packaging.”

Mr. Viñoly says that he doesn’t aim for consistency; he tries to design each building for a particular context. A single new structure affects a city’s culture, he says, “from sports to urban planning to transportation, and makes your life either better or worse.”

Mr. Viñoly likes to think of the historical life of his projects. “Architecture is the only media you cannot turn off,” he says. “You can go to the movies or not go to the movies, and you can read a book or not read a book, but with [buildings] you don’t have a way out.”

That leaves architects with a serious responsibility, which is why he thinks that members of his profession should act more like translators than scriptwriters—they should relay a vision for a city, not impose their own style. “Everybody gets offended when I say that,” he says, but he argues that architects who try to put their own trademark on all of their buildings ignore the fact that “what you’re working on has absolutely nothing to do with this universality of marketing.”

Architects also need to be more imaginative, Mr. Viñoly says, even while being more mindful of the ways the structure will actually be used. He recalls judging an architecture competition for a railway project in Saudi Arabia, and the winning architect was the only one who submitted a design for a viaduct. The others, he says, focused on an elaborate entrance.

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