“The current architectural trend is for the customization of shapes and materials”
Victor Marquez is director of Mexican architectural firm VMA. This highly qualified, hugely talented designer, who is constantly on the lookout for new inspiration, shares his thoughts on a sector that is continually reinventing the rules of convention as well as those of the industry.
His first emotional encounter with architecture was called “Habitat 67”, a housing complex in Montreal, Canada featuring individual units stacked up like building blocks and designed by architect Moshe Safdie in 1960. “I found a photo of Habitat 67 in a book I swiped from my parents’ bookshelf, Victor reminisces. It was at that precise moment that I decided I was going to play with blocks when I grew up, too.”
Could you tell us a little about your background?
In my opinion, architecture has to focus on much wider social issues than simply design or architectural engineering. That is what inspired me to leave Mexico after completing my architecture degree and to head to Pennsylvania to do a Masters in design and technology, followed by business studies in Wharton, urban planning and engineering in Paris, and sociology and history in New York, culminating with a doctorate in science and technology, also completed in New York. Today, I divide my time between creating buildings and carrying out research on the social and societal role of architecture
Where do you glean your inspiration for the work you do at VMA?
There is a clear distinction between design and architecture. Today, architecture is more about meeting utilitarian needs than expressing artistic ideas; it is governed by the same market forces as the industrial sectors. That is why one day, just like that, I decided to close all my architecture books and go looking for inspiration elsewhere, turning to more current and concrete sources: my travels. When I spot a building on my travels, I never know who was behind its design, nor which architectural movement inspired it – I form an opinion simply based on what I see before me. But I’m not alone in making decisions, of course. There are a dozen of us at the firm, and we all put our heads together when working on projects.
Which architects and designers, past or present, are your main influences?
I admire the philosophy and work of Peter Zumthor, Enric Miralles, Santiago Calatrava – the man behind several magnificent buildings in Valencia –, Francisco Mangado… I could go on! I also learnt a great deal working alongside Moshe Safdie, Eero Saarinen and Kevin Roche. I learnt the importance of real estate with the legendary John Portman, and the essence of design with my mentor, Peter McCleary. I consider myself extremely lucky to have crossed paths with all these great thinkers.
What do you think the next big trends will be in the architecture and design fields?
I think we’re beginning to move away from “architecture for architecture’s sake” and that buildings are increasingly starting to reflect the unique and personal style of the designer and end- users. I see a future where architectural properties will be seen and sold as luxury consumer goods. We’ll no longer say “How many Tiffany pieces have you got?” but “How many Zaha Hadid creations do you own?” People will be able to stroll around building material outlets like they stroll around a shopping centre, finding goods to suit all tastes. Maybe we’ll even see the arrival of a new kind of retail outlet packed with photos of architectural developments, and where people will go to “buy” their architect!
How do you decide which “raw materials” to work with?
We are obsessed with one thing: durability. Whenever we build a property, it is with a view to seeing it standing for many years to come. When we work on a museum, for example, we are keen for it to age well and to retain its elegance as the years go by.
In the same vein, how important is flooring when working on an architectural project?
Flooring is the first thing we choose when working on a project, and it represents one of the key decisions in terms of design. With each day that passes we are becoming increasingly demanding as regards the aesthetic, technical and environmental properties of the flooring we choose. Today, we particularly favour brands whose floor coverings offer a wide variety of designs, materials and options. At the end of the day, if I had just one word to sum up the future of architecture, it would be “customisation”!
What is your professional opinion on Gerflor floor coverings?
We have been using them for many years. The competition is stiff, but Gerflor remains our benchmark brand for projects that demand excellent quality right across the board: subtle and original designs, strict hygiene standards and outstanding acoustic comfort.