Pancho Guedes, Fluid Forms beyond the Utopia
Amancio Guedes, known as Pancho Guedes was a portuguese architect living in Mozambique. He distinguished himself by an architecture mixing his personal influences and his artist’s work on curves and angles.
Artistic process and symbolism
Amancio Guedes was an architect born in 1925 in Portugal. Though he was born in Lisbon, he spent most of his life in Mozambique, which was then a Portuguese colony. The advent of the Estado Novo, the authoritarian corporatist regime of the Second Portuguese Republic, had established a policy of occupation of the colonies that favored immigration from the mainland. As a result, Mozambique’s settler population increased from 30,000 in 1930 to 200,000 in the early 1970s. The family of Amancio Guedes took advantage of this exceptional regime and settled there in the early 1930s. After having spent a part of his studies in South Africa, Pancho Guedes came back in 1950 in Lourenço Marques, capital of Portuguese Mozambique.
Amancio Guedes developed his architectural practice through painting and sculpture. The buildings he designed must result from a total architectural immersion that he theorized over the years. According to Guedes, the architect, in his choice of forms, must have the same freedom as a painter or a sculptor. The architecture must create strong and symbolic images associating an emotional and spatial message in the manner of the pyramids of Egypt. This architecture of the evocation expressing itself by the form, is accompanied by the will to give to the buildings a recognizable presence in the urban space.
An architectural idiom with multiple ramifications
To design his architecture, Amancio Guedes mixed his personal culture with external influences. He was inspired by the aesthetics and freedom of the curved lines of Art Nouveau. His work on forms is notably fed by the surrealist painters like Dalí and de Chirico. But he is also influenced by the curvilinear dry stone walls of Zimbabwe and the great murals of Mozambique. This eclectic mix contributes to Guedes’ architectural language.
He constructs his buildings as hollowed out sculptures, integrating them into the landscape as a painter would do while continuing his brushstrokes.
The superimposition of angular or curved forms gives rhythm to the interior spaces as well as the exterior. He creates sequences of inflated and deflated spaces indoors, and outdoors creates unique and recognizable buildings through variations in height and shape.
Visual imagination and curved shapes
The Saipal Bakery is a good example of the evocative visual power contained in Guedes’ architecture. The Saipal Bakery was the headquarters and factory of the Lourenço Marques Baker’s cooperative. The building was designed around the machinery layouts supplied by the German manufacturers of the ovens and other equipment. The bakers liked the fact that their building took the shape of a huge Portuguese loaf. However, in reality the shape was found to be based on two parabolic arches, allowing for the least amount of structural support possible and thus generating large open spaces. The intersection of the arches and the pillars in the courtyard form large shapes, like figures, adding to the symbolism of the building.
The curved forms, reminiscent of some of the characteristics of Gaudi’s architecture, are very prominent in the work of Pancho Guedes, but we should not forget the way he reinterpreted vertical elements in his compositions, whether it is the pillars and structural columns that seem to escape, the chimneys with their naive shapes or the facades with their sharp angles. His use of color is also notable in his creations, the combination between white plaster and the orange coming from the earth participates in an architecture connected to its environment, far from an exotic creation. Guedes’ work is the result of the architect’s own critical thinking, associated with a mixture of colors, local materials and influences.
From drawn architecture to built architecture
His drawings, plans, sections and compositions are marked by his interest in forms, and are another way of emancipating himself from architecture as a necessarily constructed discipline. However, of his 500 projects, a good part was built, making Guedes an architect-builder emancipating himself from the utopia of his projects, as a great sculptor can be.
Despite a certain lack of recognition, due to the location of his built projects and a very westernized vision of world architecture, he participated in the first Team 10 meeting, although he remained very much behind the other architects. In 1975, the consequences of the Carnation Revolution facilitated internal events in Mozambique, and the country gained its independence. Pancho Guedes was forced to leave Mozambique with nearly 250,000 other Portuguese, and lived in South Africa and Portugal. The majority of his achievements are in Mozambique, but some are also in Angola (another former Portuguese colony), South Africa and Portugal.
It is important to place most of his work in the context of an artificial capital created by the colonization, and whose master plan was made from Lisbon. Before becoming Maputo, the city was in constant expansion and allowed some flexibility in the realization of Guedes’ projects. Although the means were limited, the architect was able to take advantage of a colonial regime that favored the Portuguese. However, Pancho Guedes was aware of this and formed a loyal team of local workers and designers, to enable him to carry out his projects in this favorable regime. He established bridges between his diverse influences and his two cultures, making his architecture a unique experience. His eclecticism and his break with the movimiento moderno may have brought him closer to the ideas of the postmodern movement that will emerge a few years after its heyday.
Stiloguedes building gallery
Stiloguedes is my most idiosyncratic style – my royal family as it were. It is a bizarre and fantastic family of buildings with spikes and fangs, with beams tearing into the spaces around them, invented as if some parts are about to slip off and crashing down, with convulsive walls and armoured lights. The plans of the Stiloguedes buildings are simple, quite straightforward and functional. It is the sections that are contorted, decorated and full of exaggerations. It is the sections and their reflections on the facades that are the architecture. They stretch the mysterious relationship between plan, section and facade and turn these works into strange apparitions.
Smiling Lion, O Leão Que Ri, 1958
The story of the Smiling Lion which does show how it came about is told by the drawings and paintings that I have done of the nine turns it took to make the lion smile. The Smiling Lion has six flats, a ground floor for parking, and a roof where servants used to live under undulating shells and behind parapets covered with relief murals in triangulated geometric patterns painted in soft oranges, whites and blacks. The forecourt is contained by the rows of bases and the concrete balls and trees, which the Municipal gardener kindly planted in the exact axis of each second base. The body of the lion rests on the bases which are purposely built askew. The verandahs which are contained by lateral walls appear to be on the point of slipping down to go crashing into the forecourt below. The service stairs are screened by what appears to be a soft melting form. The balustrade of the main stairs landing is a bunch of weapons and shields out of my early paintings of ships. One particular painting the Pirate Ship depicts the weapons which were afterwards to find their way into the balustrade.
Prometheus is a most strange apartment block. It is mostly cantilevered from a central row of pillars and appears to be top heavy and precariously poised. It stands on rockers that resemble a huge bed for some gigantic crankshaft. It is my first built misinterpretation of Picasso’s drawings and paintings for huge sculptures of around 1928.
Otto Barbosa office building
Nucleo de Arte
O Nucleo de Arte was an art club. The club had a small plot of ground quite near to the centre of the city and we wanted to build to avoid renting premises. I only had the model made later then I gave up building the art club. Ten or fifteen years later I worked on that idea again. This time as a series of sculptures made from some fat steps of Brazilian hardwood which came from a building I was altering and additioning.