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Discussion with Diego del Castillo

ImageDiscussion with Diego del Castillo
We are starting a new feature here at 3Dallusions; we are going to interview members of our site and the CG community in order to get to know one another better. To start the show we are interviewing Diego del Castillo a.k.a. ‘ddelcast’.

TheAllusionist: Diego why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself, I brief bio as it were.

Ddelcast: My name is Diego del Castillo, and this is my story: I graduated first of my class from the “Universidad Ricardo Palma” in Lima, Peru (that’s were I am originally from) with a “Bachelor in Architecture” degree. There I have a professional license and practiced architecture as a partner in a very small office for about 1-½ years and then by myself for about 2 years. During that time I entered several competitions and won the design for the “School of Human Medicine of ICA”. I also placed in 5 other competitions. I taught at my Alma matter during the time I had my own practice. After realizing that I wasn’t making money since architects in Peru are seriously underpaid and that people didn’t had the money or the will to do the things I designed (Lima is a very “closed” and traditional society) I decided to go to Graduate School. I went to Cornell University and studied under Nasrine Seraji and John Zissovicci and among starchitects like Glenn Murcutt. At Cornell I also taught first year design studio with Gaelle Breton for a year and realized that teaching at ivy schools is more about politics and power than actually teaching so I decided to go back to practicing architecture. I got hired as an architectural designer by a big architecture firm based in Princeton NJ, which is where I work and live today. I first got interested in CG when I was about 17 years old when my uncle who was an architect showed me a copy of 3dStudio 2.0 (I think it ran on D.O.S.). He lent me the copy (he didn’t see the advantage of having it so he did not used it and he found it too difficult to use) and I have used it to dream of architecture ever since. I am very interested in how this medium influences our way of designing, and I am not talking about it in Eisenmann and Lynn’s terms (where they surrender control) but more in terms of it being a medium in itself. One of my favorite media authors is Marshall McLuhan and I believe he is right in saying that the medium is the message. That is why I find that talking about how photo realism is changing the way in which we do and understand architecture (we almost no longer need plans to understand a project) or how Ghery’s method of designing is streamlining the generation of complex geometries (which Jorn Utzon used, drew and calculated with an old calculator for the Sydney opera house by the way) is more interesting than talking about the “cool shape” that was created by pressing this or that command or how morphing and animation is a method to find shapes (morphing is NOT exclusively a digital process since cine-art has been using it since the 30’s) As you have seen, I am extremely critical of everybody else’s work as well as mine (since I by heart am still a teacher). Among other things, I am also a water sport maniac. I windsurf, surf, water ski etc. although I barely do these thing now due to lack of time. I am 29 (almost 30 now), married and have 2 boys, one is 2 years old and the other is 10 months old.

TheAllusionist: Can you give us a description of the firm you work for, the project types, and your role/job duties?

Ddelcast: I work at Hillier Architecture a firm that has around 300 employees; we have offices in New York City, Princeton, Philadelphia, Washington and Dallas. We do all kinds of architectural building types from K-12 to Hospitals and Laboratory Buildings. We don’t have a defined style and we like to think that we celebrate our culture’s eclecticism by designing buildings that range from traditional to high tech. I am an Architectural Designer on that firm and I am in charge of the design of the whole building from overall shape to interior and exterior finishes. The firm is organized by studios that specialize on specific building types. I work on the Sci-tech studio were we design mostly laboratory buildings or MEP intensive buildings but I have also designed a Science Center for a school and a police station so it is not unusual to get loaned to other studios for specific projects.

TheAllusionist: It is obvious you have a strong architectural background, so I will start off with some architectural specific questions. Firstly, what architects of the past do you admire most. Secondly, what contemporary architects to you respect or appreciate the most?

Ddelcast: I really admire Le Corbusier, just because he is responsible for all that we do today in architecture in one way or another. He easily captured the spirit of his time and managed to create and architecture that evoked that. He thought of architecture as a process of the mind, a process of reason, rather that just a way of form-making and self-expression. I also really like Carlo Scarpa and Guiseppe Terragni’s architecture. They all have in common the fact that form was the result of a process of thought rather than and arbitrary process. Their buildings usually have an underlying logic for their shape and form. Architects of Today I most admire and appreciate: Rem Koolhaas (he is simply the best). I also have to mention that one of the persons I admire the most is Marcel Duchamp. I like to think that his work influences mine. I consider him the most influential genius of today’s state of academia and art. He is the master of irony and subtle (and not so subtle) critique.

TheAllusionist: Another two part question. Firstly, what style or genre of architecture do you hold in highest regard. Secondly, if your colleagues where to describe your style, what would it be?

Ddelcast: I really don’t think of architecture as being style driven. That way of characterizing architecture is dead or will be soon. As I said before, architecture has to respond to certain internal and external influences and then challenge them. I really don’t care in which style it is clad. If I have to answer that question I will have to say that I tend to favor the modernist approach and just say ‘less is more”. In today’s world where construction and steel prices and outrageous, I’d rather make my building have interesting and challenging spaces than spending all the money in ornament. I always say: If it’s an ornament, it better be part of the structure or it’s out. For the way in which my colleagues will describe my style I really don’t know. They will probably say I am a contemporary modernist…maybe.

TheAllusionist: Are there any particular materials or colors you like to work with?

Ddelcast: No, wait maybe…mmmm…maybe not. TheAllusionist: What is your favorite project that you worked on? Ddelcast: All of them are my favorites although I must confess that I am currently working on my first big building (300,000 sq.ft ½ parking ½ laboratories) and I am really, really enjoying it.

TheAllusionist: If you could chose a client and influence what the project would be, who and what would your choices be?

Ddelcast: I would choose a rich artist as a client and ask him if I could build him his house.

TheAllusionist: In what direction do you see the science and art of architecture going?

Ddelcast: I think (hope) that we are developing an acute awareness of the fact that architecture in about program and how those program pieces interact to create environments than about form and art. Many of today’s architects, especially Rem Koolhaas, are teaching us to understand architecture in terms of program and how it responds to external and internal stimuli and that architecture can be born by rationalizing those different structures. Mies said form follows function… without going to extremes (one has to acknowledge that there is and arbitrary factor in the decisions one takes) I agree ninety percent with that.

TheAllusionist: When all is said and done what social influence or statement do you want your body of work to make/achieve?

ImageDdelcast: At least I hope that my work makes a statement about the way we perceive space and architecture. I think that all projects should be critical about themselves and not to take themselves too seriously. Irony for me is an essential tool for architects to use as a way to critique themselves and their body of work (something I think is essential to allow a dialogue with other’s critiques). Architecture should be a comment on the “spirit of our time” or Zeitgeist. It should help people understand the complexities of our world and allow them to learn and evolve from them.

TheAllusionist: What are some of your favorite examples of architecture.

Ddelcast: Villa Savoye, Villa Boreaux, the Farnsworth house etc. I think Residential architecture has a lot of power and allows more freedom to experiment since it is has a smaller scale and allows one to have more control.

TheAllusionist: How has computer technology affected your design process? Do you still sketch and go through rolls of tracing paper?

Ddelcast: I only sketch to make other people understand my ideas and to talk about architecture, I almost (never) sketch for myself. When I was at school I used to design by making models and diagrams. With computer technologies I can still do that (minus blade cuts). I have found in CG a perfect medium to understand and visualize what one is doing. Many times one has an idea that seems great and when you actually do it, it seems “not so great”. With CG, that happens almost instantly and with practice one starts to learn almost by instinct which ideas will work and which won’t. I think that it allows developing a kind of 3d mindset. I still know many architects that need to see their ideas in plan to understand if they are good ideas or not. CG has allowed me to understand all that before starting to draw; it has helped me to think in three dimensions, to put myself in the place of the user.

TheAllusionist: What software packages do you keep in your digital toolbox and how do you use them?

Ddelcast: I do 3d with 3d Studio and I use it to design the interior and exterior of the building as well as the relationship of its pieces. I use Micro GDS for drafting and Photoshop for everything else although I am very bad at Photoshop.

TheAllusionist: How do you see the marriage of architecture and computer technology progressing and can you foresee any offspring?

Ddelcast: The major problem of the marriage between CT and architecture is that it is too easy to be engulfed by the seductiveness of the 3d image. I know designers that design the whole building from one point of view as a way of form making (which ironically often is a “bird’s eye view”). This yields to buildings that have uneven aesthetic compositions I also know someone that brilliantly used that as a critique to digital architecture. You also see many architects that claim to be “experimenting with form and digital architecture” (such as Gregg Lynn or Peter Eisenmann) but in reality they are just toying with the software. I think the term digital architecture is being misused since the fact that architecture is going digital engenders a series of phenomenological consequences (just by the fact of “being” in digital form, even before you start manipulating it) that many architects today seem to be ignoring.

TheAllusionist: What do you enjoy most about practicing architecture in a digital format?

Ddelcast: Being “there”. TheAllusionist: Do you have any favorite architectural visualization artist and if so, what do you like about their work. Ddelcast: To be honest with you I don’t know much about architectural visualization per se but Chen Qingfeng’s work is quite impressive.

TheAllusionist: Is there any advice you would like to give to any aspiring architects?

Ddelcast: Think!!!... Architecture is NOT only about art and form; it is a process of the mind that involves many aspects that one can use in your favor. Structural systems, MEP systems and program elements are elements one can use to enhance the project. When you first start dealing with those elements, you first treat them as evil beings that are out there to destroy your architectural vision but later on you learn that with a little experimentation, they can work to your advantage.

TheAllusionist: Rumor has it that you think the ‘Flaming Lips’ are the greatest band in the world, who else do you like to listen to?

Ddelcast: Brad, Satchel, Pigeonhed, Mad Season and many other almost unknown bands. Of the more commercial ones I really enjoy Coldplay, Wilco, and Starsailor… and of course U2. TheAllusionist: What are your favorite books and movies? Ddelcast: My favorite book is probably the “Portrait of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde. My favorite fiction author is by far Edgar Allan Poe. But I also enjoy reading Theory and philosophy books. My favorite authors in that genre would have to be Marshall McLuhan and probably Lev Manovich.

TheAllusionist: If you weren’t an architect what do you think you would be doing?

Ddelcast: I’ll be studying to become one. TheAllusionist: With the advancement of the Internet, there are numerous sites and forums for people to exchange ideas and receive critiques and accolades, how has this affected you and do you see any affect on the field of architecture? Ddelcast: I think it is exciting to receive input from people around the world that you’ll probably never know or meet face to face. Unfortunately my experience in forums is very limited, actually the “Architectural Wonder Contest” hosted by your site was the first WIP competition I’ve ever been in. I am usually involved in more old fashioned competitions.

TheAllusionist: When we correspond in forums, we get a one-dimensional view of the other members that is based on their writing style and perhaps the fact that English is a second language. Is there anything you wish to express about yourself that this interview medium allows that you normally wouldn’t get a chance to?

Ddelcast: That is absolutely true it is very hard to get a sense of someone by just reading a couple of written comments but nevertheless I feel people err in favor of political correctness which may be a bad thing since it distracts from an honest critique. There is nothing wrong about saying what’s wrong. On the other hand, I hate critiques that start “What I like about your project is…” An honest critique has to be detached from personal taste. I often try to achieve this with what I say, I try and detach myself from my taste and use what I see (the medium) to inform my comments. Fortunately architectural projects do not come with an “ideas behind the building” pamphlet. I say fortunately because this allows other views to be drawn from how architecture poses itself by itself… it is architecture as a medium speaking…


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