An accomplished architect and artist from Mexico, Andres Souto is no stranger to thought-provoking design. His most recent (and award-winning) project achieves just that -- by exploring the relationship between the digital and physical worlds, with 3D Warehouse at its core.
We are so interested in the details of your research project, but first, can you start by sharing a little bit about your background as a designer and architect?
My professional background began primarily in architecture. After graduating, a colleague and I opened our own architecture studio in Mexico City where I practiced for five years. However, I always had the intention to return to art school, and was fortunate enough to receive a full scholarship to attend the Royal College of Art (RCA) in London. It was during my time at RCA that my focus shifted from traditional architecture toward a more research-driven art approach, which ultimately led to the exploration of SketchUp as an art form.
I landed in one of the most experimental studios the Master’s of Architecture community at RCA has to offer -- ADS6 “The Image of Making.” Specifically, the studio is “interested in speculating how investigations into material lore might inform contemporary ideas concerning relations between industry, people, materials, and knowledge.” It was there that I was able to explore the ideas and interests I brought from Mexico in a radical and experimental manner.
It was these radical ideas that resulted in an award-winning project that uses SketchUp and 3D Warehouse extensively. Can you give us the rundown on that project?
My project, The Aesthetics of Hope, explores how we can design and create outside the boundaries of traditional architecture. Using a combination of SketchUp, clay sculptures, 3D printed sculptures, Styrofoam collages, and textures transferred onto bricks, I intended to show the 3D Warehouse as the powerful platform that it is. A platform not only for content distribution, but also as a place where new archetypes and new forms of popular culture are actually being developed. That is, that SketchUp and 3D Warehouse could be used as a way to experiment with architectural ideas and potentially establish new archetypes.
I found it fascinating to see so many users in one platform sharing models, skills, tastes, and designs. It was through this research and discovery that I started thinking about the scope of my project. I began by searching for and identifying the most downloaded, relevant, or popular models for keywords like “ornament,” “roof,” or “column.” The results of these searches provided deep insight into what people think architecture should be or should look like.
After exploring, curating, and collecting hundreds of models (and even 3D printing some of them), I created a film titled “El Grand Tour” to challenge our notions of what is considered “standard” in terms of architectural taste and culture. In a kind of satire of the original Grand Tour, El Grand Tour serves “as an educational rite of passage.”
It sounds like the 3D Warehouse was an integral part of this idea. How did you discover the Warehouse and how did it contribute to the overall development of your project?
I first discovered the Warehouse when I was searching for models like chairs and lamps that could be used in my architectural projects. While exploring, I accidentally bumped into some very strange models, and I knew I would eventually want to do something with them.
Initially, the project’s focus was only on the Mexican self-building culture as seen through self-built tiny chapels. For me, these structures represent how popular culture interprets official architectural standards, but they also raise the question of how and why new archetypes emerge. I wanted to continue researching these chapels, but I realized that location-specific case studies would be too complicated from London. That's when I explored the idea of making the link between the self-building culture of Mexico and the 3D Warehouse as another kind of popular culture.
The project then became even more powerful when I found the profile of “CeSaR” on 3D Warehouse. After discovering and looking through his models, I found out CeSaR lives exactly in the unregulated settlements of Mexico I was initially researching. Realizing that a potential self-builder from the unregulated settlements of Mexico City was also using and contributing to the 3D Warehouse was a kind of “eureka!” moment. The idea of exploring how these two cultures, one digital and one physical, might affect each other, became the driver for my project.
How did your previous experience with SketchUp contribute to The Aesthetics of Hope?
SketchUp has always been my main medium not only for architecture, but also for art and sculpture. The way I worked freely with all of my interests and used SketchUp and the 3D Warehouse led to this body of work. Essentially this project got its strength the moment I accepted SketchUp as a medium to create art. Just as a painter uses oil for a painting, I use, explore, and experiment with SketchUp and the 3D Warehouse to produce my work.
Is this something you’re planning to continue working on? What’s next?
Definitely. I consider this to be a work in progress. In fact, my ambition is to put forward a new architectural style -- one that reveals the connection between the material languages of self-building, popular culture, and technology, and how each method of design is influenced by the other. I also plan to bring my research and ideas to an intellectual level through talks, presentations, publications, sculpture, and most importantly, through my own architecture. In fact, I am currently in the process of building my own version of a tiny chapel, which is guided through my research and discoveries throughout this project.
Just as a painter uses oil for a painting, I use, explore, and experiment with SketchUp and the 3D Warehouse to produce my work.
Any parting thoughts?
I encourage everyone to go beyond what is obvious within 3D Warehouse. What is going on in there is really interesting and relevant to the evolution of professions like architecture and art. I invite everyone to look at the models that are being uploaded without judgement of taste, or what is nice or ugly, but rather look at them for the effort, techniques, and creativity that is being shared.