Architecture, love and cyborgs: An interview with Guto Requena 

By Laura Beeston
Interview with Guto Requena

A world without public art and architecture would be a very sad place, indeed.

Creating cultural and social value, transforming the way we move through urban spaces, activating civic pride and inspiring our imaginations, public art and architecture provide a huge benefit to cultural life and give us new ways of experiencing our cities.

As The Atlantic’s CityLab bureau notes, there’s also a financial case to be made for public art, since cities and neighbourhoods gain social and economic value through public art initiatives. It’s a marketing investment, boosts visibility, tourism and local economies. It gives public spaces life and street cred.

Creative placemaking – one of the topics to be explored in the Art & Design pillar at C2 Montréal 2018 – is Guto Requena’s passion.

The architect and urban planner is the founder and creative director of São Paulo’s Estudio Guto Requena, responsible for spearheading interior and industrial design projects, interactive light and digital installations, creating small objects, interactive public furniture and wearables, and constructing public art and buildings.

Approaching public art and digital engagement with his hybrid and signature style, Guto inspires creatives, citizens and business leaders alike to interact with their community and surroundings — and to deal with tech in their immediate environments “in a more humanistic, cozy way.”

We spoke with the interaction architect over the phone in anticipation of his C2 Talk and Workshop:

Business leaders should always be looking for different creative outlets. So I’m curious, where do you find inspiration? Where does your creativity comes from?

I truly believe in the power of public art to reshape the city we live in. If you think about [São Paolo], a city of 12 million people, it’s such a huge challenge to reach and pull, [public art] makes a lot of sense. My work comes from this environment. I’m also very much interested in interaction and working with digital tech to add new poetic layers to the city. Dealing with scale is my biggest obsession. It’s a lot of walking in the streets of São Paolo and travelling, observing how people act in the collective, how they act when they are in a public square, at parties and events or festivals.

You’re known for taking a hybrid approach to projects, mixing digital with organic, experiential with architectural, and you seem to like it when users interact with the spaces you’re creating. These transformative collisions seem to lead you to interesting outcomes. What’s your take on this approach to work?

Our process is quite varied. We allow ourselves nowadays to be as experimental as possible even if we make a lot of mistakes and lots of prototypes. We also love combining artisanal with digital, mixing between the handmade and the technological… I’m interested in how to combine these two worlds and with the idea that we are the first cyborg generation in human history. Most of the tech developed is becoming smaller, user friendly and becoming more hybridized with our bodies. How will we deal with the idea that we are cyborgs? Yes, there is this Robocop idea, but when you come to Brazil, you will see that Brazilians are quite tech crazy [and] there is a different way of approaching tech here. I like to think that we are learning how to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary. It’s a poor country but super rich culturally. Maybe in Montréal it is easier to have programmers, sensors, hardware, but in Brazil it’s super challenging and this challenge gives us a fresh approach in dealing with tech.

Most of your projects, like The Light Creature, The Dancing Pavilion, your Love Project are downright poetic. Are you an emotional guy? Why do feelings fuel your operations? 

Yes, I very much have Brazilian DNA in a sense, so it’s all about the collective, the outside and people getting together. This is such a difficult country to live in and I was very lucky to be born white here and lucky to have a good education. I am one percent of the population of my country, so I’m trying to do the best with this opportunity. I also believe that we are living in a very difficult moment concerning sustainability and the planet. The more information we have, the more you see the world is really fucked up… so I honestly believe that the only chance of surviving this, our only chance, is if we can properly connect technology with love. Love combined with tech will save us. Tech by itself is just tech, and if we only have an engineering approach to tech it will be useless. So I’m obsessed with the idea of integrating love and emotions.

This interview has been edited for length. 

From the studio’s “Hacked City” research projects, the Light Creature is a 30-storey intervention at the renovated WZ Hotel Jardins in São Paulo that changes colour in real time, reacting to different stimuli from the environment and the population, such as air quality and an interactive mobile phone use.

Designed for a beer brand to host music, parties, DJs and shows at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games, The Dancing Pavilion has an “interactive, architectural skin” of mirrors on its façade that are motion-activated.

Using the data from a biofeedback sensor on your smartphone, the Love Project is an app that transforms emotions into intricately woven, 3D-printed jewellery. “It’s a generative design,” Guto explained. “When someone reads a love story, software analyzes the emotions, the tone of the voice and collects the heartbeat in your finger… we use this data to create a uniquely shaped mould for liquid metal, which is then polished and handmade.”