David Basulto is one of the founders of ArchDaily, a web portal that recently merged with Architonic. We have asked him what made him start the site, what projects matter to him today and about global trends in architecture.
Interview by Gerrit Terstiege.
Mr. Basulto, there’s not that much to find about you personally on the web. What made you start ArchDaily? After all, being an architect is something completely different than starting a website.
Yes, we need to work on my Wikipedia profile. (laughs) While I was graduating, I had the luck to meet new technology, something that was my personal passion, but I am also very passionate about architecture. During my formation at university, the access to publications, to information, to knowledge was very important to me. I started my own library of books, but I also saw that the internet was going to completely change how knowledge was going to be distributed. So David Assael and I started to have these conversations on how the access to information could have an impact in the building environment. And that is what led us to do ArchDaily, first as a startup that we worked on in our free time, while graduating and later while we were teaching and doing our first architectural projects. We were just doing this out of passion, working many nights, many weekends. And it just started to grow very fast, because for architects it is very important to have a library of architecture and information, and we would provide data in a free, open, accessible way on the internet. That made us pose this question at a very early stage: how can we make this work as a business, so we can devote 100 % of our time to it?
So you no longer work as an architect?
Correct. ArchDaily has just become too big. Today, we are a combined total of close to 180 people. But down this road, what I did learn is that my training as an architect was key to build ArchDaily from a small, independent company to one with offices and operations in places such as Beijing, Santiago, São Paulo and Mexico City.
Last year, Architonic acquired ArchDaily. Can you tell me a little bit about the idea, the strategy behind the merger?
We are two companies that started in a very similar way. Architonic grew in Europe, ArchDaily grew in the Americas and Asia. And we virtually both found ourselves thinking about the future. This will mean a lot of integration, access to databases. And we saw that this was going to be something bigger than what we had been doing for the past decade. So strategically, it made sense to take this next step together. Years ago, we said, “We need to enter into the European market because digitalisation here already exists”. If you look at the DACH market, models of construction, applied technology, these are not new things. This is a very good place to start, let’s say, this new era for the architecture and building industry. We see great synergies with Architonic, because it is very strong on the architectural products side. And on the other hand, ArchDaily has a very big reach and engagement with architects.
How do you decide what architectural projects should be featured on ArchDaily? I am sure you get a lot of proposals from all over the world. You have to sort out.
I know, this is a very gigantic task, especially with a team of curators that is also based around the world. But we are very connected. We’re constantly having conversations, it´s always a process. The diversity of architectures is very important for us. Sometimes even what some might consider “a normal building” can teach a lesson. Our mission is to provide inspiration, knowledge, and tools to the architects who are going to face this tremendous challenge, that is the urban growth, the building growth of the world. We try to think about every project, even if it’s somewhat small. Even the most modest projects can help other architects to open their minds. So it’s a constant conversation in the group of curators, asking the question: “Will this project teach something to someone else, or not?”
I’m sure you get that question a lot, because you have this really global overview regarding architectural projects: But do you see major architectural trends in various continents?
Yes, I think architectural trends are like pendulums that are moving rather fast these days. For example, we’re seeing a new regionalism appearing: architectures that have a very strong regional character, so that you can tell, “Wow, this is clearly a building from the South of Germany, this is a building in Tehran, this is a building in Paraguay”. And we’re seeing very inspiring things coming from the various countries, also regarding the materials that are being used: for example, the use of bamboo in Indonesia, or the use of brick in Iran or Paraguay, are becoming very strong references in the architectural world today. Without digital networks like ours, it would be very difficult to see these trends in the various regions of the world. And there are trends which are more related to the role of the architect, to his or her responsibility: “Do we really need to build a new building? Should we readapt or reduce what is there and avoid a great use of energy and resources?” The world has become very conscious about how we consume, about our footprint, and that is happening in architecture as well.
Which brings me to this year’s Pritzker Price Laureates, Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal, that are known to question the idea of constantly creating something entirely new. Their approach often is to improve existing buildings.
Yes, exactly. They have been doing a very conscious work. A work that’s also very consistent, making decisions beyond their egos. I am very happy that this approach is getting more attention via the Pritzker Prize.
Talking of egos … in the last decades, it seemed architects had to create a kind of trademark style, to become stars. Here I think about people like Gehry, Hadid or Richard Meier. But maybe this era is somewhat over. It can do a lot of good to decide to use something existing instead of breaking it down, making a lot of noise, creating a lot of waste and then using up all that material and energy to build just another block …
Right. And I also see the growing recognition of communities. This is happening on different levels in the various countries, not just in developing economies or countries going through a strong crisis. It’s also happening in the developed world, with a very similar tone. People are demanding to be included, to be part of decisions. Architecture is always the result of decisions. Usually, the people who are setting the budget, are making the decisions, be it from the state or private, but the buildings affect the people who are going to live in these environments, next door. Governments need to adapt, companies need to adapt, an also architects should.
Which brings me to the question: what kind of building, what kind of environment has shaped you, personally?
Well, I had the luck to live, say, 60 percent of my time in Chile, in a walkable neighbourhood in Santiago, in a place called Providencia, where I would have trees that give shade to my house during the summer, that let the light enter during the winter, where I could have access to many types of food with the growing diversity of the country, resulting in very good quality of life. I moved to Berlin during my residency here in July last year, to be, let’s say the middle point between our operation in Germany and Switzerland, and the one that we have in South America. Since I am one of the directors, it is important for me in this phase to be here in Europe. And I am very much enjoying it.
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