Juan Benavides

S: What we've been working on is exploring other types of media and what we've realized with architecture is that each type of media has its own specifics and biases. So how do you take all those different types of media with those biases and use those to construct the right narrative for each specific project.

S: we've been tracking different types. starting with the basic architectural orthographic and the typical diagrams, renderings, drawings. What we've moved onto is inserting the idea of time, more video aspects. We wanted to talk to you about your process. Earlier you had mentioned this layer of sound and how that relates to video, so if you could tell us more about that, about your process and why you got into film.

S: Do you, when you approach a project, do you talk a lot with the architect beforehand about what shots they want, or do you go in unbiased and just feel out how you want the story to go? How does that work?

S: How do you incorporate audio? We saw both examples where you incorporate more of the surrounding audio but there's also ones where you composed something based on the shots. What's that process?

V: When do you think the shifts happened, when you realized you wanted to focus more on video in terms of representing architecture? How did that come about? Did you start as a photographer then slowly transition to a videographer?

V: It's definitely more poetic.

V: In terms of getting projects, on how do you approach architects or how did they approach you. Do you have a very specific type of project that you look for?

V: I'm interested in hearing your process on how you approach a building as you talked about it. There's different scales. How do you start? A client gives you a project, "take a video of this." How do you approach it? What's your process from beginning to end?

V: What two lenses do you use?

V: Do you use AfterEffects?

S: Your video for the auditorium. That one was different because you didn't necessarily show a lot of the architecture, but it was more the experience you would on the day of a show. It builds up to the applause moment. Can you talk about that? How did you decide to not only focus the architecture but more so on the experience?

S: I think that this one in particular crafted this whole other narrative that the building becomes a part of versus it just being about the building. So I really appreciated that because that's what we're looking for, is how do you really craft not only the story about the architecture but then how the architecture becomes part of the story.

V: I have to check out this video.

S: So the way you're filming it really reflects the idea or the concept of the architecture.

S: In architecture there can be one big gesture for a project. Do you find that you're able to replicate that in some way through film more easily than photography or a rendering or another type of media? Similar to the swooping or falcon idea?

S/V: Thank you for taking the time. This was really quick.

S: We're not sure yet. We've decided that we've selected one MH project, have you been to the Fisher Pavilion at the Seattle Center?

S: It's a building that's set into the landscape, so then the landscape comes around it. There's a large lawn in front. What happens is this building is a big event space, but in reality it's closed most of the year and only open for specific events. So it's become an anti-building and a backdrop for activities to happen all around. We've chosen it as our testing project, to test all these different types of media to find the right one.

S: Right. The appropriate ones to convey the idea of this anti building. Our first exploration into that was how do we take an existing drawing or elevation and we went back to the site and we filmed the elevation. And projected it over the elevation, so really becoming a backdrop. An honest representation of what actually happens year-round, versus our renderings are always more idealistic. We wanted to represent it in this honest but still poetic and fitting way for the project. Our next explorations is through written descriptions, so using text to not only the words that we're saying, but also how we're presenting the text to reflect the anti-building.

S: It was also a reaction to a lot of digital renderings today, they're just shifting more towards the hyper-realistic and just conveying one solution, or one identity whereas representation, the beauty of it is that it's limitless in terms of what you can say or communicate. So how can we really use that to our advantage and the project's advantage?

V: That's the goal, to have all these different representations of Fisher Pavilion next to each other and how it shows a whole story of a building.

S: The goal is to not make a graphic standard, but more of a kit of parts. This representation method is great for x, y & z versus this one can better communicate this. How do you make a better decision about taking some of these and combining them together to craft that into a more complete narrative.

S/V: Yes, that is us.This year.

S: One project per year. We submitted last year and then they decide of February of this year who gets the grant. So we'll be presenting everything we've done at the end of the year to the office.

V: It's a lot of work…

S: It's great to talk to you. You've been focusing on just film and audio, so it's nice to hear from an expert about just one type of media and the pros and cons, and what we can accomplish from film that we can't get from a still photograph.

V: You'll hear from us.

J: what type of medias have you tried?

J: Yeah, sure. I think going back to why I started in videos, it's a nice way to introduce film making in architecture because I was deeply interested in just capturing the real and honest way of living building. You cannot capture it through photography.

Spending one full day at the project you sort of realize these little moments appearing, you know, like the sun bathing on top of the table and at the same time that the trees are moving outside. Trying to translate that into a narrative that also goes along with the conceptual idea of the project. it's, I would say, the most honest product in which you can show the project itself. Trying to capture all of these details and movements and also the idea of slow movements throughout the building, all the elements allow you to have a real experience as if you were inside the project. You know, like, doing this and looking at the hallway or approaching the kitchen or showing the staircase. Those types of moments also allow you to recognize that yea maybe you are inside the project itself.

And it comes also in a time in which of course there’s social media and sharing your projects and you need to have a portfolio of posts. You can put in enough work to share and to show what you're doing, so the format of video also comes along the contemporary way of sharing the approach through social media stories and posts and one minute videos on Instagram posts. Also the interest in making videos is kind of in part aligning with this interest in just sharing your work through your phone. The times when I send a video to the architects, for example, they review on their phones. Sometimes I send to them via WhatsApp for example, they can just play it on there and just send me comments right away.

J: I would say there are two approaches. The first one in which the architects are very involved. They meet me at the project and I always ask "What did you do here? Just show me around, show me the bathroom, the bathrooms to the garden to the entrance to the garage.” This is everything. I always ask the questions "What are you interested in showing? What are you interested in not showing?" "I don't want this detail to appear. I don't want this or that. I do want to capture the clouds on the facade, for example, in the San Francisco house. It's a phenomenon that only happens between 7 and 8 in the morning, so you gotta be there at that time.”

So that's one approach in which the office is very interested, "I want this and that."

But at the same, they give me freedom. “We love what you do, just do that in our project." Total freedom.

And there's this other approach in which maybe the architects cannot come over to the day of shoot, so it's basically just me and an intuitive approach to what I see in the project. Most of the time you cannot, weather changes from one day to the other, so you have to adapt on what you find right now in that situation. But the main connection between these two approaches is always the narrative. What are we trying to say? What do we want to capture? What do we want to include in these 3:00 long product? So it's always, "what's the project about? Is it a project about textures, is it a project about exteriors? about interiors? about circulation spaces? 

Those concepts, I always try to get them and capture them through video. So there's a continuity on statement of the project. And at the same time, there are projects that have already been published and three years later, they take the video. And there are projects that haven't been published and they would be in the press in two months. So those two outcomes also influence the video production.

In the first one in which the project has changed in five years, they are usually like "just capture whatever you find because the project has already changed from the initial/the photos don't relate to the furniture in the video, just do whatever you find." And the other one "we need to keep loyal to what has been written about the project about the project." There are these two different approaches to production.

J: Our audio in video plays one of the most significant roles in production. it's actually for the people who come, like the architects who come to the shoot, it's a boring day because they have to be quiet all day. Because I ask for total silence. I want to listen to the door being opened. I want to listen to the door sliding, to whatever plate is put on top of the table. The water running. It's about capturing everything and sometimes I realize some sounds, while post producing the video, that I didn't hear at the shoot. "Where did this bird come from?" So I level up that sound. And, once I have the whole video produced, the original sound mixes with the ambient sound.

The music that I compose on top of it is very intuitive. Very intuitive. I just play the video, I put my headphones on, and I start playing the piano. I always try to, because the narrative is already decided, exterior, then the middle part is interior and then the end part of the video is exterior, so "ok, let's put up a different rhythm for the interior shots." You start very slow in the music then you build up to more intense sound, and you incorporate different background sounds, synthesizers, then slow it down at the end. So, the music that is composed intuitively is always improvised many times, it follows with the rhythm of the video.

J: I always started in video. I saw one video of a house in Chile seven years ago and I was still starting back then. I bought my first camera and at the same time, my sister moved into a very cool house in Monterrey, my hometown. I was just like "I'm going to try it. Can you leave me one day at your house? Leave the dogs in the house, just let me try and capture in video because I fell in love with that first video I saw.” This is it. This is how you need to show the project. Just raindrops and the shadows and just the sound of it. I was initially attracted by it, so I've always began doing videos.

Sometimes I do photography because architects ask me to. But I don't officially offer doing photographs. I mainly focus on doing video. I just feel that was the right way to show projects. And at the same time that I began doing videos, I was working on my portfolio, for example, and I was working on my website, my personal website, not my film making website, in which I have houses that I designed. I started doing gifs at the same time I was doing videos. "How can I translate that approach and that feel into, showing images of a project?"

So I started. I have this gif of a house with smoke of the grill, and I love it. It's just so nice. You have the architecture in the background, but there's something happening. I have this other collage with water running on a lake. It kind of feels like you have to give a little bit more than just an image. If you cannot show the smell, maybe just show movement. Just show some animation in the architecture because architecture is just placed. It's just so stiff. So rough. And when you go to a project, you love seeing the grass moving, you love seeing the sun changing the reflection. So, it just feels like the way to express something like a feeling, doing something.

J: Yea, definitely more poetic.

J: I'm just going to add something to the last question. Videos allow you to frame a specific moment in three minutes. Usually photographers take white space. This is a room, this is the entrance. In video, you have what is called the A-roll and the B-roll. So A-roll being the main story and B-roll, the scenes you use for transitions or for going from inside to outside or from one space to another. So B-roll, poetry plays a big role in this folder of images, which is just to zoom into the flower in which you see the door behind or the zoom into the material joining at the counter. These are scenes you wouldn't use as photographs. You wouldn't use a photo of the flower with the house in the back because you have the main spaces that you want to show and publish. Video allows you to insert these different moments and capture this. That's why also the outcome, it comes more poetic in a way because you're trying to capture the senses, not only the main spaces.

I began filming houses as a personal interest in houses. My research project that you saw last year was houses. But initially it began as the easiest projects to film, the scale of it and usually when architects have a very strong gesture in the house that you can translate very easily to video. So in public projects that I've been started doing as of last year, sometimes you're able to approach a 3:00 video of large scale project. But I've come to understand slowly how to interpret those public projects into video. It's more about the people using it, it's about the main spaces, but also trying to show some background activity. So slowly, I am beginning to understand how to make videos of large-scale projects.

I've been trying to get away from commercial and multi-family housing projects, for example. Depends a lot on the project but for example commercial projects in which you have a lot of brands and storefronts. You have too much color and lights and brands and logos. Those are very difficult to capture. Something poetic which is my approach to film making, which is why I have a narrow portfolio, with projects that somehow fit into my standards of approaching a video.

Multi-family projects, for example, have to have very strong public spaces because shooting interiors in multi-family housing and combining that with the building is very complicated to insert in a narrative. So, those projects are mainly focused on public spaces, shared spaces, the entry, the landscape rather than the interiors.

J: It always begins with what the project is. Not in terms of design, or what's the process behind your design. They always give you hints, without noticing, they give you hints. "I love how people use this". Discoveries that they knew about the project or unknown moments that they didn't plan. It always begins with listening to the concept of the project and the principle gesture of the project. And at the same time, it’s very intuitive. Many cases are just like "ok what do we have here? Give me a tour, show me the house, let's go to the bathroom, to the kitchen and the space.” Just half an hour, walking around the house. So that's mainly the first step, just getting to know the project. You have to know all the places, the rooms, the balconies, go to the farthest point where you can see the house, go to the bathroom. Just understand the context, in half an hour, very roughly, the experience.

Then second, just related to the first, understand lighting. Sunlight and where is the sun hitting right now? Where is the sun going to be in the afternoon? Sunlight dictates the first spaces that I need to film and determines the priorities. The kitchen has better lighting in the afternoon, so I'm not shooting the kitchen in the morning. Just understanding how the sun's going to act in the project because I only have one day to shoot. It's always planning around the sunlight, it's going to hit this and this, I'm going to start here and here and then just work my way around the house, following the sun. Which is a nice experience because you always have the sun on your back.

Then the following is I also have a couple of lenses that have different focuses and zoom ins and frames. So I always decide, I'm always changing lenses. I'm going to be 2 hours with this and 1 hours with this lens. It also allows me to move around the house in capturing different approaches and different moments. This one always captures details and sun. This captures main spaces. I move around with these two lenses all the time, jumping in between.

J: I have a 50mm to capture details and i have a 17mm wide lens.

It's also about going back and forth between these lenses. I discover different things with these on my camera. Just basically moving around the house, of course staging some things, taking things out, move this in here. It's a lot of movement. Take out these two chairs, put them in the back, then I shoot this and then move them back. Ok I'm on the third step. I think it's those three basically.

In terms of production. Post production is another topic.

J: I use Final Cut. So you gotta select the clips and doing the narrative and transitions. It actually takes more time than actually shooting.

J: In this specific case, the architects needed the video to show the life of the building. It was a special commission for an award that asked to have a video showing that. In that case, architecture is in the background, there are very few dolly shots, for example because you want to focus on the space and what is happening. In this case, it was all about the people. Still frames, with people moving around. You focus on the people and the movement and the scene is not the camera moving, but the object. It was following people all the way around. "Hey there are technicians" so I carry my things onto backstage and just place them. "There are people coming to the lobby" and I would come back to the lobby.

In that case, I mean of course the frame, the stills are the architecture but it was more about the initial approach of the office that needed the video. The video turns out from that.

J: In that project, which is also a public project, of course the statement of it is for the people. It has that condition, the conception of the project. We lined up the shoot when there was an event, so the logistics were always moving towards that specific day. There is a concert, there's going to be people, technicians backstage, so we planned around that. I actually liked the artist, so that was good too.

J: The context of the project was always particular because it was right in front of this archaeological site. The main gesture of the project, which is this pyramid, just extends into a falcon. They wanted to show that because it was the main gesture of lifting the building and the auditorium below. Just showing the extension, where you have the pyramid and then you have the building, so the camera flows to follow the gesture. The initial introduction just shows the drone introducing the architectural site, just moving towards the public plaza, showing these extended landscapes and then goes back again.

J: That first shot is one of the strongest ones because it quickly introduces the idea of it. Which comes in the first 3 sentences of the explanation of the project.

J: In many cases, the idea of having a curatorial approach, I always try to select projects that have a strong gesture. Strong gesture aesthetically, spatial conditions and strong landscape. Those three ideas are the main factors that I use to create a compelling narrative. When it comes to selecting projects, the first concept or the gestures have to be clear. Clear for proposals that also allow me to place the camera in specific places that eventually allows me to introduce that gesture very clearly in the narrative of the video.

The circular patio, for example, it has a very strong proposal. The triangle also has a very strong idea. The San Francisco house again you have these facades. It’s always about trying to translate those initial concepts of the architects in the video.

J: What is it you're working on? What's the final product of this research?

J: No I don't think I've been there.

J: The appropriate one.

J: Nice. I think at the same time, representation of a project may have so many medias or channels through which you can show it so it's a lot about selecting the appropriate words, the appropriate diagrams, the appropriate photographs and videos to show specific things. Sometimes photography tells a story and text tells another, diagrams don't show the kitchen. Diagrams show the program.

J: An interesting exploration in this research would be to be like "Ok you're testing this Fisher Pavilion, but then after testing it, the results of it and the comparison, I think it'd be interesting to have a manual or instructions. This is the how-to. And then applying this methodology or this system of approaching media into a project that is about to be released. After this, just testing the methodology that you have created upon tests, then application and then results. Almost like the third stage. Ok this is what we've come up with, we've applied this and after a year, it's 90% more accurate.

J: Good luck.I heard Miller Hull gives a grant, is this it?

J: Is it one project per year?

J: Keep me posted.


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