Laurent Troost: Creating Architecture in Manaus
Laurent Troost personally received the Oscar Niemeyer Award at the 18th International Architecture Biennial in Buenos Aires. His winning project Cassina Innovation House, in the capital of the state of Amazonas in Brazil’s Northern Region, brought the challenges of building in Manaus to the table.
His works Tropical Shed, Tarumã House, and Campinarana House stand out for their continuity with nature and climate-appropriate architectural strategies. “The natural and environmental conditions are extreme and the proximity of the equatorial zone requires an architecture oriented towards thermal comfort and passive sustainability,” says Laurent as we talk about his inspirations, experiences, and upcoming projects. Check out the full interview below.
Fabian Dejtiar (FD): ¿Who is Laurent Troost?
Laurent Troost (LT): I am a Belgian architect based in Manaus for the last 14 years. I had part of my training in Belgium and worked in the UK. After working for a few years with Rem Koolhaas, I moved to Brazil and collaborated with some well-known offices like Arthur Casas, Bernardes Arquitetura, and FGMF, which made me get to know more about Brazilian architecture. I did part of my training also in São Paulo and then I started working in Manaus, where I had the opportunity to work as director of Urban Planning for the City Council for eight years. This was another training, like another school. Today I am the director responsible for my own office. We are a very small team, varying from 5 to 15 people, everyone has been online for many years, even long before the pandemic.
FD: What was it like working with OMA?
LT: You can’t mention everything you learn working there, meeting people from all over the world, working all over the world, traveling. It is an incredible experience, culturally, and professionally. We started with a close-knit team in the office. There were four of us, a Mexican, a Japanese, a German, and me. We started doing a lot of work together. At one point, the firm was invited to do a competition for Dubai. We could only do a tower 300 meters high. So we did a project called Renaissance – which was for Rem a key project, in the sense of understanding that we had to go back to extreme simplicity.
FD: What is it like to build in a distant place like Manaus?
LT: It is a very isolated city, totally isolated from the rest of Brazil or the rest of the world. So there is a logistical challenge. Although there is an important economy and a lot of money, the majority of the population is very poor. It is a generic city and this makes the budgets of the works, of the projects we are working on, very low. It is very challenging to have to work with few options for construction materials. We are always working with the minimum, so there is nothing that is not necessary. We think that the most important thing is a perfect implementation, although it never is, and to work a lot on climate and passive sustainability. I don’t think this requires any kind of big budget. The value of the project seems to us much more important than others.
FD: Your award-winning project, Cassina Innovation House, says a lot about the issues you mention about climate and nature, but also at the same time with the theme of heritage. Can you elaborate on this theme?
LT: Manaus was a city that had its first strong economic cycle at the beginning of the last century, during the rubber boom. There was great wealth: it was said that people were so rich because of the rubber that they sent their clothes to Europe to be cleaned and brought them back clean from Europe. It was a city where many palaces were built and eclectic Portuguese colonial architecture, but that cycle quickly stopped and left a city with a lot of totally abandoned buildings. The interesting thing is that the new constructions in the center were rarely demolished or destroyed. So it’s a center that has an architectural eclecticism of very different works. It’s interesting because it’s not like a museum city or some other more well-preserved city. Nor is it like São Paulo, which doesn’t have much colonial architecture. There was a big conservation effort by the public authorities in the last 20 years, but it was always about heritage qualification linked to the notion of reconstruction faithful to what it was more than 100 years ago. I think the Cassina building was a very difficult project to be accepted as a project. We had a lot of problems. It took seven years to start the work. Today with the use of the building, which is a very intense use, there was an enormous acceptance of the population in relation to this type of intervention, which is more radical in local terms. The fact that we have won many prizes with this project also makes the people who work in the Cassina extremely proud. The people of the neighborhood where it is located are also very proud and started a movement of qualification for the environment. There was a greater acceptance than expected. So that is a success.
FD: I imagine you now have more new projects in Manaus. What are your next works?
LT: Yes, but I imagined that we could have had more contacts to do more Cassina projects in the center of Manaus. There was a lot of interest, but nothing that turned into a contract or another project of this kind. However, the firm got quite a lot of notoriety in the city and beyond because of this project. Today we have projects all over Brazil and outside Brazil. Projects in Africa and the Caribbean. We changed the scale a bit: we used to do a lot of houses, a lot of residences. Today we have more commercial, corporate, and larger-scale projects. We are, among others, with two large projects. They are a housing complex of 415 or 420 social rooms, which is a very interesting challenge. And another was a closed competition that we won to build a 20,000 square meter commercial tower in Manaus. I am very excited about these projects, which will soon be made public.