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The Impact of Architecture on the quality of life and the environment

#talkingwith Vasco Pinheiro / Santos Pinheiro Arquitetos Associados

Based in Lisbon and with over 40 years of activity, Santos Pinheiro Arquitetos Associados develops architectural projects, covering all phases of the project, from preliminary studies to construction monitoring. With a variety of ongoing projects, from the rehabilitation of historic buildings to the construction of residential buildings, tourist attractions, and industrial projects, the firm seeks to offer customized solutions and to cultivate proximity to clients. It was with one of its partners, architect Vasco Pinheiro, that we were able to talk with to learn more about the role of architecture in a project, the major constraints to the profession, the critical points for a successful relationship between designer and contractor, the characterization of Beelt’s work, and the issues that he considers most relevant in the coming years in both architecture and construction.


Starting at the beginning, why is the role of architecture in a project so important?

The architectural project is by nature and definition a complete process. Architecture plays a fundamental role, being responsible for designing and planning the spaces, considering both functional and aesthetic aspects. In this sense, the architect has the role of creating creative and innovative solutions, taking into account the client’s needs and desires, as well as the constraints and characteristics of the site. We don’t believe that projects can all be repeated anywhere. Maybe from a typological point of view the solution can be similar, but the way it is solved in that place is unique. There is also the economic aspect and the need to adapt costs to expectations, and someone pays the bill at the end of the work. To that extent, the execution of a well-done project ensures economic viability in the construction phase while safeguarding the developer. From a sustainability point of view, there is an increasing need for us to promote sustainable energy solutions that are compatible with the current social framework.

Through design, which is a propositional process of research, reflection and experimentation, architecture also has the ability to be able to transform the environment and influence the experience of the people who use the spaces, not only contributing to the creation of buildings and structures, but also to improve the quality of life of people and to build spaces that promote well-being and necessary harmony with the surrounding environment.

How would you describe Santos Pinheiro Arquitetos Associados’ approach?

The approach of our studio is centered on dialogue and collaboration. We value understanding our clients’ needs and aspirations – which are often lifelong dreams, seeking to translate them into architectural projects that meet their expectations. We believe in the importance of listening carefully and involving clients at all stages of the process, from initial concept to the execution of the work. In addition, we seek to develop a sustainable approach, considering environmental impact and energy efficiency in our projects. We prioritize the search for creative and innovative solutions, adapted to the characteristics of the site and the specific needs of each program and each challenge. Our approach values technical excellence and attention to detail, always with the goal of delivering high quality projects.

What do you consider to be the greatest current constraints to the profession?

We live in a world increasingly full of rules, and in the Portuguese case, I believe we have too many regulations. This is perhaps due to some overzealousness. But in many cases the regulations are so extensive and complex that they overlap each other and create conflicts, inconsistencies, making projects inconsequential and, sometimes, unfeasible. We are dominated by some intransigence and there is difficulty in understanding that architecture is not, and cannot be, an “exact science”. The rules are used in exaggeration, without attending to a flexibility that is necessary. Then we have the problem of disparity between entities in the way rules are interpreted, either by the procedures adopted, formats or timings of analysis. The online platforms are not parameterized in a systematized way, and each municipality has its own format. Submitting a project to the Lisbon City Hall is completely different from submitting a similar project to the Amadora City Hall. It makes no sense. The law that determines what a project is and how it is formalized is a single one, however, the entities that receive, evaluate and approve them subject them to submission on online platforms, all different from each other. These obstacles and the long waiting times for projects in the licensing phase at the City Halls end up adding huge costs to those who invest, often postponing investment decisions.

What are the critical points for a successful relationship between the studio and the contractor?

One of the most important points is communication. Lack of clear and efficient communication can lead to misunderstandings, errors in project interpretation, and delays in the execution of the work. It is essential to establish open communication channels and ensure that both parties are aligned regarding objectives, requirements, and deadlines.

Another critical point is the coordination between the studio and the contractor. Working together and coordinating efforts are key to ensuring harmony between the architectural design and the execution of the work. Coordination problems can arise when there is a lack of clarity in project specifications, divergences in the interpretation of drawings, or a lack of follow-up during the construction phase. A joint effort is needed to ensure that all stages of the project are executed according to the established guidelines. We are often able to work with the contractor at the design stage who advises us on the best solutions; future problems are avoided, better solutions are promoted, money is saved, and speed is achieved.

Finally, trust and mutual respect are key elements in the relationship between the studio and the contractor. It is essential to build a solid partnership based on trust, transparency and respect for the work of the parties involved. This allows us to face the challenges that may arise throughout the process in a collaborative way, opening the door to finding joint solutions.

Having already worked on several projects with Beelt, how would you characterize our work?

Beelt is a company that shows exemplary professionalism in the way it carries out its activities. Throughout more than 10 years of professional relationship, I never had any indication that anything went wrong. Furthermore, Beelt has evolved positively, gaining structure and solidity. This shows that the company is proactive and seeks to establish a close relationship with its partners, besides projecting a promising future. I have full confidence in all the activities performed by Beelt. The team has grown both in size and expertise, executing works in different parts of the country, but remaining professional and reliable, which is fundamental.

Looking ahead, what do you consider to be the most relevant themes in the coming years, both in architecture and in construction?

In the coming years, both in architecture and in construction, one of the most relevant themes is sustainability. The concern with the environment and the search for more sustainable solutions have been increasingly present, being fundamental and there is an obligation to promote them.

I believe that sustainability starts by paying attention to the need to not spend resources that may jeopardize future generations, to the need to introduce the recycling process in the construction process, to the impact that construction has, or should not have, on the territory, and to seek to use energy solutions that depend on reusable sources capable of self-regeneration, such as the sun, wind, and water.

Not all clients seek these types of solutions, but I believe it is our duty to present and make known the available options and to have some educational function for them.

In the urban environment, we have already evolved a lot in this process (photovoltaic panels, heat pumps, thermal break frames, masonry systems and high performance insulation, etc.). In rehabilitation, sometimes it is easier to innovate, and rehabilitation itself, when well done, is in itself sustainable because it has in itself a “reuse” of what already existed. Also in projects in rural or sensitive ecological contexts, it is easier to carry out more sustainable solutions, due to the legal requirement to ensure the minimization of the ecological footprint and, in some circumstances, reversibility.

Step by step, innovative and more efficient solutions are being created, allowing us to design increasingly sustainable solutions. We live in a world in constant transformation, where architecture and construction play a fundamental role not only as responsible for building spaces, but also as active agents in adapting people to the new realities imposed by society’s evolution.

We must always be available to evolve while building the future together with our clients and partners.


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