Sandra Calvo is a visual and experimental artist, of social practices, based in Mexico City. In the last years, her work has explored issues concerning informal housing in Colombia, Cuba, and Mexico. She recently published the book Architecture without Architects (Editorial Arquine, Mexico City: 2020).
Architecture without Architects (2011-2014) is a sustained political and aesthetic exploration, a visual essay of the informal unsanctioned city. This participatory social art practice deconstructs the notion of the house as a fixed and stable entity. Here, instead the house is fragile and in flux. The project explores self-building as a practice of resistance in which residents design and construct their own dwellings relying on empirical knowledge and intuition, following a non-hierarchical model.
Architecture without Architects culminates in the sculptural simulation of a house, conducted with a family of Ciudad Bolivar, Colombia, where the artist lived for two years. A house of thread, an agora, an assembly —a device that facilitates the negotiation of antagonistic positions. The artist and the family created a code. Black thread was used to define spaces in regard to which the family had reached a consensus, while red thread represented the spaces they disagreed on. The tangible result of these negotiations was a life-sized architectural model; a three-dimensional drawing on a 1:1 scale that sketched out the location and size of each part of the house to be built —including those spaces that would become doors or windows; brick walls, or a spiral staircase. The model house is both concrete and intangible, poetic, and utilitarian. The flexible sculpture encourages multiple interpretations that extend well beyond the purely practical objectives of architectural design.