An interview with OTTOTTO
Porto, PT

In our interview with Teresa Otto at the OTTOTTO space in Porto, she recounts the story behind her Terry O’Neill Pavillion: from having to think about materiality and colour while creating a welcoming space at their site to thinking about waste and transportation of the entire structure from Porto to Lisbon. At the studio, they are on a quest for the freedom to experiment, while always maintaining a deep focus on the process.


RCR Arquitectes and first commission

My career really began at the end of my studies. Right before graduating, I was working at RCR Arquitectes who recently won the Prtizker Prize. They were practicing an architecture that was very much related to the project’s site. When I came back to finish my studies, I was very passionate about really constructing something and not so much doing competitions. At the same time that I was writing my undergraduate thesis, I made a temporary bar for the school during a student’s festival. It was a very interesting project and the work was quite amazing. I think that my career really started there, because with the RCR internship and the construction of that bar, I realised that I really wanted to take control and build what I design.


Self-commissioned projects and temporary interventions

I’m very focused on creating the freedom to take risks. Nowadays, there are two different kinds of projects that I am doing. One type is self-commissioned constructions where I might buy, renovate or sell. There is no client in the middle of the process but at the end. The second type is temporary construction which is usually for public institutions or companies who want to create something new. I am focused on having this freedom to experiment. I don’t know what exactly I am searching but I focus instead on the process. Putting the client at the end of the design process helps me experiment. 


Learning how to communicate

Communication is important to close the gap that exists between clients, architects and the rest of society. This needs to be taught even in schools because we are always taught constantly how to design but we are never prepared for how to communicate. It feels like living in China without being able to speak Chinese in the sense that it becomes a sort of barrier. Communication is extremely important for architects.


Taking care of every detail

I have an anecdote about a pavilion we designed as a temporary structure for a mall. It was a photographic exhibition of Terry O’Neill, the well-known photographer. The exercise was quite difficult owing to the fact that it was in a mall. The mall is full of bright colours, big letterings and multiple stimuli. The pavilion was meant to be a space on the ground floor of almost 200 square meters. We wanted it to be open because the people around the mall’s patio had to see that there was an exhibition, so it could not really be a closed object. At the same time, we wanted to disconnect from the mall but that turned out to be difficult because everything inside the mall was transparent. Moreover, because of all the other colours, it was difficult to stand out and simultaneously transparent. What we decided to do was to have a very flashy yellow floor, with an extremely crazy structure on top. It was quite a huge, tangram-like structure about 6 meters high. Transporting it was easy because it was easy to dismantle into a flat shape.  That is something that is absolutely essential to keep in mind. We had to worry about the economics of transportation, the waste generated in the end, all while trying to be present in spite of the aesthetic conflict with the shopping mall. It also had to be a sensitive structure because it was meant to house a photographic exhibition in black and white. We had to work with all that simultaneously with the logistics of the project because it was made first in Porto and transported for assembly to Lisbon, so we had to keep the dimensions of the transport vehicle in mind as well. This is always what I do in our temporary projects. I worry about the aesthetics, creating something new, something sensitive to what is being exhibited and the logistics of costs and transportation.

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Photography Courtesy of OTTOTTO