Homo Ludens, or an architectural conversation in a circle with Sergio Rodrigues Ligia Nobre
“I am in love with wood. And I’m an architect. So I connected wood and architecture, and the experiments I began to carry out were precisely with wood-based architecture”.
Our conversation started off focusing on the SR2 constructive system, created by Sergio Rodrigues, which allows any architecture program to be designed from standardized pieces to be assembled and composed, as a way of building, in which what defines the modulations are the industrialized wood panels. As he said: “my idea was to create a system that was prefabricated, and not with a repetition of models. (…). They were supposed to be things
according to one’s needs, an individual house could be made, or a compound house, a multifamily house and many other things, such as inns and different types of houses. And I started thinking of this back in 58-59 (…). I thought an industry was needed to produce that,so I started studying wooden houses. (…) A single prefabricated house means nothing. Many people can make a wooden house. (...). An industrial house, because it could be located in
several places in Brazil, with a central location that could produce it. And I started making them by myself. I had a factory, which was the OCA, which in turn was producing my semi-handmade furniture, it also wasn’t an industry. But, with a clearer schedule, on late afternoons and holidays, there was this possibility of using the staff from the factory to help me out with things like this.”
In this initial phase of the SR2 system, the two first houses were made simultaneously: the prototype exposed at the Rio de Janeiro Modern Art Museum (MAM RJ), in 1960, and the house for the Fialho family in Petrópolis (in a bond that came to be through friendship and the mutual passion for planes shared between him and the client family). The project’s modulation was based on the dimensions of the plywood panels that existed in the market at the time (1.22x 2.44 m), with a three-inch (0.075m) (using a North-American measuring reference) peroba do campo wood structure. In this first phase of SR2 in the 1960s, the roof was flat, with asphalt felt sheets. In the MAM RJ exhibition, three possibilities of blueprints were presented for houses
with one, two or three bedrooms (with areas of 25.47 and 65m²) in addition to the ground floor area, with a height of two meters. “I had already drawn up this house assembly program. But the matter was figuring out how this could be done in a large scale. And I really went in and made the study thinking about this. (…) as it was made in parts, the idea was to design pieces of the house that could be repeated (…) and the house was made. It was a great success”.
Sergio tells us, then, of Lúcio Costa’s (author of the Brasília urban planning project) interest in his prefabricated architecture, born from a visit to the MAM RJ exhibition, opening paths for him to build, with the SR2 system, dormitories and a restaurant in the Brasília University and the first headquarters of the Iate Clube (Yacht Club) in the new federal capital.
It is important to remember the sociocultural and economic context of that time. The exhibition of Sergio Rodrigues’ prefabricated system at MAM RJ occurred simultaneously with the inauguration of Brasília, in 1960, and both had as a common perspective the industrialization of the country in the face of a complex, dramatic process of urbanization and housing crisis in Brazil. The principles of prefabrication and modulation – also increasingly common in Europe and North America – were discussions intrinsic to the industrialization of civil construction, which echoed in the period of Brasília’s construction, with a significant number of Brazilian
architects interested in serial production. However, as pointed out by historian Ana Luiza Nobre, what was at stake was not an easy task at all: “to make serial production viable in a cultural environment that was still deeply resistant to industrialization and the rationalization of construction”, stressing the limits of the Brazilian social structure and contextualizing the challenges faced by Sergio.
In the 1980s, a second cycle of the SR2 system was inaugurated from a new prototype, the architect’s own residence, divided into models called Xiklin 90 and Xiklin 120, developed with his daughter, the architect Veronica Rodrigues, in a small office scale. Fernando, who worked with Sergio on approximately 25-30 projects in the SR2’s third cycle, starting in 1993, highlights the layout dimensions of the new prefabricated wooden models, starting in the 1980s (1.60 x 2.20 m, already adopting a Brazilian standard), and in the 1990s with Wall panels (1.20 x 2.50m), with specific fixing measures, new roofs with one or two slopes, or the ‘little wagon’ roof, in a more open conception of combination of elements, always within the modulation: mashrabiya, skylight (“wherever I lived, there was always a skylight”, Sergio shared), Santos Dumont stairs, double height, paneling and cantilevers, in which the structure is a system of relationships between articulated and self-regulating elements in an orthogonal mesh, called a
cage. The multiplicity of combinations of his constructions retained the experimental dimension
of the prototype. Sergio comments, “None of the maybe 200 houses we made had a relation with the other. The only similarity between one and another was between two mirrored houses.” He also reminds us “there must be conservation. The person who has a wooden house has to be aware… [the house] is a living being.”
In his childhood, Segio experienced eclectic architecture, “but I never paid attention to that, (…)
because I actually wanted to make planes. Draw planes, build planes.” And, “my grandmother asked, why don’t you study architecture? It’s simple. (...) And, since I liked drawing, I took an architecture course, and I passed”. Sergio created stories and fables to provide ambience to spaces: “I’ll explain something funny to you. Me and my daughter, when we took on a project, we studied the client, their quirks, and imagined a specific setting for their house. The Boboniché house, for instance [made with brickwork, did not use the SR2 system], we called the house of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. It’s as if Don Quixote lived in that house. The walls are kind of crooked. It’s a really nice house. You arrive at the house, you come from the street, you
don’t see a window, the lighting on one side”. The technical domain and the playful dimension intertwined, in a process conceived through drawings and stories, present in the furniture, in
the spatialities and the daily ways of life, inviting another presence of the body, softer, more provocative, less standardized.
Though he had wished to be an airplane designer, and thought he was not one, he truly was!!!
After all, what do planes do? They take people and objects through the air, close to the clouds, connecting us to different worlds and stories and towards those we love, through shortened voyages. It’s as if Sergio Rodrigues, in this artisanal, caring, playful dimension of his hands and body, creating the voice that retells and invents, could be a seed of a wide, expansive forest, in which the trees –transmuted into homes, chairs, affective stories - echo, not as an ending, but, as taught to us by Antônio Bispo dos Santos, as a “beginning, middle and beginning”.
 Previously unreleased, this was his last interview given in life, approximately two weeks before he passed away on September 1 st , 2014. Set up by the Sergio Rodrigues Institute, the conversation circle was made up of Sergio Rodrigues, Renata Aragão, Fernando Mendes de Almeida, Mari Stockler, Vera Beatriz Rodrigues, Ciro Ghellere and Ligia Nobre. All the quotes herein are fragments of this interview recorded by the author of this text on August 15 th , 2014.