President of the International Union of Architects for the triennial period 2017-2020, the american architect Thomas Vonier has come to Rio for the second time to be updated about the planning for the World Congress of Architecture UIA2020Rio – which will be held in Rio in July 2020. A Paris and Washington DC based architect, he has a long history in professional associations. He is the founding president of AIA Continental Europe; the first president of the AIA International Region and became president of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) in 2017. We talked to him about his expectations for UIA2020Rio.
It’s the second time you come to Brazil to be updated about the planning for the 27th World Congress of Architecture. What did you think about you have seen?
It’s really beginning to take shape now. You know, as the date approaches, it all becomes more real. We are very excited about Rio as a venue, the ideas for the program, about the planning for the site, the experience people will have. So, we’re very encouraged, we’re very happy.
And it’s a completely different kind of congress, right?!
It should be! You know the spirit of Rio is very different and it should reflect the spirit of the place. Also, our times are changing. This organization is 70 years old and we are still doing things the way we did 70 years ago. It’s time for certain things to change for progress.
In case UNESCO grants the seal of approval, this Congress will be the first one held in a World Capital of Architecture. What changes for the Congress if it really happens?
First of all, the public will be much more aware of the congress and the fact that architects are here and that Rio is a place where people are coming because of architecture. People have come here for the Olympic Games, for the World Cup, for Carnival, but have they come for the city itself and for the architecture? I don’t know. This will be the first time. So, we hope the difference will be people will be much more aware of the environment and the architecture and planning.
And for the architects? What changes?
The World Capital is a reflection of the importance of the architecture in the daily life of people. Architects always want more attention and more credit for what they do. So, if we are successful, it will mean much more public image and more attention to the work of architects and the contribution of the architecture itself to improving lives.
It will be the first Congress in Latin America after 42 years. What’s the importance for professionals from this region to hold the Congress?
It’s a part of the world that is growing in importance economically, in terms of population, culturally, and in every way. I think it’s wonderful that we are coming here. We were at the African continent, before our last conference, and it’s important that we go to the parts of the world where things are changing, where there is development. So, I’m very excited that we are coming to Brazil. And, of course, Brazil and Rio have a wonderful heritage that is known all over the world. Especially the work of Niemeyer, but not only. There are many other important architects. And I think now it’s important for architects to see a city like Rio that has many beautiful aspects, but also some real problems and challenges, to see how the city is trying to deal with these problems and how architecture might help or might not be relevant… it depends. So, I think for architects to come here it’s very important to see problems of the 21st century city and the opportunity of such a city the same time.
So, it brings different kinds of discussions for the architecture as well?
I think so. When we talked about the program of the Congress, much of the content is concerned with trying to address the problems of urban mobility, of sanitation… basic requirements that people face in their lives. And it’s not only in Rio. Every major city in the world has these issues and challenges for the poorest people, for pollution, for congestion. Those are difficulties that every city faces, not only the poorest. And I think it’s important for these issues to be brought to the forefront and to be discussed openly and I think that has changed the focus of the program and what we are going to pay attention to. Thanks to our colleagues in Brazil. It’s their ideas.
And what about the program? Are we going in the right way?
Absolutely! Let’s just try to attract the young people, to focus on work of younger people and let’s try to reflect more balance in gender… This is a issue across the profession. Many women enter the school and study architecture, but they don’t complete, or they leave the profession. And certainly, there is no balance in equity, not only for women, but people of color and minority of all kinds, and I think it’s important that we, as a world institution, reflect our world. And our world is diverse. So, I think this is important and the program will reflect a balance in gender and attempt to reach out all parts of the world, all faiths, ethnicities, and all of these elements that make up our membership which is very, very diverse.