First Edition 2007-2008
He graduated from the Faculty of Architecture at the National University of Asunción in 1986; he was awarded the national prize for architecture 1989-1999 by the college of Paraguayan architects; he reached the finals of the second “premio Mies van der Rohe de arquitectura latinoamericana”; he represented Paraguay at the Biennali in Venice, São Paolo and Lisbon, the capital of Ibero-American culture.
He has been invited to speak at the following universities: in Argentina, at the National Universities of Rosario, Mar del Plata, Santa Fe, Oberà, La Plata, Tucuman, Resistencia and Buenos Aires; at the Catholic Universities of Cordoba and Posadas, Torcuato University in Tella and Palermo University in Buenos Aires; in Brazil, in San Pãolo, at the Mackenzie University, the Escola da Cidade, the Federal University of São Carlos, Umuarama and Belo Horizonte; in Chile, at the Catholic University of Santiago, the Andrés Bello National University and the University Diego Portales; in Ecuador, at the Catholic University of Quito; in Panama, at the Isthmus School of Architecture; in Peru, at the Ricardo Palma University and at the Catholic University in Lima; in Spain, at the Escuela Tecnica Superior de Arquitectura in Madrid; in the United States, at Arizona State University, Berkeley University of California, San Francisco University and Harvard University Graduate School of Design.
He founded the “Gabinete de Arquitectura”, a professional architectural studio, which he currently shares with his partners Alberto Marinoni and Gloria Cabral.
His recent works include: leisure facilities in Ytú (Paraguay), 1997-1998 (this work reached the finals of the second Mies van der Rohe Latin-American architecture prize”); a tomb in Priribebuy (Paraguay), 2000-2001; the Unilever office in Villa Elisa (Paraguay), 2000-2001; Casa Esmeraldina, Asunción (Paraguay), 2002; Casa Fanego, Asunción (Paraguay), 2003 (with Sergio Fanego); Casa Abu & Font, Asunción (Paraguay), 2005-2006; Casa Las Anitas, San Pedro (Paraguay) 2007-2008; Alambra building, San Lorenzo (Paraguay).
Solano Benitez received the award by a unanimous verdict of the Jury, which recognized in his works (his father’s grave in Piribebuy, the Unilever headquarters in Villa Elisa, and the Abu&Font House in Asunción) a singular expressive force and the ability to combine a lucid reading of the tradition of the Modern Movement with sensitivity to the context in which the buildings arose. According to the Chairman of the jury, Mario Botta: “this architectural research by Solano Benitez, carried out in a difficult politico-economic context, with clear logistical problems and far from the manufacturing processes dictated by globalization, was of a remarkable quality. Benitez mainly uses simple materials that he obtains locally, which enables him to achieve expressive forms with major impact and poetic power. The poverty of the materials used is inversely proportional to the emotions that the architect conveys. The environmental values of Latin America are reinforced through his architecture, with a fresh language, new concepts and unexpected qualities for living spaces.”
4 vigas / Father’s grave
Piribebuy (Paraguay), 2000-2001
«… I’m building a project that took me ten years. Imagine a square 9 m long in a very unusual landscape: two of the sides are bordered irregularly by a small creek of crystalline waters and small falls, and crossing diagonally, a smaller stream creating a little island which ends where the two streams rejoin. This square is formed by four concrete beams held by one column. As you can imagine, due to humidity the site is particularly heavily overgrown and the beams intersect with the luxuriant growth of trees and big ferns without disturbing any of the species in the place, being defined on the outside by this interlaced concrete structure. On the outer face of each beam, amambay leaves, of ferns very characteristic of these creeks, stamp their outline in the concrete, where it was executed with the help of the maestro Solanito, my eldest son. The inner face of the beams is covered with mirrors, making the space earlier described disappear once we’re inside. Within the square, skirting the roots, caressed by the sound of the waters of the stream, there is a grave, in reinforced concrete: my father’s tomb.
«I tackled this project systematically and periodically through the next ten years following his death, and abandoned it with the same frequency as the urge to tackle it again arose in me, in this way fulfilling his request to be buried in our country house at Piribebuy, 84 km from Asunción, in a place named by him as Los Pilinchos, a subsidiary of heaven. The circumstance of dealing over the years with the topic of death, and in particular of someone so dearly loved, make me pass through every state of melancholy imaginable – as the only evidence of my inefficiency as an architect. The access, across the signs of the beams, through the four interrupted spaces in the perimeter, makes the place disappear, thickening the air with a great centripetal force, where everything present becomes integrated, waiting for the moment when someone sits by my father’s grave, the moment when every presence is captured by the mirrors, with their endless repetition of the space, which they now transform into a centrifugal integrator. Remember the height of the beams is standard handrails, about 1.10 m, so by standing in this space our view ranges beyond the 81 m2 in which we’re inscribed. In the mirror I’m out “there”, in front of me, outside myself, living in another dimension, watching myself and everything else, or just allowing me to live in a different world, which is not my own, on a plane of equality and simultaneity. Maybe in the mirror we could find a machine which allows us to live in some other way with our relatives… our beloved absent ones, snatched away by obscene death… Those who are an impossible love, because we can never find either time or space that will allow them to be. This small work, I think, has a particular exorcist quality for me and I expect it to have an overall positive effect in the management of my relations with my own ghosts. I would like you to know that this “Morel invention” is still producing its fruits – although highly influenced by my dear Brazilian brothers, I’m now tempted to explain it in the following way: 4 beams, 4 columns, 4 mirrors… and a grave.»
Villa Elisa (Paraguay), 2000-2001
The project grew out of an architectural competition based on the criteria of project and price for the rehabilitation of a section of a derelict factory as the corporation headquarters. The management acted as jury. A first classification of the projects was based on construction costs. Then another list was made with a nominal discount of 15% on the cost of the projects offering the best functional properties in the proposed spaces, and thirdly, another 15% discount on the project with the most desirable corporate image (environmental values, spatial qualities, innovational development). The upshot was there could be a 30% difference between the proposal of the selected architectural studio with the lowest costs and the one which best fulfilled the values requested by the firm. On these terms, we won the commission. Given the heat in Paraguay, with 45 to 47 ºC daily at this latitude, creating shade is a big issue, and to do this with the traditional techniques of brick building would have made the proposal unfeasible. So we had to develop a system of prefabricated ceramic panels, using the ground and gravity as allies. Once we got the panels, we devised a sequence in which they were to be installed, with the same logic used for building bridges, making each part once erected support the next. This approach, looking at the materials as matter, enabled us to imagine new forms with the parts we already had, regardless of standard protocols. It ensured the new techniques would be able to respond to new stresses never achieved before in traditional building. Walls of prefabricated ceramic panels set on the ground as brise-soleils; tiles used as flooring to protect the waterproofing membrane and cast shadows so as to avoid the overexposure of the roof to the sun; panes of glass assembled without any metal framework and erected to compose volumes: these are just some of the features of an approach which embodied the greatest austerity as a value. Contrary to what might be thought, it produced a new richness. As a scale of reference, the company needed to budget for the construction work only 17% more than was earmarked for the furniture and equipment in the building’s 2500 m2 of floor space.
Asunción (Paraguay), 2005-2006
Numbers say that in South America a family is victimized by violence and insecurity every second. If we weigh this sequence of pain, by measuring closely, the number of times life is brought to an end, we’ll get the total of those needing protection. Built to protect: a house against all bleakness, sun and rain, against indifference, fear and solitude, a house as a resistance tool, where life resides again. A mother and her many children, and her life prolonged, another seven families and twenty something grandchildren, can gather together here any Saturday; this is the essential brief… And after the exodus, new hope again. Life feels persistent, while architecture adapts and transforms itself. A totally clear ground floor only contains fragments of the services, with doors opening into the space outside, so that house and grounds are one. Strictly speaking this inner and outer space are matched, making the open gaps fulfil its name’s command. Two Vierendeel beams 14 m long support the house, its weight downloaded onto four columns standing at its edges. The beams are set 11 m apart with longitudinal beams connecting them and extending beyond them to rest on brackets, the projections balancing the inner tensions. The whole ensemble is closed by a reinforced ceramic flat-slab, which supplements tension in the lower part of the ensemble. The other two floors have the private quarters, dormitories and intimate living rooms, prepared against the Paraguayan heat. An underground level brings us closer to the temperatures below ground, far cooler in summer and warmer in winter, providing much-needed relief in a place where temperatures oscillate between +47 and –2 ºC. The top floor, by contrast, seeks to combat the extremes by increasing the volume of air. It has a section 5 m high, creating a spatiality unusual in contemporary homes, but to get and maintain this preserved space it absorbs all the energy put into the house. Where there isn’t much, austerity is necessary, and the strategy to get it is to operate only using the essential. Ceramic brick is the cheapest construction material in our country and it’s used across its whole potential, in floor, wall and ceiling. A cement polish covers everything which is likely to come into contact with water. Glass and metals compose structures capable of supporting large doors, while wooden veneer panels are used to enclose or expand functions and spaces. The house costs 50% less than the standard market rate. Each aspect of it is approached on the same principle, requiring the defining materials to act at the same time as fundamental structures, without ornament. There is no need for anything else because there is no money to buy it. For everything else… there’s Photoshop.