Bak Gordon

Bak Gordon studio

Bak Gordon



We had the chance to catch up🧔 with Ricardo Bak Gordon, CEO & Founder of Bak Gordon Architects, about his journey so far, what makes him tick, and what he feels is the meaning of architecture — or if there’s even one to speak of. The poetic way he sees and 🧜soaks up what surrounds him leaves us all guessing if we’re looking at the same thing.


FF: Let’s start at the very beginning. How did architecture become a part of your life, and how has 🔜it beeꦏn so far?

BG: Well, I went to three different colleges. First in Porto, at the Porto School of Architecture, then Lisbon, and after that, I had the chance to go to Italy. This happened in 1988, the early days of the Erasmus Programme, a time when information and knowledge were attained in a ve✨ry different way and speed, and I had the chance to get it. You had to go or move to a particular place to become part of it and really absorb what you could. Sure, Porto was a terrific experience for me; the school is well-renowned and has brought us heavy-duty characters such as Álvaro Siza Vieira, Fernando Távora, and others. Italy, however, showed me that the world was broader, and now I had access to a m⛄yriad of seminars, books, and occasional sightings of the greatest architects that were part of the European scene. All of this will certainly give you a glimpse of my spread-out upbringing, not only geographically but also related to the many influences and realities I ended up capturing throughout those instructive years.

I finished my studies in 1990 and began my career a bit differently from what other architects usually do. I saw my peers starting at architecture studios and wor💫king with those who could latജer be considered their masters, so to speak. I wasn’t that lucky. I decided to go ahead and enter competitions and tenders with a partner. The first competition got us an honourable mention, which must have triggered something in us, a sort of courage to take chances and just move on with what we were doing. In 2000, after ten years of working in architecture, 🍒I founded Bak Gordon.

bak gordon by francisco nogueira 1


FF: After 20 years at your stud༒io in Chiado, one of Lisbon’s downtown quaintest areas, you’re now working from a very different neighbourho🔯od.

BG: We’re doing some renovation work in the other studio, but we feel great here for now. It’s funny because you think you know a place really well, and then you move and start seeing that same place in a whole different way. The context changes; therefore, the way you look at the buildings, the outlines, the corners, every detail becomes special in its own right. Architecture, to me, is all about observing, living, looking at places and learning from them. I still get quite spellbound when I leave the studio and look around, whether ꧒it’s dark out and a heavy sky is lingering over us or a lovely late afternoon. I believe we all should live by this.


FF: It’s going ❀to be fascinating once you return to your original studio because yoꦺu’re probably going to look around with a very different outlook.

BG: The city is constantly changing. I’ve witnessed many changes while working🥂 downtown, from when there were hardly any people walking around to a few years ago, after the tourism boom.


FF: Does this process influence your work?

BG: There is nothing I do that doesn’t emulate s𝓡omething I’ve seen or places I’ve been in some way. I think that’s part of our métier. Although there’s a ton of technical stuff that absolutely needs to be conquered and executed perfectly, there are also other things in architecture to bear in mind, which is the way architects work is almost the same as writers do: they carry their knowledge on their shoulders and pour it onto a page, and so do we.

 I deal with my students that way, too. I tell them, “You alrea🐭dy know, but you don’t know you know”. For example, they have to draw a door, and they don’t know where to start. But when they come in for class, they’ve opened and closed dozens of doors; they just didn’t look closely at them. It’s time to start looking at things with clear eyes because it coul🧸d lead to getting an answer much faster than you thought.

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FF: There’s also something remarkable in f🐟inishing your studies and going directly at it without paving your way ꦗthrough architecture studios. You need courage and a sense of curiosity to make it happen.

BG: When I was in Italy, I’d spend endless afternoons at the school’s library browsing through book after book and getting myself acquainted with at least half of the architects that have an impact on me still today. It was something🎀 that we didn’t have in Portugal, easy access to information. And one thing that fascinated me was finding out that many great architects, such as Le Corbusier, wer💦e self-taught. I believe that no one can be the greatest if you just stop the learning curve on its tracks whenever you feel good about something. It never stops. And most of it has to do with observing and making room to think. There’s only so much you can learn through books. In my case, I’m adamant when it comes to finding a poetic trait that comes from what you see and collect in your memory while going about your life every single day.


 FF: Do you feel th🎉er🦂e’s some sort of identity running through your work?

 BG: There are hundreds of points of view regarding that question, but there’s one I usually like to pride myself in sharing. Although I’🍒ve worked on many different projects, I feel like I have an excellent relationship with all of them and genuinely like to see them from time to time. I also tend to look at each project with as much freedom as possible. I’m not always falling on the same trend or pursuing a given theme. It’s usual to do this in my line of work, but I enjoy being free when tackling a project for the first time. One thing my projects have in common for sure is this sort of gravitas around them; they’r💫e rooted to the ground — it’s as if they couldn’t be dragged away even by a hurricane.

There’s 💜also a relationship that I like to establish between the inside and the outside, or between a place and the other. For example, regarding this project that has brought Fantastic Frankဣ Lisbon and me together, its façade connects with the adjacent buildings, and it becomes evident that a further relationship needs to be founded to merge it with the surrounding landscape.


FF: Because it also has its own roots.

BG: Architecture is something that delves into the deepest waters of thought processing, and it’s always amazing when 🍰it’s time to venture in🌞to building something in a city that already has its own way of being. But at the same time, there’s space for dialogue and a sort of continuity that can’t be broken if we want to achieve greatness.

FF: What about the visual features of architecture? In a time when architectural projects are so easily captured and posted on magazines and social media that we no longer tend to look in books to﷽ see how it’s done, how do you deal with the fact that people expect nothing less from a house than the best picture for Instagram?

BG: That can really be a problem. If an architect designs and builds something just so it photographs well🌃? I don’t think so — at least I don’t do it. But there’s certainly no doubt the frenzy surrounding the visual representation of virtually everything is not going anywhere. We’re aware of that at Bak Gordon, and we try to deal with it the best way possible. A different thing would be to say we make things just for the sake of having them posted on social media. These days you need to know where you stand in terms of what everyone’s trying to foist on us and separate what really matters from wha𒅌t doesn’t. If the photo is pretty, let’s see if the building lives up to it or if it’s just a good photo taken from the right angle. There are so many things the online world can give us, but it’s crucial to stay aware that architecture goes way beyond that.

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All photos by Francisco Nogueira

Interview by: Soraia Martins for FF Lisbon