Andres Pacheco joined VMDO in 2013 and has over 10 years of experience working on multiple projects in varied climates and cultures in China, India, Ecuador, Europe, and the U.S. His experience working across a variety of project types has nurtured his innate curiosity and drive to express the unique qualities of a project and its place through the medium of design.
Earlier in his career, Andres worked in Ecuador as a designer for the Guayaquil Historic Park, a project (now built) that sought to express the existing culture and sustain natural habitats through innovations in bamboo construction, adobe blocks, reclaimed wood, and other vernacular construction systems. This experience informed Andres’ appreciation of simplicity in design and economy in material. Also while in Ecuador, Andres worked on a series of comprehensive city projects from stadiums to apartment buildings. Recently, Modelo had the opportunity to learn more about Andres' design philosophy and unique approach.
On becoming an architect
Places, streets and shelters always intrigued me as a teenager; still today, I would choose to have a coffee in a plaza or walk a street rather than spend time in a museum.
As long as I can remember, I have wanted to draw, build, or design something, and the choice was made easy for me as a child when my parents told me there was a profession called ‘architecture(!)’, so I was set...and I’ve never looked back. So, I really thank God there is architecture; if it didn’t exist, I don’t know what I would do!
As a kid (and still today), I remember going crazy when walking into an art supply store and wanting to use every single drafting piece or gadget they sold. My dad knew this about me and on a few occasions would give me a little money ($1 or $2 in today’s currency) to spend there. I was the happiest kid in the neighborhood buying a couple of pencils and an eraser. We never owned a Lego set and I don’t remember wanting one, but I could never resist a piece of paper floating around the house…I had to sketch on it!
When I started getting ready to study architecture, I thought I was an outlier in my family – which is packed with successful business owners and banana farmers. I just recently discovered that my mother also wanted to study architecture but unfortunately things in life kept her from achieving that dream. My dad is a professional musician and a great guitar player. I remember as a kid having conversations with him about the emotions his songs would elicit…so I am sure that cultural awareness had something to do with my affection for art and inspired some aspects of my sensorial interests.
On discovering his voice as a designer
I had great architecture professors at Catholic University in Guayaquil, Ecuador that helped me cultivate pragmatic yet culturally-rooted instincts and aesthetics. Early explorations involving bamboo construction, which I featured in my college thesis, and then working at the office that designed ‘Parque Historico Guayaquil,’ a cultural thematic park, taught me the value of simplicity and economy in material. In the Latin American context of scarcity, simplicity is not a style or a look but a necessity and offers the opportunity to create sincere, reverent, and elegant designs. I feel very fortunate to have grown up in that environment.
The architects I admired the most (and still do) while doing my undergraduate degree in architecture included Oscar Niemeyer, Simon Velez, Eladio Dieste, and Luis Barragan…and, of course Ricardo Legorreta and LeCorbusier (like everyone else around me back then!)
And then, I discovered Louis Kahn, an architect I don’t remember hearing about while in Ecuador, who rocked my world as a designer with his amazing Kimbell Art Museum and the Salk Institute projects. I consider him the master soul finding architect of our time.
Undeniably, my years at William McDonough + Partners, before joining VMDO Architects, made a huge mark on my formation as an architect. My design goals became deeply attuned to understanding and looking for energy flows in the surrounding terrain and helped me foster a sense of connectedness between inhabitants and communities, as well as between communities and the natural world. I was blessed to have had the opportunity to work with Bill McDonough who, during graduate school and beyond, was an influential architectural mentor. One of the projects I enjoyed working on the most while at William McDonough + Partners was the Bosch Siemens H building in Hoofddorp, The Netherlands.
I also enjoy the work that Shigeru Ban and Lake Flato have contributed to the field.
On joining VMDO Architects
From early on in my studies and professional experiences in Guayaquil, Ecuador, there has been something calling me to discover and celebrate the identity of place. I continue to be amazed at how the legacy of vernacular architecture has evolved and developed over time; still, I think I am even more interested in deciphering our ‘today’. The work we do at VMDO provides all those exciting opportunities and to work with unique, consolidated sites, with strong ‘constants’ begging for powerful and eloquent ‘changes’. Virginia Commonwealth University’s Basketball Development Center is an example of such a project – packed with challenges and a strongly defined context, where the outcome was still connected to the site while also being fresh and fascinating.
I enjoy the adventure of discovering what makes each project unique, even before it is shaped. I think VMDO cultivates a culture of discovery extremely well, and I have learned here many practical and philosophical tools that have helped hone my design process over time.
There are moments during the design process that make me feel as if we are dealing with a person rather than a building. This type of experience is the most fun for me: when the building – in the form of traces, spaces, and light – becomes alive and guides and helps you to bring it to completion. VMDO has been a cradle helping me to develop and put into practice design values I keep close to my heart.
On specific principles that VMDO Architects adheres to
Besides striving to nail the programmatic and functional aspects of each design, I would like to believe there is meaning and a soul in each and every project. I constantly strive to find that…and there doesn’t necessarily have to be a ‘reason’, but at least a ‘feeling’…and oh, what a great experience when you find both.
On his role as a designer at VMDO Architects
I often feel like a multilingual interpreter! I can’t take credit for any of the ideas in the projects that I have worked on. Those ideas are always interpreted, borrowed, or heard, and respond to feedback from our team, the client, the site, the context, the contractor, or even the “malevolent” VE process. My role has been to nurture, develop, and strengthen those ideas and connections. I have been blessed with mentors here at VMDO that are always providing wisdom and encouragement for me to take on that role while providing timely technical feedback to help us achieve any idea possible.
On recent projects that represent the firm's unique approach
The Academic and Performance Center at Liberty University is one of the projects I’ve had the most fun working on. It reflects the rich, student-centered design-thinking that VMDO’s projects try to achieve related to place-making and well-being. In addition, this project had an extremely challenging site and also an interesting program that was integrated seamlessly into the unique features of the landscape, context and the project parti.
On his design toolkit
I think our process is similar to designing a movie, or at least I enjoy picturing it that way; there are stories to tell, characters to develop, places to imagine, budgets and schedules to meet, and dialogue (the material world) that should ideally link all of these ideas together. Architects with at least a few years of experience would not be surprised at how much time is actually invested in just conversations, not even sketches or modeling.
When a project starts, I really enjoy the ‘sponge’ phase, which for me is a time of hearing, sensing, provoking, studying, dreaming, reacting, and adding all sort of shapeless ideas to the bucket. I use sketching carefully as a tool to outline forces and intent more than shapes until a parti (or one of many) emerges.
The modeling software (SketchUp) has been a fantastic parti testing tool for me. It allows me to test the scale, proportions, and areas of spaces accurately and fluidly while at the same time allowing me to overlay new ideas onto previous ones – allowing a truly iterative design experience. I consciously try to keep the software under control so it doesn’t become the tail that wags the dog, so to speak. 3D modeling software is awesome and can generate many cool spaces and shapes almost instantly…but not everything ‘cool’ benefits the project or strengthens the idea. Still, all curious, software-savvy architects know that there are sometimes delightful surprises when you let the 3D model software take you for a spin…for the fun of it and to test assumptions. During design, I strive for the idea itself to define the 3D exploration path.
On the state of design software today
I think we are on the verge of another great professional revolution. I am very excited about the new technology coming up, including virtual reality, and am eager to test those tools and explore how they will help further develop architectural ideas and stories.
Still, I worry about how easily these powerful tools can become, often inadvertently, the sole generators of the parti and quickly shape a program. These sterile but definitely cool forms sometimes catch us off-guard where, all of a sudden, we find ourselves accommodating ideas and the parti to cool articulated forms instead of the other way around.
On the future of architecture and VMDO in the next 5-10 years
I don’t know if it will happen this way exactly, or in this timeframe, but I think we will see more and more Design-Build architects re-emerging in a new version of the ‘master architect/builder’ …maybe in 10-20 years? Technology (mainly BIM) is helping to bridge the gap between the two disciplines, and architects have a chance of regaining control of the actual building practice.
We are actually seeing it more and more as our firm takes part in more Design-Build projects with successful results. Still, we are constantly learning how to make this process effective by keeping all players invested in the design while maintaining efficiency on all fronts.
On advice he would give his younger self
I would tell myself: if you like an idea early in the design process and swear it’s the right one, then stop, and try two other ideas first before moving forward…chances are that you experienced a quick flare with that idea. There is always a better, stronger, and deeper way to solve a problem.
Working in construction early in my career helped me to mature quickly as an architect. Now, I think that I may have acquired knowledge quicker than I became wise to it and was not always able to identify when to be practical and when to remain creative. So, I also would tell myself to ‘never VE the idea before you finish dreaming it.’