The house from inside
by Mia Couto
Once, in a forest in Niassa, in the North of Mozambique, I came across a house in the throes of its birth. It was being born without rupture: it was literally coming into the world. I remember the circumstances of that rough and ready delivery, of how it glided imperceptibly from being nature to something made by human hand. There were three local folk who accompanied us to the banks of the River Lucheringo, far from the lines on maps. We said: “We should set up camp here”. They looked up at the sky, turned the soil over with their shoeless feet and sized up the surrounding branches. In a few minutes they were gathering the necessary materials: Light, Sun, Wind, Rain. In less than an hour, our house was built. Without screws, without nails, without rope. A simple machete had been passed from hand to hand and with each precise cut, the central supporting pole had emerged from the shapeless trunk, rope from its fibrous bark, the roof from humble elephant grass. By the time we moved in, a miracle had occurred: the house had emerged from where chaos had reigned before.
There we would work in unforeseen comfort. More than in comfort: in a state of belonging to the place. The tents we had brought were never taken out of the cars. The big bell-tents provided a gloomy shelter, protection from the cold and nocturnal creatures. But they could never be a house. And by now, we weren’t residents, but rather inhabitants. Our mud and wattle hut was a womb that enclosed a whole universe. It was as if we were inhabiting the tree, as if our presence there were no more than a suggestion, a bird’s feathery footprint. On our veranda, we didn’t get the shade. We were the shade. We weren’t on the riverbank. We were the riverbank.
When all was said and done, the house hadn’t been built. It was as if it had always existed there and hands had merely brought it out into the open. And yet it had an architectural design, dimensions and rooms, a bedroom, a kitchen and even a toilet with a seat. We could relax on an improvised porch, which served as a veranda, and there we would contemplate the afternoon. The local folk had long since gone away, but I continued to feel their hands fluttering like wings around the nest. I listened to that residue as if consoled by someone who had caused a birth, while nothing had needed to die in return.
I recall all this in order to talk of Carlos Nogueira and his well conceived construction. This oeuvre that is born without rupture, like an event without a cause, a design without a plan. An edifice that reveals no effort: such is the first sign of beauty. A poem needs to be written, as its prime condition of existence. On the other hand, the greatest enemy of a poem is being overwritten. The same is so for architecture. Carlos Nogueira writes with the levity of one who merely speaks, whispers, instigates. I can confirm this about him: the materials he uses in his work are not stone, steel or wood. They are light, shade, the hand of someone with a dream.
More than structures, the architect designs absences, narrow slits of sunlight, or of the last traces of night. When he thinks he is closing, he is opening a crack. Where one fancies there is a wall, there is an open space. And to cap it all, the time-honoured veranda from which we survey the deceitful landscape. For everything is turned into what is internal, a space yet to be designed, a face that has no other frame than what our own gaze gives it.
Carlos Nogueira teaches me like those wise builders in Niassa: a house is not where a man shuts himself away. It’s where Man opens out upon his inner self.
In Carlos Nogueira, desenhos de construção com casa . e céu, Lisboa, Casa da Cerca,
Maio 2006, p. 72-76.