The biographic essay titled Manuel Vicente: A Desmontagem do Desconhecido (Disassembling the Unknown, in a free translation to English), by Raquel Ochoa, is to be launched today, March 7, 7 pm, at the old court building, under The Script Road — Macau Literary Festival. In an interview with mART, the author tells how she believes the architect was a “genius” before his time.

By Luciana Leitão

“He produced an architecture that, since it was so irreverent, meant the creation of his own canon; others, that were following other canons, thought that was uncomfortable,” says Raquel Ochoa. Manuel Vicente: A Desmontagem do Desconhecido tells the life story of someone who was close “to geniality” as a thinker.

Raquel Ochoa has three biographies already completed: one about the Cape-Verdean singer Bana, another one about Infant D. Maria Adelaide de Bragança, and the book that is launched today on Manuel Vicente. “I’m a friend of one of his [former] students and he told me: that man is so different, he is so tremendous in his thought, that I would love to see someone writing about him without having any connection to architecture,” she recalls. That was in 2009 and, from then on, she met the architect for long conversations during up to two years. “It was very hard to have a chronological line with Manuel Vicente; the conversations we had were completely chaotic,” Ms Ochoa discloses. “I would start by asking how his days in the United States were, while he was studying Architecture, and he started answering, but soon he would start talking about the creation of the universe,” she says.


Yet, what could be considered a difficulty in the working process was simultaneously something that marked positively their relationship. “He was someone that believed a conversation was a pact of pleasure, in which it doesn’t matter if he is teaching or listening or otherwise,” she highlights. “That generated a conversation dynamics in which it was very hard to follow a chronological order.”

His friends say he “was one of the most incredible persons they’ve met in their entire lives”. Ms Ochoa says that “he was among the 20 most interesting people” she has met. “He was someone who liked to disassemble things, and, in that disassembling, he would travel through history and through the philosophical currents which he knew,” she reveals.

Leading the way

While writing this book, the author chose a few events that marked his life. “Obviously, his graduation as an architect, having gone to India and the experience in India, his wedding and his children,” she says. Yet, something that is transversal to everything, was “a huge love in fulfilling, fabricating and building”.

She starts the book with an episode Portuguese architect Manuel Graça Dias told her. “They are both in Hong Kong, in a certain crossing and there’s an airfare for pedestrians, in the carriageways there is a partition and everybody knows Manual Vicente had a problem in a leg,” she says. “He told Graça Dias: it is stupid to go across by the carriageway — he did not like to walk —, so let’s cross the street directly,” Ms Ochoa added. “It went very badly, they were almost falling and causing accidents, but when they arrived to the other side, breathless, they laid on the grass, they looked at each other and Manuel Vicente asked Graça Dias: wouldn’t it be madness to go across the carriageway?” This is the “disassembling of everything, of what it is correct,” and that was Manuel Vicente.

Image by Eduardo Martins

Image by Eduardo Martins

Macau and his time in the territory were a “constant presence” in their conversations. “It meant his personal and professional achievement,” she says. The architect developed a big part of his work in the territory, signing projects like the World Trade Centre building and the Praia Grande Bay. But it was not only that. “The way he interpreted Macau, the gaming city, but not because it had a lot of casinos — it was a city with the tendency for this dynamic, considering the Chinese culture.”

And there were other topics recurrently appearing in the conversations: his teaching lessons, the “simple machines” like the lever or the pulley which “gained strength”, his masters.

After years of conversations with Mr Vicente, the author says “he was at a genius level, as a thinker” and that “many centuries are needed” to fully comprehend him. In fact, architect João Santa-Rita — his friend — told her that “Manuel Vicente didn’t fit any dogma and that dogma itself was suspicious of him”.
She defines him as a “scholar” with a “rebel personality”, who “deconstructed things” and turned them into something different. “He had an accident when he was two years old, he had his leg damaged for 10 years, so he spent his childhood in bed and he had to be chained to the bed, because, as a child, he wouldn’t stay still,” she recalls. “Since he couldn’t play, he usually did that with his head — firstly, he started developing the capacity to think, more prematurely than other children; secondly, he usually liked disassembling toys.”

Now that the day has come to launch it, she is glad, as the book has waited a long time to turn to life. At first, this was supposed to be an authorised biography on Manuel Vicente, but that changed. “He left [he died in 2013] and I was in the middle of the working process,” she recalls. Upon his death, Ms Ochoa had already gathered a lot of information but not all of his life scheme.

So, one year and a half ago, local architects Rui Leão and Carlotta Bruni, who were Manuel Vicente’s friends, helped her finish the work. “They managed to guide me so as to finish it,” she says. “Since I did not have his [Manuel Vicente] involvement, I had to decide certain things to write which should not be up to me to decide,” she confides.

Ms Ochoa had submitted the first manuscript of the book only a few days prior to his death. “I know it was in his bedside table when he died.”