Maybe it was the serenity of her profile picture. Maybe it was the poetic wisdom of her writing. Whatever it was, although I have never met Ana Maria Manzo, she has inexplicably implanted herself in my psyche.
Ana Manzo is an architect and writer from Venezuela. What strikes you about Ana is her convictions about her profession. She is an ingénue in architectural years, having practiced for little more than a decade, yet she writes like a designer who has developed her ideals over a lifetime. "Architecture is much more than that. It is something deeper and more complex than simply being the biggest, or most impressive, or the rarest. It is not about the limelight, or discordant notes, there is no need to shout in the middle of the path. It is about unity, to be part of a whole; to build a chord to complement our small everyday worlds, without losing our identity as architects."
She has worked on projects for major corporations such as Kraft and Chrysler, as well as numerous industrial and residential projects. I asked her which of these she is most proud of. Not surprisingly, it is her thesis project, one that demonstrates her concern for the disenfranchised. "I designed a prison for pregnant women and/or with children. This is a project really close to my heart. I spent almost one year thinking, on a daily basis, on how to make the life of these kids a little less hard, which would also help the mothers to become better persons and facilitate their transition from prison to society." For Ana and the other women in my series, there is always a kindness they project onto humanity through their work.
Her sensibility about residential design is singularly client-based. There is no ego in her work. She doesn't concern herself with splashing photos of her projects on every architectural website. She designs residences in a way that only the client could possibly live there, really feel alive there, not stilted by a modernist minimalism stretched to emptiness. "Maybe because residential design is the area of architecture I like the most, maybe because I like pretending I'm a psychologist. I've said before that it is in the dream house of every person, where all their hidden desires are immersed."
It is their deep feelings that Ana tries to capture while interviewing clients for their dream design, what Roy McMakin calls the "choreography with the client." Ana says, "In order to be able to decipher the mysteries in people's psyches we must think in terms of dreams, desires and feelings, and not only in architecture terms such as walls, ceilings and spaces. This is key to any residential project. And in my case, it's what makes every house I've designed a unique and unrepeatable translation of the particular language of the client."
She studied architecture at Simon Bolivar University in Caracas, Venezuela from 1995 to 2001. After graduating she furthered her studies with courses in marketing for executives from other disciplines, graphic design advertising, and design software. "I used to work for a firm up until 5 years ago, that's when I decided to be my own boss, so I concentrated all my efforts on designing and creating my own ideas. I think it's very important for every newly graduated student from architecture school to work for someone else for a while, someone with experience, who can teach you what is not in the books. But then you get to a point in which you have to go on your own, so you don't rely on other people's knowledge and the decisions you make are only yours, for better or for worse. That's when the challenge really begins."
Many of Ana's creations are initially propagated by dreams. She allows herself to be informed by them, trusting them enough to allow them space to breathe in her studio. Lest you think this is light-hearted musings, there is mounting scientific discussion about the role of dreams as a consolidation of unresolved issues, sifted external stimuli and productive subconscious activity. In his best-selling book, "Blink", professor Malcolm Gladwell describes rapid cognition, demonstrating how what happens on the subconscious level is thinking; but it's thinking that happens so rapidly it evades conscious observation, remaining locked in the subconscious and becoming manifest through emotions and dreams. Ana is an open person, both professionally and spiritually. This openness invites the observations in the ethers to occupy her. So her dreams are a way of getting in touch with all perceptions of creative energy, and that is ultimately what she draws on for inspiration.
Her blog is a collection of wisdom from books she has started, but finds little time to complete. She writes in her native Spanish as well as English. I admire the tenacity of her work ethic. She manages to blog in two languages, work on complex architectural projects, continue her education, and raise two young children. All this while worrying about the fate of humanity. Her writings indicate she is a sensitive person, so I asked her what makes her cry. "This is a hard question because I try not to think about my fears so much. I feel that if you give too much weight to them then they really gain importance. I guess that my worries might be related to my kids, to being a good parent; I suppose that's a constant between parents; there's no manual on how to do it so you always fear you're not doing it right. What makes me cry is injustice, children without parents, lonely and without any kind of guidance; it's so sad and so common that it frightens."