Spain Builds (?)

Spain Builds (?)

Colaboración para el número 28.2013 de la revista bauwelt

Spain Builds? Was in Spanien auf dem Spiel steht

Für den internationalen Erfolg spanischer Architek­tur in den vergangenen Jahren werden gemeinhin drei Gründe angeführt. Um zu begreifen, was derzeit auf dem Spiel steht, muss man sie noch einmal in Erinnerung rufen.
Erstens: Die Bildungstradition spanischer Archi­tekturschulen gründet sich auf einer ganzheitlichen Sicht auf das Berufsbild, die naturwissenschaftliche wie humanistische Aspekte einschließt. Die Schulen bilden Architekten aus, die vielleicht weniger spezi­alisiert sind als andere, dafür aber umso geübter darin, mit vielerlei Herausforderungen ihrer Arbeit zurechtzukommen…sigue PDF

versión original inglesa:

The international success of recent Spanish architecture has been lengthily attributed to the combination of three key issues. Probably, one or two more should be added. Irreducible to these few, this is a much more complex phenomenon which has a further echo in historical, social, political or cultural fields. In any case, no order of importance, though perhaps in a coherent sequence itself, those issues are:

The first issue is the education tradition of the Schools of Architecture, usually demanding and responsive to a program of study –endlessly discussed against any change– based on a holistic view of the profession. The attention to both scientific and humanistic aspects of education results in an architect perhaps less specialized than others but very well trained to manage any of these aspects.

Secondly, there is a tradition of Architects’ Associations –founded in 1929 but based on previous Societies– that are territorially organized and then joined together in a national council, the Consejo Superior de Colegios de Arquitectos de España (CSCAE) that have been so far virtually omnipotent. Despite the seeming geographical dispersion (26 current Associations) they have shielded the legal and economic status of the profession. Associations also offer different services according to their founding acts “to meet in all cases the purposes of Architecture as a social service”. Thus, they also promote to a greater or lesser extent architectural culture, through different awards, exhibitions, conferences, and some of the oldest and best publications (Arquitectura, Quaderns, Obradoiro,…) or historical archives.

And thirdly, a production system in which a good amount of traditional crafts and small businesses still have survived, together with an adequate development of industrialized construction processes. The building activity has been organized into a consolidated guild configuration, which has allowed a construction quality quite satisfactory.

Along the same lines as above, we should add a professional organization whose concept –intellectual and ideological– and execution still responds to a kind of handcrafted scheme. That is, small or not to large offices with a young and highly qualified workforce (see first issue) and a deep commitment to the client, focus on the project and the construction supervision despite any ‘efficiency’, understood in terms of business effectiveness or productivity. And last, but extremely relevant to identify the reasons for success, a strong reservation of professional activity regulated by the Ley de Ordenación de la Edificación (Law of Construction Planning) that outlines roles, responsibilities and capacities of the architect and others agents  –engineers, structural designers, planners, surveyors, builders– involved in the construction process.

These five issues may be the most important ones. Nevertheless, we can also add the remarkable transformation of the country from 1975 onwards, the end of political and cultural isolation, the subsequent cultural change, the entry into the European Union in 1986, the celebrations of 1992 (Expo of Seville and Barcelona Olympics), the administrative decentralization, the ‘miraculous’ economic growth in recent decades, hence the abundance of projects, a very active public promotion (including housing), or the generalization of a public procurement and competition system with qualified jurors that has allowed the participation of younger architects.

The climax, with its lights and shadows, and the celebration of this fiesta in which everything seemed possible, was ‘On Site: New Architecture in Spain’ –the exhibition organized at MoMA in New York in 2006. The exhibition met 18 works and 35 projects –finished, in design or under construction– by Spanish architects and the galaxy of foreign stars who have worked in Spain recently, since the renowned and yet discussed ‘Guggenheim effect’. The catalog to complement the exhibition Spain Builds: Arquitectura en España 1975-2005 –recalling the famous Brazil Builds, 1943– portrays the situation we have briefly described quite well.

But the celebration is drastically over and if we only attend statistics the current panorama can be simply defined as catastrophic. It is enough to provide some data for each of the five issues above to get an idea of the current situation of architecture –probably we can find a common ground with other nearby countries– and draw some conclusions to better face the future.

Besides the discussion on the relevance of the current program of study, a recent report conducted by students of Architecture drew attention to the fact that between 1991 and 2011 the Schools of Architecture in Spain had more than doubled to 32 (5 in 1966, 13 in 1991, 26 in 2010). As a result the number of architects in the period 2001-2011 had almost doubled to just over 50,000 architects. This situate Spain in a ratio of 1.25 architects per 1,000 inhabitants in 2010 and 1.1 in 2012 (European average 2010/2012 = 0.9) but with a percentage of over 60% aged under 45. The current unemployment rates of 26% rises up to 60% among the profession, and show a horizon where more than 34% of students are considering to work abroad as a primary option and up to 71% of respondents would it likely. The exodus is assured, though due to the first issue, at least Spanish graduates are well trained and have a prominent role everywhere.

Regarding Architects’ Associations, their funds come from members’ dues –whose number does not increase in the same proportion of new graduates– and mainly by the visa taxes on every project, which have constantly decreased. Association themselves provide the devastating data that 920.199 dwellings were built in 2006, while only 69.746 in 2011 (-92.42%). On the other hand, recent laws to adapt Spanish legislation to the European one to reduce bureaucracy have eliminated visa requirements for some type of projects. Consequently, Associations have lost power and financial capacity to perform its purposes. Needless to say that culture budget was the first to undergo. Though still strong enough, Associations suffer from a certain discredit amongst the profession, especially the youngest.

In relation to the production system we cannot refer anything else other than disaster. The construction market that was seized in 2007 in 323.774 millions of Euros has dropped off in 2011 (156.525) to the total amount of the year 2001 (146.380). But this mainly affects small and medium businesses. In the year 2005 there were about 402.901 companies in the construction industry, of which 232.207 (57.6%) had less than 49 employees. In 2010, the number has dropped to 371.025 companies (-31.876). It could be interpreted as a moderate and reasonable decrease, taking into account the economic circumstances. But small companies with less than 49 employees have carried out the decline, and 55% or even more have fallen. Therefore, we cannot ensure the survival of good craftsmen.

If we end up with an interview to Jordi Ludevid, CSCAE president, in the business newspaper Cinco Días (21.09.2012), estimating at a hair-raising 50% the number of architectural firms that had closed in Madrid or Barcelona, or with the Spanish government about to process a new Professional Services Act to remove reservations of activity and expanding the capacity to design any type of building to engineers and others*, the situation cannot be more chaotic –again, especially for the youngest (remember: up to 60% aged under 45). It is unnecessary to notice the public investment paralysis and that architectural competitions are practically nonexistent. Any other available economic data is not much more encouraging.

But this is not a pessimistic nor defeatist analysis. We must recognize that the situation is that of scorched earth. It is a reality we must face. Data are concluding and we –profession, academia, and government– should analyze what has been done well (for sure the most) and can be improved, and what must be radically changed. Everything is to be recomposed, and that is a good new. The motives of success are still visible and valid and today Spain has one of the best-qualified and demanding generations of architects, both in the professional community and in academia (see for example the list of deans in the most significant Schools of Architecture around the world). This has to be verified in the case of politicians and government.

* Public demonstrations in press and TV, as well as concentrations and protests of architects and students rejecting the draft of the law that has been known are taken place all over Spain these days. (june-july 2013)

Título: Spain Builds? Was in Spanien auf dem Spiel steht
Edita: Bauwelt, 28.2013, 26 juli 2013, 104 jahrgang, pp.2-3
Autor: Jorge Tárrago
ISSN: 0005-6855X