LIKE LIFE ITSELF
Luis M. Mansilla
Architecture and urbanism share with life itself a persistent coexistence with what remains and what is transformed… The quiet flow of life watched over by surprise becomes perplexed during rough times, accompanied by the sense of need for drastic change and a sense of knowing what we have to abandon, but at the same time with the personal uneasiness of ignorance about what we should be heading towards.
The 10th Spanish Architecture and Urbanism Biennale, apart from being a celebration of architecture and urban planning, is a chance to think about the state of things, about where we are heading after 20 years in a profession that has reaped much success, but also failure, thanks to the buoyant situation of a democratic economy but also the heritage left to us by the masters who struggled to rebuild our country and improve the lives of its citizens.
The need to give the country a large range of infrastructure, facilities and housing, and the necessary celebration of public competitions to provide equal opportunities for all, together with the high standard of training provided by our schools of architecture, has enabled Spanish architects to do their work efficiently in the last 20 years with a degree of acknowledgement by the society that they have served. Nevertheless, it would be sterile, and hence futile, to be complacently satisfied with the success that has accompanied the economic bonanza in recent years without acknowledging that the current situation seems to suggest a less comfortable future, and hence a future that requires a reformulation of the hitherto recurrent models.
For some years now, the classrooms at the Spanish schools of architecture have witnessed a fascinating exchange of ideas about the different approaches to architecture and urban planning. One of the fruits of this academic debate, which has spread into the professional sphere, has been a displacement of the more conventional values of our discipline- space, structure, matter and representation- by a suite of broader, more open, alternative vectors related to the social sphere, ecology, systems of interaction, change and management. It is consolidating a powerful trend of activism amongst a large group of young architects and groups who are proposing a new way of imagining the only architecture and the city, but also society.
This activism, like all creative activity, is the fruit of a dissatisfaction with the state of things. It has emerged in the form of operations and actions which open up a new approach to the world, forging links between highly diversified areas of knowledge. In this activism, instead of the polyhedral system of specialist publications, it claims the right to be heard and refute the official line from the anonymity of the Internet, giving rise to a hitherto unknown phenomenon in which analysis and criticism is democratised, broadening the chance for participation and hence amplifying people's ability to manifest their dissatisfaction with the establishment.
In this context, disturbed by criticism of what we ought to abandon, the sudden onset of the economic crisis has shown that the multitude of proposals by a youth disillusioned with the recent past must not only be brought into the pure academic and professional debate, but has deep roots in the real problems of a disoriented world, and spreads its branches into society as a whole, bringing to the fore youth's ability to glimpse the future from a certain vitalistic disenchantment; a future in which the architectural debate is calling for new attitudes, new strategies and new models.
The burst real estate bubble that enriched many and provided much work to a whole generation of architects who were proud of their achievements has been the first wake-up call about today's lack of faith in a better future, produced by the economic recession. In a sombre statistical landscape following our enjoyment of a privileged situation over a long period, Spanish architects are now faced with an uncomfortable future, prompted by three major challenges: the need to reformulate our education model, the need to reformulate our professional model, and the need to reformulate our technological model.
In the process of harmonising Spain’s education system with the European tertiary educational space, our society has opted for an empirical system with a greater practical and professional focus and more mobility, in contrast with the more theoretical, static academic model. It should be noted, however, that Spain’s schools of architecture, traditionally part of the tertiary polytechnics, have already adopted a certain degree of empirical pragmatism. However, this reformulation process in the education system has, in the case of architecture, sown the seeds of doubt about the future of our professional attributes and responsibilities, and hence also certain doubts about the future distribution of our work. That is why the necessary implementation of the European tertiary education space will not only adapt our architectural learning system to the common patterns in the rest of Europe, but will also require a readjustment of our architects’ activities in relation to their responsibilities, along with a transformation of their guilds.
The need to adapt to European labour regulations will also require a reformulation process in the labour relations model, and hence the professional model, when the current relationship between architects and their assistants is reformulated. Whether we like it or not, we are now faced with an unstoppable process which will convert today’s architect’s offices into a veritable technical corporations, which will have little to do with the traditional guild system in which the transmission of experience from master to apprentice has been the primary learning tool and the start of our professional careers.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly from a purely architectural perspective, the unstoppable reformulation of the technological model, linked to a collective sense that we will never be able to return to an architecture of media-based excess and property speculation-based urbanism, calls for a type of architecture and urban planning that is based on values that exercise greater influence over people and things like ecology, sociology, politics, management and communication. Thus, new styles of work are emerging, some hesitant, others powerful and militant, in which architecture and urban planning are placed at the service of people and society, instead of serving representation and power; new forms of work that defend the poetic capacity of sustainability, its management and its technology; new forms of work with small-scale effects, fully aware of the undeniable potential of micro-architecture and micro-urbanism; new forms of pragmatic yet idealistic work, the heirs of the radical architects' proposals in the second half of the 20th century which, from idealistic perspectives, gave us a premonition of something real that was just a future promise at the time.
In a world in crisis, the future can only open up to architecture that is sensitive to its condition as a basis for the activities of life; architecture that is activist from a social perspective, and propositive from a political point of view; a balanced architecture that is generous with nature, that draws its strength from the local conditions where it is inserted; architecture that links up with other disciplines and areas of knowledge without relinquishing those of its own discipline; architecture in which functional, constructive and formal experimentation coexists with a natural continuity of the modes of inhabitation and their contemporary reformulations; an architecture whose goals are not deposited in a sad, egotistical desire for presence and power, but rather in respect for collective space, which belongs to all; optimistic, generous architecture which proposes a better future without squandering the values of the present and what is yet to come…