“Spain used to be a sexy, fit and energetic country. Envy, inferiority complexes, greed, arrogance and pride soaked it in fat. It is currently suffering from moral obesity.” That was Architect Manuel Ocaña’s incendiary take on the current state of his home country, one of the hardest hit by the Recession due to its extraordinary pre-Crisis construction boom (a.k.a “the mother of all housing bubbles”).
For this week’s edition of our Recessionary Interviews series – in which we talk to Architects across the globe surviving the Recession - we decided to get one final perspective from the Iberian Peninsula. We chatted with Spain’s Josep Ferrando, of Josep Ferrando Bramona Architecture, who told us how the economic bust has shifted focus from public works towards an architecture of “re”: rehabilitating, re-structuring, re-inhabiting.
Get Ferrando’s take on the state of Architecture in Spain today, after the break…
What was the effect of the boom-time (1990s-2008) on Spanish architecture?
I think we should differentiate between Spanish architecture and architecture done in Spain. During the Boom, our country turned itself into a stage where the “star system” was constantly invited to leave its mark, and the political system was happy to be photographed next to it …even though they knew it was a huge waste of money.
Spanish architecture continued to be of high quality and had many more opportunities to show itself, thanks to many public competitions; that’s why we have seen so much public, government-contracted architecture designed by local architects, where the importance of the place (spatial and temporal) was put on the highest level.
How has architecture changed in Spain since 2008? How have priorities changed? Has focus shifted from creation to renovation?
Since the beginning of the Crisis, opportunities have been diminishing, now that there are fewer competitions and public offerings. I would insist that public works defined a great part of the work of firms that are now considered our best.
Now, these firms are working more intensely in the idea of “re”: not just rehabilitating, but re-structuring, re-inhabiting. Others are also expanding their geographic field of work.
What firms are keeping afloat and how? Are they embracing more interdisciplinary work?
I think that those surviving have figured out how to adapt best to the moment, to do local work from a perspective of austerity and do global work from a perspective of the locality. Those taking an interdisciplinary approach see architecture in a more round-about way.
Has the boom/bust left a positive legacy at all?
It’s difficult to know yet, but I suppose that it has caused us to enter a period of reflection, to look back so that we don’t repeat our mistakes, and look forward with solutions that will last.
Do you think the current crisis represents a cyclical moment (an era of austerity that will give way once again to prosperity) or the beginning of a systemic change that will change architecture for ever?
I think that, as I said, it should help us construct something more “settled,” something that doesn’t depend on economic cycles.
What has been the effect on Spain of the “brain drain” of talented young, architects leaving Spain?
The sensation that we’re losing a generation of excellent professionals: people who were molded by our schools and now can’t invest their intellect in their own country.
Spain and portugal were once beacons for revitalizing, innovative architecture – do you think the torch has been passed?
I think that Spain and Portugal were – and still are – strong sources of a certain type of architecture. There are others, but they have other characteristics.