1

Zaera, A. Salvando las turbulencias: entrevista con Álvaro Siza. Originally published in El Croquis magazine issue 68/69, Álvaro Siza 1958 1994

2

Campo Baeza, A. (1993). Un momento antes de la última explosión. From the La idea construida collection of essays. Valencia: General de Ediciones de Arquitectura.

Rowing Against the Tide

Projects by the Gensler company, one of the biggest global architecture giants.

At the beginning of the 1990s, maestro Álvaro Siza ended an interview with Alejandro Zaera1 with a veiled mention of his concern for the future of architecture in Europe. He warned of the impending implementation of the American model, controlled by big corporations and insurance companies. Now, more than twenty years later, that future has become the present, and the Americanisation of the European model is becoming worryingly real.

In Spain, the  way the architectural profession has traditionally been structured – a way that has worked so well for so long –  has already been under threat for many years. Although the figure of the freelance architect still exists, it’s a business model that’s becoming increasingly inefficient due to regulatory, bureaucratic and technological requirements. There’s also the enormous difficulty of winning public contracts in tender processes that are saturated with bidders and very often inaccessible, especially for younger architects. The logical consequence of this situation is the creation of large bureaus with big, multi-disciplinary teams that find it much easier to optimise work processes.

However, the one fundamental, most discouraging change lies not in the emergence of bigger studios but in their inexorable transformation into companies. The objective of an architecture studio is to earn a living making good architecture, as far as that is possible, subject to the ethical standards of a profession implicitly aware of the common good. In contrast, the objective of a company is simply to make money and maximise profits by adjusting its strategy to meet market demands. The quality of the end product may be a means to achieve certain results, but it’s never an objective in itself.

The main consequence of applying business logic is a loss of quality: not building quality – which can be maintained through more efficient execution – but the quality of the actual concept that underlies all projects. As Alberto Campo Baeza so succinctly explains, “[…]Never has humankind erected so much rubbish on such a scale. And so skilfully and solidly built”2. The only ideas governing these projects are those of fulfilling business objectives as efficiently as possible. Safety and comfort are the ultimate premises. No risk of any kind is tolerated, hence Laura Hercha’s windows that are no longer any good even for ventilation. The paltriness of this approach leads to heartless architecture, architecture lacking in forethought which turns out to be extremely monotonous and uninteresting. Facades are therefore the elements usually chosen to disguise those shortcomings, with architects turning to materials that are as banal as they are innovative; to unusual, fun textures; to absurd, vibrant-looking forms and gaudy colours. And such juxtaposition of stimulants produces anonymous, tiresome, superficial architecture.

Under these circumstances, architectural criticism doesn’t have the slightest effect. Official architects’ associations, which have historically been courageous and decisive in their initiatives, seem disorientated in the face of the scale of the changes being experienced, bending with the wind and apparently unconscious of the damage this extreme, widespread commercialisation of architecture is causing.

Architects still create, and will continue to create, good architecture. But we shouldn’t let that be the exception to the rule, or allow most projects to be controlled by business corporations bent on invading our surroundings with their hollow buildings. The trend we’re seeing is not positive at all. Those of us who still believe in the art of architecture need to fight back, to row against the tide with this happy-go-lucky society as our only hope.


Text translated by Andrew V. Taylor
Notas de página
1

Zaera, A. Salvando las turbulencias: entrevista con Álvaro Siza. Originally published in El Croquis magazine issue 68/69, Álvaro Siza 1958 1994

2

Campo Baeza, A. (1993). Un momento antes de la última explosión. From the La idea construida collection of essays. Valencia: General de Ediciones de Arquitectura.

Autor:
(Girona, 1991) Arquitecto por la Universitat de Girona. Como estudiante realiza prácticas en el estudio de Álvaro Siza en Oporto. Posteriormente ha desarrollado labores en el campo de la práctica arquitectónica y la docencia.

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