The Memory of Architects
Today, 7 October, the Historical Archive of the COAC (Architects’ Association of Catalonia) celebrates its 50th anniversary with a party and an exhibition. The importance of the event goes far beyond that of simply acknowledging 50 years of existence.
Context: the architect’s profession is now more diverse and more rewarding than at any other time in its history. Many architects and many architecture syllabuses (regardless of whether they focus on design or on one aspect or another of construction) now tend to specialise. Or hyperspecialise.
Chartered architects’ associations are the bodies responsible for managing this diversity and keeping the profession united in the face of an evident risk of fragmentation. They provide a common space in which culture plays a pivotal role. The COAC performs this function through three central elements: its head office, a listed building designed by the, ahem, “unique” architect Xavier Busquets (I’m surprised they still haven’t made a film a about his life), located right at the heart of the city and boasting works by Picasso and Antoni Cumella; its library, the second most important of its type in Europe; and its Historical Archive, which is also one of the continents’ leading repositories of documentation.
The Archive has conserved the collective memory not only of the COAC but also of the architectural profession itself since long before the idea of professional associations even existed. Indeed, its oldest plan is one made by the fantastic neo-classical architect Pedro Martín Cemeño. The Archive preserves the memory of all the key moments in the forging of a national architecture, including the regionalist movements, Modernisme, Noucentisme, the GATCPAC, the Grupo R and the Barcelona School. It has recently been boosted by donations from architects who built the transition to democracy and shaped our notion of common space, from MBM to Clotet-Tusquets-Paricio, Bach i Mora and so many others. In one particularly interesting initiative, it has even experimentally preserved the library of Manuel de Solà-Morales as it was in his day, complete with all its books (except for a couple of copies of Penthouse which I, personally, would also have saved as a gesture of historical rigour). The room serves as a testimony to how one of our most important late 20th/early 21st century architects and intellectuals worked and organised his reports and his memories. The Archive was originally housed in a building designed in 1968 by the Studio Per (which also kept its own archives there), but now it occupies a space built literally on top of basements specially designed to accommodate the more than two million documents it now comprises and which is currently being enlarged to accommodate those which will be added in the future, regardless of their format. It is a key institution for anyone wishing to pinpoint and understand present-day perceptions of the profession and a witness to our diversity.
All that work well deserves a celebration. 130 of the drawings most representative of the Archive’s history are to be displayed as a tribute to its documentary holdings: 130 emblematic drawings which will give us some idea of all the different periods covered by those holdings and the sheer scope of the Archive in the first full, transverse exhibition it has ever organised. The exhibition can be visited from 7 October to 6 January. It’s a good way to celebrate the occasion.