History of Architecture for Dummies

Source: own. All rights reserved.

Source: own. All rights reserved.


Los tiempos de cocción

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Lentejas (Fuente: Commons, dominio público)

Como cocinero novato, suelo cocer la comida demasiado o demasiado poco. Me pasa especialmente con las legumbres -¿cómo demonios se controla eso?-, y mira que voy tanteando el fuego y probándolas cada poco. Pongamos, por ejemplo, que cocino lentejas. Me esmero con todo el acompañamiento, me aseguro de si son o no de ésas que deben dejarse en remojo la noche anterior, vigilo la cazuela…; pero nada, que o quedan ligeramente duras o se me forma una capa de pasta. Es raro que algo así le pase a mi madre, si bien la receta es la misma. Probablemente mi fallo esté en el fuego o en el cálculo del tiempo; cosas tan tontas que no se pueden explicar con exactitud.

Algo parecido sucede en las cocinas de los estudios de arquitectura. ½ kilo de ideas, 200 gramos de dibujos y un chorrito de paciencia no garantizan un buen proyecto. Sucede que la receta no especifica la cantidad de agua –puede llover hasta aguarnos el humor-, ni la fuerza del fuego –porque por más fuerza de gas tengamos no se cocina mejor-, ni sobre todo, y esto es lo más importante, el tiempo de cocción. Pasa como con las lentejas; si no controlas la cocción, quedan aguadas y duras, o pastosas y densas.

Porque hay ideas que necesitan muchos años y otras deben servirse en pocos días, jamás, jamás equivoques los tiempos de cocción.

Waiting at the Airport

I had been waiting for some time. My plane had a delay due to the foul weather. The sun burned through the panes in the Barcelona airport and the terminal was getting empty. My departure gate was at the end of one of the terminal’s wings. The size of the building was a big contrast with the small space occupied only by a few chairs beside the gate. There was no room for much people to sit despite the enormity of the building, though the chairs displayed in such a small space conveyed homely feelings somehow.

Source: Commons (Public domain)

Source: Commons (Public domain)

Four young girls came towards me and took a seat in front of me. Had I stretched my legs, I would have hit theirs. They were equally dressed and I realised they were my flight’s staff. I didn’t even bother reading my book since they were talking a bit too loud. One of them complained about the destination. She said she had been there so many times. Where was the captain? He should have already been there. How much more time must we wait? O, I had so many problems to keep my luggage shut! Two of them were pretty gorgeous, and their conversation fun. It felt a bit odd since I was listening to a private conversation. Everyone besides me was doing so though.

A voice through the loudspeaker summoned us to queue. It was about time! A man tried to cut the line but another one rudely told him to go back to his place. Five minutes later the same voice apologised because The plane couldn’t fly yet. What a mess! Everybody went back to the seats, though it seemed that the man who had yelled wasn’t comfortable in the tiny sitting area, so he decided to wander around.

The girls said that all was OK. It was just another delay, and they’d better go downstairs to get ready.

Half an hour later the plane took off. Meanwhile, the sun still burned Barcelona.

While I am remembering last month’s experience, I cannot stop thinking about Marc Augé’s theories about the non-places¹, those places in which we just wait. We are just passing by, we aren’t supposed to have a great experience nor enjoy them. And I am thinking about how the architecture may answer this question while still observing those bored girls and annoyed men.

It is not an easy question, though I expect to find my own answer someday.

¹ Augé, Marc (1995); Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity

Variety / Quantity / Quality

My main motivation why I read is just having fun. Learning, increasing my concentration rates, looking for information I am curious about and so on are usually side-effects. However, they are also good consequences of reading, and all of them could be motivators in and of themselves. They define parts of the personality as well.

Once we realise that having fun is not the only good thing we can gather from literature, we should be aware of the tricky package variety – quantity – quality.

Source: Commons (Public domain)

Source: Commons (Public domain)


According to PISA files, this is the most important factor while reading. It doesn’t matter whether a person read a lot. Saying it otherwise, if two people read the same quantity of literature but one of them reads always the same genre whereas the other switches among them, the second one will have more possibilities of developing his cognitive abilities. In this equation not only can we include all kind of fictional books, but also essay, divulgation, poetry, theatre, newspapers, e-books, comics and the like. Probably, we could add reading in more than one language.

In my opinion, this is the main idea we should keep in mind while reading. Also, I think that switching among different plots and styles is very interesting and fun! Apart from that, reading too much within an only genre could lead to tediousness and reading crisis, which are the opposite of the first goal: read to have fun.


Probably, this is the point of disagreement. What is best between quantity and quality? As usual, there’re no simple answers. I believe that there’s a point when one of them outruns the other. Quality is more important to me, though the more balance the better. Incidentally, a high reading frequency allows a higher variety.


If your time of reading is sparse, go for it! Quality is, nevertheless, hard to define. Although what is quality is something which is beyond this post’s aim, we could probably agree in taking each literary corpus as a guarantee of quality. They list works which are rewarded due to innovations in many aspects, so we expect to take from a few of them more feedback than from a bunch of non-rewarded ones.

However, every reader is different. Sacrificing quantity for quality doesn’t worth when the person doesn’t enjoy the books as much as others. Also, quality shouldn’t be a complete alternative to variety. Newspapers, comics, magazines or blogs are also important in our development as readers and people. Don’t underrate them.

Designing the Netherlands

European languages borrowed a handful of words from Dutch. One of them is polder. A polder is a former seabed which has been turned into earth by means of surrounding it with massive dikes. Dutch people are very skilled in developing them, since they’ve considered polders for more than 150 years as a way to gain new lands and stimulate the economy.

Taking new lands from the sea is not rare. Singapore does so ad infinitum. Gibraltar is another example. The airport of Nagasaki is built over an artificial island_ However,  the scale and the importance of the Netherlands’ polders amuse me, especially since the country is a member of the European Union, the often proudly self-called ultimate bastion of the environmentalism.

Polders, Polders Everywhere

Construction of a cannal in Almere's polder. Picture taken by myself

Construction of a cannal in Almere’s polder. Picture taken by myself

Formerly, the North Sea existed along with the South Sea, which is that kind of bay which goes into the Netherlands and isn’t a sea anymore but a lake. Almost half of its size has been dragged out pretty recently by the polders system. The remaining lake is awaiting the end of the crisis to disappear. The new lands are designed as any other. Cities, forests, agricultural fields, industrial areas, highways, pathways and canals, lots of new canals, are built from scratch.

Money is always the key

The adduced reasons to make polders are economic, though I see some connections between the system of making polders and its subsequent construction sector’s crisis and the construction’s bubbles which have exploded lately in some countries. Besides, though the country is pretty crowded, South Sea area is not known because of tall buildings, which would be an alternative solution to making polders and destroying forever the seabed. I think urbanism is able to provide better solutions.

Sadly, perhaps no matter neither the country nor the sector, money is always the luck and the disgrace of architecture and urbanism. Environmentalism is something we will take care of ultimately, when every other path is closed. That’s true even in the old Europe, which population already spent most of the resources available centuries ago.

When the Translator Writes a Different (Great) Book

Two years ago I read Orlando, by Virginia Woolf. I thought I was prepared, because I had read before both To the Lighthouse and Mrs. Dalloway. I was not. Since the first page there were things which sounded familiar to me. Despite being aware of it, the style was slightly non-Woolf, regardless the first half of Orlando is noticeably easier to read than other Woolf’s books are. That was not the matter. I must clarify that I was reading the book in Spanish. So at some point I stopped reading and sought the translator. There he was, Jorge Luis Borges, an author whose work I knew. I acknowledged that reading would be challenging. I was about to read two different books.

Firstly, I was a bit angry. I had chosen to read a Woolf’s book after all, so why should I endure another writer’s text? While reading I used to think that a particular word was clearly a Borges fetish, although the next one was an evident Woolf’s expression… What a mess! I was more focused on the style than on the story. That was sinful, because I was really enjoying the story.


Source: Commons (Public domain)

After a number of pages I started to think which Woolf’s expressions had influenced Borges’ style. That was even worse, because I interrupted my reading so that considering such trivia.

Afterwards, I understood that not only was I reading one book, but two. It was not I was reading two different books, but two insights around the same plot. I understood how a translator may convey his particular view of the book while still making a good work. Finally, I understood that all the translations are skewed. But do you know what? I didn’t mind. At least it doesn’t mind as long as the translation is good. Perhaps, there are translations which are better than the original.

I thereafter enjoyed Orlando to the fullest.

Architectural continuum


The changes in the architecture of the ‘hórreos’ show one of the multiple possible continuums along Northern Spain. (All pictures are taken from Commons and are in the public domain.)

Every single corner of the world claims to have its own architecture. It doesn’t matter whether that’s true. Considering a very limited region without even peeking at the surrounding ones is sort of boring, since there’re no possible liaisons among them. Surely, they didn’t develop separately. Despite this, I’ve observed that most of the books about architecture take one of the following starting points. Either they focus their main efforts on describing the international styles, assuring that the regional ones are little more than varieties, or they depict the architecture of a single region, forgetting largely about the surrounding area. As a matter of fact, books which show the architecture of several regions just talk about them as they were isolated islands. Instead of this insight, I propose the study of the architectural continuum concept.

What am I talking about? Well, architecture is said to reflect a society. The idea is useful as long as we know how to seize it. I think we don’t by simply showcasing a number of regional styles in order to teach them as a regular museum does. Conversely, considering architectural continuums we can make fair comparisons among the societies of certain regions, both in their past as in their present. By means of doing so, we may infer a certain range of social features, including economic ones.

Yeah, I know. One example is needed to clear up what I am saying. Imagine you are spending your holidays travelling through Northern Spain. You need to move from Galicia to Navarre, going across Asturias, Cantabria and the Basque Country. It may be that not do you only note one architectural continuum, but two.


It is objective. Each region has got a mannerism. That’s usual along the globe, isn’t it? The popular architecture varies from one region to the next one. Of course, there’re differences within a region, though there’re some features which are shared. Also, a particular style of a region is closer to a particular style of the next, whereas it diverges more from the regional style of two regions away. Besides, a handful of styles which differ from the regional historical standard also obey these rules by and large. This continuum is based on historical reasons. We can connect it with geographical and historical facts. What is the same, by studying the past of a region we can know why the main regional styles are the way they are.


This is subtler and somehow more interesting. It deals with concepts such as preservation. Regional styles are equally beautiful, though everybody is free to have a particular taste for some of them. Regardless, the means a town is preserved or some houses in row rehabilitated talks about a current social and economic situation. Northern Spain shows a continuum whose lowest rate in a regional average is in Galicia, while the level grows up in beeline towards Navarre. Curiously, it matches the per capita income rate. Interesting, isn’t it?

This short consideration raises lots of questions. That’s precisely my intention, because I think this way of thinking about architecture as a continuum may be useful for the better of both our social and architectonical development. Therefore, architecture works as a real social meter again. That’s something it had lost when the entire world began to build skyscrapers in the western way.