Tag Archives: architecture

Los estudiantes de arquitectura no duermen

Los estudiantes de arquitectura no duermen: verdad verdadera. Uno se inscribe en esa carrera-tortura-para-masoquistas y drogarse a cafés noche tras noche parece el camino lógico que, en su día, abrió el levantarse a las 07:30 para ver los dibujos animados, muchos años atrás. Los iniciados en el culto a la Arquitectura sub-comprenden al instante las razones del no dormir y ejecutan con alegría el rito supremo de su culto. Quien es capaz de dormir 24 horas a la semana puede llamarse profeta; quien sólo 7, está en contacto directo con la Diosa. Fanfarronear de la vigilia es un acontecimiento colectivo y, por ende, las masas reprueban al perezoso y bufan ante los hábitos de los no iniciados.

Los estudiantes de arquitectura no duermen: verdad a medias. La noche se dedica al esfuerzo intensivo y frenético del dibujo técnico, penitencia por los pecados del futuro; a saber, la pedantería de saberse miembros ilustres de la sociedad. La hora de la siesta se pasa entre libros de estudio, cuando no enredado en complejos cálculos estructurales que preconizan el sostén del mundo. Las horas intermedias quedan disueltas en un duermevela lánguido y acuoso. Algunas veces el despertar viene de la mano de un conductor de autobús, cuando el estudiante ha quedado rendido de cansancio hasta el final de la línea. Otras veces el hacedor es un profesor que levanta la voz para despertar a las últimas filas.

Me declaro hereje, reincidente y causa perdida. Hice caso -¡sacrilegio!- de un consejo de mi madre: persigue objetivos cercanos. Osé, a la tierna edad de 20 años, parcelar la carrera en años, los años en asignaturas, las asignaturas en proyectos y los proyectos en partes y tiempos. Me aparté del dogma del todo vale y acaté la regla del método. Me plegué a la infame sentencia de que la inspiración me venga cuando estoy trabajando, y trabajé, trabajé, trabajé; incansablemente pero en tiempos medidos, con tiempos espejo para el descanso y los intereses personales. Enturbié mi mente con la idea de que la Arquitectura podía nutrirse de mis experiencias y de mis aficiones y me di, sin pudor, al aprendizaje de la guitarra, la composición de la poesía, el estudio primerizo e inocente del idioma alemán, la lectura y el gimnasio, al que sigo yendo todos los días antes de ir a trabajar sin ápice de vergüenza. Llegué a la conclusión de que no dormir es inversamente proporcional a los resultados y directamente proporcional a la estupidez. Para los que son de letras: deduje que no dormir es síntoma de imbecilidad.

Cochinamente aprobé examen tras examen y entrega tras entrega, en tanto que mis ilustres compañeros bregaban noches de insomnio y lodazales de café frío. Algunas veces me tentaron sus heroicidades y recaí en el culto supremo de No Dormir. Desafortunadamente, tales accesos de excelsitud decayeron con el tiempo.

Hoy en día reconozco que fui parte de una secta criminal, suicida y tan mayoritaria como el perverso ateísmo: la de los Estudiantes de Arquitectura que No Duermen. Aunque no conozco el arrepentimiento por mi herejía, pienso que me hubiera gustado romper su culto a los 18 años en lugar de a los 20. Ellos siguen ahí, vigilantes en la noche, con los ojos inyectados en sangre. Quiera la providencia que esos ojos no se posen sobre vosotros.

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Small Actions to Save the World

Architecture claims to remedy some of the world’s major problems. On the turn of the twentieth century it meant to solve the hygienic conditions of the increasing urban population, and it rapidly lead to the mental welfare. Nowadays, one of the biggest concerns of the world is the sustainability. Many contemporary architects note the importance of designing sustainable projects. All in all, the truth is that architecture is still a problem instead of a solution. Buildings pollute a lot and passive sustainability measures are not enough to solve the energetic problems, while active measures are still expensive for the average client.

However, not too many architects realise that they can do better. Apart from the sustainable design whose drawbacks ought to be discussed with clients, architects can also take some decisions regarding materials. They can for instance choose the materials according to certificates of good environmental practises. For example, there is an outstanding certificate for wooden products called FSC (Forest Stewardship Council). Basically, it certificates that all the stages of the industrial process have followed the basic principle of the sustainability. It is that the extracted goods are less than the existing ones, and that extraction follows measures which are respectful with the environment. The FSC certification includes the surveillance of the forest care, the timber extraction and the wooden products by a company which is not related with the process.

Clients do not know or do not care about this. It is actually difficult to get to know which certificate is really excellent and which one is just rubbish. There are even certificates which do not follow measurable requirements and yet others which allow the companies to certificate themselves. Deeming the worth of such a thing is a new task for the architect since he must choose the materials of his project. In doing so, he could take a small action which helps the world.

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

Architectural continuum

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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.

FIRST CONTINUUM

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.

SECOND CONTINUUM

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.

Airs of grandeur

Madrid (Source: Commons)

Madrid (Source: Commons)

Airs of grandeur is an expression that people associate with arrogance and pageantry. Napoleon lost his throne due to his airs of grandeur, and so did many others. Airs is something tautly construed by the Western society.

My bias truth is that having airs of grandeur is nothing more than one of the many edges of the personality. Airs, greed and a like for violence may turn people into assassins. Otherwise, airs, a sense of rightness and money could sketch a philanthropic awareness.

There are too many people who give themselves airs when things go well and the way is paved. However, there are a lack of people with airs when the economy is bad, the government takes hard measures and people is full of desperation in their struggle with surviving. The airs of the construction workers were bad just a few years ago because they were mixed in bad concrete mixers, and countries such as Ireland, USA and Spain have suffered because of them. Now that Ireland and Spain are in crisis, we need airs, and a lot of airs. But we need a different kind of them. By means of them, we need to retrieve the happiness of creating things and achieving new good goals. We need the willingness to do things otherwise.

Cars and houses

Although I don’t really know that much about cars, its engineering and beauty are remarkable many a time. The smooth way a door is opened and closed is fascinating. Wow, I’m not freaking out about doors. I’m just wondering why this kind of doors are absent from the architecture.

Source: Commons (Public domain)

Traditionally, the buildings entrances are weighted and thick. Conversely to them, the cars doors seem light and thin. Also, thieves can open a door from a building by forcing the latch, while they could hardly force a car door, if that’s actually possible. Alright, I know it’s easier to break the window, but let it move on for now.

I have pointed out three advantages from the car doors so far, which are lightness, thinness and resistance to robbery. We’d have to face the insulation problems because of both material and thinness, but there are ways to solve it, so I consider it as a minimum drawback. All of these three advantages could solve a range of architectonic problems in some buildings in and of themselves, as long as the doors were adapted. However, the main appeal I gather from the car doors is the smoothness of both closing and locking. Wouldn’t be wonderful to close the door with a simple movement of the hand? We could forget it seconds later, since the mechanism of the door would close it even if our push hadn’t been strong enough to close a usual building door. Furthermore, it wouldn’t mind whether we forget to lock the door, because it would be instantaneous. There is another advantage yet. Since a neoprene band would be necessary all round the door, there wouldn’t be insulation problems.

I admit car-like doors could have two huge disadvantages, though. The first one is economic. Nonetheless, this one is just for custom, as far as I can see. The prices of the timber and the metal vary from country to country, so it’s difficult to analyze them. Mind you, I guess the system as a whole would be more expensive than the common ones. Even so, I don’t know why a car-like system doesn’t exist for prefabricated houses. At least, I am not aware of anything similar. If it existed, the system would be produced largely and it would be cheaper.

Yet, the second drawback is worse. I am talking about the psychological meaning we associate with a housing’s door. I mean, thickness is a value you can physically touch. The door is there and it is thick. Its material is probably wood or some sort of a wooden panel, so it’s warm and that ‘heat’ funnels into your brain and is comfortable. On the other hand, a metal door could be equally hardy, even if it could be warped easily, though not broken. The cool and the feel of thinness and lightness is a pure psychological reluctance which must be faced up.

Moving back to the robbery issue, the situation is paradoxical. We could think the strongest door to withstand a thief is actually the feeblest. Perhaps this perception changes in the future.