Letter from the director

Introduction to the course “Housing in times of impoverishment” at the International University of Andalusia (UIA).

The economical shortage should not mean a privation of ideas. Being the real-estate market in a stage of apathy, this moment may be the one to recover the efforts of innovation in the fields of reflection that has always accompanied the development of modern housing: its industrialization and its typological and normative renovation, all of them always postponed. The more and more imperative demand of saving energy, which the crisis of fossil energy imposes, is incorporated to the efforts of innovation previously commented, and the inevitable gaze to the built underused heritage, which is ready to be recycled. We wanted to meet a group of professors committed to the research of these issues in Baeza (Jaen). .

Some time now, Ignacio Paricio codified the agenda of Spanish contemporary housing research with his contribution to texts like “La Vivienda Contemporánea: Programa y Tecnologí­a”. We owe him the experimental framework of Casa Barcelona, an outfit of contributions built for the practical and conceptual progress of the industrialization of housing. Among his contributions: the development of the concept “perfectibility” in housing, the exploration of the idea of “house office”, or the metaphor “black box” as an instrument to rethink the way of building houses through a reduced number of finished components in a workshop. But, above everything, his presence in the course will allow us to be in contact with one of the architects who most exemplify the progress of architecture as a profession, through his awarded professional work as well as through his research. A profession whose definition, condensed by Joseph Conrad in his work The Mirror of the Sea, which Paricio likes quoting: “It is made up of accumulated tradition, kept alive by individual pride, rendered exact by professional opinion, and, like the higher arts, it spurred on and sustained by discriminating praise”.

Julian Salas has written, in a clarifying way, about the trues and ambiguities of the processes of prefabrication opened in the house. In the wake of his admired Jean Prouvé he could consider that “in order to achieve that open industrialization can provide a beautiful architecture is essential that architects dominate processes”, working always on “the technique committed to society”. But his trajectory as a researcher, specialised in what has been called “basic habitability” and employed in the resolution of the problem of housing in the Third World, could also give us a realistic vision of what real scarcity means and how many of our necessities are just imposed. The students who attended the course must also have felt attracted to the possibilities of making use of their practice as architects in developing countries, where the technological capacities acquired in Spanish Schools could find a demand.

The work of Enrique Abascal shows us a sensitive application of the profession of an architect which gets on as easily in the social housing in Spain as in the cooperative developments with the Third World. His neighbourhood “Las Flores de Andalucía” in El Salvador has been unanimously praised. The economy of resources there, the adjusted design, and the architectural application of the available technologies (block of concrete, wood and plate) offer results of great intensity. In Seville, his proposals for social housing combine the structural good judgement, typological clarity and the care of the details in its design with an attention to the scale of the collective spaces, which could be classified as “classic” in the sense that it reminds us to more fortunate moments of modern European housing. It seems that the continuous interest of Enrique is not indifferent to all of that, because of all the “other modern traditions” (in the line of how Colin St. John Wilson has recently contributed to map them), the ones from some centre-European architects who, apart from the famous and successful avant-garde between wars, knew how to build ensembles of housing that are really efficient and urban.

Of Felipe Pich-Aguilera and Teresa Batlle and their trajectory as designers of industrialized and ecologically efficient housing, we could say that they are examples of that kind of knowledge that takes part when something is built, especially when other synergies and collaborations are put into works, which is something usually not accessible to the practice of one architectural study alone. Making “the industrials” (building companies and manufacturers) to be part of the evaluation of the proposed prefabricated systems by the architects since the stage of the project, it achieves unbelievable results in our latitudes: housings could be built with a high grade of prefabrication and architectural quality with competitive expenses in the market. If these expenses are included with the ingredients that make the residential buildings to achieve the parameters of environmental energetic efficiency, to which others like us just aspire, we are in front of the quadrature of a circle that this course in Baeza should contribute to reveal.

It has recently been possible to contemplate the proposal of “habitable furniture” in Construmat, which Jaime Coll and Judith Leclerc have presented as the most recent contribution to the project “Casa Barcelona”. It is an exploration in relation to the possibilities of a house without walls with big detachable furniture, which are able to provide flexible diaphanous and interchangeable interiors. The installation shows the interest of its authors in anticipating the possible evolution of the interior space of the housing. In their distinguished works of social housing, not only they offer interesting innovations in their material and constructive resolutions but they also work in the margins of the normative in order to achieve unsuspected variables of the classic kinds of housing, which they employ to find other paths. Some of their projects also look into the conveniences of other uses in the bosom of the residential block, in order to make the collective housing something that is extended beyond the boundaries of the conventional “flat” to express its relation with the school, the market or the nearest repair shop. These are risky proposals that get along with the danger of being rejected by conservative minds, but they finally impose their rigour.

The greatest architectural innovations are sometimes based on what there was before, but it needs a closer look that reveals the possibilities of the reality that is (or was) near us. This is the task that Xavier Monteys has proposed to himself: to show us the surrounding world that we are not able to see. In his proposals of the project Re-habitar, the house of the future seems to be born naturally from the most quotidian. In his best-seller “Casa Collage” this was already announced, and it has been developed these last years around the works of the group “Habitar”. We have just to quote the epigraphs of some of his texts to have the feeling of how invigorating and operational are his reflections: satellite rooms; to domesticate the street; more doors; out of place; to go in through the balcony; neglect and opportunity; move; the value of repairing; the value of resolving difficulties; a house trapped by hierarchy; to live at the ground floor; the threshold; the art of taking advantage of the shadows…

Looking the city and the spaces where we live in another way, in this case with the instrument of photography, has taken Elena Morón to some of the most prestigious artistic centres of photography in Europe. It is not a production of amateur images, just waiting to be contemplated, but it has a transforming component, in two fields. One is that of the creation of photography properly speaking, which in her works is linked to the conceptual terrain of abstract painting. Another one, the one that most interests us here, has to do with the detection of signs, syntagma and sequences that in the consolidated city generate the clues for its habitability and for its changes. “The clue is in perception”, in “looking for the invisibility through photography as a tool”. If we take into account this grounding, it is no wonder the brilliance of the management of the Areas of Agreed Rehabilitation in some cities in Andalusia, which have been under the direction of Elena during the last years. The rehabilitation and the new use of neighbourhoods, and the residential heritage have to be established in the attentive gaze, and in some way in love, of the material reality that composes them.

Rehabilitation, re-use, to which Elisa Valero has given a theoretic and academic body in her projects “Urban recycle: reassessment of the residential knitting for a sustainable development” and “Recycle of neighbourhoods: a sustainable alternative”. In this setting she has managed to combine her own sensibility as a highly recognised architect, brilliant on the minor scale and the definition of contemporary habitability, with a big group of researchers. They have collaborated in the bosom of a theoretic platform whose purpose is to generate new instruments of project to face this new reality, which is going to accompany us the next decades, where the common thing will not be to make new things but to recycle, repair, rebuild, and inhabit them. Elisa tends to present her own built work gathered under the categories of: Inhabiting, Knotting, Repairing. They are attractive terms to define an attitude such as the one that we pretend to explore in this course.

Finally, we have to be certain that the contributions to the course are completed with our own entrances in the almost wasteland of prefabrication of houses energetically efficient in the south of Spain: the prototypes Arkit, Solarkit y Patio 2.12.

This is how the course is being knitted, where we will see each other at the end of next August in Baeza. Looking forward to seeing you.

Javier Terrados

Director del Curso

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