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Your Views – Survival Tactics for Spain's Harsh New Reality

David Cohn responds to AR’s Emerging Architecture edition and considers the challenges facing Spain’s young architects

The Architectural Review – December 2011

In his article ‘Survival Tactics for Spain’s Harsh New Reality,’ (AR December 2011) Luis Fernández-Galiano offered a first-hand view of the daunting problems facing Spain’s youngest architects. Over the past two decades, the country has been a remarkable incubator for young talent. One of the most important factors contributing to this environment has been an abundance of work for young firms and, of course, this supply has been cut off by the crisis.

Open competitions for modest local public service facilities have been particularly effective in public housing, schools, medical clinics, sports centres and the like, which gave newcomers opportunities to break out on their own, something you wouldn’t find in the US, for example.

But other factors contributing to the nurturing of young talent should be able to survive the current crisis, allowing at least a hard-core few to carry on. Teaching offers an economic cushion, however modest, for young architects between commissions. Traditional master-apprentice relations of generational succession continue to function, in which talented students and recent graduates are mentored by their older peers.

In recent decades, this system has taken on an international dimension with Spanish graduates serving a stint in Rotterdam, London or Basel, and their contemporaries from around the world flocking to Spain. Another proven route for the emerging generation is through teaching posts at foreign universities, particularly in Europe and the United States.

There are areas where the profession as a whole can grow in the future, but not without difficulties. Many are looking to foreign commissions, but Spanish studios lack the size and financial clout of big American and English firms that routinely work abroad.

Spaniards are finding work in Europe, including Eastern Europe, and to a lesser extent in the Middle East. But other markets are proving more complicated. A big effort to move into China, with backing from Spain’s international commerce agency, has had disappointing results.

Another potential growth area is the private sector. Private clients have always been an important part of the scene in Barcelona, and with the city’s encouragement, in speculative building as well. In other regions, the impact of Spain’s spectacular public architecture has had its effect on private commissions.

The head of the COAM, Madrid’s professional association, also hopes to increase public support for renovation work as a steady source of income, a field that has produced innovative designs in the past, with architects introducing contemporary elements into historic structures. But with half the profession out of work, according to an estimate by Jordi Ludevid i Amglada, president of the Higher Council of Spanish Architecture Associations (CSCAE), who was interviewed in the newspaper El País in December, the situation is critical for everyone. 

David Cohn is an architectectural writer and teacher. His blog can be found at viewfrommadrid.blogspot.com

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