Text by AnniekRoosenschoon
A complex ride ending in an escort by the Spanish police led us towards a peaceful ‘calle’ alongside the river. Although we did not know our destination or purpose we dribbled after our professor obediently. The little hurry was caused by the fact of having one navigator for tree cars, two got lost. All together we stopped in front beautiful view on the riverfront. Still not knowing why, we were kindly welcomed. The man who came towards us was Luis Fernandez-Galiano –  editor of the magazine Arquitectura Viva, architect, and Chair Professor of Projects at the ESTAM ( School of Architecture of the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid). He had a Spanish stature, friendly eyes and an intelligent appearance, which turned out to be so. In a small meeting room with even more magazines he told us a short story of himself, architecture, urbanism and all according to him important and related aspects. Politics, density, magazines, communication and so on. Also he did once again popped our hopeful bubble for a prosperous career-path.

“Architecture is a grateful profession to study, and a very bad one to execute” he said, and we laughed, somewhat nervous. He told us about the struggle he noticed with Spanish Architecture students and young professionals. The decline in the allure of the architecture profession is dramatic. Of the record unemployed in Spain, thousands are architects with no more homes or buildings to bid for: the number of housing units annually has been slashed from 800,000 pre-crisis to 80,000 today, Barcelona have closed down in the past year. According to government statistics, 42 percent of Spaniards who trained in architecture and construction are unemployed or have given up looking for work in the sector. Others, especially the young, are moving abroad. Those who are mid-career and not as mobile have used the foundation of an education that includes art, technique, humanities, and science, to move onto other professions.

The crash has led to an entire rethinking of what Spanish architecture is, and how excesses can be curbed in the future.His contribution in the Architecture Biennale in Venice 2012 concerned this observation. The Biennale featured an exhibition on Spanish architecture called “Spain Mon Amour,” which was “a celebration of a period, its architects, and its buildings, but also an elegy for a time that has come to an end,”, Fernandez-Galiano was the curator.

Spain Mon Amour, Venice Architecture BiennaleSpain Mon Amour, Venice Architecture Biennale: Five Offices, Ten Architects, Fifteen Cities. Photograph: David Levene

The budget received for the exhibition has been invested in sending up a total of 200 students, who will be responsible for explaining to visitors each one of the 15 selected projects. His exhibition aims to show the good quality of Spanish architecture, despite of the situation in which our industry is nowadays.

The exhibition celebrates the achievements of recent Spanish architecture, but also large public investments and the competition system have made it possible for a new generation to build a considerable number of unique works all over the country. The exhibitions consists of the students, all wearing white overalls and masks. They carry a model, the work of Spanish architects. The underlying message comes from the students themselves; they don’t expect to make this in the future, time is changing. “Spain mon amour” is a celebration of a period, its architects and its buildings, but also an elegy for a time that has come to an end, a gentle manifesto against a dislocated present and an invitation to think the future in a different way.”

No only as a curator is Luis Fernandez-Galiano a good communicator, but as well trough the magazines by which we were surrounded, Architectura Viva. He asked one of his collegues something Spanish on which she came back with an old edition, somewhere 1993. ‘Dutch Moral Modernism’ it said, with contribution of Wouter Vanstiphout. “The function of the magazine is to communicate and keep the community together”.

Not only was he committed to architecture, at least as much toward urban planning. ‘Density’ he said, ‘is everything’. In Urban planning this is maybe the most important. Town-planning is important concerning a political view. As a responsible citizen you should know about politics as intimate as possible, and be aware of your environment.

All our doubts were confirmed in the hour, but without hope. Luis described our dramatic current position, accompanied by some valuable advices. And as if we did not yet received enough advice, he had several answers on our question on a recommendation for students ‘following the money’. The one he emphasized on was to learn from bankers, “with dry eyes”.

After his inspiring talk he left the office together with us, said goodbye and crossed the street, towards the riverfront. He then stopped, turned back to us and said, there are many projects in and around Madrid that might better not have happened. Though if there is one project we an be really proud of, it is our river front, the park. “Yes, it costed millions of money, but the result is worth it, for the people and for Madrid”. As he left again we slowly moved back towards the cars, trying to store the information to make place for the next lecture we were about to attend, Eurovegas No. A project which, in contrast to the rivers park, is not worth the money according to a lot of Spaniards.

Back to Excursion Madrid